Here's what you need to know about plant-based diets

What you eat impacts your health and wellness. According to some research, switching from meat-heavy eating to plant-focused consumption may be a positive change you can make.

What is a Plant-based Diet?

Plant-based dieting is not a fad or quick weight loss fix, but an overall healthier way of eating. The term can encompass a variety of plant-forward diets, including:

  • Vegetarian, which may include eggs (known as ovo-vegetarian) or dairy (known as lacto-vegetarian) or both (ovo-lacto vegetarian)
  • Vegan, which avoids eating and cooking with all animal products
  • Raw vegan, which avoids eating all animal products, with three-quarters of the plant food consumed must be raw—and any cooked food can’t be heated above 116 degrees Fahrenheit

A healthy plant-based diet focuses on getting all or most of your daily calories from plant sources.

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Health Benefits of Plant-based Diet

Plant-based diets can help prevent and control chronic conditions including heart disease, high blood pressure (hypertension) and type 2 diabetes. They may also be beneficial for the prevention of cancer, as well as in reducing obesity.

A 2018 scientific review by the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine found that heart benefits of a plant-based diet include:

  • Reducing the risk of coronary heart disease by 40 percent, hypertension by 34 percent, and death from cardiovascular disease by 40 percent
  • Opening blocked arteries, fully or partially, in up to 91 percent of patients
  • Lowering total cholesterol by 29 mg/dL and low-density lipoprotein cholesterol (LDL-C) levels by 23 mg/dL

Designing Your Daily Menu

Plant foods provide several key nutrients. They’re typically sources of fiber, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, and are naturally free of cholesterol, trans fats, and added sugars. Most plant foods are also low in saturated fat, sodium, and calories.

Your food list for a plant-forward diet should be heavy on fresh, whole fruits, vegetables, legumes, and whole grains. Nuts and seeds should be eaten in smaller amounts. Use healthy oils, such as olive oil, sparingly.

Nutrient-dense foods, meaning those that have high nutrients per calories consumed, help ensure your body has the energy it needs to function properly. Whole fresh fruits and vegetables, as well as whole grains, are more nutrient-dense than processed versions. They contain higher amounts of fiber, vitamins, and minerals, and lower amounts of natural sugars.

Nutrient-rich whole grains include brown rice, wild rice, buckwheat, bulgur, millet, oatmeal, rolled oats, popcorn, and quinoa. When choosing packaged grains, look for those labeled with whole-grain barley, corn, sorghum, or triticale, and whole oats, rye, or wheat.

Replacing Protein

Plant-forward eating severely restricts or eliminates meats, poultry, fish, seafood, dairy, and eggs, as well as refined and processed foods. Since those foods are significant sources of protein, it’s important to replace them with a plant-based source, such as:

  • Soy protein like edamame, tofu, and soy milk
  • Legumes, such as beans, lentils, and peas
  • Nuts, including nut butters, and nut milks
  • Whole grains
  • Seeds chia and flax

Making the Transition

Going plant-based isn’t healthy if you don’t give up bad eating habits. Even vegetarian and vegan processed foods can be high in fat, sugar, and sodium, all of which can negatively impact your health and increase your risk for chronic diseases.

To reap the benefits of plant-based diet eating, work with a registered dietitian. They can help you safely reduce or eliminate animal products and processed foods while also guiding you toward a wide range of healthy plant-based options.

Editor's Note: This article was originally published on , and was last reviewed on .

CDC Should Prescribe Plant-Based Diet for Middle-Aged Hearts. Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine. Association Bewtween Plant-Based Diets and Plasma Lipids: A Systemic Review and Meta-Analysis. Nutrition Reviews. Nutritional Update for Physicians: Plant-Based Diets. The Permanente Journal. Eating More Plant-Based Foods May Be Linked to Better Heart Health. American Heart Association.

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