December 7, 2021

A Beginner Guide to Plant-Based Foods and Meals

Table of Contents What is a plant-based diet?What’s the difference between a plant-based diet and…

In the past few years you have likely heard buzzwords like “plant-based” or “flexitarian. Both terms refer to diets that eliminate meat based on a person’s preference, whether it’s cutting it out completely, phasing it out of daily meals, or simply being conscious about using less animal products when cooking or eating out.

For those curious about the plant-based diet—but who might not be ready or interested to make the commitment to going fully vegan—we talked to expert nutritionists to explain what going plant-based really means. Here’s what you should know before changing your diet completely (and here are some meatless recipes for inspiration once you’re excited to try it out).

What is a plant-based diet?

As the name suggests, a plant-based diet is a way of eating that mostly consists of plants like vegetables and fruits. “It consists of a variety of grains, fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, seeds, and more,” says Ricci-Lee Hotz, registered dietician based in Denver whose practice is called A Taste of Health. “In some cases, a plant-based diet could also indicate limiting artificial ingredients.” For the most part, plant-based eating aims for whole foods in their original form, rather than heavily processed ingredients.

What’s the difference between a plant-based diet and a vegan diet?

Veganism is considered a plant-based diet, but not all plant-based diets are technically vegan. “All plant-based diets contain the same plant-based foods but have different rules for what additional foods are also avoided,” said Jamie Feit, registered dietician in New York. “A vegan diet avoids all animal products completely.” Yep, veganism tends to be stricter, eliminating eggs, honey, mayonnaise, and even some wines (as they can be processed with animal protein); some plant-based eaters may still include such items in their meals. It’s all based on preference and what fits into each individual’s lifestyle.

How can I get adequate protein when eating plant-based?

To get your protein in, options like tofu or soybeans, beans and chickpeas, nuts, seeds, and peas are all great. Hotz also says that when eating plant-based, it’s important to be wary of certain meat alternatives: “If you approach a plant-based diet from eliminating artificial ingredients, you may need to be cautious of many of the meat substitute products, which tend to use a wide range of ingredients to accurately replace meat.”

How can I start eating more plant-based?

The transition to more plant-based eating doesn’t have to be drastic—and probably shouldn’t be, lest you get discouraged! Incorporating “Meatless Mondays” into your diet is a good way to begin experimenting with new foods on a smaller scale before uprooting your entire way of eating. Feit suggests experimenting with new grains, like barley or quinoa, as an alternative to processed carbs. Ultimately, anywhere is a good place to start when curious about plant-based eating.

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