A plant-based diet is a trendy phase nowadays when talking about nutrition. It seems everyone and their mother are forgoing their typical diets for one that is, well, plant-based (and free of meat and other animal products). Perhaps you have even tuned into the popular documentaries raising awareness about this diet, such as Cowspiracy and Fork Over Knives. You may have even thought about making the switch within your own diet but have no idea how to start or why you should even start a plant-based diet in the first place. Sure, it’s a hot phrase that everyone seems to be dropping but is it a hot phase? Let’s find out.
What is a Plant-Based Diet?
Put simply, a plant-based diet is often used as an alternative term for a vegan diet – a diet that eliminates all animal products, including poultry, fish, eggs, dairy, honey and meat, and that thrives on whole grains, vegetables, fruits, legumes, nuts and seeds, or rather, anything that is derived from plants.
However, the term has also been used in a broader way. For example, a plant-based diet can be used to describe all vegetarian diets or even broader, a diet that is composed mostly of plants, but not entirely. So, the interpretation is entirely up to you and the “plant-based” version that best suits your goals.
It’s much easier to view the term, ‘plant-based diet’ as a broad category of diets with more specific regimes falling within it.
Examples of Plant-Based Diets
This may seem confusing at first. After all, a plant-based diet can mean that the diet is strictly plant-based, largely plant-based, entirely vegan or one of the many variations that fall in between the lines. To give you a better idea of the types of plant-based diets out there, let’s focus on more popular diets.
The Mediterranean diet is likely one you’ve heard of before. It is a plant-based diet that has an emphasis on plant-based foods, but that also incorporates fish and poultry1Marengo LDN, R.D., K., 2022. Mediterranean diet: A guide and 7-day meal plan. [online] Medicalnewstoday.com. Available at: <https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/324221> [Accessed 18 March 2022]..
A vegan diet is the truest form of a ‘plant-based diet’, as it is fully plant-based. This style of diet eliminates all animal products and consists only of foods from plant sources2Panoff, MPH, RD, L., 2020. Plant-Based vs. Vegan Diet — What’s the Difference?. [online] Healthline. Available at: <https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/plant-based-diet-vs-vegan> [Accessed 18 March 2022]..
A vegetarian diet is also an example of a plant-based diet. It is largely focused on foods derived from plants but eliminates meat products. Unlike a vegan diet, you can still eat animal products, such as dairy, eggs and seafood3McManus, MS, RD, LDN,, K., 2021. What is a plant-based diet and why should you try it? – Harvard Health. [online] Harvard Health. Available at: <https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/what-is-a-plant-based-diet-and-why-should-you-try-it-2018092614760> [Accessed 18 March 2022]..
Interestingly, a vegetarian diet can then be broken down into other versions, such as a semi-vegetarian or flexitarian diet, which includes eggs, dairy and the occasional meat, poultry, fish and seafood. Or a pescatarian, which includes eggs, dairy, fish and seafood but eliminates all meat and poultry.
The Benefits of Plant-Based Diets
The benefits you can expect to receive from a plant-based diet highly depends on the variation you choose. However, all have been shown to offer significant health benefits when done properly and safely, according to research4Tuso, P. J., Ismail, M. H., Ha, B. P., & Bartolotto, C. (2013). Nutritional update for physicians: plant-based diets. The Permanente journal, 17(2), 61–66. https://doi.org/10.7812/TPP/12-085. This is due to the diets maximizing nutrient intake and eliminating foods that are commonly linked to poor health. They’ve been linked to providing everything from an abundance of cardiac benefits to improved fertility, reduced risk of disease and many benefits in between. Here’s a brief overview:
- Reduced cholesterol
- Improved fertility
- Reduced risk of developing type 2 diabetes
- Significantly lower risk of heart disease
- Can help prevent and treat type 2 diabetes
- Reduce the risk of other chronic illnesses, including cancer
- Positive impacts on emotional, mental and physical well-being
- Reduce inflammation (which also improved chronic disorders caused by overactive inflammatory response)
- Lower carbon footprint
- Improve kidney function
- Reduce risk of heart disease
- Lower risk of cognitive impairment and dementia
- Improved gut health
- Increased athletic performance
- Reduced arthritis pain
- Can reduce the likelihood that you’ll need medication
- Lower your risk of obesity
And the list goes on. To sum it up, eating a plant-based diet can be highly advantageous to your physical, mental and emotional health, quality of life and overall wellbeing. It can even help prevent and treat a variety of diseases and health conditions including those that end with the big “C” (cancer).
