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Change in diet requires informed choices

GRAND FORKS, N.D. -- People considering a major dietary change should do a lot of research first to make sure they’re not missing key nutrients, said Mandy Burbank, registered dietician with the Grand Forks Public Health Department.

“If you’re cutting out meat, for example, you need to consider other ways to get those key nutrients,” she said. “Be more mindful about how you’re going to get them.”

People usually think about protein from meat, but it’s also available in plant foods such as beans and legumes, she said. Other sources of protein include nuts, eggs and quinoa, a grain that’s often prepared like rice for meals.

For example, one cup of quinoa provides 18 grams of protein, Burbank said. “That’s more than milk.”  

The most important nutrients vegetarians and vegans need to capture in their diets are vitamin B12 and vitamin D, she said. “They may want to think about taking supplements” to meet daily recommendations.   

Vegetarians and vegans should be careful to eat a variety of foods, including vegetables, whole grains and whole fruits, she said.

“Some vegetarians substitute a lot of soy foods — such as soy milk for cow’s milk, for instance — as a source of protein and calcium.”

Check labels

Read labels to make sure you choose products that are fortified with calcium, she said. Some vegetables, including broccoli and kale, are high in calcium, which is important to consume especially if you’re not eating cheese and milk, said Burbank, who also recommended calcium-fortified orange juice.

Those who stop eating eggs can substitute flax seed, canola oil and walnuts to get the fatty acids that eggs supply, she said.

When making a transition to alternative food choices, “think more about what you add to your diet rather than what you’re taking from it,” she said. “Eating meat will make you feel full longer but by adding quinoa, for instance, you’ll eat less meat.”

She advises that people “make meat an ingredient rather than the centerpiece of the meal.”  

“About half of your plate should be fruits and vegetables,” she said, citing the government’s dietary guidelines outlined at

Connect with others

Burbank also suggests connecting with others who have made or are making dietary changes you have in mind.

“The thing that’s huge is being part of a group or having someone else you can talk with and get recipes from,” she said. “If someone tells you, ‘This recipe is great,’ you don’t have to go through a lot of trial and error.”  

When people make “a mindful change (in their diet), the difference is huge,” she said. “They feel better and are more energetic.”

A whole foods, plant-based diet is very low in calories and offers advantages for lowering high blood pressure, cholesterol levels and the risk of developing cancer and diabetes, Burbank said.

“From the health perspective, as a dietician, I see it as a huge motivator for change.”  

Burbank is available to discuss nutrition-related questions at (701) 787-8100.