In This article
- A closer look at plant-based eating
- Comparing a plant-based diet and other veg diets
- Healthy versus unhealthy veg diets
- What plant-based eating can do for you
Since the first publication of The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Plant-Based Nutrition, the “going veg” world has exploded. While it may encompass different titles (e.g. vegetarian, vegan, plant-based, etc.) and may stem from different motivations, eating plants proffers many potential health benefits. Because of this, the food industry has responded enthusiastically to the rise of plant eaters with a variety of products targeted to meet the demand; eating plant-based is becoming increasingly more accessible. It is not uncommon to have entire menu sections filled with plant options at restaurants, ample shelf space dedicated to plant foods at supermarkets, and myriad restaurants exclusively serving up veggie food in cities around the globe. More and more healthcare professionals—and even entire healthcare organizations—are recommending plant-based diets to their patients, recognizing the surge of scientific studies supporting its health advantages.
A plant-based diet has never been easier to follow, which is electrifying for its enthusiasts. At the same time, it is important to note that the food industry is also targeting our taste buds, making it slightly trickier to identify wholesome foods. Although healthful eating is no longer synonymous with simple vegan or vegetarian labels, nothing has changed regarding the benefits of eating whole plant-based food. Therefore, distinguishing between fact and fiction in the marketing of these products is increasingly important. Our goal for this new edition is to provide updated tools to help you separate the health from the hype for optimal success.
Getting your nutrition from plant-based foods is one of the best things you can do for your body and your well-being. And it’s easier than you might think! Get ready to be inspired by all the healthy advantages a plant-based diet offers!
What Is Plant-Based?
Before we go any further, let’s look at what plant-based really means. Plant-based has come to represent a way of eating foods primarily or exclusively of plant origin. Simple enough, right? The addition of the words whole food, as in “whole food, plant-based diet,” indicates the foods are as they exist in nature and have not been stripped of their original packaging.
Watch out for junk food. While some of it is completely plant-based, eating non-nutritious foods like white bread, crisps, and fruit punch is not healthy and is not the goal. here. This is where the integral part of eating comes in.
A complete vegetable-based diet offers a wide array of options, including endless combinations of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, vegetables, nuts, seeds, herbs, and spices. While these foods require very little processing and preparation, the ingredients harvested from the earth can afflict your taste buds in dishes ranging from fine dining to home-cooked meals.
Additionally, while studying populations, physicians and researchers have found that a whole food, plant-based diet results in optimum health. The higher the percentage of a diet that comes from whole-plant foods, the lower the risk for cardiovascular disease, many cancers, type 2 diabetes, obesity, and autoimmune diseases. If you want to feel and look your best while savoring every bite, a whole food, plant-based diet is the win-win option.
Vegan, Vegetarian, Plant Based
Now let’s look at those other “veg” diets mentioned earlier and see how they compare to a plant-based diet.
First up, vegans. Technically, a vegan is an exclusive plant eater, who lives solely on plant products and excludes all animal flesh, including that of poultry and fish, as well as any product made by an animal, such as milk and all other dairy products, eggs, gelatin, and honey. Typically, vegans don’t wear clothing or other items made with animal products. That means no fur, leather, silk, wool, feathers, or pearls. They also avoid anything made with animal-based ingredients, such as some cosmetics, toiletries, or household goods.
A vegetarian does not eat animal meat, but can consume other foods of animal origin, such as eggs and dairy products. Vegetarianism has several subpopulations:
- Lacto-ovo vegetarians eat dairy (lacto) and eggs (ovo).
- Lacto-vegetarians eat dairy but not eggs.
- Ovo-vegetarians eat eggs but not dairy.
- Flexitarians (a contraction of the words flexible and vegetarian) eat mostly plant-based foods but occasionally eat meat, poultry, or fish, too.
- Semi-vegetarians exclude some meats (usually red meat) but still consume limited amounts of poultry, fish, or seafood.
- Pescatarians eat fish and shellfish, but no other animal flesh. They may or may not include dairy and eggs.
A vegan (VEE-gan) avoids consuming and using all animal products, including animal flesh, dairy, eggs, honey, leather, fur, silk, wool, and pearls. A vegetarian avoids eating meat, poultry, and fish. There are several types of vegetarianism.
When you think about it, although veganism and vegetarianism are plant-based diets for the most part, they’re defined on what you exclude from your diet. Part of what makes a plant-based diet unique is that it defines the composition of what is included instead of what isn’t.
