What Does a Plant-Based Diet Even Mean?

by Roki Prunali

There is so much confusion around the plant-based diet, but no need to worry Pretty Birds, I am here to clear it all up for you. While we are all becoming more aware of our carbon footprint, cutting back on animal products has been a trend in aspiring to a healthier lifestyle. The plant-based diet does not stop there though. If the goal is a healthier way of life, this diet takes it a step further. 

 

What is a plant-based diet? 

A diet that focuses on plant-derived whole foods. These foods are unrefined, minimally processed and made-up of ingredients that are in their original form. The foundation of these whole foods include whole grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds and legumes. These foods are packed with vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and phytochemicals to nourish your body. 

While those following the plant-based diet may reduce or even eliminate animal products, processed vegan and vegetarian alternatives are not always in line with the whole food principal. They contain a lot of salt and sugar. It is also super important to reduce sugary foods (think cakes, cookies and pastries), refined white carbohydrates, excess salt, and fatty, greasy or deep fried foods.  

 

Plant-Based Diet vs. Vegan

To me, the distinction lies in the words “based” and “diet”. The word “based” implies that it is mainly plant derivative food, but not entirely. If the majority of your food comes from plants, that creates the base of the diet with small addition of other food groups. Following a plant-based diet does not necessarily mean fully avoiding animal products. 

Whereas the word “diet” implies solely what you eat, vegan is a term more describing a lifestyle, which also includes diet, but much more than that. Vegans do not consume any animal products such as meat, eggs, milk, and even honey. It doesn’t stop at that though, shoes, clothes, accessories, beauty products, soaps and shampoo are avoided if they are made with materials that come from animals. Anything made from leather, silk, wool, beeswax, and gelatin for instance are a big no no. Though, it is possible to simply have a vegan diet.

The primary reason for becoming a vegan is normally due to ethics and animal rights issues. It may not be as nutritionally whole and unprocessed as a plant-based diet because the first concern is avoiding animal products and not how food is made.  

Leading a plant-based lifestyle prizes itself on clean and conscious eating. The choice for a plant-based diet can also be due to health reasons – hence cutting out processed foods. But not to detract from those wanting to reduce their environmental footprint by avoiding animal products.

 

What are the benefits of Plant-Based Diet?

One of the most preconceived notions when you hear the word diet is that it automatically translates into weight loss. Following a plant-based diet can help you lose weight due to such a high cut back on processed foods, but the health benefits are far more. 

Research has shown that simply eating a larger proportion of plant-based foods and a smaller proportion of animal based foods can reduce your risk of having a heart attack, stroke and other cardiovascular diseases. Increasing your intake of plant-based whole foods can lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels.

Sticking to a plant-based diet has also shown to improve blood glucose levels in people that have diabetes. With lower glucose levels, there is also a lower risk of diabetes related medical conditions and less need of medications. This diet can improve insulin sensitivity and decrease insulin resistance. 

The fiber rich foods in a whole food diet – beans, whole grains, broccoli, lentils, avocados – can help move along digestion and prevent constipation. Along with the fiber, complex carbohydrates and the water content from fruits and vegetables allow people to feel fuller for longer and experience increased energy while resting

 

Tips for a Plant-Based Diet

As many food delivery companies are now providing plant-based meals, it is super simple to follow the diet on your own as well. Here are some tips to get you started:

Stick to what you know. Pick meals that you are already used to eating that are considered plant-based. Think oatmeal, veggie pasta or stir fry, hummus, and vegetable and bean soups. If you are eating meals that you normally eat, it won’t seem too much of a diet. Then slowly add other plant-based meals to your repertoire when you start to refine your taste. 

Start slow. If you are used to eating animal products, don’t just go cold turkey. I am a firm believer that when you deny yourself food that you normally eat for the sake of a diet, the diet will most likely fail. The beauty of a plant-based diet is that if you love certain animal products or even a bit more processed food, you don’t need to eliminate it completely from the diet. Simply be mindful of your consumption of it. Try integrating one meal a day as completely plant-based to start off.

Be aware of your nutrient intake. Diets can also manifest a lack of nutrients – normally from the foods we cut out. A major concern for those who start a plant-based or even vegan diet is a lower intake of protein. Truth is most of us overindulge in protein because we have this inherent idea that we need to up the protein. Lentils, chickpeas, quinoa, mushrooms, nuts, seeds and beans can all be helpful substitutes. Same goes for iron, due to the lower bioavailability of iron in vegetables compared to meat. Kidney beans, black beans, spinach, oatmeal, cashews and dark leafy greens can up your iron consumption. All in all, just be aware of your nutrient intake, if you are ever unsure you can look up the nutritional info.

If a plant-based diet seems like something right up your alley, I recommend speaking with your physician to see if it is feasible for you to follow.  


Image credit: Gab Bois

 

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