Your Guide to Plant-Based Eating, Written by a Bariatric RD

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Article By: Rachel Ignomirello, MS, RDN, CSOWM, LDN

Rachel Ignomirello is a Bariatric Dietitian and Board-Certified Specialist in Obesity and Weight Management.

With Earth Day on April 22nd, many patients may be wondering what dietary changes they can make to improve their impact on the environment. Plant-based diets are growing in popularity because of their health benefits and minimal impact on the planet. According to a report by the U.S. Food and Agriculture Organization, if everyone in the U.S. ate no meat or cheese for just one day per week, it would match the environmental impact of taking 7.6 million cars off the road. On top of the sustainability benefits, many bariatric patients may also be interested in plant-based eating to explore new protein sources. After bariatric surgery, some patients experience taste and/or tolerance changes with certain animal protein sources. Exploring plant-based eating is a smart way of increasing diet variety while promoting sustainability.

1) What are the different types of plant-based eating?

A plant-based diet consists of fruits, vegetables, beans, grains, seeds, and nuts. A vegetarian diet excludes meat, poultry, and fish, but there are several different types of vegetarianism. Lacto-ovo vegetarian diet includes dairy products (such as milk and yogurt) and eggs but excludes meat, poultry, and fish. Lacto vegetarian diet includes dairy but not eggs, meat, poultry, and fish. Vegan diet excludes all meat and animal products, including gelatin and honey. These diets all have healthy properties in common: being high in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and unsaturated fats while being low in foods high in sugar and saturated fats.

2) What are the health benefits?

Focusing on whole foods from plant sources can reduce blood pressure and risk of heart disease, cancer, and diabetes. Vegetarians often have lower cholesterol levels, blood pressure, and rates of diabetes than non-vegetarians. They also tend to have healthier weight and lower overall cancer rates. These health benefits may result from higher intakes of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, and fiber along with lower intakes of saturated fats. While there are health benefits to adopting a plant-based diet, it is still important to limit highly processed foods with little-to-no nutritional value such as French fries or non-dairy ice cream.


3) What are the types of plant-based proteins?

When you eliminate or limit animal products from the diet, it is imperative to replace animal proteins with plant proteins to maintain health. After bariatric surgery, protein is essential for recovery, healing, preserving lean muscle mass, and satiety. Soy is a popular plant-based protein source because it contains all the essential amino acids (the building blocks of protein). Soy is versatile and can be eaten as edamame (the whole bean) or processed as tofu, tempeh, soy milk, and so on. Besides soy, all other plant-based protein foods should be “combined” to consume all the essential amino acids the body requires. Here are some lists of plant-based protein sources with the serving size, calories, and grams of protein.

Plant-based protein nutrition table

4) What are some additional tips for bariatric patients?

Patients who follow plant-based eating after surgery will have to rely on a plant-based protein supplement until they are able to meet their protein goal through food-based sources. Look for a supplement that provides various protein sources such as pea and rice to ensure a variety of amino acids. Once patients can get food sources of plant-based proteins, it is still essential to make half the meal plate protein and to eat the protein food first. Because of the lower vitamin bioavailability of certain plant forms and the decreased absorption after surgery, patients must be compliant with their bariatric vitamin regimen. Bariatric vitamins should provide adequate vitamin B12, vitamin D, iron, and zinc.
Plant-based eating is possible after bariatric surgery. It is not only good for the environment but can improve overall health, too. If new to plant-based eating, start small. There is no need to cut out your favorite animal sources altogether. Focus on eating better quality proteins like sustainably farmed seafood or poultry instead of processed red meats like burgers, bacon, and sausage. You could even try the less restrictive “flexitarian” style that involves eating mostly plant-based foods with the occasional meat and/or seafood. “Meatless Mondays” are another fun way of adding more plant-based recipes into the weekly rotation. These small changes will add up to big benefits for your health and the planet.

BariMelts provides general recommendations, not to be construed as medical advice. Please consult your doctor.

1 comment

  • Richard H. Ezzard

    Sounds like Beans are just as good as Meat without the Cholesterol. But with more fiber. Also Beans are a great source of proteins. A long with your Bariatric Vitamins and lab work. Going meatless sounds like a healthy diet. Maybe another option could be,Wild Salmon – A Healthier Option? The protein content of a portion of farmed salmon is similar to that of a wild fish, but the wild fish is lower in calories while being higher in many vitamins and minerals like potassium, zinc, and calcium. Also a 3-ounce fillet of wild salmon has fewer calories and half the fat content of the same amount of farmed salmon. And although farmed salmon may have more omega-3 fatty acids, it also has more than double the saturated fat content — and that’s not fat you want,

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