Tips for Starting a Plant-Based Diet
Transitioning over to a different diet than what you’re used to can be quite daunting at first. You need to re-learn entirely new ropes, which often comes with plenty of research, prep and planning. Fortunately, there is an abundance of exceptional programs online that have already done the hard work for you so you can jump right in. There are also a plethora of tips you can implement to make your experience a pleasant, easy and stress-free one.
Additionally, tips will help you eat a plant-based diet… properly. As mentioned earlier, this is the key to reaping the benefits that this style of eating can offer. To give you a boost in the right direction, here are some tips you’ll want to take note of:
- Make sure you get enough protein to maintain strong bones, healthy skin and muscle mass. Beans, lentils, quinoa, soy products, nuts and seeds are excellent sources.
- Ensure you get adequate amounts of calcium and vitamin D, which can be found in soy, almond, rice or hemp milk, as well as dark leafy greens, beans, and mushrooms.
- Get your zinc, iron and B12 vitamin in to support a healthy immune system, to maintain energy with foods such as whole grains, beans, fortified cereals and soy products.
- Take supplements as needed if you aren’t eating sufficient amounts of certain foods to meet your nutritional requirements
- When beginning a plant-based diet, keep it simple and start by cutting out one animal product at a time
- Replace all dairy products with rice, soy, almond and hemp alternatives.
- Stock up on plenty of legumes, beans, nuts and seeds
- Aim to include all four food groups in each meal (plant protein, vegetables, fruits and whole grains)
- Eat lots of veggies
- Enjoy fruits for dessert
- Build your meals around a salad
- Start by cooking a vegetarian meal one night a week and gradually increase this
- Make the transition into a plant-based diet by having smaller amounts of meat on your plate
- Keep your grocery shopping list heavy on beans, produce and plant-based proteins to set yourself up for success
- Choose good, healthy fats such as olive oil, nuts, nut butters, seeds and avocados
Follow a pre-made meal plan to take the guessing work and stress out of your meals
Plant-based diets are scientifically proven to be a healthy way to eat that serves a plethora of physical, mental and emotional health benefits on your plate of whole grains, vegetables, fruits, legumes, nuts and seeds, or rather, anything that is derived from plants. It can improve your current health concerns and conditions, while also preventing and healing health problems and risks in the future. If that’s not enough to convince you that it’s time to forgo or at the very least, limit animal products, simple steps can go a long way. A plant-based diet plan or the tips mentioned can help you make the transition from your current diet into a plant-based one, with ease.
- 1Marengo LDN, R.D., K., 2022. Mediterranean diet: A guide and 7-day meal plan. [online] Medicalnewstoday.com. Available at: <https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/324221> [Accessed 18 March 2022].
- 2Panoff, MPH, RD, L., 2020. Plant-Based vs. Vegan Diet — What’s the Difference?. [online] Healthline. Available at: <https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/plant-based-diet-vs-vegan> [Accessed 18 March 2022].
- 3McManus, MS, RD, LDN,, K., 2021. What is a plant-based diet and why should you try it? – Harvard Health. [online] Harvard Health. Available at: <https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/what-is-a-plant-based-diet-and-why-should-you-try-it-2018092614760> [Accessed 18 March 2022].
- 4Tuso, P. J., Ismail, M. H., Ha, B. P., & Bartolotto, C. (2013). Nutritional update for physicians: plant-based diets. The Permanente journal, 17(2), 61–66. https://doi.org/10.7812/TPP/12-085