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Plant-Based Eating Pros and Cons

Check out the differences in nutrition for plant-based eaters versus and meat eaters.

Piece of meat next to spinach to show pros and cons of plant-based eating

With plant-based eating becoming more commonplace, it’s good to know the potential nutritional advantages and disadvantages of this dietary lifestyle.

In a systematic review of 141 observational and intervention studies published between 2000 and January 2020 and published in Nutrients, researchers from the Netherlands made these discoveries about plant-based eating:

  • Fiber, polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA), folate, vitamins C and E, and magnesium intake was higher among vegetarians and vegans than meat-heaters.
  • Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) intake, two important long-chain omega-3 fatty acids found predominantly in seafood, was lower in those who identified themselves as plant-based.
  • The consumption and status of vitamins B12 and D, iron, zinc, iodine, and calcium were generally lower in vegans and vegetarians compared with meat-eaters.
  • Vegans had the lowest vitamin B12, calcium and iodine intake as well as also lower iodine status and reduced bone mineral density.
  • Meat-eaters were found to be at risk of inadequate intakes of fiber, PUFA, α-linolenic acid (ALA), folate, vitamins D and E, calcium, and magnesium.
  • Protein intake was lower in people following plant-based diets compared with meat-eaters, but still within recommended intake levels.

The take-home message here is that there appears to be nutrient inadequacies across each of these dietary patterns that should be addressed through adequate nutrition education.

See also: Plant-Based Diets and Meal Timing

Matthew Kadey, MS, RD

Matthew Kadey, MS, RD, is a James Beard Award–winning food journalist, dietitian and author of the cookbook Rocket Fuel: Power-Packed Food for Sport + Adventure (VeloPress 2016). He has written for dozens of magazines, including Runner’s World, Men’s Health, Shape, Men’s Fitness and Muscle and Fitness.

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