The beneficial nature of plant-based eating is well established but what exactly is a plant-based diet, what makes it healthy, and how can you adopt this dietary pattern?
There is no definitive structure for plant based eating and, in fact, many varying diets can be described as plant based. Instead of having a specific set of rules, a plant based diet consists of mostly fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds, and oils. Rather than choosing meat regularly as the center piece of meals, plant based eaters make plant foods their predominant menu items.
Plant based eating is not exactly the same as a vegan or vegetarian diet because animal foods can be included in minimal amounts in this eating pattern and may not be avoided altogether. Instead, vegan and vegetarianism are forms of plant based eating rather than the only option for this diet style. The plant based diet offers an approach that is more realistic for meat enjoyers because they do not have to restrict themselves to entirely avoiding foods made from animals. The Mediterranean diet is another example of a plant based diet approach. The Mediterranean eating pattern is largely composed of minimally processed plant foods, however, fish is also included regularly and other meats make guest appearances in the diet.
Plant based diets are complete in that they include appropriate levels of carbohydrates, protein, and fats as well as vitamins and minerals; while having higher levels of fiber and phytochemicals to optimize health. Compared to more strict plant diets like veganism, nutrient deficiencies are more easily avoided on plant based diets that include small amounts of animal derived foods. Studies suggest that plant based eating is associated with sustainable weight loss, prevention of an array of chronic diseases, as well as reduced mortality for those living with a chronic disease. Health outcomes have been seen even in plant based diets that include some animal products. For example, the Mediterranean diet specifically has shown beneficial outcomes in disease prevention in numerous studies.
Begin your journey toward plant based health by using these simple tips:
Start slow. Cut back on meat and dairy intake rather than getting rid of these foods completely. Start by eliminating only your least favorite animal foods. Keep your preferred meats and dairy in the diet but cut back on their portions and enjoy them alongside large portions of vegetables. Gradually work your way towards changing commonly used recipes into their plant based versions. For example select soup or chili with whole grains and legumes, fill your tacos with beans and rice, and top pizzas with vegetables.
Consider your preferences. Select a few of your favorite plant based dishes to rotate into a regular weekly menu. Begin to expand on these meals by adding additional vegetables or plant based protein so that they can be made the centerpiece of your meal rather than a meat co-star.
Choose a whole grain at breakfast. Start your day with oatmeal, quinoa, buckwheat, or barley. Add some fresh fruit, nuts, and chia seeds to make the meal balanced and complete!
Select healthy fats at each meal. Olives, avocado, nuts & nut butters, and seeds are particularly good sources of fat, as are the oils made from these food types.
Fruit up your dessert. To satisfy your sweet tooth select sweet fruits like peaches, cherries, watermelon or berries.