Since a young age, we’ve learned that we need to eat our vegetables to be healthy. The reality, however, is that veggies and greens tend to just make up a small portion of our diet. As a result, our health is taking a hit, with diseases like diabetes and heart disease becoming rampant. It’s becoming more and more apparent that we need to shift our diets, making a serious case for plant-based diets and their numerous health benefits.
In general, a plant-based diet is one that emphasizes whole fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and limited consumption of animal products and processed foods. Because a plant-based diet is somewhat broad in its definition, there are various approaches to adopting this kind of diet. The following are some of the most popular plant-based diets right now:
1. Mediterranean Diet
There isn’t one particular Mediterranean diet, as the Mediterranean region encompasses multiple countries and cultures. For the most part, however, the diet, across all cultures, emphasizes eating fruits, veggies, whole grains, beans, nuts, legumes, and olive oil. It encourages using fresh herbs and spices to flavor your food rather than lots of salt. If you enjoy red wine, then you’ll be happy to know that a small glass a day is also recommended.
The diet also suggests eating fish and seafood at least a couple of times a week, while poultry, eggs, cheese, and yogurt should be consumed in moderation. Sweets and red meat, on the other hand, should only be for special occasions.
2. Flexitarian Diet
The flexitarian diet is more about making substitutions rather than eliminating certain foods. The diet makes a strong push for plant-based proteins over animal ones.
A flexitarian diet is typically made up of meat alternatives (tofu, beans, lentils, peas, nuts, seeds, and eggs), fruits and veggies, whole grains, dairy, sugar alternatives (i.e. agave nectar sweetener), and spices (including dried herbs).
3. Ornish Diet
The Ornish diet is a bit like a vegan diet in the sense that it encourages avoiding meat and poultry, however, it still allows for dairy products. It’s unique in that it recommends avoiding any fat in the diet.
In general, the Ornish diet is centered around eating beans, legumes, fruits, grains, and vegetables. Low-fat or nonfat dairy products can be consumed in moderation, but be sure that only 10 percent of your daily calories come from fat. Meats (red and white), oils or products containing oils (such as avocados, olives, nuts, and seeds), and sugar should all be avoided.
4. Vegetarian Diet
Perhaps the most commonly known plant-based diet is the vegetarian diet. Unlike a vegan diet, a vegetarian diet does not suggest completely eliminating animal products. The diet is focused on beans, legumes, fruits, grains, vegetables, and in some cases dairy products and eggs (depending on how strictly you adhere to the diet).
A vegetarian diet encourages finding alternatives to meat and poultry by trying out substitutes like tofu. For those who avoid dairy products, nut milks like almond milk or cashew milk are often substituted.
5. Pescatarian Diet
The pescatarian diet is similar to the Mediterranean diet in that it promotes all the same foods groups, but has a special emphasis on fish and seafood. The pescatarian diet, however, completely eliminates meat and poultry, whereas the Mediterranean diet simply limits them.
People who adopt this type of plant-based diet often argue that fish and seafood are necessary alternatives to meat and poultry, as tofu and other “fake” meats are not enough to subside on.
Plant-Based Diets. vs Veganism
While there are plant-based vegan diets, most plant-based diets are different than a purely vegan diet. The most obvious difference is that a vegan diet completely eliminates animal products, whereas most plant-based diets just suggest eating much less of them.
The other aspect that makes the two diets different is the fact that a vegan diet doesn’t necessarily have a focus on eating mainly fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, nor does it outline how much or how little certain food groups should be eaten like most plant-based diets do.
A vegan diet can include desserts made with refined sugar and flour; the dessert just has to be made with vegan ingredients. A plant-based diet would suggest avoiding these desserts for the most part and to only enjoy them when there’s a special occasion.
Plant-Based Diet Benefits
A plant-based diet poses many health benefits, which are derived from both the foods you end up including more of in your diet, as well as the foods you tend to limit or decrease in your diet. By eating more fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, nuts, and legumes, you’re getting more fiber, vitamins, minerals, and healthy fats into your diet.
The following are just a handful of health benefits you get from a plant-based diet:
- Lowered risk of heart disease and stroke
- Increased longevity
- Lowered risk of inflammatory diseases
- Lowered risk of type 2 diabetes
- Better cognitive health
Shifting towards a plant-based diet doesn’t have to be an overnight change, and it really shouldn’t be. Your body and palate need time to adjust to the food changes. You can take small steps by introducing a “meatless Monday” into your week, where you eat strictly vegetarian on Mondays, or placing just a little bit less meat or poultry onto your plate and instead bulk up on more vegetables than you normally would.
Make sure to talk to your physician if you’re thinking about adapting your diet to a plant-based one so you can come up with a plan that is tailored to your individual health concerns and nutritional needs.