A plant-based diet is one that focuses only or mostly on foods from plant sources. This way of eating may have benefits for both a person’s health and the planet. In this article, we look at what a plant-based diet is, the health benefits, and what to eat or avoid when attempting the switch with Health expert and nutritionist Hitaf Zwein.

What is a plant-based diet?

As the name suggests, plant-based or plant-forward eating patterns focus on foods primarily from plants. This diet includes not only fruits and vegetables, but also nuts, seeds, oils, whole grains, legumes, and beans. It doesn’t mean that you are vegetarian or vegan and never eat meat or dairy. Rather, you are proportionately choosing more of your foods from plant sources.

What are the benefits of following a plant-based diet?

There’s excellent scientific evidence that many chronic diseases can be prevented, controlled, or even reversed with a whole-food, plant-based diet. Scientific research shows that a plant-based diet can reduce the risk of type-2 diabetes, heart disease, certain types of cancer, and other major illnesses. Many people also report bigger fitness payoffs, more energy, reduced inflammation, and better health outcomes after making the switch.

A plant-based diet helps maintain a healthy weight. Staying at a healthy weight is one of the most important things you can do to reduce your risk for cancer. When it comes to cancer, the only thing more important than maintaining a healthy weight is not smoking.

This is because excess weight causes inflammation and hormonal imbalance. If you are overweight or obese, your risk is higher for 12 different types of cancer including colorectal, post-menopausal breast, uterine, esophageal, kidney, and pancreatic cancers.

If you eat mostly plants, you remove many of the foods that lead to weight gain. Add in exercise and you’re on a path towards weight loss.

It’s not quite the fountain of youth, but a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains—and low in sugar, salt, and processed meats—may promote healthy cellular aging, according to a 2018 study of women in the American Journal of Epidemiology. This is important for avoiding chronic health conditions that become more common as we age.

You always hear that nutrients are stuck to the peel, and that’s true. Eating whole-grain foods means you eat the healthiest version of the food. You should focus on slow carbs which include oats, wheat bread, sweet potatoes, buckwheat, brown rice, and freekeh. Slow carbs don’t cause a spike in your blood sugar and protect the insulin levels in your body. The peel will also satisfy your hunger more healthily and give you an extra dose of fiber.

Foods to eat

People should focus on eating the following food groups when transitioning to a plant-based diet:

  • Fruits

A plant-based diet includes all fruits, such as:

  • berries
  • citrus fruits
  • bananas
  • apples
  • grapes
  • melons
  • avocado
  • Vegetables

A healthful plant-based diet contains plenty of vegetables. Including a variety of colorful vegetables provides a wide range of vitamins and minerals.

Examples include:

  • broccoli
  • kale
  • beetroot
  • cauliflower
  • asparagus
  • carrots
  • tomatoes
  • peppers
  • zucchini

Root vegetables are a good source of carbohydrates and vitamins. They include:

  • sweet potato
  • potatoes
  • butternut squash
  • beets
  • Legumes

Legumes are an excellent source of fiber and plant-based protein. People can include a wide variety in their diet, including:

  • chickpeas
  • lentils
  • peas
  • kidney beans
  • black beans
  • Seeds

Seeds are a great snack or an easy way to add extra nutrients into a salad or on top of a soup.

Sesame seeds contain calcium and sunflower seeds are a good source of vitamin E. Other seeds include:

  • pumpkin
  • chia
  • hemp
  • flax
  • Nuts

Nuts are a good source of plant-based protein and vitamins, such as selenium and vitamin E.:

  • almonds
  • cashews
  • pecans
  • macadamia
  • pistachios
  • Healthful fats

It is vital to consume polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats, as well as omega-3 fatty acids. Plant-based sources include:

  • avocados
  • walnuts
  • chia seeds
  • hemp seeds
  • flaxseed
  • olive oil
  • canola oil
  • Whole grains

Whole grains are an excellent source of fiber and help maintain stable blood sugar. They also contain essential minerals, such as magnesium, copper, and selenium.

Examples of whole grains include:

  • brown rice
  • oats
  • buckwheat
  • quinoa
  • wholegrain bread
  • rye
  • barley
  • Plant-based milk

If people want to reduce their dairy intake, there is a wide range of plant-based milk available in grocery stores and online. These include:

  • almond
  • soy
  • coconut
  • rice
  • oat
  • hemp

Just make sure to choose unsweetened plant milk options.

Foods to avoid

Just reducing or eliminating animal products does not automatically mean a plant-based diet is healthful. It is also vital to reduce or avoid unhealthful foods, such as:

  • processed foods
  • sugary foods, such as cakes, biscuits, and pastries
  • refined white carbohydrates
  • processed vegan and vegetarian alternatives that may contain a lot of salt or sugar
  • excess salt
  • fatty, greasy, or deep-fried foods

Eating a diet higher in plant foods and lower in animal products can have many health benefits, including weight loss or maintenance and a lower risk of heart disease and diabetes.

If people want to make the switch to a plant-based diet, they can start by gradually reducing their meat and dairy intake.

Eating an entirely plant-based meal once a week, or swapping out one animal product for a plant-based one, can be an excellent place to start.

Have you attempted the switch? Or are you thinking about it? We’d love to know!

If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to ask.

August 05, 2021 — Mint Basil Team

Leave a comment

Please note: comments must be approved before they are published.