Initial investigation of dietitian perception of plant-based protein quality

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Abstract

Interest in plant-based diets is increasing, evidenced by scientific and regulatory recommendations, including Dietary Guidelines for Americans. Dietitians provide guidance in dietary protein selection but little is known about how familiar dietitians are with the quality of plant versus animal proteins or methods for measuring protein quality. Likewise, there is a need to explore their beliefs related to dietary recommendations. The aim of this study was to assess dietitians' perceptions of plant-based protein quality and to determine if these are affected by demographic factors such as age and dietary practice group (DPG) membership. This was a cross-sectional design using an online survey. The survey was sent to all members of the Missouri Dietetic Association. All completed surveys (136) were analyzed. The main outcome measures were responses to belief and knowledge questions about the protein quality of plant-based diets, along with demographic information including age and DPG membership. Descriptive statistics and frequencies were determined, and chi-square analysis was used to determine the associations between belief and knowledge responses and demographic characteristics. Responses to belief statements suggested a high level of support for plant-based diets. No associations were found between any of the belief questions and demographic factors. A majority of respondents were not familiar with protein quality determination methods that are currently recognized by global regulatory and advisory agencies. Potential barriers identified in shifting to a more plant-based diet were lack of interest and perceived difficulty. Knowledge among dietitians of plant-based protein quality in general, and methods of protein quality measurement more specifically, needs to be addressed to enhance their knowledge base for making dietary protein recommendations. Two potential avenues for training are university curricula and continuing education opportunities provided to practitioners who provide dietary advice.

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