When we hear the term “plant-based eating,” it is easy to think of the terms vegetarian or vegan. But there is a key difference: plant-based eating doesn’t exclude any food or food group.
Plant-based eating simply means eating mostly plants. It allows for an intuitive and inclusive approach to eating that avoids unnecessary restriction, which allows us to maintain our enjoyment of food while also meeting our health goals.
This diet has been scientifically shown to have more health benefits when compared to the standard American diet. Plants have essential nutrients to support our bodily processes, fiber to support the health of our gut bacteria, as well as antioxidants to protect our cells from threats that lead to inflammatory diseases and cancer.
By supporting our immune system and reducing inflammation, plant foods allow our bodies to minimize cellular stress while promoting longevity and good health.
- Lowers the risk of heart disease and cancer. Plants are:
- Low in saturated fats and high in antioxidants, which can help prevent various cancers and cardiovascular diseases.
- A good source of heart-healthy unsaturated fats.
- Reduces chronic inflammation. Plant-based diets are high in:
- Fiber, which can help lower cholesterol, manage insulin resistance, stabilize blood sugar, and maintain a healthy culture of gut bacteria.
- Antioxidants and can help reduce inflammation in the body, especially when plant proteins are substituted for red meat and highly processed meats.
- Helps with weight management. Plant-based foods are:
- Often lower in calories than animal products.
- High in fiber and help us feel full for longer, which can help us to eat less.
Both USDA and VA recommend a balanced meal being 50% fruits and vegetables, 25% grains and starches, and 25% protein with the MyPlate meal balancing tool. That means at least 75% of a balanced plate is already plant-based, so you may be closer to following a plant-based eating pattern than you think.
The My Plate meal balancing tool
Burger? Sure! There are “No Rules!”
You don’t have to completely cut out animal protein (meat, eggs, dairy, meats, fish/seafood) to have a plant-based diet. It is not “against the rules” to have your protein source alternate between plant sources and animal sources or to even combine them in a single meal. In fact, there are “no rules!”
The beauty of plant-based eating is its flexibility which allows you to find what works best for your tastes and health. The mentality of plant-based eating focuses on what you can add to your plate that is nutritious and makes the meal more exciting rather than what you are limiting or missing.
Ultimately, a plant-based diet develops from the conscious choices we make for our health and satisfaction.
For a great source for healthy, plant-based recipes, check out the VA Healthy Teaching Kitchen Recipe Library. You can also reach out to your local VA dietitian for help making healthier food choices and building a plant-based eating pattern.