What is a plant-based diet?
A plant-based diet focuses on whole, minimally processed plant-based foods. It involves limiting animal products and making fruits, vegetables, and plant proteins the star of your plate. It emphasizes nuts, seeds, oils, whole grains, legumes, and beans and limits foods like meat, dairy, and eggs.
Why eat a plant-based diet?
Eating a plant-based diet is associated with many health benefits. Plant-based foods are rich in fiber and antioxidants, free of cholesterol, and low in calories and saturated fat. Eating a variety of these foods provides the essential nutrients your body needs to achieve good health and prevent chronic illness. If eliminating animal products, fortified foods or supplements may be required to ensure adequate nutrient intake particularly of Vitamin B12, Vitamin D, calcium, iron, Omega-3, and zinc.
Research shows that eating a whole-foods, plant-based diet can lower the risk of developing conditions like heart disease, diabetes, and cancer. It can also reduce inflammation, assist in losing weight or maintaining a lower body mass index, and support the immune system, which is of particular concern these days given the COVID-19 pandemic. Plant-based diets also leave a lighter environmental footprint as they require less fuel, land, and water to produce.
They also improve animal welfare and significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions which contribute to climate change.
How to start eating a plant-based diet
Want to transition to a plant-based diet but not sure where to begin? The change will be both beneficial and enjoyable by following these tips one step at a time:
1. Substitute plants for animal products. If your meal typically centers around meat with starch and vegetable on the side, try replacing the meat with a plant-based protein such as beans, lentils, extra-firm tofu, or tempeh.
2. If you’re not ready to go all-in, start with one meatless day a week, or even just one meatless meal a week can still yield benefits. Experiment with a tofu scramble for breakfast, grilled Portobello mushroom burgers for lunch, or a roasted cauliflower steak for dinner. Top it off with a frozen banana blended with almond milk for dessert.
3. It’s ok to stick to familiar flavors and cooking techniques rather than completely changing the way you prepare your meals. You can often still use the same recipes, seasonings, and sauces you once used, with some small swaps. Love taco night? Swap the ground beef for tofu crumbles, using the same seasonings.
Going plant-based is not just a fad diet but a sustainable way of life that can improve your health and the health of the planet.