What’s it Mean to Have a Plant-Based Diet?

Plant-based diets are growing in popularity because of their link to a number of health benefits. If you’re thinking you could never go plant-based because you can’t – or don’t want to – give up meat, you don’t need to! Having a plant-based diet doesn’t necessarily mean you’re vegetarian. It means that the majority of foods you eat are derived from plants. This includes not only fruits and vegetables, but also nuts, seeds, oils, whole grains, legumes, and beans.
The Mediterranean diet is one example of a plant-based diet that also includes fish, poultry, eggs, cheese, and yogurt a few times a week, with meats and sweets less often. This way of eating was recently cited as the best overall diet for health and weight management. Studies have shown that following the Mediterranean diet reduces your risk of heart disease, metabolic syndrome, diabetes, certain cancers (specifically colon, breast, and prostate cancer), depression, and memory disorders like Alzheimer’s and dementia.
Here are descriptions of different versions of a plant-based diet:
  • Semi-vegetarian or flexitarian: includes eggs, dairy foods, occasionally meat, poultry, fish, and seafood.
  • Pescatarian: includes eggs, dairy foods, fish, and seafood, but no meat or poultry.
  • Vegetarian: includes eggs and dairy foods, but no meat, poultry, fish, or seafood.
  • Vegan: includes no animal foods at all.
If you want to get started on a plant-based diet yourself, here are a few tips Harvard Medical School published recently:
  1. Eat lots of vegetables. Fill half your plate with vegetables at lunch and dinner. Make sure you include plenty of colors in choosing your vegetables. Enjoy vegetables as a snack with hummus, salsa, or guacamole.
  2. Change the way you think about meat. Have smaller amounts. Use it as a garnish instead of a centerpiece.
  3. Choose good fats. Fats in olive oil, olives, nuts and nut butters, seeds, and avocados are particularly healthy choices.
  4. Cook a vegetarian meal at least one night a week. Build these meals around beans, whole grains, and vegetables.
  5. Include whole grains for breakfast. Start with oatmeal, quinoa, buckwheat, or barley. Then add some nuts or seeds along with fresh fruit.
  6. Go for greens. Try a variety of green leafy vegetables such as kale, collards, Swiss chard, spinach, and other greens each day. Steam, grill, braise, or stir-fry to preserve their flavor and nutrients.
  7. Build a meal around a salad. Fill a bowl with salad greens such as romaine, spinach, bibb, or red leafy greens. Add an assortment of other vegetables along with fresh herbs, beans, peas, or tofu.
  8. Eat fruit for dessert. A ripe, juicy peach, a refreshing slice of watermelon, or a crisp apple will satisfy your craving for a sweet bite after a meal.
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