Plant-based eating has gained popularity thanks to its potential health and environmental benefits. This diet differs from typical Western diets. Plant-based eating focuses on processed plant foods instead of meat and animal products.
The basic guidelines for plant-based eating are:
- Focusing your diet on fruit, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds
- Limiting animal products, including red meat, poultry, eggs, dairy, and seafood
- Limiting processed and packaged foods
If you are thinking about adding more plant foods into your diet, here is everything you need to know.
Types of Plant-Based Eating
There are four categories of plant-based eating diets you can follow.
- Flexitarian – Flexitarians eat all food groups, including meat, but focus primarily on plant foods
- Pescatarian – Pescatarians eat plant foods, eggs, dairy, fish, and seafood, but no meat/poultry
- Vegetarian – Vegetarians eat eggs and dairy but no fish, seafood, or meat/poultry
- Vegan – Vegans do not eat any animal or animal by-products, included eggs, dairy, and honey
Each of these can create a healthy eating pattern. It is important to choose the best eating pattern for you and your lifestyle.
Benefits of Plant-Based Eating
Many studies have shown that people who follow a plant-based diet have a reduced risk of type 2 diabetes, heart disease, obesity, and overall mortality.1,2,3,4 It has also shown to reduce risk for certain types of cancers, especially cancers in our digestive system.5
Researchers still continue to study why plant-based diets are better for our health. It could be due to the many beneficial nutrients found in the plant food group. Examples of these nutrients are fiber, potassium, phytonutrients, and antioxidants. These nutrients have shown to help reduce inflammation, strengthen the immune system, and maintain healthy digestive tracts.6
Legumes, like beans and lentils, may be especially good for our health. One study examined the eating patterns of the longest living populations in different areas of the world. Legumes were the only food group found to have a strong and consistent correlation across regions and populations.7
The average person requires about 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight.
Protein is a common concern people have when switching to a plant-based diet. It is possible to have a protein-rich diet while eating plant-based. Nuts, whole grains, legumes, soy products, and some vegetables are high protein. These plant-based items serve as great substitutes for meat as a protein source.
Flexitarians can still get their protein from small amounts of animal foods. For those who want to cut out animal foods completely, they may switch to substitutes. Be mindful of the substitution, though. For example, vegan taco meat made from tofu or seitan provides more protein than one made of cauliflower.
Vitamins and Minerals
When switching to plant-based eating, people get concerned about their vitamin and mineral intake. Vegans especially must consider this part of their diet.
While vegan diets can be nutritionally complete, some vitamins and minerals need extra attention. For example, Vitamin B12 is one of the few micronutrients found almost only in animal products, nutritional yeast, and fortified plant foods. So, it is generally difficult for vegans to get enough of it through diet alone.
Talk to your doctor or dietitian about getting the nutrients you need based on your own diet.
Tips for Going Plant-Based
It can be overwhelming or intimidating switching to plant-based eating. The best way to start is to focus on eating fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds.
- Start each meal by filling up half of your plate with your favorite fruits and vegetables
- Start out the day right with whole grains; try oatmeal or quinoa, topped with your favorite fruit and nuts
- If you eat meat daily, try picking one day a week to eat vegetarian or vegan
- Tonstad S, Butler T, Yan R, Fraser GE. Type of vegetarian diet, body weight, and prevalence of type 2 diabetes. Diabetes care. 2009;32(5):791-796
- Tuso PJ, Ismail MH, Ha BP, Bartolotto C. Nutritional update for physicians: plant-based diets. The Permanente journal. 2013;17(2):61-66
- Kim H, Caulfield LE, Garcia-Larsen V, Steffen LM, Coresh J, Rebholz CM. Plant-Based Diets Are Associated With a Lower Risk of Incident Cardiovascular Disease, Cardiovascular Disease Mortality, and All-Cause Mortality in a General Population of Middle-Aged Adults. Journal of the American Heart Association. 2019;8(16):e012865.
- Olfert MD, Wattick RA. Vegetarian Diets and the Risk of Diabetes. Current diabetes reports. 2018;18(11):101.
- Tantamango-Bartley Y, Jaceldo-Siegl K, Fan J, Fraser G. Vegetarian Diets and the Incidence of Cancer in a Low-Risk Population. Cancer Epi Bio Prev. 2013;22(2):286-294.
- Amit Kumar Singh, Célia Cabral, Ramesh Kumar, et al. Beneficial Effects of Dietary Polyphenols on Gut Microbiota and Strategies to Improve Delivery Efficiency. Nutrients. 2019;11(9):2216.
- Darmadi-Blackberry I, Wahlqvist ML, Kouris-Blazos A, et al. Legumes: the most important dietary predictor of survival in older people of different ethnicities. Asia Pacific Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 2004;13(2):217-220.