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© Crystal Cox/Business Insider A plant-based diet minimizes animal foods like meat, eggs, and dairy. Crystal Cox/Business Insider
- A plant-based diet means eating more vegetables, fruits, whole grains, beans, legumes, nuts, and seeds.
- You should minimize your intake of animal foods like meat, eggs, and dairy, but you don't need to exclude these foods entirely.
- Research has found that a plant-based diet is very beneficial, as it can improve heart health, reduce your risk of cancer and diabetes, and even help the environment.
- Visit Insider's Health Reference library for more advice.
Plant-based diets are becoming more popular as Americans seek to improve their health and eat more natural foods. In fact, a 2017 Nielsen survey found that 39% of Americans were actively trying to eat more plant-based foods.
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If you're interested in trying out this healthy diet, here's a meal plan to get you started as well as more information on the benefits you can achieve from sticking to a plant-based diet.
What to eat on a plant-based diet
A plant-based diet encourages eating whole, plant-based foods, and minimizing animal products and processed foods. This differs from a vegan or vegetarian diet.
"A plant-based diet is defined by what it includes: a lot of plant foods," says Carole Bartolotto, a registered dietitian based in Los Angeles. "Vegan or vegetarian diets are defined by what they exclude."
For example, a vegan diet excludes all animal products and a vegetarian diet excludes animal meat. Plant-based diets don't include these restrictions, but they recommend you eat minimal amounts of them and eat foods mostly of plant-based origin instead.
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Foods to eat often on a plant-based diet:
Foods to eat in smaller portions, or less frequently:
- Dairy products
- Processed foods (this pertains to most healthy meal plans)
7-day plant-based diet meal plan
Here's what a full week of healthy eating on a plant-based diet could look like, according to Bartolotto.
Day 1 © Arx0nt/Getty Images Oatmeal with fruit and nuts is a great way to start your week. Arx0nt/Getty Images
Breakfast: Plain oatmeal with walnuts and fruit with unsweetened almond milk
Lunch: Lentil tacos with a salad
Dinner: Italian-style zucchini and chickpea saute
Day 2 © Westend61/Getty Images Try a veggie chili with a meat substitute. Westend61/Getty Images
Breakfast: Quinoa with raisins and cinnamon and soy milk
Lunch: Stir-fry with veggies and tofu
Dinner: Vegetarian chili and spinach-orzo salad
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Day 3 © vaaseenaa/Getty Images Tofu scramble is a delicious alternative to eggs. vaaseenaa/Getty Images
Breakfast: Tofu scramble with veggies
Lunch: Pasta with marinara sauce and a salad or vegetable
Dinner: Vegetarian pizza and tomato soup
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Day 4 © tovfla/Getty Images Lentil soup is a hearty plant-based source of protein. tovfla/Getty Images
Breakfast: Pancakes or waffles with fruit puree
Lunch: Lentil soup and a side salad
Dinner: Grilled vegetable kabobs with grilled tofu, and a quinoa and spinach salad
Day 5 © nata_vkusidey/Getty Images A black bean and sweet potato quesadilla can be a tasty mid-week treat. nata_vkusidey/Getty Images
Breakfast: Handful of nuts (pecans, almonds, walnuts) and fruit
Lunch: Grilled tofu with quinoa and a salad
Dinner: Black bean and sweet potato quesadilla
Day 6 © Arx0nt/Getty Images Make a smoothie with fruits like bananas. Arx0nt/Getty Images
Breakfast: Smoothie with banana, pea protein, soy milk, and cacao powder
Lunch: Tomato basil soup and greek salad with chickpeas and feta
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Dinner: Rice bowl with kidney beans, spinach, and mixed veggies
Day 7 © nata_vkusidey/Getty Images Black bean burgers are a worthy substitute for beef patties. nata_vkusidey/Getty Images
Breakfast: Overnight oats and fresh fruit
Lunch: Black bean burger and kale salad
Dinner: White bean chili and corn muffins
A note about animal foods
A plant-based diet can exclude all or most animal foods, but it can also mean eating proportionately more foods from plant sources. While this meal plan doesn't include animal foods, that doesn't mean you have to get rid of them entirely.
Should you want to include animal foods, consider using them as a complement to your meal rather than the centerpiece. A few meals over the course of the week that include a small amount of animal foods may be a good place to start.
For example, you can have scrambled eggs with a veggie hash and avocado once a week, or sprinkle some cheese on your black bean quesadilla.
Plant-based diet benefits
Following a plant-based diet can result in numerous benefits for your health and the environment. Here's how.
Improved heart health: A large 2019 study found that eating a plant-based diet may reduce the risk of developing cardiovascular disease by 16% and cardiovascular disease mortality by 31%. The characteristics of a plant-based diet - high intake of fruits and vegetables, nuts and seeds, pulses, and whole grains with low intake of refined grains, added sugars, and animal foods - contribute to a lower risk of cardiovascular disease by helping to lower blood pressure and lower cholesterol.
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Reduced risk of cancer: Eating lots of plant-based foods has been linked to lower cancer rates. There are a number of potential explanations, including the phytochemicals that come from increased plant consumption and a higher fiber intake, which has specifically been tied to lower breast cancer and colorectal cancer risk.
Lower risk of diabetes: Plant-based diets are associated with a substantially lowered risk of type 2 diabetes. For example, a large 2016 study in PLOS Medicine found that following a plant-based diet was associated with about a 20% reduction in the risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Several mechanisms contribute to this: a healthful plant-based diet could help lower blood sugar levels, improve insulin sensitivity, and decrease chronic inflammation.
It's better for the environment: A plant-based diet offers environmental benefits due to its lower carbon footprint, Bartolotto says. If you would like to help fight climate change, eating more plant-based foods is imperative. About 25% to 30% of greenhouse gas emissions come from our food systems, with livestock adding more than the entire transportation sector. Eating more plants and less meat - specifically beef and lamb - and consuming less dairy decreases this demand and helps reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Are there any downsides to a plant-based diet?
"There is this perception that you can't get adequate protein from plant-based foods," Bartolotto says. "However, nothing could be further from the truth. Eating beans, lentils, nuts, and seeds each day will ensure you get enough protein and other nutrients."
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In addition, tofu, lentils, and spinach are good sources of iron. Ensuring you get enough iron and protein on a plant-based diet is particularly important because, typically, most people get the majority of these nutrients from meat.
As Bartolotto explains, there really aren't a lot of downsides to eating a plant-based diet, as long as you eat a varied diet with a combination of beans, lentils, vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, and whole grains. This balance will ensure you get everything that you need nutritionally.
Another way to avoid potential health risks is to consider taking a B12 supplement if you're avoiding all animal products. You can also take a calcium supplement, as the amount of calcium in plant food varies, Bartolotto says.
Overall, a plant-based diet is a healthy option due to its focus on whole, natural foods over processed foods. For those who may find it difficult to stick to, there are a couple of specific tips to help.
Find recipes you enjoy that are easy to make, or that you can make a pot of and eat several times during the week, Bartolotto says. You can also get a box of fresh veggies and fruits delivered to your home every week, so you don't have to keep going to the grocery store.
Related articles from Health Reference:
- How to kickstart healthy eating with this 1-week Mediterranean diet meal plan recommended by a registered dietitian
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