Plant-Based Diet: What To Eat And What To Avoid

Plant-based eating embraces a rich diet filled with unrefined vegetables, fruits, and grains. Plant-based diets tend to focus on whole foods, avoiding processed foods, and welcoming a form of eating that’s more focused on eating plants. As a diet being recommended by medical experts, its straightforwardness, however, does come with some dos and don’ts that you should follow. To successfully be on a plant-based diet, nutritional requirements need to be met, including high vegan protein foods and other various plant foods, to have this diet benefit your health and the environment.




 

We will explore the plant-based diet, what plant foods those on this diet should focus on, and other ways to fully embrace the plant-based diet successfully.

 

What Is A Plant-Based Diet?

 

Plant-based diets are referred to by a simple rule: eating foods with a greater emphasis on plants. There are multiple types of diets that encompass this rule, with many of these diets having variations in what can be eaten and what shouldn’t be eaten. However, plant foods are specified as the main priority when following this diet, and below, we’ll describe some of the variations of the plant-based diet that numerous people follow today:

 

Mediterranean Diet: While the Mediterranean diet often includes lean meats, it’s a diet with a high vegetable content, adding a significant amount of fibre, healthy fats, and whole grains. Because of its lack of restriction in the major food groups, it’s a diet that doesn’t present the possibility of vitamin deficiencies. It promotes good heart health, lowers the risk of type 2 diabetes, and presents balanced plant-based meals that are visually appealing and healthy.

 

Nordic Diet: Similar to the Mediterranean diet, the Nordic diet focuses on lean meats, eggs, dairy, and whole grains, with a large emphasis on fruit, berries, and vegetables. However, the Nordic diet also focuses on more sustainable actions, working to include local vendors and sources into its plant-based meals. It discourages heavily processed meals, works to focus on organic foods with no additives, and works to reduce waste production.

 

The Eatwell Guide: The UK offers its own eating model to help people get evidence-based nutritional advice, providing a balanced diet in the process. Within this model, the largest portions that should be eaten are fruits and vegetables, as many as five portions per day. Starchy carbohydrates, protein-rich plants and animals, and dairy are included as well but are less emphasized overall. Due to this model, many can work in more plant-based meals and adjust their diet to these specifications.

 

Vegan Diet: As a highly popular diet choice within the UK, the Vegan diet is entirely plant-based, meaning that high vegan protein foods are included with their variety of meals. It avoids all animal products and pushes a plant-based diet into every aspect of their eating habits. However, this diet is described more as a philosophy than a diet protocol. There are many variations within the diet that can even include salts, sugars, and saturated fats and still be considered vegan.

 

WFPB Diet: The Whole Foods, Plant-Based diet is considered the most commonly thought of plant-based diet. Focusing on minimally processed foods limits animal products, excludes refined foods like sugars and flours, and focuses heavily on plants, including vegetables, whole grains, and fruits. Often confused for vegan or vegetarian diets, the WFPB diet restricts meal preparation through removing processed foods and ultimately has helped many recover from conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, and Alzheimer’s disease. Some of the most well-known variations of the plant-based diet include the Plant-Based Diet Revolution by Dr Alan Desmond.

 

Because of the many variations that a plant-based diet can have, it means that anyone who wishes to follow a plant-based diet can customize their eating experience. However, many diets often falter due to the struggles with learning what to eat, how to eat, and what to avoid. Many of these diets offer plant-based meals and recipes to follow, but it becomes an ever-evolving challenge when working to include these meals in everyday life. To truly succeed at a plant-based diet, it’s essential to understand what happens to your body when you change your diet.

 

What Happens To Your Body When Going Plant-Based

 

Transitioning in a diet often happens slowly, but for those switching to a plant-based diet, there are some significant changes to your body, specifically to your gut microbiome, immune system, and metabolic system. Below, we’ll describe the most prominent changes that can happen when switching to plant-based meals.

 

The Gut Microbiome

 

The body’s microbiome contains hundreds of organisms, specifically bacteria, viruses, and microbes, that protect the human host exist in a mutually beneficial relationship. These strains help assist the body in digesting food and absorbing nutrients and protect the body against chronic diseases. Studies attempting to understand the relationship between diet, the microbiome, and our health have found that:

 

Our diets influence the microbiome significantly, causing significant changes in the flora of the gut.

Much of these florae are associated with specific nutrients and food groups, and having a more diverse gut microbiome was tied to healthy dietary patterns.

When referring to these dietary patterns, high fibre, minimally processed vegetables, and healthy animal foods were linked to reduced risk of chronic diseases.

 

The Immune System

 

Our immune system provides protection against foreign invaders such as bacteria and viruses, destroying these foreign proteins through the use of immune cells. As our innate immune system works to sense general threats and fight off pathogens, our adaptive immune works to memorize these pathogens to attack against a future threat. However, the immune system is effectively built from the live bacteria living with the gut microbiome.

 

Through studies attempting to look into the effectiveness of plant-based foods on the immune system, researchers have found:

 

The introduction of more fruits and vegetables introduces more vitamin C, able to boost immune system function and potentially prevent certain types of cancers.

