Alternative Diets: Understanding Gluten-Free, Vegetarian, and Plant-Based Diets

Posted By on March 22, 2023

Alternative diets have been popular for decades, and many younger generations have started embracing gluten-free, vegetarian, and plant-based lifestyle choices for health and environmental reasons.

At HarborChase Senior Living, we understand the importance of nutrition and how food can improve numerous aspects of physical and mental health. If you’re curious about starting an alternative diet, whether for health reasons or simply because you want to shake things up, here’s our guide to three of the most popular alternative diets – gluten-free, plant-based, and vegetarian.


Gluten is the general name for the proteins found in wheat, barley, and rye, and serves as a sort of glue that helps foods hold their shape. It’s often found in foods like bread, pasta, cereals, soups, food colorings, and beer. People often opt to maintain a gluten-free diet due to celiac disease or a gluten intolerance.

Celiac disease is an immune reaction to eating gluten, which occurs in the small intestine. Over time, this reaction can damage the lining of the small intestine and prevent it from absorbing nutrients, leading to fatigue, anemia, weight loss, diarrhea, and other severe health problems. 

However, it’s important to note that celiac disease and gluten intolerance are two different conditions even though they share many symptoms. Celiac disease is the result of an abnormal gene, whereas people who have a gluten intolerance don’t have an abnormal gene but still feel sick after eating foods containing gluten. Research has suggested that gluten intolerance results from an inability to absorb the carbohydrates found in foods, causing the carbohydrates to remain in the gut and ferment.

A gluten-free diet requires paying special attention to the ingredients found in foods, and sticking to a high fiber, low fat diet. Foods include:

  • Fruits and vegetables
  • Lean, non-processed meats
  • Eggs
  • Beans and legumes
  • Grains, starches, and flours such as buckwheat, corn, flax, gluten-free flours, quinoa, rice, soy, and tapioca


When you hear the word “vegetarian,” you might think of common misconceptions and myths that surround this diet. For instance, many people believe that vegetarians don’t consume enough protein or feel that starting a vegetarian diet is too expensive, but these are not true. 

Vegetarian diets can reduce your risk of heart disease, diabetes, and some cancers, thanks to the benefits of consuming a variety of plant-based foods rather than meat-based products. However, it’s important to note that relying on processed vegetarian options can be detrimental to your health, especially if they’re full of sugar, fat, and sodium. 

Choose a variety of whole fruits and vegetables, legumes, nuts, and whole grains to get the most out of a vegetarian diet. Research vegetarian recipes online, and find fun ways to incorporate veggies into your favorite dishes with meat. For instance, substitute ground beef for a can of black beans in a chili recipe, or swap out chicken for extra firm tofu! You’ll be surprised by the endless possibilities!


Plant-based diets are typically associated with Veganism, a lifestyle choice that omits animal products for ethical, health, or environmental reasons. In addition to not eating meat, vegans refrain from eating eggs, dairy products, and any other product that comes from animal origin.

However, this is where plant-based diets can differ from veganism. Many vegans don’t just stop at omitting animal food products, but implement this idea into all aspects of their lives, including the clothes they wear, the cosmetic products they use, and the activities in which they take part. 

A plant-based diet, though, is exactly what it sounds like; based on plants! Essentially, this alternative diet consists of focusing on food patterns that primarily come from fruits and vegetables while implementing nuts, seeds, oils, whole grains, legumes, and beans into your meals and snacks. 

Plant-based also doesn’t have to mean that a person completely cuts out meat or dairy, but rather becomes more conscious about the amounts that they consume while proportionally choosing to get these nutrients from other plant-based foods.

Luxury Senior Living Prioritizes Nutrition

So what do all of these alternative diets have in common? A myriad of health benefits that can lower your risk of diabetes and heart disease, boost your energy, and increase your longevity.

Studies have found that plant-based diets, and similar diets such as the Mediterranean Diet, reduce risks of depression, metabolic syndrome, and even certain cancers. 

Vegetarians tend to consume less saturated fats and cholesterol, while consuming more vitamin C and E, dietary fiber, folic acid, potassium, magnesium, and phytochemicals (plant chemicals).

Gluten-free diets work wonders for those with celiac disease or gluten intolerance, but have been proven to promote healthy weight gain, improve energy, reduce joint pain and frequent headaches, and improve skin and bone health.

At HarborChase, our luxury senior living communities are dedicated to promoting wellness in every aspect of daily life, including our exceptional dining options. Our culinary artists craft gourmet cuisine to vitalize your senses and surpass your expectations while implementing fresh, local ingredients to ensure plenty of nutritional benefits. 

Whether you are in the mood for upscale contemporary or fine dining, HarborChase’s luxury senior living dining program has got you covered. Our chefs are always prepared to assist with any food preferences, allergies, or alternative diets. Discover a dining experience worth celebrating at HarborChase!