Plant-Based Diets: What Are They, and How Do You Start?

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Plant-Based Diets: What Are They, and How Do You Start?

As Americans struggle to eat better, plant-based diets have become the rage, but exactly what are those and how hard are they to follow?

A growing number of people have turned to plant-based eating, as evidenced by the fact that the plant-based foods market increased by 29% in recent years, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine.

1. What is a plant-based diet?

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“When we talk about a whole foods, plant-based diet, we mean the majority (at least 80% to 90%) of the food should be unprocessed plant-based foods — things like legumes, fruits, vegetables, seeds, whole grains and nuts,” Dr. Urvi Shah, a hematologist oncologist at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, said in a recent blog post.

Fruits, vegetables, grains, dairy, seeds, fish and meat that contain a variety of micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) and macronutrients (protein, carbohydrates and fat) should be included in a plant-based diet, according to a perspective published in the journal Advances in Nutrition.

2. Plant-based vs. vegan vs. vegetarian: What’s the difference?

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The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) names different levels of vegetarian eating patterns, including vegan, lacto-ovo vegetarian and pescatarian diets. The key difference between all these eating plans and a plant-based diet is that only the latter includes small amounts of meat.

3. Plant-based diet health benefits

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A review published in the journal JAMA Oncology by Shah and her colleague at Sloan Kettering, medical oncologist Dr. Neil Iyengar, found that evidence supports plant-based diets for reducing cancer risk and improving metabolic disorders.

Better heart health may be another benefit of plant-centered eating. The American Heart Association (AHA) recently published a study in the Journal of the American Heart Association that revealed that young people who eat a plant-centered diet reduced their risk for stroke, heart attack, and other cardiovascular conditions in middle age.

4. How to start a plant-based diet

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The plant-based eating plans that are recommended by the AHA in its 2021 Dietary Guidance Scientific Statement include the Mediterranean diet and the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet.

The USDA also recommends these two plant-based eating patterns to meet its daily dietary nutritional recommendations.

5. Key foods that are part of these plant-based diets

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Key foods that are part of plant-based diets include:

  • Green leafy vegetables like spinach, turnips, green leaf lettuce and kale

  • Red, orange and starchy vegetables, including bell peppers, carrots, corn, and whole potatoes

  • Whole grains such as brown rice, barley, wheat and oats

  • Whole fruits like bananas, berries, oranges and raisins

  • Dairy, including yogurt, dairy milk, and low-fat sour cream

  • Unsaturated oil, including olive and sunflower oils

  • A variety of plant-based proteins, including beans, legumes, seeds, soy, mushrooms, nuts and broccoli

  • Limited amounts of protein from meat, fish, eggs, cheese and low-fat poultry

6. Source and more information

child vegetable salad
child vegetable salad

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