December 22, 2023
Plant Based Diets - What you Need to Know

Discover the key considerations for a balanced plant-based diet, including the importance of protein quantity and quality, nutrient variations between animal and plant sources, and the significance of fortified foods or supplementation for crucial nutrients like B12, calcium, iron, zinc, and omega-3s.

Here's what you need to know about plant-based diets | Connected Health

Not all plant-based diets are created equal. Our registered dietitian offers some helpful tips when preparing your next meal.

Plant-based diets have only continued to grow in popularity. But not all plant-based diets are equal. With some plant-based diets there is a high consumption of “junk” veggie foods. These are food products that are ultra-processed and contain minimal whole foods and offer very little nutritional value. Be mindful of nutrient labels and be careful with so-called health claims on packaging.

Connected Health dietitian, Rita Singer, explains that it is important to consider the quality and the quantity of protein in animal sources versus plant based sources.

“The argument I hear is that we are able to obtain all the protein we need without eating animal products. One specific example I often hear is that broccoli has more protein per 100 calories than beef does. This claim may be true, but it does not take into account how much beef and how much broccoli one might reasonably eat during the day. 100 calories of beef is about 1.5-2 oz. or about half a serving size of an animal protein, whereas 100 calories of broccoli is between 2 and 3 cups, about 4 to 6 servings of a vegetable. So, we start to see how this information has been misconstrued. The truth is that we obtain more protein in a smaller amount of an animal protein than we do from vegetarian sources. Another example is that to obtain the amount of protein from 4 oz of sirloin steak (around 300 calories), we would need to eat 8 tablespoons of peanut butter (around 800 calories), potentially adding an additional 500 calories to your daily intake.' Rita Singer, RDN.

Rita does note however that plants contain fiber, phytonutrients, vitamins and minerals that balance hormones, keep blood sugar stable, support healthy cells as well as healthy bowel function. Incorporating a lot of plant foods in your diet is great, and for many incorporating good quality animal proteins can be a part of a healthy diet, too!

There are certain nutrients that we get in high amounts from eating animal proteins that are worth mentioning here. Those who choose to eat a vegetarian diet or vegan diet should ensure they are getting enough of these, either through fortified foods or supplementation. 

Vitamin B12: B12 is a water-soluble vitamin important for nervous system health and energy production. It’s found mostly in dairy, fish, poultry, and meat.

Calcium: This mineral is crucial for keeping your bones strong and for muscle contraction. It’s found in the highest amounts in dairy foods and bone-in fish like sardines. It’s also found in smaller amounts in plant foods like spinach, tofu, and broccoli. 

Iron: We need iron to transport oxygen through the body. Heme iron is the form found in animals, while non-heme iron comes from vegetarian sources.

Zinc: We need zinc for immune, thyroid, and reproductive health. This mineral is found in some plant foods like nuts and seeds, but it is in the highest concentrations in egg yolks, seafood, and beef. Again, animal sources of zinc are more easily used by the body than plant-based sources.

Omega 3s (EPA/DHA): We need to obtain the essential fatty acids EPA and DHA from our foods since our bodies don’t make them. Omega 3s are found in fatty fish like salmon and are very important for immune, brain and heart health. 

Final Thoughts:

At Connected Health, we do our best to help each of our clients discern their unique dietary needs while taking their beliefs and preferences into consideration. There are many different reasons why someone chooses to eat the way they do. Our job is to help them make the best decision within their own unique framework. In today’s world veganism and vegetarianism have become more popular with a rise in awareness of animal rights and meat’s impact on the environment. Discussions of the environmental impact of livestock and meat production are outside the scope of this article. However, if you’d like to learn more about this topic, please check out the work of Diana Rodger, RD who has written extensively about farming, methane production, veganism, and meat eating and offers a well-researched perspective on this hot topic. 

Rita has a B.S. in dietetics from Virginia Tech. She strongly believes in the promotion and integration of health, fitness, and a balanced lifestyle. Rita is currently taking on new clients. 



Connected Health in Wexford, Pennsylvania is a concierge primary care medicine practice that believes strongly in putting the focus back on the patient. We connect our patients not just with physicians but also with pharmacists, personal trainers, registered nutritionists, emotional wellness therapists, and more. If you would like to learn more about our concierge care services or want to explore membership options, give us a call at 724-933-4300. You can also request a consultation online.

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