There are many reasons and ways to have a plant-based diet, and these three dietitians are here to share their methods and advice.

Plant-based eating experts

When it comes to healthy-eating trends, plant-based foods, recipes, and diets are front and center. According to Menus of Change, an initiative created by the Culinary Institute of America and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, restaurants have devoted more space on their menus to plant-forward dishes in the past two years. The United Nations designated 2016 the International Year of Pulses, propelling chickpeas, lentils, and dried beans and peas  into starring roles on chefs’ menus and families’ dinner tables. And the 2015–2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans emphasize fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and plant-based oils, such as those found in Hellmann’s® Real Mayonnaise, which provide a source of monounsaturated  and polyunsaturated  fatty acids.

Yet ask 100 people what plant-based eating is, and you’ll likely get 100 different answers. That’s because it can mean a lot of different things. At one end of the spectrum, the diet can be interpreted as strictly vegan, while on the other, it may include animal products and even some meat. To get a better understanding of what plant-based eating means in practice, vegetarian nutrition expert, cookbook author, and blogger Alex Caspero, MA, RDN, CLT, spoke with five dietitians along the spectrum, ranging from vegan to flexitarian.
Alex Caspero, MA, RDN, CLT, 2015 Agent of Change 


RDN.   Vegan.   100% Plant-Based.

Sharon Palmer

What was your earliest experience with a plant-based diet?

I was raised in an almost vegetarian home with a Mother Earth–type atmosphere. Lentil loaf, crumbly whole-grain bread, and granola were mainstays. We had a huge garden. About six years ago, I put myself on a one-month vegan challenge to see it from a dietitian’s perspective. I felt really healthy, and like I had a light impact on the earth. 

How can non-vegans and non-vegetarians benefit from plant-based eating? 

The core tenet is to plan meals around other plant-based proteins instead of meat or fish—beans and legumes, for instance. Lentil tacos can be substituted for regular tacos. Not everybody wants to be vegan, vegetarian, or pescatarian. But it’s very doable to cut your meat intake in half.

If you are cooking for someone who might be apprehensive about plant-based eating, what do you make? 

Use a lot of bold, global flavors. Not everyone wants tofu or tempeh. I do Southwestern stuffed peppers with black beans and quinoa topped with a really good sauce. I also do a falafel dish.


MS, RDN.  Vegetarian.  Occasional Fish & Dairy.

Jessica Jones

Has being a vegetarian always been a healthy choice for you?

I never liked meat. I had my last hamburger when I was 12, and that was it. Looking back now though, I wasn’t eating enough protein; my diet tended to be heavy on starchy carbohydrates and lacking in vegetables. My favorite meal was a patty-less cheeseburger with french-fries. I knew I wasn’t being a vegetarian in the healthiest way, so I began reading more about nutrition.

What advice would you give to someone considering a vegetarian diet?

I have patients who talk about vegetarianism, but they love meat so much, they would be miserable without it. You can eat plant-based but still incorporate meat into your diet throughout the day or week, in small portions, and be healthy.

What’s your go-to vegetarian meal?

Beans, rice, and vegetables, or pinto bean tacos. Instead of frying the tortillas, I’ll bake them in the oven; it’s healthier and they get crispy.


MS, RDN, CDN.  Vegetarian.  Occasional Fish & Dairy.

Wendy Lopez

What different types of eating have you tried?

It’s been a journey. I experimented when I was in college. I tried taking out red meat, but keeping poultry. I tried pescatarian, vegetarian, and vegan diets. I played around to see what felt best for my body. 

How do you help clients adopt plant-based diets?

The most basic is the MyPlate method, focusing on non-starchy vegetables for half the plate, then pairing that with healthy proteins and a wholesome carbohydrate. You can keep the rest of the plate as you normally would, but swap the animal proteins for beans, legumes, tofu, and the like.

What about breakfast?

I’m a big fan of smoothies. I make a green tea smoothie that’s balanced, delicious, affordable, and a great way to get in more fruits and vegetables. I blend together 1 cup Lipton® Green Tea, ½ cup yogurt, 2 cups spinach leaves, 1 cup frozen fruit, and 1 tsp. flax or chia seeds.

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