What Is a Plant-Based Diet?
Plant-based, or plant-forward, diets focus on foods that come mostly from plants. In addition to fruits and vegetables, plant-based diets usually include lots of nuts, seeds, whole grains, oils, legumes, beans, herbs, and spices. They tend to avoid processed foods and animal products like red meat, poultry, fish, eggs, and dairy.
Some are more flexible than others:
Mediterranean diets. This way of eating focuses on plant-based foods but also includes fish, eggs, poultry, yogurt, and cheese a few times a week. Meat and sweets aren’t eaten much.
Vegan diets. This lifestyle is probably the strictest form of a plant-based diet. It doesn’t include any animal products at all. That means no meat, poultry, fish, seafood, eggs, or dairy.
Vegetarian diets. People who eat a vegetarian diet eat eggs and dairy products. But they stay away from meat, fish, poultry, and seafood.
Semi-vegetarian or flexitarian. These diets include eggs, dairy, and occasionally meat, fish, seafood, and poultry.
Pescatarian. This is just fish, seafood, eggs, and dairy, along with what vegans or vegetarians may eat. It avoids all meat and poultry.
What Are the Benefits of a Plant-Based Diet?
Plant-based foods are high in fiber and rich in vitamins and minerals. They’re also low in calories, saturated fat, and cholesterol. You can usually meet your protein, calcium, and nutritional needs if you eat different kinds. But it’s important to add a daily supplement or fortified cereals, plant milks, or nutritional yeasts to make sure you get enough vitamin B12.
Eating a plant-based diet can also lower your risk of serious health complications like:
Diabetes. Plant-based diets also can prevent, manage, and reverse type two diabetes. This is because they tend to lower body weight, improve insulin function, and boost your body’s ability to manage blood sugar.
Obesity. Plant-based diets can lead to weight loss, even if you don’t exercise often or count calories. That’s because when you swap high-fat foods with fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes, you’ll naturally reduce your calories, which can help avoid obesity.
Alzheimer’s disease or other cognitive conditions. Many dairy, meat, and fried products have saturated and trans fats, which can raise your risk for Alzheimer’s disease and other brain conditions. Plant-based options help avoid these risks and contain high levels of antioxidants, folate, and vitamin E, which may help improve brain health.
There may also be financial benefits. One study showed that people who eat plant-based diets save money, compared to those who eat meals made mostly of animal products. Experts found that you could save a yearly average of $750 with a plant-based lifestyle.
How Do I Start a Plant-Based Diet?
Here are some ideas to get you on the right track:
Look for easy options. Many companies provide pre-made plant-based options that come either fresh or frozen. You can find plant-based pizzas, meat substitutes, pasta dishes, and other meals in your local grocery stores.
Invest in meal kits. There are meal delivery services that send pre-made meals or ingredients right to your doorstep. Many of these companies offer plant-based options as well. You can subscribe and choose what plant-based food you’d like to get. This can help you find new and delicious options that fit your lifestyle needs.
Fill up with vegetables. Cover half of your plate with vegetables for lunch and dinner. Choose plenty of colors when you decide on your veggies for the week. Snack on them with hummus, guacamole, or salsa.
Think differently about meat. Use meat as a side dish instead of your main course if you choose a plant-based diet that allows some animal products.
Cook a vegetarian meal at least once a week. If you’re new to plant-based diets, slowly add vegetarian meals into your lifestyle. Build these meals around a base of beans, vegetables, and whole grains.
Opt for good fats. Use healthier fats like olive oil, nuts, avocados, nut butters, olives, or even plant-based butter.
Use salad as a base. Start with greens like spinach or romaine lettuce. Add a variety of other vegetables and plant-based options like fresh herbs, peas, tofu, or beans.
Eat fruit for dessert. A ripe mango, slice of melon, or a crisp apple can satisfy your sweet tooth.
Plan it out. Make a list of your favorite plant-based meals and prepare your grocery list ahead of time. This’ll make it easier to stick to your diet and save time.