What is a plant-based diet?
May 12, 2023
It seems like more and more people are eating with intention, whether they’re following the latest popular diet, fasting at different times of the day, avoiding certain ingredients, choosing to abstain from all animal products or focusing on whole, unprocessed foods.
Sometimes it’s difficult to make sense of all the terminology. For instance, what is a plant-based diet? Is it the same as being a vegetarian or vegan? If you decide to follow a plant-based diet, do you have to swear off your favorite cheeseburger or tacos de carnitas recipe forever? The short answer is no.
Plant-based eating, or plant-forward eating, doesn’t mean you can’t eat eggs, dairy, fish or meats. It just means that you eat less of them.
In a diet that focuses on plant-based foods, you are proportionally choosing to eat more whole foods that are primarily from plants. This includes fruits, vegetables, beans, nuts, seeds and whole grains, said Katie Throop, a registered dietitian and researcher for Nutrilite™ products.
“Things other than plant-based foods become accents, not the main part of your meals,” she said. “There is plenty of room for choice and for your favorite foods – you’re just filling your plate with more plant-based foods than you are anything else.”
Great examples of plant-forward diets include the popular Mediterranean and Blue Zone diets. Research has shown there are some huge health benefits to switching to a plant-based diet. Let’s look at some that could have the biggest impact on your body.
Plant-based diet benefits: Improved nutrition and fiber
Because plant-based diets are typically packed with whole grains, beans, nuts and legumes, they provide all the needed protein, healthy fats and carbohydrates a body needs, studies have shown. The emphasis on fruits and vegetables makes them naturally high in fiber, vitamins and phytonutrients.
“For many people, red meats, poultry and fish are the main source of B vitamins in their diet. If you’re transitioning to a plant-based diet, you may want to consider a vitamin B supplement,” Throop said.
Plant-based diets can also make a visible difference in your waistline, research shows, including evidence that people following a vegan diet saw more calories being burned after a meal than those on a nonvegan diet.
One long-term study that followed a group of people over 5 years found that among meat-eaters, vegetarians, vegans and fish eaters, those who switched to a diet with fewer animal foods had the least amount of weight gain. Plant-based eaters have also been shown to keep weight off better once they lose it, according to research.
Various studies have shown that Mediterranean, vegetarian and vegan diets are associated with a reduced risk of several conditions, including heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure and obesity. They’ve also been associated with longer lifespans.
The best way to make the transition to plant-based eating is to create a plan for a gradual switch. Here are a few easy ways to get started.
Your plant-based plan can get an early boost at breakfast when your day begins by forgoing the traditional breakfast sandwich and replacing it with a bowl of oatmeal or other whole-grain cereal. Sprinkle some nuts and cinnamon on top and serve it up with a side of fruit.
Or try adding a handful of spinach, mushrooms or other sliced vegetables into your scrambled eggs rather than bacon or sausage. You’ll be on your way to a healthier day, and you’re not even out the door yet.
Whether it’s Meatless Monday, Thursday or Sunday, begin by going meatless one day a week. It’s an easy way to start down a healthy path.
When you’ve managed to regularly make that part of your routine, choose a second day for using meat only as a side dish or a small portion for added flavor.
Maybe you’ve already jumped on the kale bandwagon, but you’ve never tried slicing up and stir-frying fennel. Or you’ve considered the kohlrabi in the produce section but aren’t sure how to use it. (Same with anything else you don’t recognize in the produce section!)
Now is the time to be adventurous and try new things. A little online research will bring a plethora of recipes for whatever you’re trying. We’re betting you will find some flavors you really like!
There are no hard and fast rules for what is considered a plant-based meal, but a good way to start your journey is by looking at your plate. If a meat source typically takes up half of your plate at meal time, it’s time to start crowding it out with more fruits, vegetables, grains or beans. (This will be easier after you expand your plant-based cooking skills!)
One of the biggest hurdles when thinking about meatless meals is finding reliable sources of plant-based protein. For some of us, not having an obvious portion of protein on our plate in the form of a steak or chicken breast is a tough habit to break.
“Luckily there are plenty of sources of plant-based protein that will give us the protein levels we need. The trick is learning to recognize them and incorporating them into meal planning,” Throop said.
More traditional vegetables than you think have a significant amount of protein. There are also more protein-rich sources like quinoa, chickpeas, chia seeds, tofu, edamame, lentils and beans as well as various nuts. And you can always use protein powders, which can be easily added to smoothies, breakfast bowls, desserts, homemade protein bars or sweet treats!
Nutrilite Organics Plant Protein Powders are great examples. Their protein is sourced from a blend of peas, brown rice and chia and they come in chocolate and vanilla flavors. Need some recipes for inspiration? Try these:
Ready-to-drink protein shakes are also a convenient supplement for people reducing their intake of traditional protein sources. XS Sports Protein Shakes have 25 grams of whey and casein protein. They aren’t plant-based, but unless you’re following a vegan diet, they can fit into your plant-based eating plan and can also support your workout goals!
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