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What’s a Plant-Based Diet?!

What is a Whole-Food, Plant-Based Diet?

What’s a Plant-Based Diet?

The simple answer, of course, is that you eat plants. You eliminate animals and (eventually) animal products like dairy and eggs.

The less simple answer is there is an abundance of plant foods that most people never eat, and eating a plant-based diet means you might widen the variety of foods you eat. 

For example, some of my favorite foods include tempeh, seitan, tofu, kale, broccoli, quinoa, ground flaxseeds, ground chia seeds, raw almonds and walnuts, raw almond butter, olive oil, all kinds of berries, figs, avocados, tomatoes, lentils, black beans, spirulina, hemp seeds, nutritional yeast, organic soymilk, sweet potatoes, squash, carrots, apples, peaches, mangoes, pineapple, garlic, red wine, green tea, brown rice, sprouted (flourless) bread, brown rice, steel-cut oats.

A “plant-based diet” can be basically another way to say “vegan”, though many people do use the term to mean that you eat almost all plants with some animal products. In this post, I’ll be focusing on veganism, as I believe it’s the ultimate plant-based diet.

Healthy Diet Plant-Based Diet

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The definition of a plant-based diet can depend on who you ask. Generally, it is an eating style that emphasizes real, whole foods that come from plants, including:

Vegetables: kale, spinach, tomatoes, cauliflower, potatoes, squash, etc.
Whole grains: brown rice, oats, quinoa, barley, etc.
Legumes: peas, chickpeas, lentils, peanuts, beans, etc.
Plant-based protein like tofu or tempeh
Nuts and nut butter
Seeds
Fruits
Plant-based oils
Spices and herbs
Unsweetened beverages: coffee, tea, sparkling water, etc.

The simple lifestyle shifts in the Eat Sleep Burn ugly belly fat…

Breakfast: oatmeal with sliced banana

Lunch: black bean soup
Snack: roasted kale chips with nutritional yeast
Dinner: lentil pasta with homemade tomato sauce
What can’t you eat on a plant-based diet?
What you decide to avoid is up to you. For the most part, people on plant-based diets eat less of the following:

Fast food
Desserts and sweetened beverages
Refined grains: white rice, white bread, refined pasta, etc.
Packaged foods: cookies, chips, sugary cereals, etc.
Processed meats: bacon, sausage, etc.
But what about meat, seafood, eggs, cheese, and all those other favorites? Sheinelle decided to eat mostly vegan for the first month, but plans on enjoying eggs and seafood after the fact — and that can still count as plant-based.

Why Eat A Plant-Based Diet?

With climate change consuming headlines left and right, cutting down on animal products is a simple way you can make an impact.

“From both a water and greenhouse gas emissions perspective, the production of plants and plant-based foods is significantly better for the environment than the production of animal products,” says Martin.

In fact, the Institute for Water Education has long shown that plant agriculture requires less water—and preserves more land—than animal-centric agriculture.

It Could Save You Money

You may associate a more veggie-forward diet with pricey farmers’ markets and all organic price tags. However, plant-based diets can be great for keeping costs low if you shop smart.

“You’ll get much more for your money when comparing plant proteins, such as beans, lentils, peas, and whole grains, to high-quality meat products,” says dietitian Kelly Jones, MS, RD, CSSD, LDN.

However, if you dine out often or opt for fancy new vegan packaged products, costs can add up, she warns. To make plant-based eating as cost-effective as possible, limit packaged products and focus on whole foods, instead.

Healthy Diet Plant-Based Diet

Lifestyle Changes to Improve Your Cholesterol 

It’s Good For Your Health!

There’s not denying it: Eating more plants are just plain good for you.

“Plant-based diets are associated with lower blood pressure, lower total cholesterol, and increased HDL cholesterol, a.k.a. ‘good’ cholesterol,” says Martin. In fact, one study published in Progress in Cardiovascular Diseases linked vegetarian diets with a 40 percent lower risk of heart disease.

Plus, “plant foods, like fruits and vegetables, are typically high in fiber, which can help fill you up for little calories,” says Martin. As a result, eating a plant-based diet can help you maintain a healthy weight.

Ready to put more plants on your plate? Just follow these four steps.

Beginner’s Guide to a Plant-Based Diet:

Look At Your Current Diet Whether you plan to become a full-on vegan or to simply reduce your intake of animal products, you don’t have to go all-out all at once. Instead, slowly transition your current eats to suit your goals.

Look at your last week or so of meals. Are any of your go-to’s already plant-based? (Think oatmeal, bean-based chili, or hummus and veggie sandwiches.) Incorporate those meals more often or try out some of these plant-based recipes.
“If you are looking to improve your environmental footprint and your health, consider reducing your portion sizes of meats and dairy, and choosing at least one meal per day that is free of animal products,” suggests Jones.
From there, continue shifting away from the animal foods week by week.

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Prioritize Protein

As you remove animal products, make sure to replace them with adequate plant protein sources—especially if you’re active.

Start by swapping plant-based proteins, like lentils, tempeh, and beans, into your favorite meat-based recipes, suggests Jones. “I often bake tofu while I roast vegetables to cut down on time, and use canned beans in crockpot chili,” she says.

