Everything you need to know about plant-based diets

Everything you need to know about plant-based diets

September 01, 2019

Created by Beth Sissons  

 

A plant-based diet is one that focuses on only or mostly 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 nutritional considerations a person should make before switching.

 

What is a plant-based diet?

Many people interpret a plant-based diet as avoiding all animal products.

A plant-based diet is a diet that involves consuming mostly or only on foods that come from plants. People understand and use the term plant-based diet in different ways.

Some people interpret it as a vegan diet, which involves avoiding all animal products.

For others, a plant-based diet means that plant foods, such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, and legumes, are the main focus of their diet, but they may, occasionally, consume meat, fish, or dairy products.

A plant-based diet also focuses on healthful whole foods, rather than processed foods.

 

Health benefits

Following a plant-based diet offers many possible health benefits, including:

Better weight management

Research suggests that people who eat primarily plant-based diets tend to have a lower body mass index (BMI) and lower rates of obesitydiabetes, and heart disease than those who eat meat.

Plant-based diets are high in fibre, complex carbohydrates, and water content from fruit and vegetables. This may help to keep people feeling fuller for longer and increase energy use when resting.

A 2018 study found that a plant-based diet was effective for treating obesity. In the study, researchers assigned 75 people who were overweight or had obesity to either a vegan diet or a continuation of their regular diet, which contained meat.

After 4 months, only the vegan group showed a significant weight loss of 6.5 kilograms (14.33 pounds). The plant-based vegan group also lost more fat mass and saw improvements in insulin sensitivity, whereas those who consumed a regular diet with meat did not.

2009 study on more than 60,000 people also found that vegans had the lowest average BMI, followed by Lacto-ovo vegetarians (those that eat dairy and eggs) and pescatarians (people who eat fish but no other meat). The group with the higher average BMI were nonvegetarians.

Lower risk of heart disease and other conditions

2019 study from the Journal of the American Heart Association found that middle-aged adults who ate diets high in healthful plant foods and low in animal products had a lower risk of heart disease.

According to the American Heart Association, eating less meat can also reduce the risk of:

  1. stroke
  2. high blood pressure
  3. high cholesterol
  4. certain cancers
  5. type 2 diabetes
  6. obesity

 

Diabetes prevention and treatment

Plant-based diets may help people prevent or manage diabetes by improving insulin sensitivity and reducing insulin resistance.

Of the 60,000 people studied in 2009, only 2.9% of people on a vegan diet had type 2 diabetes, compared to 7.6% of those eating a nonvegetarian diet.

People eating vegetarian diets that included dairy and eggs also had a lower risk of type 2 diabetes than meat-eaters.

Researchers have also looked at whether following a plant-based diet can help treat diabetes. The authors of a 2018 review indicate that vegetarian and vegan diets could help people with diabetes reduce their medication needs, lose weight, and improve other metabolic markers.

The authors suggested that doctors might consider recommending plant-based diets to people with prediabetes or type 2 diabetes. While veganism showed the most benefits, the researchers stated that all plant-based diets would lead to improvements.

People wanting to try a plant-based diet should try one that they think they can follow long term.

 

Foods to eat

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

Fruits

People who follow plant-based diets can eat all types of fruit.

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

  1. berries
  2. citrus fruits
  3. bananas
  4. apples
  5. grapes
  6. melons
  7. avocado

Vegetables

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

Examples include:

  1. broccoli
  2. kale
  3. beetroot
  4. cauliflower
  5. asparagus
  6. carrots
  7. tomatoes
  8. peppers
  9. zucchini

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

  1. sweet potato
  2. potatoes
  3. butternut squash
  4. beets

Legumes

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

  1. chickpeas
  2. lentils
  3. peas
  4. kidney beans
  5. 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:

  1. pumpkin
  2. chia
  3. hemp
  4. flax

Nuts

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

  1. brazil
  2. almonds
  3. cashews
  4. pecans
  5. macadamia
  6. pistachios

Healthful fats

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

  1. avocados
  2. walnuts
  3. chia seeds
  4. hemp seeds
  5. flaxseed
  6. olive oil
  7. canola oil

Whole grains

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

Examples of whole grains include:

  1. brown rice
  2. oats
  3. spelt
  4. buckwheat
  5. quinoa
  6. wholegrain bread
  7. rye
  8. 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:

  1. almond
  2. soy
  3. coconut
  4. rice
  5. oat
  6. hemp

Just make sure to choose unsweetened plant milk options.

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