Published on April 20, 2022

Go Green: Eating a Plant-Based Diet

fresh spring green salad

The goal of a healthy, plant-based diet is to consume as many nutrient-dense plant foods as possible while avoiding processed foods, oils and animal foods (including dairy products and eggs). It promotes consuming a wide variety of vegetables, fruits, beans, peas, lentils, soybeans, seeds and nuts and is typically low in fat.

Eating plant-based features more produce and less meat or meat products. On a plant-based diet, there is no fat restriction but olive oil is recommended for cooking. Benefits include protection against several chronic illnesses, including coronary heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity and certain cancers.

Plant-based diets include:

  • Vegan (or total vegetarian): Avoiding all animal products, including meat, fish, poultry, eggs and dairy. Consumption of whole foods is not required, nor is there a restriction on fat or processed sugar.
  • Lacto-vegetarian: Includes milk products but excludes eggs, meat, shellfish and poultry.
  • Ovo-vegetarian: Includes eggs but excludes meat, fish, poultry and dairy items.
  • Lacto-Ovo vegetarian: Includes eggs and dairy products but excludes meat, shellfish and poultry.
  • Mediterranean: A plant-based diet that permits limited amounts of poultry, dairy products, eggs and red meat once or twice a month, but includes more fish and the use of olive oil. There are no restrictions on fat, since the sources are heart healthy.

If you eat a plant-based diet, be careful to make sure you plan ahead to incorporate enough protein, vitamins and minerals including iron, vitamin B12, calcium and vitamin D.

Vitamin D and calcium-rich foods include dark green leafy lettuce and beans, mushrooms and milk substitutes (soy, almond, rice, or hemp milk). Vitamin D also comes from sunshine.

Individuals who eat a plant-based diet with little or no animal products may have reduced iron reserves. To increase your iron intake, eat a variety of beans (such as kidney beans, black beans and soybeans); spinach, cashews, oats and cabbage. Iron deficiency anemia is rare even among those who eat a plant-based diet, according to the American Dietetic Association.

Vitamin B12 is required for the creation of red blood cells and cell division. Vitamin B12 insufficiency is a major issue that can result in macrocytic anemia as well as irreparable nerve damage. If you eat a mostly plant-based and meat-free diet, you may need to supplement your diet with vitamin B12 or foods enriched with vitamin B12 such as fortified cereals, soy and nutritional yeast.

According to research, a plant-based diet can improve weight-related illnesses. Plant-based diets are typically lower in calories but high in complex carbohydrates, fiber and water content, which may lead to earlier satiety—meaning you would feel full more quickly. Eating fewer calories leads to weight loss.

Plant-based diets may improve management and risk for diabetes by improving insulin sensitivity and lessening insulin resistance. They can also lower the risk of heart diseases and are associated with a lower mortality rate.

Even if following a strict plant-based diet isn’t for you, it is always beneficial to your health to increase fruits and vegetables in your diet!

References:

What is a plant-based diet and why should you try it?

Nutritional Update for Physicians: Plant-Based Diets

What You Should Know About Plant-Based Diets

A plant-based diet encourages eating nutrient-dense plant foods while avoiding processed foods, oils & animal foods.