- A plant-based diet primarily includes unprocessed plant-based foods like fruits, nuts, whole grains, seeds, legumes, and vegetables, and perhaps with limited intake of processed plant foods or animal-based foods.
- There are different vegetarian diets – vegan, lacto-ovo vegetarian, and pescatarian diets, but the key difference is that a plant-based diet may include small quantities of meat.
- Plant-based diets have been linked to reduced cancer risk, improved metabolic disorders, better heart health, reduced obesity, and decreased type 2 diabetes risk.
- When starting a plant-based diet, it’s effective to begin with basic and small, manageable changes each day. Essential foods include green leafy vegetables, whole grains, fruits, unsaturated oils, and plant-based proteins.
Plant-powered eating has surged in popularity, particularly as more people aim to upgrade their diet and adopt a healthier lifestyle. So what precisely does a plant-based diet entail, and how simple is it to incorporate?
Interestingly, the surge in plant-based eating isn’t unfounded. The plant-based food sector has seen a 29% growth spurt in recent times, as revealed by the U.S. National Library of Medicine. Despite the acknowledged health advantages of plant-based diets, the transition from a meat-dominated diet can be challenging.
A Deeper Look at Plant-Based Diets
“A whole foods, plant-based diet primarily includes unprocessed plant-based foods, which cover fruits, nuts, whole grains, seeds, legumes, and vegetables,” explained Dr. Urvi Shah, oncologist at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. She emphasizes that limited intake of processed plant foods or animal-based foods like dairy or meat may be permissible but not regularly.
A balanced plant-based diet should be inclusive of a range of micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) and macronutrients (protein, fat, carbohydrates) owing to the inclusion of dairy, grains, seeds, fruits, vegetables; and in limited amounts; fish, meat, according to a perspective published in the journal _Advances in Nutrition_.
Indeed, the primary goal is to ensure that most of your dietary intake comes from plant-based foods.
Comparing Plant-Based Diets, Veganism, and Vegetarianism
As per the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), there are various forms of vegetarian diets, including vegan, lacto-ovo vegetarian, and pescatarian diets. The central distinction between these and a plant-based diet is that a plant-based diet may include small quantities of meat.
Shah elucidates, “a vegan diet totally excludes animal products, while a vegetarian diet permits dairy or eggs in certain proportions.”
A diet principally made up of whole, plant-based foods could resemble a Mediterranean diet. It’s vital to note that such a diet includes minimal meat consumption.
Health Advantages of a Plant-Based Diet
A study published in JAMA Oncology underlines evidence backing plant-based diets for reducing cancer risk and improving metabolic disorders.
Aside from this, plant-centric eating may also aid heart health. An American Heart Association (AHA) study found that youth who maintain a plant-based diet decrease their risk of stroke, heart attack, and other cardiovascular conditions in their middle age. “Eating a nutrient-dense, plant-centered diet is advantageous for cardiovascular health,” Yuni Choi, study author and postdoctoral researcher at the University of Minnesota School of Public Health, commented on the study’s findings.
Such diets have also proven effective in managing type 2 diabetes, obesity, and were linked to reduced mortality risks, as per a recent JAMA Internal Medicine study.
Embarking on a Plant-Based Diet: A Guide
Both the Mediterranean and Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diets are among the plant-based diets AHA recommends in its 2021 Dietary Guidance Scientific Statement. The USDA also echoes this recommendation.
Oftentimes, it’s most effective to start basic and make small, manageable changes each day. Key foods that should form a part of your diet include:
- Green leafy vegetables such as spinach, turnips, green leaf lettuce, and kale
- Red, orange and starchy vegetables – think bell peppers, carrots, corn, and whole potatoes
- Whole grains like brown rice, barley, and oats
- Fruits – bananas, berries, oranges, raisins
- Dairy – yogurt, dairy milk and low-fat sour cream
- Unsaturated oil, including olive and sunflower oils
- Plant-based proteins – lentils, legumes, seeds, mushrooms, soy, nuts, broccoli
- Small amounts of protein from meat, fish, eggs, cheese, and lean poultry