Plant-based diet

People are increasingly making the switch to a plant-based diet because of the health and environmental benefits. Research has shown that a plant-based way of eating can help you maintain a healthy weight, as well as reduce your risk of certain heart diseases.

Unlike many fad diets, this approach to food and nutrition is unique in that it comes in many variations. Although many adherents avoid meat, following a plant-based diet is more of a commitment to making plant foods a top priority, leaving some wiggle room to complement a myriad of lifestyles and preferences.

It focuses primarily on fruits, vegetables and other plant foods. While commonly confused with a vegan or vegetarian diet, a plant-based diet is not necessarily synonymous with the two, says Jill Weisenberger, a registered dietitian nutritionist, certified health and wellness coach in Newport News, Virginia, and author of "Prediabetes: A Complete Guide."

There are many flavors of a plant-based diet, some of which include no animal products at all, even honey. Other variations, such as a vegetarian diet, can include dairy and eggs. “Still, others include all types of foods but focus heavily on plant foods,” Weisenberger says. “Examples of this are the Mediterranean-style diet and the flexitarian diet.”

It can prevent disease and weight gain. By eating mostly or only fruits, vegetables and whole grains, you’re doing your body a lot of good. Research has shown that plant-based diets are supportive of maintaining or reaching a healthy weight; reducingg the risk of heart diseases, Type II diabetes and possibly the risk of certain types of cancers; Mouch says. The key is the diet’s high fiber and antioxidants and low saturated-fat content, contributing to numerous health benefits. The standard American diet usually provides around 15 grams of fiber or less. For overall health, the USDA recommends aiming for 25-38 grams per day. Plant-based diets have the potential to meet these guidelines easily, Mouch says. This has an incredible impact on your health.

“Each type of fiber behaves differently in the body,” Weisenberger says. “Some feed our gut bacteria. Some lower cholesterol levels. Still others help our bodies use insulin better.”

Additionally, the high variety of antioxidant powerhouses present in a plant-based diet help the body protect itself against cell damage and harmful molecules like free radicals that can increase cancer risk. Plant-based diets also tend to be lower in saturated fat. “Saturated fats, like the fat found in red meat, bacon, pork, lamb, cheese and whole-fat dairy products have been shown to contribute to heart disease, Type II diabetes, and potentially weight gain,” Mouch says.

Sticking to it requires effort.

Despite the proven benefits, a plant-based diet can have its challenges. It requires intentionality to ensure you don’t miss out on certain nutrients or stock up on the wrong ones, which can be damaging to your health, Weisenberger says.

“The downside is focusing on avoiding animals instead of focusing on eating healthful plant Foods,” she says. “That’s where the magic really is — consuming an abundance of health-shielding foods, mostly plants.”

With the appropriate planning, however, you can begin reaping the benefits of a plant-based diet, and getting started is easy.

“My favorite tip is to pick your favorite vegetarian meals — like black bean burrito or peanut butter and strawberries on toast — and work them into your rotation more frequently,” she says. “Then start looking for new recipes and add one or more each week.”

The common thread between each of these varieties is that they each deemphasize processed foods, and instead, focus on foods that come from plants. Fruits, vegetables, beans, lentils, nuts, seeds and whole grains become the main focus of your diet, says Erica Mouch, a registered dietitian nutritionist and health coach at Arivale.

It can prevent disease and weight gain. By eating mostly or only fruits, vegetables and whole grains, you’re doing your body a lot of good. Research has shown that plant-based diets are supportive of maintaining or reaching a healthy weight; reducing the risk of heart diseases, Type II diabetes and possibly the risk of certain types of cancers; Mouch says. The key is the diet’s high fiber and antioxidants and low saturated-fat content, contributing to numerous health benefits. The standard American diet usually provides around 15 grams of fiber or less. For overall health, the USDA recommends aiming for 25-38 grams per day. Plant-based diets have the potential to meet these guidelines easily, Mouch says. This has an incredible impact on your health.

“Each type of fiber behaves differently in the body,” Weisenberger says. “Some feed our gut bacteria. Some lower cholesterol levels. Still others help our bodies use insulin better.”

Additionally, the high variety of antioxidant powerhouses present in a plant-based diet help the body protect itself against cell damage and harmful molecules like free radicals that can increase cancer risk. Plant-based diets also tend to be lower in saturated fat. “Saturated fats, like the fat found in red meat, bacon, pork, lamb, cheese and whole-fat dairy products have been shown to contribute to heart disease, Type II diabetes, and potentially weight gain,” Mouch says.

Sticking to it requires effort.

Despite the proven benefits, a plant-based diet can have its challenges. It requires intentionality to ensure you don’t miss out on certain nutrients or stock up on the wrong ones, which can be damaging to your health, Weisenberger says. “The downside is focusing on avoiding animals instead of focusing on eating healthful plant foods,” she says. “That’s where the magic really is — consuming an abundance of health-shielding foods, mostly plants.”

With the appropriate planning, however, you can begin reaping the benefits of a plant-based diet, and getting started is easy.

“My favorite tip is to pick your favorite vegetarian meals — like black bean burrito or peanut butter and strawberries on toast — and work them into your rotation more frequently,” she says. “Then start looking for new recipes and add one or more each week.”