I Just Started a Plant-Based Diet: Should I See a Nutritionist?” Our Expert Answers
"I just started a plant-based diet. Should I see a Nutritionist?" -- Matt B.
Natalie Rizzo, a Registered Dietician, and advisor to The Beet, who helps clients run marathons and live healthy, energetic, active lives on a plant-based diet, answers this and other reader questions. Submit them to email@example.com.
Natalie Rizzo: In short, absolutely! (And I’m not just saying that because I’m biased.) Although meeting with a nutrition professional may not be something you’ve done in the past or even something that’s been on your radar, doing so can revolutionize your relationship with food. And I’ve heard all the arguments against it--“it’s too expensive” or “it’s time-consuming” or “they are going to put me on a boring healthy diet”. The money and time are worth it, and the right nutrition professional will not force you to eat in a way that doesn’t make you feel comfortable.
How do I find the right nutritionist?
NR: Although the term “Nutritionist” is universally used to describe those who work with people to help them eat a healthy diet, it’s a bit more complicated than that. The title “Nutritionist” isn’t actually regulated, so anyone who has an interest in food and nutrition can call themselves a “Nutritionist”. On the other hand, a “Registered Dietitian (RD)” or “Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN)”—the two terms are used interchangeably--is a credential nutrition professional. An RD completes academic and supervised practice requirements, successfully passes a certification exam, and maintains continuing education credits.
When looking for a nutrition professional to help with your plant-based diet, seek out a Registered Dietitian that specializes in plant-based diets. You can find one through the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, ask your health care provider for a recommendation or use Google or social media to find one in your area.
How can an RD help with my plant-based diet?
NR: Although eating only plants seems like a super healthy choice, there are certain nutritional aspects that you need to pay attention to. The obvious element is making sure you get enough protein, but there are other things, like not eating too much processed junk, making sure you get enough iron and Vitamin B12, and ensuring that you eat enough overall calories. Let’s break down those reasons and chat through how an RD can help:
- Eat enough protein. It’s entirely possible to get plenty of protein on a plant-based diet, but it takes planning and forethought. Maybe you’re not sure what foods even have protein or you don’t know how much to eat at each meal. A nutrition professional can work with you to create a meal plan that works within your existing diet and lifestyle. They will help you find ways to incorporate protein at every meal and look for plant-based protein sources when you’re eating out.
- Avoid processed food. When transitioning to a plant-based diet, it’s easy to rely on foods that you already know are vegan, like French fries, tortilla chips, bread, and candy. But no one can or should live on processed junk. While these foods are perfectly fine to have in moderation, depending on comfort food isn’t the way to build a healthy diet. A Registered Dietitian will work with you to help you replace the processed foods in your diet with healthier alternatives. But don’t worry, they won’t cut you off entirely!
- Get enough of the important micronutrients. There are certain nutrients that are more prevalent in meat, but that doesn’t mean you can’t get them on a plant-based diet. For instance, iron and Vitamin B12 are more abundant in animal foods, and Vitamin D is lacking in almost everyone’s diet. Registered Dietitians are trained to be able to read labs, meaning that they can look at blood markers and advise you to eat enough of certain vitamins and minerals. If you do become deficient, a Registered Dietitian is an important part of the healthcare team to treat the deficiency.
- Consume enough calories. Although losing weight sounds great, unintentionally shedding pounds can be a sign of malnourishment. If you transitioned to a plant-based diet to lose weight, a Registered Dietitian can make sure you do so in a healthy way. Severely depriving yourself of calories is never the answer!
Hopefully, you’re convinced that a nutrition professional can really play a part in putting you on the right plant-based eating track. If you’re still on the fence, call your insurance company and ask them if they cover visits with a Registered Dietitian. Many people are surprised to find that a meeting with an RD is covered by health insurance!