As the name implies, plant-based food is about getting most of the calories and nutrients from plants. But there is room for the meat and animal products you want (in moderation).

Given the fairly broad parameters, many healthy diets that focus on whole foods and fruits and vegetables are plant-based, explained Gabrielle Turner-McGrievy, Ph.D., RD, associate professor in the Department of Health Promotion, Education and Behavior at the Arnold School of Public Health at the University of South Carolina (which studies how diet choices affect the risk of chronic disease). Some of the diets that fall under the plant-based umbrella include:

  • Semi-vegetarian diet, such as the Mediterranean Diet or the DASH Diet (restricting red meat and allowing less white meat, fish, milk and eggs)
  • Pesco-vegetarian diet (one where you avoid any meat but fish, milk and eggs are allowed)
  • Vegetarian diet (one where you avoid meat and fish, but milk and eggs are allowed)
  • Vegan diet (without animal products)

How does a plant-based diet work?

Plant-based foods are generally a healthy dietary approach, but be aware that almost any diet can become unhealthy depending on the specific foods you choose, explained Amy Shapiro, RD, founder and director of Real Nutrition in New York City . If you are following a vegetarian diet, but your foods include mostly white carbs and cheese, this is not necessarily a healthy, nutrient-rich one, she said. White carbohydrates have a lot of fiber processed right from them and cheese is very high in saturated fat and salt.

To reap the health benefits of plant-based foods, pay attention to proportions, Shapiro said. Fill half of your plate (for snacks and snacks) with non-starchy vegetables and fresh fruit; think leafy greens, carrots, peppers, broccoli, cauliflower, berries, grapes, apples, pears and melons. Fill the rest of your plate or bowl with lean protein (chicken, tofu, beans or yogurt), complex carbohydrates (those rich in fiber like whole grain pasta, farro, quinoa and other whole grains or starchy vegetables like sweet potatoes), and healthy fats (avocados, nuts, seeds and olives and other oils).

You can eat great foods like cheese, red meat and sweets, Shaprio said. But limit them and choose high-quality options, she recommended: “When eating cheese, make sure it is the star of the show.”

For whom is a plant-based diet good?

A plant-based diet is a healthy diet for anyone to follow, as long as you do not have a digestive issue that would limit the amount of fiber that is good for you or an issue (such as kidney disease) that would limit the amount of potassium (ready in plant foods) you should eat, Shapiro said.

Many large health groups consider it a healthy diet for people of all ages and stages of life.

If you do it in a healthy way (filling about half of your plate with fresh fruits and vegetables), you will likely get all the vitamins, minerals and macronutrients and micronutrients you need, Shapiro explained. You are also partially controlling foods that tend to be less healthy for us, such as saturated fats and sugars, so you are reducing your risk for heart disease, type 2 diabetes, obesity and other health problems.

Because you are also automatically controlling the most nutrient-rich (high-calorie) foods, such as complex carbohydrates, fats and animal proteins, can be effective for weight loss, Shapiro said. It can also be a good diet for people who manage a lot of chronic conditions, including high blood pressure, heart disease and type 2 diabetes, because you are limiting foods that are high in saturated fats and sugars. which you should limit or avoid if you have those conditions).

Plant-based food is also good for the planet, as farm animals for food are known to be one of the major contributors to greenhouse gas emissions.

What does science say about eating more plants?

Research shows that plant-based foods can be a good diet for weight loss. A 2015 review published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics found that according to data from 15 studies, people prescribing a plant-based diet plan for weight loss on average lost the equivalent of 7.5-10 pounds.

A randomized controlled trial of 2015 published in the journal Nutrition (in which Turner-McGrievy was the lead author) that compared 6-month weight loss to people on vegan, vegetarian, pesco-vegetarian, semi-vegetarian, or omnivorous diets found that people on vegan diets lost by far the most weight during the trial (7.5 percent of their baseline body weight). But those in the other four types of diets (including the ubiquitous diet) lost just over 3 percent of their basic body weight. Another analysis of the same data showed that those on a vegan, vegetarian, and pesco-vegetarian diet were better able to improve the quality of their diets compared to those on omnipotent and semi-vegetarian diets, Turner-McGrievy said. .

And according to a 2016 review article published in The Permanente Journal, plant-based foods can support weight management, reduce medication needs, reduce the risk for most chronic diseases (including obesity, hypertension, hyperglycemia and diabetes). of type 2) and reduce deaths from heart disease.

What a day of eating on a plant-based diet might look like:

Here is a sample menu created by Shapiro:

  • Breakfast: Smoothie (1 banana, 1 tablespoon peanuts [or any other nut or seed] butter, 1 cup almond milk, 1/2 cup frozen cauliflower, 1 serving protein vegan chocolate powder, cinnamon)
  • Lunch: Great salad with quinoa, beans, olives, avocado and vegetables
  • Snack: Pineapple slices with coconut yogurt and hemp seeds
  • Dinner: Zoodles with chickpeas and shrimp in a tomato-based sauce
  • Dessert: Oatmeal cookies with pieces of dark chocolate

What are the pros and cons?

The benefits are health benefits and flexibility, Shapiro said. You are focusing on foods that will provide the many vitamins and nutrients your body needs. And while you are restricting certain foods (like meat and cheese), you do not have to eliminate them completely.

One downside is that preparing fresh fruits and vegetables (which should be the mainstay of your meals and snacks) can take time. Moving, easy-to-catch options may be limited, Shapiro said. Her tips: Plan ahead. Bake vegetables (prematurely when you have time) that can quickly become a salad or sandwich. Wash and cut fruits that can easily be tossed with yogurt and nuts or in a smoothie. And keep frozen fruits and vegetables on hand.

The last line

Plant-based food is associated with many health (and environmental) benefits, and is not as restrictive as a diet where you discontinue animal products all together (like a vegan diet). This makes the eating approach accessible and a healthy choice for anyone who adopts it.