The Health Benefits of a Plant-Based Diet
Over the last several decades, scientific studies have led to discoveries that could potentially change the landscape of healthcare. Such studies have shown that eating a whole food, plant-based diet can be the key to proactive medical care.
Disease Prevention and Reversal
After nearly a century of eating a calorie-dense, nutrient-poor standard Western diet, we have seen an unprecedented rise in chronic disease rates. Fortunately, however, there is an ever-expanding body of evidence demonstrating the benefits of adding more plant food to the diet. While no diet is a guaranteed prescription for immortality and perfect health, a plant-based diet has been shown to have the best track record.
Plant-based diets have been associated with …
- Lowering overall and ischemic heart-disease mortality.
- Supporting sustainable weight management.
- Reducing medication needs.
- Lowering the risk for most chronic diseases.
- Decreasing the incidence and severity of high-risk conditions, including obesity, hypertension, hyperlipidemia, and hyperglycemia.
- Reversing advanced coronary artery disease and type 2 diabetes.
And the list continues to grow.
We’ve grown accustomed to pointing at genetics as the primary insight for which diseases you’re likely to contract over your lifetime. Yet it’s your habits—especially what you eat—that establish whether those genes are expressed and the illness flares up or those harmful genes remain dormant. This means the food you choose to place on your plate has more control over your health than some predetermined destiny. In other words, your genes may load the gun, but your lifestyle pulls the trigger.
Cardiometabolic risk is a measure of your chances for cardiovascular disease and diabetes. Because these two conditions have individual risk factors that overlap and even impact one another, they are often grouped together in overall health assessments. A whole food, plant-based diet has powerful phytonutrients and other beneficial components that address both issues. It is not uncommon to see hypertensive or diabetic patients normalize their blood pressure or blood sugar, respectively, and completely remove the need for pharmacological intervention within months of changing their diets. And yet, many patients, dietitians, and physicians remain unaware that these dramatic results can be achieved so simply. It is a “chicken or an egg” (or, we should say, “a seed or a tree”) conundrum that many healthcare professionals don’t think patients are willing to make a permanent change in diet. Consequently (and tragically), patients are often not given the choice.
You must take a proactive approach with your health. While it may be true that the pharmacy is just a few steps away from the produce section in most grocery stores, a whole food, plant-based diet is a far better prescription for good health.
Weight management has reached a critical impasse. After decades of searching for the perfect diet, the population is growing larger and more frustrated with the contradictions between the diets. Clearly, this approach has not been successful.
While nearly three out of four adults are overweight or obese in the United States, 39 percent of adults are overweight and 13 percent are obese, worldwide. Obesity is a contributing factor to many leading causes of death, including heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and some types of cancer.
Concentrating on a whole food, plant-based diet is the most advantageous solution for achieving and sustaining optimum health and weight. In fact, several studies show that this type of eating plan does, indeed, produce the most favorable outcomes. And that’s without any other changes in exercise or portion size! In other words, you can eat vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and legumes in abundance and still achieve great weight-loss success.
A diet exclusively made of plants requires eating more food at each meal. Contrary to popular thought, eating more actually helps you maintain your ideal weight by crowding out obesogenic food sources. And that’s the idea behind the whole food, plant-based diet.
Longevity and Healthspan
A plant-based diet may be the most powerful way not only to increase your lifespan, but more importantly, to expand your healthspan. Thus far, the only way longevity research scientists have increased the lifespan or healthspan of organisms—from yeasts to primates—is by limiting certain nutrients. Paradoxically, less is more when it comes to nutrients and a long, healthy life. Today, food is so available and ubiquitous that some have suggested it has led to a chronically fed state, which doesn’t give the body time for crucial repairs and maintenance. Just like our bodies need the downtime of sleep to execute memory consolidation and other brain repairs, so, too, do our bodies need the fasted state to work efficiently. Frequent feeding, which was once the hallmark of people economically deprived of proper nutrition, has been replaced by a need to decrease meal frequency and food-calorie density. A plant-based diet is centered on increasing healthspan to live longer not just live longer.
Healthspan is the period of one’s life during which one is generally healthy and free from serious disease. It addresses the number of years you live in the best health possible and is contrasted with longevity, or lifespan, which is simply the number of years you live. We want to define proper diet with the goal of living longer, not just living longer.
The Least You Need to Know
Current research supports a whole-food, plant-based diet as the key to achieving optimum health.
“Plant-based” describes the types of foods included in a meal plan or any type of diet that’s heavy on whole-plant foods.
A whole-food, plant-based diet is the premier option for minimizing risk of disease, achieving and maintaining optimum weight, supporting longer healthspan, and possibly even extending life span.