What is a Plant-based Diet and Why You Should Try It!

What does eating a plant-based diet mean to you? For many of us, it means something different for different reasons for choosing to do it. However, eating more plants is not an all or nothing lifestyle for many of us.

First, let’s first talk about all the different plant-based eating lifestyles and the many reasons that people go plant-based. We will also explore some of the health benefits of a diet that includes more plant-based foods.

Types of Plant-Based Eating Styles

There are lots of ways to move towards a plant-based diet. People often wonder “plant-based vs vegan” and some of us wonder, “what does that really mean”? Here is a list of terms for you.

Not every way of eating meets each person’s lifestyle and it’s important for me as a nutrition counselor and registered dietitian to encourage you to choose the way that works for you to eat more plant-centered. One size does not fit all.

Here are the different ways that you can do it!

1.Vegan

What is vegan? We have heard this term explode over recent years. Someone who follows a vegan diet does not eat or use animal products. They need to read food labels carefully and pay attention to food preparation methods when out to eat. Someone who is vegan needs to be very careful to get needed nutrients but with work, it can be done!

2. Vegetarian

This diet is more flexible than the vegan diet because it may include either egg, dairy or both. A vegetarian who includes eggs is an Ovo vegetarian. A vegetarian who includes dairy is a Lacto vegetarian. A vegetarian who includes both is a Lacto Ovo vegetarian.

3. Pescatarian

People who are pescatarians do not eat meat but they eat fish. Many of them also eat eggs and dairy.

4. Flexitarian

A flexitarian is a person primarily eats vegetarian but once in a while eats meat or fish. This is one of the most common plant-based eating patterns.

Smaller portions of animal foods less often, or eating animal products on special occasions while primarily gravitate towards eating only mostly plants can be a healthy way to go!

The more foods that are restricted from a way of eating, the more care someone has to be to get the nutrients that they need. For example, a gluten-free vegan or someone temporarily following a low fodmap diet who is also vegan is a lot of diet restrictions. A vegan eating keto or paleo who is not eating whole grains can be at even more nutritional risk.

Also, the more restrictions someone has, the more at risk that they may be for disordered eating. Look at the reasons why you are choosing your eating plan and seek help working with a dietitian if needed if you feel that your relationship with food is disordered.

Picture of Basket of Vegetables
Vegetables have many preventative properties

Plant-based Diet Benefits

Research shows that plant-based eating provides a tremendous amount of health benefits! Some of these include:

  1. Lower rates of heart disease
  2. Reduced risk of cancer and also improved survival rates
  3. Prevention of Type 2 Diabetes and a great tool for many in the management of it.
  4. A decrease in body inflammation which is a key risk factor to autoimmune health conditions.
  5. For some people eating more plant-based may help achieve and maintain healthy body weight.

Other Reasons People Go Plant-Based Besides Health

In addition to health, there are other reasons why people choose a plant-based diet. What are your reasons for plant-based eating? Becoming vegetarian or other plant-based diets may be important to many of us due to other concerns that they have.

1. Impact of the Environment (cleanliness of animal products)

For many people, the concern with factory farms and the waste that they create is a reason many people do not eat animals or animal products (or reduce the amount that they eat).

2. Animal Welfare

How animals are treated while they are being raised, especially on factory farms is a concern for many people so they do not eat animal products (or eat less).

Colorful Vegetable Bowl
You don’t have to have meat to have a savory meal. This vegetable bowl is full of umami!

Healthy Plant-based Food List

You might be wondering if someone doesn’t even meat or fish (and for some not dairy or eggs), what plants are eaten on a plant-based diet? Here are the building blocks of a plant-based diet:

Legumes

These include beans, lentils and peas are the primary sources of protein for many people on a plant-based diet. They are also rich in iron and B vitamins. Legumes are a rich source of fiber

Nuts/Healthy Fats

Nuts, seeds and healthy oils such as olive oil provide needed nutrients like omega 3 fatty acids and vitamin E. Many other nutrients are carried through our bodies with the help of healthy fats.

Vegetables

Vegetables are the cornerstone of a plant-based diet. They are rich in fiber, vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals. Choose from a variety of colors in your diet. Vegetables are an important source of protein.

Fruit

Fruits provide sweetness in meal planning. They can be the main ingredients for desserts, beverages, and salads. Fruit provides many of the same nutrients as vegetables.

Whole Grains

Grains can be an important source of fiber, protein, iron and other important vitamins and minerals in our diet.

Important Nutrients to get on a Plant-Based Diet

When going plant-based it is important to take care to make sure that you get certain nutrients.

