Plant-based diets. What you need to know to get started.
Are you considering a plant-based diet, but not sure where to start? You’re not alone.
Over the last few years, "plant-based" has become more popular than ever, yet there is still confusion surrounding plant-based diets. Plantly was created to harness the nutritional benefits of plants and herbs in an easy-to-prepare format--instant soup. We believe that a plant-based diet is a key way to improve overall health. So in the interest of helping you get started with your plant-based journey, this blog will explore what a plant-based diet is, the benefits, and ways to make the switch to eating a plant-based diet.
What is a plant-based diet?
A Plant-Based Diet focuses on a plant-first approach, including fruits and vegetables, legumes, nuts, seeds, grains, and fungi (mushrooms). It isn’t a traditional diet focused solely on weight loss, rather an approach that is focused on long term wellness. Among other things, plant-based diets seek to minimize food from non-plant sources as well as highly processed items. However, a plant-based diet doesn’t necessarily need to limit foods to plants only. In fact, many people that switch to a plant-based diet make the transition over time. To understand what plant-based eating means, it is helpful to understand the other popular diets such as Vegan, Vegetarian, Flexitarian, Whole30, Paleo, and Keto, to name a few.
A lifestyle that seeks to exclude all forms of animal-derived products including food, clothing, cosmetics, or any others. It involves the adoption of a diet free from meat, dairy, eggs, and any other animal-derived product. All vegans eat a plant-based diet, but all plant-based eaters are not necessarily vegan. Veganism can be thought of as both a diet and a lifestyle.
A vegan diet restricts consuming all animal-based products, but a vegetarian diet is typically more flexible and may include products that come from animals such as eggs or dairy products. Some vegetarians make this choice based on personal, religious, ethical, or health reasons.
A Flexitarian diet is considered by many to be a modified vegetarian diet that aims to eat mostly plant-based foods while still allowing for meat in some moderation. This diet was started by dietitian Dawn Jackson Blatner in her book, "The Flexitarian Diet: The Mostly Vegetarian Way to Lose Weight, Be Healthier, Prevent Disease and Add Years to Your Life," which was published in 2009. Beyond the flexibility and focus on minimally processed foods, this diet has also become popular because of its positive impact on the environment.
The Whole30 diet is a strict 30-day elimination diet intended to identify how your body responds to certain foods, and then reintroduce them after the 30 days. Whole30 was created by Dallas Hartwig and Melissa Hartwig Urban and featured in the bestselling book, “The Whole30” which increased the diet’s popularity since it’s release in 2009. The rules allow for eating only “real foods” with simple or no added ingredients. It is important for all foods to be whole and unprocessed. Meat, poultry, fish, veggies, fruit, and fats are the main sources of protein and nutrients while dairy, sugar, grains, legumes, and alcohol are all off-limits.
This diet, though popular, isn’t really a plant-based diet. The Paleo diet mimics the diets of hunter-gatherers from the Paleolithic era, 2.5 million to 10,000 years ago. It focuses on foods available before the emergence of modern farming and processing practices. Generally speaking, this diet includes fruit, vegetables, nuts, and seeds as well as lean meats, fish, and oils. Grains, refined sugars, legumes, and other carb-heavy foods are excluded.
While Paleo isn’t really considered a plant-based diet, there is a lot of cross-over with the focus on whole, nutrient-dense foods, often organic, which is a pillar in plant-based diets. To see more about the Paleo diet click HERE.
Keto isn’t a plant-based based diet, rather an approach that focuses on high-fat, low carb foods meant for burning fat as well as lowering levels of blood sugar and insulin. Keto aims to minimize carbs so that the body can enter a phase of metabolism called ketosis, which burns fat and protein. This diet doesn’t focus on long term health benefits but is mainly utilized for weight loss. Keto requires the dieter to consume less than 50 grams of carbs per day to effectively launch your body into the ketosis stage. As a frame of reference, one banana has 27 carbs, according to the USDA nutrient database.
