In recent years, there has been an increase in people following a plant-based diet for the many health benefits. In this post, I am sharing what plant-based eating is, the health benefits, and how to get started. I also provide a cheat sheet for plant-based protein recommendations!
What is a Plant-Based Diet?
People decide to eat more plants or completely avoid animal proteins for several reasons. Often those reasons are personal and align with the value’s of the person. Some examples of why a person may decide to eat more plants include animal rights, to help the environment, health reasons, religion, or simply because they prefer plant foods over animal foods.
In general, a vegetarian is a person who does not eat meat. But there are several specifications of vegetarianism.
- Flexitarian: predominantly vegetarian but eat a small amount of meat, poultry and seafood which may include dairy or eggs
- Pescatarian: predominantly vegetarian but eat seafood and fish
- Vegetarian or lacto-ovo vegetarian: do not eat animal flesh but do eat animal byproducts such as eggs, milk, and honey.
- Vegan: entirely plant based and exclude both animal flesh and animal byproducts.
- Plant-forward: a style of cooking and eating that emphasizes plant-based foods but isn’t limited to them.
Health Benefits of a Plant-Based Diet
The Mediterranean diet is a popular plant-forward way of eating with a lot of research backing up its healthfulness. In fact, research has shown that a plant-based diet has the following health benefits:
- Can be effective for preventing chronic illnesses like heart disease and type 2 diabetes
- Can reduce arthritic pain
- Linked to a lower cancer risk
- Helps with brain health
- Linked to lower blood pressure and a healthier heart
- Linked to better blood sugar control <— this one really helps with cravings and energy levels
- Help with weight management
- Personally, when I eat more plants I notice improvements in my skin, sleep, and energy levels, too.
By eating more plants, you get more vitamins, phytonutrients, fiber, and antioxidants. All of these are good for brain health, heart health, hormone health, and gut health. By cutting back on meat, you decrease your intake of cholesterol and saturated fats. Both of which are found in meats and animal products and can have a negative impact on heart health and overall health.
GET STARTED ON A PLANT BASED DIET
Some of the foods that are included in a plant-based diet are vegetables, fruits, beans, legumes, nuts, seeds, oils, and whole grains.
Adopt a “What can I add” Mentality
Start to look at your plate with a “what can I add” attitude and make that addition a plant. Aim to make half your plate vegetables and fruit, a quarter whole grains, and the rest a plant-based protein. Top it with an oil-containing dressing or avocado for more healthy fats.
Plant-Based Diet Snacks and Meals
Choose plant-based snacks such as homemade hummus, 4 ingredient oatmeal cookies, or air fryer apples. Make plant-based dinners like Smoky Chickpea Soup or a grain bowl with quinoa and air fryer sweet potatoes or roasted cauliflower and carrots.
If you want to get started on a plant-based diet, aim to eat 1-2 meatless meal a week and then slowly increase the number of plant-based meals you eat. There is a lot of flavor in plant foods when you learn to cook them right! Ultimately, I suggest trying to incorporate at least one plant-protein meal a day for both your health and the environment.
Be open to new options
There is a whole word of flavors when you are open to trying new plant-based foods. Make it a goal to try one new vegetable, fruit, nut or bean/lentil/legume each week. Experiment cooking with that food and trying it in different ways. You might be surprised to find a new favorite!
Supplement as needed
If you are starting a plant-based diet, talk with a healthcare provider or dietitian to make sure you are meeting all your nutrient needs. You may need to supplement with Vitamin B12, Vitamin D3, calcium, iron, and zinc.
Plant-Based Diet Proteins
There’s a lot of talk about protein these days. You might find yourself wondering where to get protein from when you are eating plant-based diet. But you can get protein from more than your typical eggs or chicken! In fact, plant protein can be less expensive than animal protein.
So I put together a little plant-protein cheat sheet of some options for you! Be sure to get a variety of plant proteins since each has different nutrients, too.
- Almonds: 7 grams of protein in ¼ cup
- Black Beans: 15 grams of protein in 1 cup. Grab a can or dried and add them to soups, chilis, or make a black bean dip!
- Chickpeas (aka garbanzo beans): 12 grams of protein in 1 cup. Grab a can and add it to recipes or roast ‘em up or have some Biena Snacks. Homemade hummus or Smoky Chickpea soup are also great options.
- Edamame (soybeans): 18 grams of protein in 1 cup shelled. You can find frozen edamame and pop it in the microwave for an easy option.
- Hemp Seeds: 9 g protein in 3 Tbsp. Throw ‘em in a smoothie or make homemade granola with hemp seeds!
- Lentils: 24 grams of protein in 1 cup cooked. Lentils are great to add in soups and power bowls!
- Pistachios: 6 grams of protein in ¼ cup
- Peas: 8 grams of protein in 1 cup. You’ll see pea protein show up in plant-based protein powders and bars!
- Quinoa: 8 grams of protein in 1 cup cooked. Great for buddha bowls, thrown on top of salads, or as a side with some dressing & veggies or beans mixed in.
- Seitan aka “wheat meat”: 25 grams of protein per 3.5 oz. It takes on a similar texture as meat when cooked and has a savory meat-like taste similar to chicken or portobello mushroom. *Contains gluten.
- Tempeh (fermented soybeans): 15 grams of protein in ½ cup (also has Vitamin B12). Be sure to cook this one!
- Tofu: 10 grams of protein in ½ cup
If you are following a plant-based diet, you might also try alternative milks that have protein including Soy milk, Hemp milk, or Pea based milks like Ripple Brand. And there’s a lot of of plant-based protein bars and powders to choose from, too! I personally enjoy OWYN Protein Shakes and Aloha protein bars. Plus, companies like Beyond Meat are stepping up their game and making innovative new products like seasoned crumbles that are healthier than their original products back when they launched!
Don't underestimate the power of a plant-based diet. Eating more plants is good for your heart, good for your brain, and good for the environment!
I hope you enjoyed this article! I would love to hear from you if so. Please leave me a comment below or find me on Instagram....I LOVE knowing there’s people out there reading my articles. 🙂 IG: @mallorythedietitian
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