If you still struggle to reach your protein goals, consider a plant-based protein supplement like plnt brand’s Plant Protein.

Consider Supplementation

“While plants technically could provide enough of all essential nutrients, our modern agricultural system and habits can make adequate intake of certain nutrients nearly impossible on a vegan diet,” warns Jones.

To cover any potential nutrient gaps, make sure a quality multivitamin is part of your routine.

Healthy Diet Plant-Based Diet

Vitamin D

Though vitamin D is tricky to get from food, it’s primarily found in fatty fish, beef liver, and eggs, explains Martin. In addition to getting outdoors for some sun exposure, plant-based eaters may need to incorporate fortified foods and supplements (try The Vitamin Shoppe brand Vitamin D3) to meet their needs, she suggests.

Vitamin B12

Though plant-based eaters don’t necessarily need more vitamin B12 than meat-centric eaters, they may have a harder time meeting their needs, says Martin.

Why? We typically get vitamin B12 from animal foods.

To meet their needs, plant-based eaters can get vitamin B12 from fortified foods, nutritional yeast (a vitamin B12-rich seasoning), and supplements (try The Vitamin Shoppe Brand Vitamin B12.).

Iron

Iron, which we typically get from animal proteins can also be an issue for meat-free (or low-meat) eaters, says Martin. Menstruating women, in particular, have greater risk of falling short, since they have higher iron needs than men.

Thing is, we don’t absorb the iron in plant foods as well as that in animal foods, so plant eaters often need to consume about twice as much iron as their carnivorous counterparts, Martin says.

Vegetarians who do not eat meat, poultry, and seafood need almost twice these amounts because the body doesn’t absorb the iron found in plant foods as well as the iron found in animal foods, Martin explains. There are various sources though, like legumes (i.e. beans, peas), grains, nut, seeds, and dark leafy greens like spinach.

Luckily, this is pretty easily remedied. Many plant foods (like legumes, grain, nuts, seeds, and dark, leafy greens) are good sources of iron, says Martin. Green and brown lentils, for example, provide 30 percent of your daily value.

To increase your absorption of plant iron, Jones recommends pairing your iron-containing foods with vitamin C-containing foods, like peppers, kiwi, strawberries, broccoli, cauliflower, and even potatoes.

Healthy Diet Plant-Based Diet

Omega-3s

Since you can’t load up on fatty fish on a plant-based diet, you’ll need to find other ways to supplement your diet with omega-3s.

Martin recommends incorporating plenty of plant-based sources of omega-3s, like flaxseeds and walnuts, into your diet.

What Are The Scientifically Proven Benefits of a Plant-Based Diet?

In the United States, diet is the biggest predictor of early death.  A classic American diet that’s high in saturated and trans fats, sodium, and processed meat puts you at a disadvantage when it comes to health and longevity, while a diet that promotes whole foods and plant-based ingredients appear to have the opposite effect. As the following studies show, adopting a plant-based diet may help reduce the likelihood that you’ll need medication, lower your risk of obesity and high blood pressure, and maybe even help prevent or manage type 2 diabetes and heart disease. 

 In a review published in July 2019 in JAMA Internal Medicine, researchers found that following a plant-based diet (one that included foods like fruits, veggies, legumes, nuts, and whole grains) was associated with a lower risk of type 2 diabetes. The nine studies involved about 307,100 participants and were adjusted for factors such as smoking status and exercise frequency that otherwise could have affected the results. Researchers, therefore, deduced that the lower risk was due to participants’ diet choices.

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 The reason for this lower risk of type 2 diabetes may be improved function of beta cells, which help produce insulin (the hormone that keeps blood sugar levels stable). Past research has noted that as type 2 diabetes progresses, beta-cell function declines — and this can cause dangerous fluctuations in blood sugar levels. 

But a randomized trial published in February 2018 in Nutrients found that after just 16 weeks following a plant-based diet, participants had better beta-cell function and insulin sensitivity compared with the control group — not to mention improved body mass indexes (BMIs) and less belly fat. Manaker agrees that a plant-based diet can help you manage your weight, and may even lead to weight loss if you follow it in a healthy way. “Most people [who transition from a typical American diet] also start to feel like they have more energy,” she adds.

The Real Mom’s Guide 

 A plant-based diet could be helpful for both your body and your mind. One study published in September 2019 in Translational Psychology set out to answer that question, and the results turned out mixed. While researchers concluded that this diet is beneficial for boosting metabolism, managing weight, and reducing inflammation (especially among people with obesity, and those with type 1 and type 2 diabetes), they didn’t confirm whether this diet can positively affect mental function. Don’t rule it out yet, though — the researchers noted that there’s plenty of potentials for future studies to explore the subject further.

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 And if you’re not ready to give up on animal proteins just yet, don’t worry. Another study published in August 2019 in JAMA Internal Medicine found that, while adding plant-based proteins to your diet can help lower your risk of cancer and cardiovascular disease, there was no increased risk associated with animal proteins. So while it’s not necessary to completely eliminate meats and dairy from your diet, you can still lower your risk of certain diseases by making an effort to include more plant proteins. To set yourself up for success, Manaker suggests making a shopping list heavy on produce, beans, and plant-based proteins to make sure you have plenty of options to reach for when you get hungry.


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