November 01, 2021 4 min read

What Is A Plant-Based Diet?

“Plant-based” is a broad term encompassing diets that focus on eating more plant-based foods like fruits, veggies, and legumes and limit foods like meat and dairy. While some may immediately think of plant-based being a vegan diet (which avoids consuming animal products entirely), that’s not necessarily true. For example, the Mediterranean diet is considered a plant-based diet because even though it incorporates fish and poultry, the emphasis is on plant-based foods. Vegetarian and “flexitarian” diets are also considered plant-based because they emphasize eating more fruits and vegetables and fewer animal products.

Plant-Based Diet Benefits

While there’s quite a bit of debate about which diet is best for you, the health and wellness community can all agree on one thing - diets emphasizing fresh, whole ingredients and minimizing processed foods are the way to go for improved overall wellness. Plant-based diets do exactly that and offer all the necessary protein, fats, and vitamins and minerals for optimal health. Here are the primary benefits of switching to a plant-based diet.

It’s Beneficial For Disease Management & Prevention

Adopting a whole-foods, plant-based diet can lower your risk and reduce symptoms of certain chronic diseases. The Mediterranean diet has been shown in both large population studies and randomized clinical trials to reduce risk of heart disease, metabolic syndrome, diabetes, certain cancers, depression, and in older adults, a decreased risk of frailty, along with better mental and physical function. Vegetarian diets have also been shown to lower the risk of developing coronary heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes and have been associated with increased longevity.

While research has found that following a plant-based diet rich in vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes, and nuts significantly lowers the risk of developing heart disease or type 2 diabetes, unhealthy plant-based diets that include sugary drinks, fruit juices, and refined grains can be associated with a slightly increased risk of heart disease. The bottom line? The quality and types of foods you choose will determine the effectiveness of a plant-based diet.

It Can Support With Weight Loss

Plant foods are high in filling fiber and low in calorie-dense saturated fats, making them ideal for those looking to shed some pounds. Many studies have shown that plant-based diets are beneficial for weight loss and may help keep weight off in the long run more successfully. In fact, one study comparing overweight participants following a vegan, plant-based diet to a control group found that the plant-based vegan diet was superior for improving body weight, fat mass, and insulin resistance markers, suggesting its benefits for both diabetes and weight loss.

It’s Good For The Planet

Cutting back on animal products has significant environmental benefits as well, since livestock production is responsible for a good portion of global greenhouse gas emissions. In fact, one serving of meat contributes to more greenhouse gas emissions than twenty servings of vegetables.

Adopting sustainable eating habits and consuming fewer animal products can help reduce greenhouse gas emissions, water consumption and land used for factory farming, which are all factors in global warming and environmental degradation.

What Foods Can You Eat On A Plant-Based Diet?

One of the biggest questions about plant-based diets is what you can and can’t eat on one. But that’s the beauty of a plant-based diet! It’s totally up to you to decide how restrictive you’d like to be. Whether you’re going full vegan or just looking to reduce your meat consumption with a plant-based diet, here are some ideas on what types of foods to eat more of and which ones to avoid.

Foods To Eat On a Plant-Based Diet

  • Fruits
  • Vegetables
  • Starchy vegetables like sweet potatoes or butternut squash
  • Whole grains like brown rice, oats, and quinoa 
  • Legumes - beans, peas, lentils, etc. 
  • Plant-based milks like pecan milk
  • Nuts, seeds, and nut Butters
  • Plant-based protein like tofu, tempeh, etc. 

    Foods To Avoid or Limit On a Plant-Based Diet

    • Dairy
    • Eggs
    • Meats
    • Poultry
    • Fish & Seafood

    Tips For Getting Started On A Plant-Based Diet

    Changing up your eating habits can be tough. If you want to be successful in changing those habits, it’s helpful to start small and be realistic - you’re more likely to stick to something by making gradual changes than totally overhauling your diet. Here are some helpful tips for making the switch to a plant-based diet.

    1. Start with breakfast. Breakfast is one of the easier meals to eat plant-based and is a good place to start in terms of transitioning to a plant-based diet. Swap eggs in the morning for oatmeal or a smoothie
    2. Replace cow's milk with a dairy-free option. One of the easiest switches you can make is to choose a milk alternative like pecan milk instead of dairy milk for your coffee or cereal. 
    3. Think about eating minimally processed foods.The label test is an easy way to think about what types of foods you should be eating- can you read all the ingredients on the label? Do you know what they are? If not, chances are that item has been processed pretty heavily. Reach for minimally processed and whole foods instead. 
    4. Choose plant-based snacks. Reach for veggies with hummus, chips, and salsa, or an apple when you’re feeling peckish.
    5. Cook a vegan or vegetarian dinner at least one day a week. Again, starting small is a great place to start when trying to change your eating habits. Start with cooking one plant-based meal a week or practicing Meatless Mondays. 
    6. Fill half of your plate with veggies. Fill half your plate with vegetables at lunch and dinner. Make sure you’re choosing leafy greens and colorful veggies!
    7. Adjust your attitude toward meat. If you’re not ready to give up meat entirely, start with eating smaller amounts. Instead of making a meat the centerpiece of a meal, make it a garnish or swap out half of your meat protein with a plant-based protein. 
    8. Make sure you're getting enough protein. If you are planning on eliminating animal products from your diet entirely, make sure you’re getting enough protein. While there are an incredible amount of protein sources available to vegans or vegetarians, it’s important to do your research and ensure the plant proteins you consume are providing you with complete proteins.

    The Bottom Line

    Whether you’re looking to eliminate animal products from your diet entirely, or just add some more greens to your daily routine, plant-based diets provide flexibility and are a great way to improve your health and reduce your environmental footprint.