A Beginner’s Guide to the Plant-Based Diet, From Health Benefits to What to Eat

As the name suggests, a plant-based diet involves getting most of your calories and nutrients from plants. But there’s room for the meat and animal products you love – sparingly.

Given the fairly broad parameters, many healthy diets focused on whole foods and fruits and vegetables are plant-based, Brie Turner-McGrievy, Ph.D., RD, professor at the Arnold School of Public Health in the University of South Carolina. , tells TODAY.com.

The benefits of a plant-based diet include health benefits and flexibility, says Amy Shapiro, registered dietitian and founder and director of Real Nutrition in New York. And even if you limit foods, like meat and cheese, you don’t have to give them up completely.

Here’s what you need to know to start a plant-based diet.

How to start a plant-based diet?

Plant-based eating is generally a healthy approach to eating, but don’t just assume you’ll automatically eat healthily by cutting down on animal products, says Shapiro. For example, if you eat mostly refined carbs and processed foods, these aren’t necessarily healthy or nutrient-dense.

Here are some tips for getting started on a plant-based diet:

  • Fill half your plate for meals and snacks with non-starchy vegetables and fresh fruits, such as leafy greens, carrots, peppers, broccoli, cauliflower, berries, grapes, apples , pears and melons.

  • Fill the rest of your plate or snack bowl with lean proteins (like chicken, tofu, beans, or yogurt), complex carbs that are high in fiber (like whole-wheat pasta, farro, quinoa and other whole grains or starchy vegetables, like sweet potatoes), and healthy fats (avocados, nuts, seeds, olive oils, and others).

  • You can still eat foods like cheese, red meat and sweets, but limit them, choose quality dishes and make them the star of the meal to fully savor them and satisfy your craving.

Plant-based versus vegan diet

A vegan diet falls into the plant-based diet category, but it is more restrictive because you don’t eat any animal products on a vegan diet. That means no eggs, honey, dairy or meat.

Because a plant-based diet is more flexible and allows you to consume animal products from time to time, it is easier to adopt. And because you’re still filling up on plants, you get the same health benefits as people who follow a vegan diet.

Some of the diets that fall under the plant-based diet category include:

  • Semi-vegetarian dietssuch as the Mediterranean diet or the DASH diet, which limit red meat and allow the consumption of white meat, fish, dairy products and eggs.

  • Pesco-vegetarian diet, where you avoid meat, but fish, dairy and eggs are allowed.

  • Vegetarian diet, where you avoid meat and fish, but dairy and eggs are allowed.

Benefits of a Plant-Based Diet

Here are some known benefits of a plant-based diet.

Meet daily vitamin and mineral needs

Filling about half your plate with fresh fruits and vegetables means you’ll likely get all the vitamins, minerals, macronutrients, and micronutrients you need, says Shapiro.

Reduce risk and help manage health problems

Following a plant-based diet makes it easier to control portions of foods that tend to be less healthy, like saturated fats and sugars, which reduces the risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, obesity and obesity. other health problems.

A plant-based diet is also good for people with chronic illnesses, like high blood pressure, heart disease, and type 2 diabetes, because you limit saturated fats and sugars.

Weight loss and management

Research shows that a plant-based diet can be a good diet for weight loss. A 2015 study published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics found that, based on data from 15 studies, people who prescribed a plant-based diet for weight loss lost an average of 7. 5 to 10 pounds.

A 2015 randomized controlled trial published in the journal Nutrition (of which Turner-McGrievy was lead author) comparing weight loss over 6 months in people following a vegan, vegetarian, pesco-vegetarian, semi-vegetarian, or omnivore diet has revealed that people on vegan diets lost by far the most weight during the trial (7.5% of their baseline body weight). But those who followed the other four types of diets (including the omnivore diet) lost just over 3% of their baseline body weight.

And according to a 2016 review article published in The Permanente Journal, a plant-based diet may promote weight management, reduce medication needs, and reduce the risk of chronic disease and death from heart disease.

Ecological

Plant-based eating is good for the planet, as raising animals for food is known to be one of the largest contributors to greenhouse gas emissions.

Are there any downsides to a plant-based diet?

