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The Lowdown on Plant-based Eating

Array of vegetables and nuts

Oct. 23 2020

by Kay MacInnis, RDN, LD
Diabetes Care and Education Specialist

There’s a growing trend around the world to follow a more plant-based way of eating. Think Mediterranean diet. As a result, plant-based “meat” products such as Impossible Burger® and Beyond Meat® are increasingly seen on grocery stores shelves and restaurant menus, and plant-based “dairy” products like soymilk and almond milk have become commonplace. Market research shows plant-based food sales are growing at five times the rate of total food sales.

Many studies now confirm that consuming a meat-free diet is associated with a longer life and reduced risk of chronic diseases such as heart disease, diabetes, weight loss and some cancers. While some choose a plant-based diet for health reasons, others choose to reduce meat consumption or even become vegetarian to reduce their carbon footprint on the environment or for ethical or religious reasons.

This year, 29 percent of Americans say they are actively reducing their meat and dairy consumption. While only 6 percent of Americans identify as vegetarian or vegan, flexitarians represent the largest growth opportunity for plant-based foods. What’s a flexitarian? Here’s the lowdown on the range of options for following a plant-based diet.

  • Flexitarian: Mostly avoids meat, poultry or fish, but will occasionally eat them
  • Partial vegetarian: Avoids meat, but may eat some meats (pescatarians eat fish, pollo-vegetarians eat poultry)
  • Lacto-ovo vegetarian: Skips the meat, poultry, fish, but eats eggs and dairy products
  • Lacto-vegetarian: No meat, poultry, fish or eggs, but consumes dairy products
  • Ovo-vegetarian: Does not eat meat, poultry, fish or dairy products, but does eat eggs
  • Vegans (total vegetarian): No meat, poultry, fish or any products derived from animals, including eggs, dairy products, lard and gelatin

A common concern for those considering a plant-based diet is making sure they get enough protein. Here are some great proteins sources, along with other healthy foods that you’ll want to include in a vegetarian diet:

  • Proteins: Plant-based meat substitutes, tofu, tempeh, seitan, natto, nutritional yeast, spirulina, eggs, dairy products
  • Fruits: Fresh or frozen are best
  • Vegetables: Any vegetable not fried or cooked “Southern style”
  • Grains: Quinoa, barley, buckwheat, rice, oats
  • Legumes: Lentils, beans, peas, chickpeas
  • Nuts: Almonds, walnuts, cashews, chestnuts
  • Seeds: Flaxseed, chia, pumpkin, hemp
  • Healthy fats: Olive or avocado oil

If you’re interested in starting a plant-based diet, try beginning with Meatless Monday! It’s a great way to start using less meat when planning meals. Deciding whether or not to follow a more plant-based diet is a personal choice. Just remember to make sure your eating plan is well-designed and healthy. 

Think vegetarian eating may be bland or boring? Try this recipe that’s one of my family’s favorites.
crab cakes with lemon wedges

Artichoke Chickpea Vegan “Crab” Cakes

For the Crabless Cakes:

1 15 oz can chickpeas, drained
1 14 oz can of Artichokes Hearts quartered or halved, drained and squeezed
1/2 cup red bell pepper, cut into large chunks
1/2 cup green bell pepper, cut into large chunks
1 green onion, cut into large chunks
1 stalk celery, cut into large chunks
Fresh parsley, a small handful
2 T Dijon mustard
3 T mayonnaise
1/2 cup Panko bread crumbs, divided
1 tsp fine sea salt
2 tsp Old Bay® seasoning
1/8 tsp cayenne pepper
3 T chickpea flour
1/2 fresh lemon, juiced

For Homemade Remoulade (optional):

3/4 cup mayonnaise
1 1/2 tsp Dijon mustard
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 1/2 T capers, chopped fine
3 tsp lemon juice
1/4 tsp vegan Worcestershire sauce
1 tsp fresh parsley, chopped fine


Pat dry the chickpeas and squeeze the artichokes of their canned liquid. In the work bowl of a food processor, add the chickpeas and artichokes. Pulse 4-5 times. The mixture should be chunky. Transfer to a large mixing bowl.

In the work bowl of the food processor, add the red and green bell peppers, onion, celery and parsley. Process until minced, stopping to scrape the bowl a few times. Transfer to the large mixing bowl with the chickpea mixture.

To the chickpea mixture, add the Dijon, mayonnaise, 1 cup Panko crumbs, salt, Old Bay, cayenne, chickpea flour and lemon. Mix thoroughly until all ingredients are evenly distributed. The mixture should hold together when squeezed.

To portion the crabless cakes, use a 1/4 cup scoop or large cookie scoop. Pack the mixture in the scoop, then tap it gently but firmly on the side of the bowl to release the cake. Set the cake on a parchment-lined sheet pan.

Place the remaining 1/2 cup Panko crumbs into a bowl or plate. Place each cake in Panko crumbs to coat both sides and around the edges. Transfer back to the sheet pan. Using the palm of your hand, press the crab cake gently into a 1/2" patty.

To Bake: Preheat the oven to 400 degrees and line a sheet pan with parchment paper. Bake each side for 10 minutes.

For Homemade Remoulade (optional):

Whisk the mayonnaise, Dijon, garlic, capers, lemon, Worcestershire and parsley together and serve with crab cakes.

Nutrition Information: Calories: 150kcal; Carbohydrates: 17g; Protein: 5g; Fat: 7g; Cholesterol: 1mg; Sodium: 430mg; Fiber: 4g

Recipe Source:
Head shot of Kay MacInnis, RD
Kay MacInnis, RDN, LD



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Disclaimer: This blog is intended for general understanding and education about Lexington Medical Center. Nothing on the blog should be considered or used as a substitute for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Blog visitors with personal health or medical questions should consult their health care provider.