Meat, fish, eggs, nuts, seeds, and veggies are the most common foods to eat while on Keto, but some take it a step further and focus on plant-based protein and fats, eating whole real nutrient-dense foods, and keeping carbs to set limits. It may or may not include foods from non-plant sources depending on how strictly it is followed.
Benefits of a plant-based diet
Nearly everything you eat either contributes or detracts from your health. With that in mind, the benefits of eating a whole food plant-based diet are many. Some resulting in health improvements that come in large part from an increase in health boosters and a decrease in health detractors. Health Boosters include vitamins, minerals, enzymes, fiber, and other plant compounds, like carotenoids, polyphenols, and bioflavonoids which reduce oxidative stress.
Health Detractors include added sugar, excess sodium, and others, like artificial colors and flavors, food additives and preservatives, and added msg and are mostly found in processed foods. Meat has a surplus amount of saturated fat as well as cholesterol which can be harmful to your body. By decreasing meat consumption, studies have shown there is a decreased risk of heart disease, stroke, obesity, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, type 2 diabetes, and cancer. According to UW Medical, consuming 50 grams of processed meat daily can increase the risk of colorectal cancer by as much as 18% (50 grams is about four slices of bacon or one hot dog).
Not only do plant-based diets benefit the “dieter”, but they also positively impact the environment around them. A shift to a plant-based diet can reduce the reliance on processed foods and the associated strain on the environment. As an example, the production of meat is currently one of the highest contributors in terms of carbon emissions and water usage. A University of California Davis study found one pound of beef needs between 2000 and 8,000 gallons of water to produce. Conversely, some plant-based foods require less than 300 gallons for an equivalent amount of protein. By sticking to unprocessed foods, people can live a healthier lifestyle while also creating a healthier environment.
The downside to a plant-based diet
While plant-based diets are built to lead a more natural and healthy lifestyle, it is important to understand any associated risks. In general, there are very few risks, however, depending on the person, nutrient deficiencies have been linked to vegan and vegetarian diets. The most common deficiencies include Vitamin B12, Vitamin D, Iodine, and Iron.
However, despite these risks, there are many simple solutions like: (1) Replacing the old nutrient sources and replacing them with specific plant-based options, (2) taking health supplements or fortified foods like nutritional yeast and breakfast cereals, (3) planning meals with nutrient-packed foods such as chickpeas, lentils, tofu, cheese, cauliflower, cabbage, kale, and one of our favorites, broccoli.
5 tips for making the switch to a plant-based diet
Going away from your normal diet can be hard, but moving to a diet with a heavy emphasis on plant-based foods has many benefits that are well worth the change. Here are five recommended ways to make a smooth transition:
(1) Find easy-to-prepare, tasty options: There are more plant-based options than ever before. Plantly is one, but there are many others. Check out The Plant-Based Food Association directory. Some of our favorites include Daiya Foods, Califia Foods, Rebbl, Bitchin Sauce, SuperSeedz and Vive Organic to name a few.
(2) Don't go cold turkey: Make the transition over time and enjoy the process of discovery. Find things you like and start to create some routines--think Meatless Monday. Also, if you’re interested, check out the book Atomic Habits. It has some great ways to create new habits (dietary and beyond).
(3) Remove the "bad" foods you have in the household: Remove as many “food-like substances” as possible and eliminate the temptation to eat them. This is one of the easiest and most important steps on the way to a plant-based lifestyle.
(4) Try meal kit services for inspiration: There are some really cool meal kit services that can help you go plant-based and still love what you are eating. Check out Purple Carrot, Green Chef, and Hungryroot.
(5) Follow other’s paths: You are not alone on your journey! Follow others on their mission to go plant-based on social media as well as blogs. By listening to the media, you can find recipes, entertainment and motivation to keep you on track with plant-based living. HERE are a couple plant-based bloggers to get you started!
Needless to say, there are many considerations when considering making the switch to a plant-based diet. There are many different options, a few of them discussed above. At Plantly, our view is that a plant-based diet can provide sustainable health benefits for you and for the planet. Have recommendations for making the switch? Share your wisdom here.