Many major health groups consider it a healthy diet for people of all ages and stages of life. But some health conditions may not respond well to a plant-based diet, like digestive issues where you need to limit the amount of fiber you eat, or kidney disease, where you need to watch your potassium intake, which is readily available. available in plant foods, says Shapiro.

Consult your healthcare provider if you have underlying health conditions and want to transition to a plant-based diet.

Another downside to plant-based diets is that preparing fresh fruits and vegetables, which form the basis of your meals and snacks, can be time-consuming. Shapiro’s advice: plan ahead. Roast vegetables ahead of time that can quickly become a salad or sandwich. Wash and cut fruit which can easily be mixed with yogurt and nuts or in a smoothie. And keep frozen fruits and vegetables on hand.

Foods to Eat on a Plant-Based Diet

Some food recommendations to add to your diet if you’re trying to eat more plant-based foods:

Beans

Beans are packed with nutrients, including magnesium and fiber. Consumption of legumes is also associated with a lower risk of heart disease. Beans are versatile, fit on any budget, and are easy to prepare, whether you buy them canned or dried. If you buy canned beans, rinse them to remove some of the excess salt. Hummus is another way to enjoy beans.

Sweet potatoes

Sweet potatoes have a naturally sweet flavor, which is further enhanced by roasting, and they are one of the main sources of beta-carotene, a precursor to vitamin A, and the phytochemical anthocyanin. Studies have shown that sweet potatoes promote metabolic control.

Kimchi

As a fermented food, this spicy pickled cabbage dish naturally contains probiotics and is packed with vitamins A and C, as well as minerals such as magnesium, calcium, and selenium.

Nuts

A handful of nuts per day is recommended to help lower cholesterol and prevent heart disease. Nuts can be a particularly good choice. In addition to offering plant-based protein, fiber, and healthy fats, they contain a trio of minerals—manganese, copper, and magnesium—that also help maintain bone health.

Peanut Butter

Nut butters are high in unsaturated fats and are a good source of protein. Choose a natural, low-salt peanut butter with no added sugar or palm oil.

Farro

This ancient grain has long been popular in other countries, primarily Italy, but its popularity is rapidly increasing in the United States as a nutritious substitute for other common grains. It is high in fiber and protein and has a nutty flavor.

Tofu

Grilled, fried or baked, tofu contains protein and is a complete source of the nine essential amino acids the body needs. Flavor-wise, it absorbs any sauces or spices you cook it in.

Broccoli

Broccoli is rich in the cancer-fighting sulforaphane and is also a good source of protein.

Chimichurri Sauce

This uncooked sauce is made with fresh parsley, oregano, garlic, oil, and vinegar, making it a great way to get fresh herbs and boost your antioxidants.

Brightly colored fruits and vegetables

They’re higher in phytochemicals than paler options, so choose dark leafy greens like spinach, deep orange carrots, bright berries – all are packed with antioxidants. But all fruits and vegetables are beneficial, so look for those that are in season, affordable, and fit your lifestyle.

Plant-Based Diet Food Plan

Here is a sample menu for a plant-based diet created by Shapiro:

Breakfast

Smoothie (1 banana, 1 tablespoon peanut butter or other nut or seed butter, 1 cup almond milk, 1/2 cup frozen cauliflower, 1 serving vegan protein powder chocolate, cinnamon)

Lunch

Large salad of quinoa, beans, olives, avocado and vegetables

Snack

Pineapple slices with coconut yogurt and hemp seeds

Dinner

Zucchini noodles with chickpeas and shrimp in a tomato-based sauce

Dessert

Dark Chocolate Chip Oatmeal Cookies

Plant-based diet recipes

Here are some plant-based diet recipes from TODAY.com to try:

Gluten-Free Vegetarian Noodle Bowls by Kevin Curry

Creamy Vegan Cacio e Pepe from Samah Dada

Thai Red Coconut Curry by Plantable

Vegan Lentil Chili by Chloe Coscarelli

Wild Rice Salad by Plantable

Chana Masala sprinkled with sumac by Kanchan Koya

Lettuce Tacos with Mushrooms and Chorizo ​​from Marco Borges

Jenné Claiborne’s Vegan Tuna and Chickpea Sandwich by Jenné Claiborne

Charred Cauliflower by Kwame Onwuachi

Seasonal lentil soup by Dominique Khoury

This article was originally published on TODAY.com

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