Plant-based nutrition FAQs

This page aims to answer the most frequent questions we hear from both healthcare professionals and the wider community about plant-based nutrition and health. For each question, we give the quick answer, followed by links to further resources. Do you have a burning question that's not covered yet? Submit your suggestions here!

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Do plant-based diets provide enough protein?

Protein from a variety of plant foods, eaten during the course of a day, supplies enough of all essential amino acids when caloric needs are met [1]. The once-popular recommendation of combining protein sources to achieve a complete essential amino acid profile in each feeding is no longer considered necessary [2]. For athletes, meeting protein needs is first and foremost a matter of increasing caloric intake to meet exercise and recovery demands [3].

Aren't carbohydrates bad?

Not all carbs are created equal. While refined carbohydrates such as white bread and sugary snacks should be kept to a minimum and ideally excluded altogether, fibre-rich complex carbohydrates are the body's main fuel source, and should provide the majority of the calories in a healthy diet. 

Low carbohydrate diets, including the currently popular ketogenic diet, are often promoted for their weight loss potential and even as a diabetes management approach. However, research demonstrates frequent unwanted effects in individuals following these diets, including:

  • LDL-cholesterol elevation and increased inflammatory markers [1]

  • Harmful effects on the gut microbiome due to fibre deficiency [2]

  • Reduced life expectancy [3-5]

A whole food plant-based diet is a proven long-term approach for preventing and reversing type 2 diabetes, and the solution does not lie in excluding nutrient-rich fibre-filled whole plant foods. High blood sugar is a symptom of diabetes, not the cause [6].

 

Does going plant-based mean supplements become necessary?

The only supplement that is always required for people following a plant-exclusive diet is vitamin B12. Vitamin B12 is necessary for normal red blood cell formation, tissue and cell repair, nerve health, and DNA synthesis. A B12 deficiency can lead to permanent nervous system problems. 

 

Because Vitamin B12 is made by a microorganism found in soil and water which is then consumed by animals, it is effectively only found in food of animal origin. However, owing to modern farming practices, even the animals are routinely supplemented. The upshot is that B12 supplementation is essential for anyone following a plant-based diet. Supplementation of 50-500 micrograms of cyanocobalamin per day is best practice. This is preferable to relying on fortified foods, which may not meet daily needs without careful planning to ensure correct doses at regular intervals during the day.  

As with any eating pattern, nutrient status should be considered on a case by case basis, with testing, supplementation and/or incorporation of fortified foods considered if required. For example, when it is hard to get enough sunlight for adequate vitamin D production a supplement is advisable, and this is always important to consider for people with darker skin tones on any diet.

Learn more:

 

Is eating out still possible?

Absolutely. While it's true that many restaurant and café menus are heavily focused on animal-based and processed foods, ​it is almost always possible to find some go-to outlets and dishes. 

The free Happy Cow website is a great resource for finding plant-based and veg-friendly eateries. Also, many cuisines from around the world such as Thai, Indian, Mexican, Ethiopian and Middle Eastern are traditionally plant-predominant and offer a wide variety of dishes that are made with vegetables, chickpeas, tofu and so on: most will be happy to suggest suitable dishes free from meat, eggs and dairy, and many can also offer low-oil or even oil-free options on request.

 

Even the least veg-friendly venues usually have something that can serve as a standby option, whether it's a salad, a baked potato and beans or a selection of side dishes that can tide you over and ensure you don't feel like the odd one out at a work or social gathering.

Learn more:

 

Isn't this way of eating time consuming and expensive?

People sometimes think that going plant based requires time and money that they do not have. Time-wise, the key is adjusting our habits at a suitable pace. And money-wise, the evidence is to the contrary! This health-enhancing way of life is not out of bounds for anyone.

 

Time

Changing from a conventional western diet to a WFPB diet overnight may seem daunting for people juggling multiple demands on their time, particularly if family and social support is lacking. However, no step in the right direction is too small, and making incremental changes is the way forward. Often the most important first step is learning about the benefits, which can be done gradually over time for example through reading or videos, and committing to make the best nutrition choices we can in each situation that arises day by day.

 

Money


Despite subsidies that make animal products artificially cheap, the reality is that plant-based staples such as rice and beans are inexpensive and highly nutritious. We particularly recommend the Whole Food Plant Based on $5 a Day ebook and website by Australian chef, Emma Roche for fantastic recipes designed with affordability in mind.

 

Are plant-based diets suitable for all stages of life?

Yes. The largest association of dietitians in the world, the American Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, confirms that appropriately planned plant-based diets, including total vegetarian or vegan diets, are healthy and nutritionally adequate for all stages of life [1], as does the Dietitians Association of Australia [2]. 

Eating a healthy plant-based diet provides benefits through all stages of life, starting from pre-conception, supporting growth through pregnancy, childhood and adolescence. Nutrient-dense plant-based diets are a central pillar of a healthy lifestyle, helping to prevent many of the chronic conditions that impair quality of life as we age, as well as premature death [3,4]. By contrast, unhealthy diets, including inadequate intake of fruit and vegetables and overconsumption of processed foods, account for a significant burden of chronic disease, and this impact is growing [5].

Learn more about plant-based diets for special populations and life stages: 

 

What about bloating and gas resulting from increased intake of dietary fibre?

 

Changes to what we eat can very rapidly mean changes are happening to the ratios of bacteria in our colon.[1] The types of dietary fibre found in plant-based foods, such as grains, legumes, fruits, vegetables and small amounts of nuts, selectively stimulate the growth of bacteria known to be health promoting. [2,3]  When first switching to a plant-based diet, people may notice an increase in gas and/or bloating. This is only a temporary problem and indicates the ratios of bacteria within the gut are undergoing some changes. Legumes in particular, are rich in fibre and provide a good source of food for gut bacteria.[4]

 

Starting slowly with the introduction of legumes, such as one tablespoon at a time, can help the gut bacteria adjust and reduce initial gas and/or bloating.  If the gas or bloating is causing discomfort, it may be also helpful to include less fibrous grains such as white rice for a few days while the bacteria catch up to the new dietary pattern. It has been shown that bacterial populations are capable of adapting very quickly to new dietary patterns [1], so these initial changes will settle quickly, allowing the inclusion of an abundance of nutritious fruits, vegetables, whole grains and legumes at every meal.

Learn more:

Further FAQs will be added over time. Submit yours here!

Learn more via our topic summaries covering dietary approaches to treating and preventing common health conditions

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The information on the Doctors For Nutrition website and related media platforms is provided for general information purposes and is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Please consult you doctor or other professional healthcare provider with any questions or concerns you have regarding your health.​ By using this website you agree to our terms.

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We acknowledge the Traditional Custodians and Tangata Whenua of the lands and waters across Australia and Aotearoa New Zealand where we live and work, and pay respect to Elders past, present and emerging​. We aspire to learn from First Peoples’ traditional understanding of health as a multi-dimensional concept, embracing environmental, community and individual wellbeing.

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