5 Tips for Eating Plant-Based Around the Holidays
How to maximize nutrients when going to non-vegetarian or non vegan-friendly dinners
If you have been following a plant-based lifestyle for a few years, you have probably been in the situation where you are invited to a dinner but don’t have many options available. Or maybe it is your first year as a vegetarian/vegan and you are trying to ensure you get your nutrients, when most of the food served is animal based and the “vegetarian” option is basically only vegetables.
Being ovo-lacto vegetarian (eating eggs and dairy) for over a decade now, I have seen it all… and it’s not my first holiday, dealing with this. Over the years, I have refined my approach and I can tell you that I am not stressed at all when going to special events or holiday dinners. I am only thinking about the good times I’ll spend with my friends and family. In this article, I share with you my best tips to ensure you have a healthy, stress-free and plant-based holiday!
Recent Recommendations for a Plant-Based Diet
First let’s take a look at what a balanced plant-based diet is like and what the most recent data says.
A plant-based diet may increase the risk of some nutrient deficiency over time if not adequately balanced. In fact, in a vegetarian or vegan diet, some nutrients are less well absorbed or poorly available which increases the risk of nutrient deficiency if not balanced.
Some nutrients to pay a close attention to:
- Protein: For many years, Dietitians were recommending the combination of plant-based proteins to ensure all the essential amino acids were consumed. The idea was that some plant-based food groups are lacking some amino acids while others are rich in that same, but lacking other amino acids. Therefore, all the amino acids are available if a meal is made of more than one food group.
The recommendations have recently changed and it is no longer required to ensure the combination of plant-based proteins. As explained in this research review, “the amounts and proportions of amino acids consumed by vegetarians and vegans are typically more than sufficient to meet and exceed individual daily requirements, provided a reasonable variety of foods are consumed and energy intake needs are being met. The claim that certain plant foods are “missing” specific amino acids is demonstrably false.” In other words, as long as a vegetarian or vegan diet is not based on the same few food items and there is a good variety each day, the concerns for protein deficiency in developed countries are unjustified.
- Iron: According to Health Canada, because the absorption of iron from plant-based foods is poorly available, the Dietary References Intake (DRI) is 1.8 times greater for a vegetarian or vegan lifestyle.
- Zinc: According to Health Canada, also because of the poor absorption of zinc in plant-based foods, the DRI is 1.5 times greater for a vegetarian and vegan lifestyle.
- Calcium and Vitamin D: The risk of vitamin D deficiency can affect all Canadians because of poor exposure to the sun in the winter. However, in a typical North American diet, the main sources of Calcium and Vitamin D are fortified cow’s-based dairy. While vegetarians consuming dairy are not at high risk, vegans not consuming fortified plant-based beverages may not have enough calcium or Vitamin D from their diets.
- B12: Vitamin B12 is both available from food and made by the bacteria in the colon (providing about 50% of the daily requirements). This nutrient is only found in animal products, except some nutritional yeast or some fortified plant-based beverages. People following a vegan diet are at much higher risk of Vitamin B12 deficiency. However, signs of deficiency generally appear after several months of poor vitamin B12 intake.
- Omega 3 fats: The main source of omega 3 fats is fatty fish. When fish is not part of the diet, special consideration needs to be taken for plant-based foods that are rich in omega 3, such as flax seeds, some nuts and oils, and eaten regularly.
Tips for a balanced plant-based holiday
1. Don’t avoid the dinners!
It might stress you out that there won’t be options for you to have a balanced meal, but one time only won’t change anything. Remember, it is only one meal out of your day. Make sure the rest of your day is balanced and has good variety, and everything will be just fine!
2. Ensure the rest of your day/week is healthy
Imagine you have 3 holiday dinners scheduled this week. If you make sure you have a well-balanced, colourful and yummy breakfast, lunch and snacks then you won’t have a nutrient deficiency because of 3 dinners.
3. Bring a meal that people can discover and that you can eat
Build a new tradition! Cook a vegetarian or vegan dish. On top of making people discover a new meal, you make sure you can actually eat something! If you haven’t read it yet, I encourage to take a look at our vegetarian tourtiere recipe which talks about the new tradition that I have installed in my family over the years.
4. Be enthusiastic about the effort people make
Sometimes people will try their best to cook something that has no animal products in it. The food might not be balanced, there might not be any protein in it, but it is the intention that counts. Have it, enjoy it and remember the first 2 tips listed here!
5. Get the most from the snacks
There might not be much you can get from the meal itself, but what about the snacks? Maybe there is eggnog, nuts, crackers and cheese, vegetables and hummus offered in between the meals. All of these options are rich in several nutrients discussed above.
And there you have it, five key tips to have a healthy, joyful, plant-based holiday. Remember it is not what you do between Christmas and New Year’s that counts, it is what you do between the New Year and Christmas. Remember to put any concerns aside, and enjoy your time with your family.
Wishing you all the best during this holiday season and lest we connect in the New Year if you need nutrition support with a plant-based lifestyle or more.
Need some personalized help for vegetarian meal planning, how to navigate a plant-based holiday, or how to incorporate more plant-based foods into your diet? We can help!
As Registered Dietitians that specialize in meal planning, vegetarian health, weight concerns, emotional eating, eating disorders, digestive health, heart health, diabetes, pediatric nutrition and sports nutrition we can see you in our local Dietitian Calgary office or as an Online Dietitian by phone or video conferencing for virtual nutrition counseling.