Protein

Protein is easy to get on a plant-based diet! Vegetarian sources of protein include legumes, nuts/seeds, vegetables, and whole grains.

Calcium

If someone continues to eat dairy foods, these are a great source of calcium, however, there are quite a few plant-based foods that also are rich in calcium like many green leafy vegetables, nuts and beans have calcium also.

B12

This nutrient is mostly found in animal sources, so caution must be taken to get this one. Nutritional yeast is a great source of this vitamin in addition to many foods that are supplemented with it like tempeh, plant-milks, and cereals.

Omega 3 Fats

Salmon and trout are rich in omega 3 fatty acids but walnuts, ground flax seeds, chia seeds and hemp seeds that are also sources of these fats. In addition, there are plant-based supplements for omega 3 fats also.

Plant-based Nutritionist

You may have wondered “is there a plant-based nutritionist near me who can provide me the best way to begin my journey”?

If you have been wanting to eat more plant-based but want to know the healthiest way to do to meets your needs, I am here to help. I have eaten a plant-based diet for over 20 years. Our family has eaten from the full spectrum of the plant-based diet during this time.

I have created a new program to help clients find their personalized approach to a plant-based diet that includes information, tools, and recipe menu ideas.

Here is a little more about the program:

A fresh approach to plant-based eating
veggie divider

A Fresh Approach to Plant-Based Eating

Here is a little glimpse of some of the things that you and I will work on together!

Session One: Explore Your Plant-based Eating Style

  • Look at the available options of meatless protein for meals.
  • Discover how to include key nutrients in a plant-based diet.
  • Receive your customized plant-based eating plan including recipes, menus & shopping list.

Session Two: Evolve in Your New Eating Habits

  • Learn more about the variety available eating plant-based foods to enhance meal satisfaction.
  • Discuss ways to revise favorite recipes to make them more plant-based.
  • Determine the knowledge needed to order plant-based meals in restaurants & how to pack food for road trips.

Session Three: Enjoy Your New Food Choices

  • Practice plant-based eating skills to prepare meals & snacks to be put together quickly.
  • Develop strategies to use when eating with friends and family while continuing to eat plant-based.
  • Savor your new way of eating with your new tools and confidence!
veggie divider

Tips For Eating A More Plant-Based Diet

Here are some ways that you can get started on your way to making plants a more central place on your plate!

  1. If taking on a plant-based diet seems overwhelming try observing Meatless Monday . This worldwide movement encourages everyone to go without meat one time a week.
  2. Plan a recipe using legumes once a week (not only does it have health benefits it also saves money). Some of our favorites include bean burritos, lentil tacos, garbanzo bean salads or curries.
  3. Add more veggies to your recipes while at the same time make your meat portions smaller. For example with spaghetti, you can add mushrooms, shredded carrots, bell pepper or broccoli. For chili, use more beans and less meat by including more tomatoes, red bell pepper, and sweet potatoes.
  4. Add an extra serving of veggies, fruit, whole grains and healthy fats while making your serving of animal proteins smaller so everything fits on your plate.
  5. If you are going to eat animal products, purchase the cleanest options possible raised without hormones, pesticides and that are grass-fed. Find a local farmer if you can so you know where your food comes from also. The products are more expensive but high quality. This will be an inspiration for eating smaller portions and eating them less often. You will savor them more when you have them also.
  6. If eating entirely all organic fruits and vegetables is too much for your budget, consider using the dirty dozen as a guideline. You can also purchase more food from a local farmer who uses organic methods or grow more of your own food.
North Carolina Sweet Potatoes
It is a colorful life with sweet potatoes with vibrant colors and ways to prepare them!

Plant-Based Diet Recipes

To get you started on your plant-based lifestyle, I have included some easy vegetarian recipes below that I hope that you will love, they can easily be adapted to vegan also or add a little animal protein!

Having some tried and true vegetarian meals to make is one of the best ways to get you started!

Beans/legumes

Nuts/Healthy Fats

Vegetables

Fruit

Whole Grains

I have lots more great ideas to share with you on plant-based eating at the Vine Ripe Nutrition Blog.

In addition, you want recipe and meal ideas, along with other resources/tools and support. So, you might be ready to take a Fresh Approach to Plant-Based Eating with my new program!

You may already eat a plant-based diet but are ready for some new ideas. For the last 20 years, I have been helping clients eat a more plant-based diet. I look forward to helping you feel the healthiest you can be!

Less mayonnaise and more lemon and olive oil.
Skip the mayo and try lemon and olive oil to make your next potato salad.
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