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What Is a Plant-Based Diet? A Complete Beginner's Guide
When it comes to a plant-based diet, people need some amount of clarification. Some consider it a vegan diet, while others consider it a vegetarian diet. Some even think of it as a combination between plant and meat-based diets.
So what exactly is a plant-based diet?
A plant-based diet is a type of diet that mainly involves consuming only foods that come from plants. There needs to be a solid explanation of what constitutes a plant-based diet as people interpret it differently. However, the basic idea behind this diet is to eat healthy whole foods rather than processed foods. This involves a lot of vegetarian foods and some meat, but not processed ones.
What food includes in a plant-based diet?
Below includes an overview of the major food categories you can include in your plant-based diet.
Vegetables such as kale, spinach, sweet potatoes, bell peppers, broccoli, asparagus, swiss chard, and other leafy vegetables
Fruits include avocados, oranges, apples, grapes, grapefruits, bananas, watermelons, and strawberries
Whole grains such as quinoa, brown rice, whole-wheat pasta or bread, oatmeal, and farro
Nuts including almonds, walnuts, macadamia nuts, and cashews
Seeds such as flaxseed, hemp seeds, and chia seeds
All types of beans and lentils
Tea including green, lavender, chamomile, or ginger
Some other foods you can add to your plant-based diet include tofu, tempeh, plant-based milk, and exotic fruits and nuts.
What foods to limit or avoid entirely in a plant-based diet?
You may limit or entirely skip foods like −
Dairy, including milk and cheese
Meat and poultry such as beef, pork, chicken, and turkey
Processed animal meats, including sausages and hot dogs
All animal products such as eggs, dairy, and meat (for vegans)
Refined grains such as white bread, white pasta, white rice, refined sugar, etc.
Sweetened beverages such as packaged fruit juice, soda, and iced tea
Potatoes and French fries
Sweets such as brownies, cakes, and cookies
Honey (for vegans)
Benefits of a Plant-based Diet
From weight management to disease prevention, adopting a plant-based diet can change your life and health in a good way.
Easy to Lose Weight
A plant-based diet is a powerful tool to lose or maintain weight. Research shows that people following a plant-based diet often fall on the leaner side. A combined study in 2020 involved 19 intervention studies. Participants were assigned a plant-based diet for a certain period, and it was discovered that everyone following the diet lost some weight.
So what makes a plant-based diet a tool for weight loss?
Research says that it is all about calorie density. For instance, dairy and meat products (especially processed and red meat) tend to have high calorific value and are low in fiber. Due to the absence of fiber and the presence of fat, people end up gaining weight. Meanwhile, plant-based foods are high in fiber, which promotes a healthy gut, while low in calories. So, even if you eat a high volume of whole food, you consume fewer calories than meat and dairy-based foods.
Improves cardiovascular health
Whole foods or plant-based diets promote good heart health by preventing and even reverting heart diseases, a leading cause of death worldwide. According to a 2019 review comprising 99 studies, researchers found that whole foods can lower the risk of developing cardiovascular diseases compared to meat and dairy products.
This is because animal-based foods are high in saturated fat and cholesterol, which is known to raise blood cholesterol levels. When cholesterol increases, it builds up fatty plaques, known to clog the arteries. This hinders proper blood flow, putting your heart under stress. Besides, foods high in salt (mainly processed foods) are known to raise blood pressure, damaging the arteries lining over time.
When you follow a plant-based diet and eliminate these harmful foods from your life, you are lowering your blood pressure levels, cholesterol, and risk of heart disease.
Prevent and Control Type 2 Diabetes
Doctors say that following a plant-based diet can lower the rate of developing type 2 diabetes and even improves the condition of people suffering from chronic and dangerous cases of diabetes.
A 2018 report by BMJ Open Diabetes Research and Care states that people with diabetes following a plant-based diet show greater improvement in their physical and mental health compared to diets recommended by several diabetes associations.
This is due to the fact that plant-based foods are low in saturated fat and high in fiber. It is well-known that saturated fat can create insulin resistance, which everyone needs to avoid. Plus, due to their high fiber content, plant-based foods help in absorbing more nutrients and regular blood sugar.
Its aims for a Better Planet
According to a 2018 analysis, livestock only provides 18 percent of globally-consumed calories and takes up to 83 percent of farmland. This means raising animals for food is not favorable for natural resources. You need to grow crops to feed those animals, so if you eat plant-based food directly, you are helping the environment by providing more farmland for growing more plants. This leads to a significant reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, leading to fewer climate changes.
It Saves Your Money
Whole plant foods are sustainable and healthy, and cheaper on the pocket. Research says that a person can save up to $750 on grocery bills by switching to a plant-based diet. That means filling your kitchen with plant-based foods can provide you with a healthy meal for just a couple of dollars.
A plant-based diet is undoubtedly the healthiest, budget-friendly, and environmental-friendly way to live. Besides helping you lose weight, it also improves your gut health and prevents or reverts several life-threatening diseases like blood pressure and diabetes. However, people following a full-scale vegan diet may experience some nutritional deficiencies. Plant-based foods have minimal calcium, iron, zinc, vitamin B12, and protein sources. You may even miss nutrients like Vitamin D and omega-3 fatty acids. The key is maintaining a balanced diet comprising a reasonable portion of whole food and lean meat (chicken breast and fish). If you are vegan, you may have to compensate for these nutrients with supplements.
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