What Is a Plant-Based Diet & Is It the Same as Being Vegan?
One of the most powerful steps you can take to improve your health is to switch to a plant-based lifestyle — but what is a plant-based diet and its benefits, exactly? Studies have shown a reduction in chronic diseases, higher energy and better health outcomes when adopting this type of lifestyle. Learn what a plant-based diet is — along with tips to ease the transition — to help make the change easy and enjoyable.
What Is a Plant-Based Diet?
A plant-based diet allows you to meet your nutritional needs by focusing on natural, minimally processed plant foods based on the following principles:
- Whole foods. This means whole, unrefined or minimally refined ingredients.
- Plant-based. Foods that come from plants and don’t include animal ingredients, such as eggs, meat, milk or honey.
If followed correctly, a plant-based diet limits the use of added sugars, oils and processed foods, leaving only whole foods to provide nutrition. This maximizes your nutrient intake and virtually eliminates foods that can lead to poor health outcomes. Other benefits of a plant-based diet include:
- Weight management. People who eat a plant-based diet tend to be leaner than those who don’t. The diet also makes it easy to lose weight and keep it off — without counting calories.
- Disease prevention. This type of diet can help prevent chronic diseases, such as high cholesterol, heart disease and type 2 diabetes.
- Brain health. Research has shown that fruits, vegetables and whole grains may help slow the progression of Alzheimer’s disease and cognitive decline.
Is a Plant-Based Diet the Same as Being Vegan?
While there are certainly some similarities between consuming a plant-based diet and being vegan, there are some differences.
Vegans avoid all animal products or exploitation in clothing, food, shoes or any other aspect of their lives. They do not necessarily focus on whole plant foods; vegans may eat refined and processed foods, although many choose not to.
By comparison, a plant-based diet is defined as one that minimizes or eliminates all animal products and highly refined foods. A person who follows this diet will eat mainly fruits, vegetables, whole grains and legumes.
So, can you be vegan and plant-based? Yes, it is common to be both. Many people adopt a plant-based diet after experiencing significant health benefits or for other reasons like limiting their negative impact on the environment. Some vegans give up animal products for ethical reasons and go on to adopt a plant-based diet for their health.
How To Start a Plant-Based Diet
Ready to begin the transition to a plant-based lifestyle but don’t know where to start? Here are four simple strategies to help you ease into a wholesome, plant-based diet:
- Start slow. Pick a few plant-based meals — like oatmeal and vegetable stir fry — and rotate them throughout the week.
- Cut down meat and processed food intake. Make simple changes like adding a salad or fresh fruit to your daily meals. This will give your mind and body time to acclimate to the new diet.
- Go for a plant-based breakfast. Eat at least one plant-based meal every day. Breakfast is often a good place to start. Then, work on vegetarianizing your lunch, followed by snacks and dinner.
- Stock up on healthy foods. Stock your kitchen with plant-based foods and keep healthy snack options in easily accessible places like your desk drawer, kitchen counter and fridge.
Include all four food groups at each meal — fruit, vegetables, plant protein and whole grain — to ensure that all your nutritional needs are met. You may also want to collaborate with your health care provider on a list of supplements you may need while on a plant-based diet.
Talk with physicians at your nearby Valleywise Community Health Center to learn more about what a plant-based diet is or call 1 (833) VLLYWSE to schedule an appointment.