What is a plant-based diet?
In the past, plant-based diets were thought to be something only the hippie crowd cared about. Over recent years, the plant-based food trend has gained popularity around the world for a variety of reasons, ranging from ethical concerns to healthy living. What are the benefits? Is a plant-based diet good for you? Here’s what you need to know.
A plant-based is one that is based on eating a variety of different plants. While most people who follow a plant-based diet tend to be vegetarian or vegan, that doesn’t have to be true for all. The purpose of a plant-based diet is to try and eat whole foods that are minimally processed or not processed at all. The basic foods used in this way of eating include:
- Whole grains
- Plant-based oils
There are different versions of plant-based diets depending on if you want to include animal products into your lifestyle. Some popular plant-based diets are:
- Mediterranean diet: a diet that is based on fruits and vegetables and includes little-to-no red meat.
- Pescatarian diet: a diet that is mainly vegetarian but allows for eating fish and seafood.
- Vegetarian diet: vegetarians do not eat meat or fish but will usually eat some animal products, like dairy, eggs, and honey.
- Vegan diet: vegans do not eat animal products of any kind and eat foods that come only from plants.
Benefits of a plant-based diet
There are several reasons that the plant-based trend is catching on like never before.
Some people who follow a plant-based diet choose to do so to avoid hurting or exploiting animals for food sources. A vegan diet is a cruelty-free diet as it doesn’t include any animal by-products. Others may choose this kind of diet for its effect on the planet. A meat-based diet creates more pollution and uses more resources, like water and livestock feed, than a plant-based diet does. Plant-based diets have a lower carbon footprint than a traditional diet does.
Plant-based diets can have several health benefits when followed correctly. Research shows that reducing or cutting meat out of your diet can lower your risk of:
Doctors may also recommend eating a plant-based diet to reduce the risk of some kinds of cancers associated with eating meat, including stomach and colorectal cancers. Studies also show that a plant-based diet when teamed with stress reduction and increased exercise can delay the progression of prostate cancer in some people.
Cons of a plant-based diet
Following a plant-based diet has benefits when correctly managed. However, there are certain things to keep in mind. Don’t try to swap out meat with overly-processed meat substitutes, like vegan hot dogs or burgers, even if you are most comfortable with those substitutes. These foods, along with vegan junk foods, aren’t healthy even though they don’t contain meat. Plant-based foods can be as bad for you as any meat product if you choose badly. You don’t want to overdo it on things like French fries and sugary snacks just because they’re plant-based. The focus of this diet should be unprocessed, whole foods.
If you follow a vegan diet or vegetarian diet you need to make sure that you still get enough protein. Protein is essential for many of the things our bodies do. They are vital in building and repairing muscle tissue. Cutting sources like meat, dairy, fish, and eggs eliminates many sources of proteins. To make sure that you’re getting enough protein, try to include these high-protein foods in your diet:
- Nuts and seeds
- Soy products, including tofu and tempeh
- Legumes, like beans and peas
- Whole grains like oatmeal, barley, and quinoa
Some diets in the plant-based trend can also be low on vitamins and minerals. To make up for this, you might need to take additional supplements to make sure you’re getting all of your essential nutrients.
How to get started
If you’re thinking about jumping on the plant-based trend, it’s best to move into it gradually. A vegan diet can be quite restrictive. Think about what works best for you and your family. Start with a few meatless meals a week while still incorporating cuisines and flavors that you like.
No matter how much you want to follow a plant-based diet, you want to balance the nutritional elements of your meals:
- Half of your plate should be vegetables
- A quarter should be whole grains
- A final quarter can be some source of lean protein
Add in some healthy fats known to be good for your heart. Good, doctor-approved fats can also help you stay full for longer.
American Heart Association: "How does Plant-Forward (Plant-Based) Eating Benefit Your Health?"
Doctors of Osteopathic Medicine: "5 myths of whole-food plant-based diets debunked."
Harvard Health Publishing: "Plant-based diets are best...or are they?"
Heart Foundation: "Should I switch to a plant-based diet?"
Piedmont Healthcare: "The difference between a vegan and a plant-based diet."
Stanford Medicine: "A skeptical look at popular diets: Vegetarian is healthy if you tread carefully."
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