Furthermore, the micronutrients found within plant-based meals can affect the metabolic status and overall health due to the introduction of plant foods.

 

The Metabolism

 

Our metabolism works to convert the nutrients absorbed in the gut microbiome into energy that can be used to assist our cardiovascular system, respiratory system, and other vital systems within the body. However, if a metabolic deficiency is present, the conversion of nutrients to glucose can ultimately result in conditions such as type 2 diabetes and also lead to issues such as obesity. Through the introduction of the plant-based diet, however, researchers have found evidence that this diet could improve metabolic function by:

 

Improving glycemic control, potentially helping those with type 2 diabetes and obesity gain more control over sugar intake and blood glucose level fluctuations

 

Reverse atherosclerosis and decrease blood pressure through the gradual decline of blood lipids within the bloodstream and arteries.

 

Even while diets such as the vegan diet, the wfpb diet, and even the Plant-Based Diet Revolution by Dr Alan Desmond can provide these benefits through the power of plant foods, knowing how to follow and use these diets matters. While following these diets depends on certain factors, the general guidelines provided by organizations such as the British Dietitian Association and British Nutrition Foundation offer excellent ways for following plant-based diets.

 

What To Eat On A Plant-Based Diet

 

Plant foods can be delicious, healthy, and affordable, especially when you know what food groups to follow and what food types to avoid. When it comes to the kinds of food to eat, these are considered the most recommended:

 

Vegetables

 

About half of your plate should contain some source of vegetables, including kale, spinach, sweet potatoes, collard greens, and broccoli, especially during lunch and dinner. When choosing vegetables, they should have vibrant colours. Including a portion of green leafy vegetables, including kale and spinach, can help introduce numerous vitamins and minerals to your plant-based diet.

 

As a general rule, the vegetables should act as the centrepiece of your meal, with other foods groups such as proteins and grains acting as a garnish. Beans, legumes, and other high vegan protein foods can be an excellent way to meet both your requirements while on the plant-based diet. Because of the many benefits vegetables provide, including a variety of vitamins and minerals, they’re considered great ways to protect us from heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and high blood pressure.

 

Fruits

 

Fruits should also be included but should also be limited. Some fruits contain many of the essential vitamins and minerals we need, including potassium, vitamin C, and vitamin K. However, they can also contain excessive amounts of sugar and carbs. While those sugars aren’t the same as processed sugars, if you are working with a plant-based diet that also reduces carbs, then fruits such as bananas, apples, oranges, and blueberries can offer their various antioxidant properties without the weight gain. For a plant-based diet, fruits should be considered an accent to your plant-based meals and can be combined in many ways for a great plant-based breakfast and desserts.

 

Whole Grains

 

Whole grains should be further emphasized alongside vegetables and protein, as our metabolism relies on carbohydrates to convert nutrients into energy. Whole grain options allow our bodies to digest glucose slower, providing a lower glycemic index that ultimately creates more energy and improves our metabolism.

 

In portioning whole grains, they should also slightly accent vegetables but act as the main component for a meal. Some excellent examples of whole grains include whole grain pasta, whole wheat bread, and brown rice. However, if you’re following diets that restrict processed foods, such as the WFBP diet or raw foods diet, then other options such as whole grain oats, buckwheat, barley, and amaranth can provide more variety.

 

Protein

 

High vegan protein foods and plant foods often lack protein, one of the main components needed in people’s diets. Nevertheless, plant-based diets can often include both animal and plant-based proteins and depending on the diet you follow, they can vary in how much or how little protein is eaten. For those not restricted to animal products, some excellent sources of protein include lean chicken, eggs, and fish. However, as most plant-based diets restrict animal sources, some excellent alternatives such as black beans, chickpeas, macadamia nuts, and peas can help supplement those protein vegan needs.

 

What Not To Eat On A Plant-Based Diet

 

As for what not to eat on a plant-based diet, the restrictions depend highly on the diet itself. For some plant-based diets, such as the vegan diet, animal products are restricted entirely, or all processed foods such as whole-wheat bread and pasta are removed. The main purpose of eating plant-based meals means plants should make up the majority of your meals, but there are some general rules to follow that many of these diets have in common, including:

 

Avoid Processed Foods: Processed foods include variations such as cold cuts, sausages, white pasta, and fast foods. Many of these products will contain excessive amounts of sugars, fats, and salt, making them unhealthy and contrary to the diet.

 

Added Sugars: Sweetened drinks, baked foods, and cold cereals often contain excessive amounts of sugars, making them extremely harmful and can increase the risk of heart disease.

 

Artificial Sweeteners: Artificial sweeteners such as Splenda and Sweet’N Low can cause constant cravings and make people more likely to eat simple carbohydrates such as white bread and white rice.

 

Processed Plant-Based Foods: Even foods advertised as plant-based can also be unhealthy, especially if they’re processed. Faux meats, vegan frozen dinners, and vegan cheeses can add harmful additives that won’t provide you with the necessary nutrients you need.

 

For more information about plant-based diets, the best resources you can go to learn more is through your GP or dietitian certified under the British Dietitian Association. You can gain valuable insight into plant-based diets, get recommendations about plant-based meals, and begin taking more control over your health through your medical team.

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