Are you thinking of starting a plant-based diet or wondering what it is? There is actually no formal definition of a plant-based diet. It is best described as a spectrum of dietary patterns that predominantly consists of whole grains, vegetables, fruits, legumes, nuts, and seeds. In other words, mostly plant foods. Across the spectrum, there are four main patterns. However, there can be multiple variations to each, which is acceptable as long as you are tailoring these plant-based diets to you and your lifestyle.
Vegan – excludes all animal sources and products, even honey. Veganism can be more than a diet; it’s a lifestyle that can extend to clothing, beauty, and cleaning products.
Vegetarian – excludes animal meats, but includes some animal products like milk, cheese, yogurt, and/or eggs.
Pescatarian – usually is a vegan or a vegetarian diet that includes seafood.
Semi-vegetarian aka Flexitarian or Mediterranean diet pattern – refers to having the flexibility to alternate between different plant-based eating patterns, including animal sources and products but in smaller amounts and/or less frequently compared to plant sources.
Studies have shown there are many health benefits to following a plant-based diet. Vegetarians and vegans are at reduced risk of certain health conditions, including heart disease, type 2 diabetes, hypertension, certain types of cancer, and obesity.
These benefits are believed to be due to the low intake of saturated fat found in animal sources, and the high intake of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes, soy products, nuts, and seeds which are all rich in fiber and phytochemicals. These characteristics of vegetarian and vegan diets contribute to lowering total and LDL cholesterol levels and improving blood glucose control.
The good news is you do not have to follow a completely vegan or vegetarian diet to experience these health benefits. As you reduce your intake of animal foods while increasing your intake of plant-based foods, you are taking steps to improve your health. For example, swapping your chicken for tofu or reducing your eight-ounce skirt steak to a four-ounce serving and adding half a cup of beans. Here are some other tips to help you get started on a plant-based diet: