Diverse dietary needs have led to a vast increase in the different types of foods available to consumers. People can mold their diets to suit different tastes, lifestyles, preferences, religions and principles. Specifically, the plant-based diet is increasing in popularity. Celebrities, athletes and even companies and whole countries are jumping on the plant-based diet bandwagon (x).
What Is a Plant-Based Diet?
So, what exactly is a plant-based diet? Well, as the name suggests, it is based around food that comes from plant sources. That includes nuts, legumes, vegetables, fruit, pulses, grains and meat alternatives like soy products (x).
However, this diet does not restrict people to just plant-based foods; it just encourages people to mainly focus their diets on plant-based sources. People choose to reduce their intake of animal products—meat, fish and poultry. But it does not mean they never eat animal products. It is not the same as a vegan or vegetarian diet.
Vegan vs. Vegetarian vs. Plant-Based Diet
Vegetarianism restricts meat, poultry, fish and seafood but includes eggs and dairy. Veganism restricts all animal products to exclude any form of animal cruelty and exploitation, whether it’s clothing or animal-tested products (x, x). Both of these diets can be healthy, but the plant-based diet encourages people to eat whole foods that are natural, unrefined or minimally refined over processed foods (x). But some vegan or vegetarian options aren’t always beneficial. For example, vegan cookies and ice cream fit into the vegan diet’s guidelines, but they are not necessarily healthy (x, x, x).
What Is Included in a Plant-Based Diet?
So, let’s get to the important part—what can you eat when you are on a plant-based diet? First, it depends on whether you have decided to include meat, fish and poultry or whether you have opted to follow a strict, plants-only eating plan. If you do decide to include animal products, they should not be the main part of your meal. Instead, eat animal products in small quantities to accompany the main plant portions of your meals.
Foods to Include
Some of the key foods you can include on your plant-based meal plan include (x):
- Whole grains, such as brown rice, barley and rolled oats
- Healthy fats, including coconut oil, olive oil and avocados
- Nuts and nut-based butter
- Plant-derived milk, including rice milk and coconut milk
- Meat alternatives like tofu and soy products
Foods to Avoid
Now that you have an idea of the food you can eat on a plant-based diet, here’s what to limit or avoid altogether (x):
- Processed food, junk food and fast food
- Refined sugar, including juice, soda, sweets, high-sugar cereal and pastries
- Refined grains, such as white bread, white rice and pasta
- Artificial sweetener
Foods to Limit
Because a plant-based diet is not the same as a vegan or vegetarian diet, it doesn’t restrict you to only eating plant sources. You can include meat, poultry, seafood, dairy products and eggs in small quantities.
By familiarizing yourself with what to include, what to avoid and what to eat in moderation, you will be able to enjoy the benefits of a plant-based diet.
Benefits of a Plant-Based Diet
Why has the plant-based diet become such a hit and what is so great about it? There are various benefits to look forward to with this diet, from physical to cognitive health.
Boosts Weight Loss
If you are on a mission to lose weight, this diet could be the perfect choice for you. With a plant-based diet, you can enjoy delicious meals packed with produce and healthy fats. You can enjoy proteins and grains and control or lose weight without having to cut calories. A study concluded that plant-based diets helped subjects lose weight more effectively than non-plant-based diets (x, x, x).
Reduces the Risk of Chronic Diseases
Many people suffer from chronic diseases, such as cardiovascular disease and diabetes. But the good news is that a plant-based diet can actually help prevent and even treat these diseases (x). Cardiovascular disease is the most common cause of death in the Western world and one study studied an elderly woman with angina who switched to a plant-based diet. Her condition nearly cleared after the switch and returned when she went back to her previous diet (x).
Lowers the Risk of Certain Cancers
According to research, a plant-based diet can also help to reduce the risk of developing certain types of cancer. The World Cancer Research Fund and the American Institute for Cancer Research published a report with evidence linking red and processed meat and dairy with cancer. The American Institute for Cancer Research suggests that a healthy plant-based diet can reduce the risk of cancer, although diet does not directly prevent cancer (x). Studies have also indicated that a plant-based diet may reduce the risk of gastrointestinal and colorectal cancer (x).
Promotes Cognitive Health
It is not just your physical health that needs to be taken care of, but your mental health as well. A healthy diet can aid cognitive health and reduce the risk of cognitive decline. One study concluded that a diet including plant-based sources and oily fish and avoiding processed food, saturated fat and simple sugars benefits age-related cognitive health (x).
Benefits the Environment
By adopting sustainable food habits, you will benefit your own health but also the planet’s. This type of eating plan can allow dieters to make a sustainable contribution to the environment. It affects greenhouse gas emissions, biodiversity loss and land and water use. Research states that producing a quarter-pound hamburger uses 14.6 gallons of water, 13.5 pounds of feed and 64.5 square feet of land. It also releases methane and carbon dioxide back into the environment (x).
Supplements for a Plant-Based Diet
One of the possible risks of a plant-based diet is that it may not supply enough vitamins and minerals, even though plant-sourced foods are packed with nutrients (x). But you can use dietary supplements to make sure the body gets what it needs.
Studies show that people on plant-based diets are at risk for Vitamin B12 deficiency, which is abundant in meat, fish, eggs and dairy. It maintains brain function and blood flow and boosts energy (x). The recommended dosage is 100 to 200 mg every day.
Zinc is an antioxidant that fights free radicals. It promotes metabolism, maintains hormone levels and boosts immune function. Plant-based foods do not have a lot of zinc, but as a dietary supplement, take 225 mg every day (x).
Fatty acids make up the fat in our bodies. It promotes cardiovascular health and brain function. If your diet permits it, omega is in fish, especially salmon, trout and tuna. But as a dietary supplement, the recommended dosage is three softgels daily (x).
Vitamin D helps the body absorb calcium and a deficiency can weaken the bones and potentially cause Osteoporosis or Osteomalacia. In addition to bone density, Vitamin D also helps absorb Vitamin A (x). Take one softgel daily as a dietary supplement.
The Bottom Line
A plant-based diet focuses on whole, natural, unrefined or minimally refined foods. It is similar to a vegan or vegetarian diet, but it does not restrict animal products. People following a plant-based diet may choose to completely avoid or simply restrict animal and dairy products.
It can help with weight loss and maintenance, prevent and reduce the risk of chronic diseases, promotes cognitive health and can even benefit the environment. A plant-based diet may result in deficiencies of certain vitamins or minerals, but supplements can help make sure that the body gets all of the nutrients it needs to be healthy.