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What Does It Mean to Go Plant-Based?

A woman holds a bowl filled with vegetables.
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We all know that fruits and vegetables are great for snacking, but can you live off of them? A plant- based, holistic diet is becoming more and more popular, especially in recent years and studies are increasing to reveal the many benefits of switching from a mostly meat based diet, to prioritizing plants.

Certified Holistic Nutritionist, Brittany McDonald, Founder of Her Gut Instincts, shared her expert insight on the topic and walked us through what it actually means to be plant-based, how to go plant-based, the best plant-based foods, and some tips for navigating the grocery store.

What Is a Plant-Based Diet?

A plant-based diet is manifested when someone decides to only consume foods derived from the earth. Fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, beans, and legumes make up the majority of this diet.

You might be shocked to find out that those who live off of a plant-based diet can be different from vegans and vegetarians because they still consume meat and animal-based products. While some people use plant-based to refer to vegan diets, it’s not strictly true.

While vegetarians and vegans completely cut out meat, some who eat a plant-based diet simply majorly prioritize plants but still consume meat products from time to time.

Benefits of a Plant-Based Diet

You might be wondering why a traditional meat eater would make the transition to “prioritize plants” by becoming plant-based. McDonald explained that those who make this switch often see improved cholesterol, decreased inflammation overall, and elimination of brain fog.

Plant-based diets have also been shown to have a reversal effect on those who suffer from chronic diseases like cardiovascular disease, hypertension, type 2 diabetes, and obesity. McDonald recommended checking out the book, “How to Not Die,” in case you’re curious about how a plant-based diet can impact any of these chronic conditions.

How Not to Die: Discover the Foods Scientifically Proven to Prevent and Reverse Disease

Nutritionist McDonald's book recommendation for a plant-based diet.

Generally speaking, plant-based eaters are able to more easily maintain a healthy weight. This is because of the saturated fat, trans fat, processed sugar, and calories that are often times found in meat products, that are absent from plants.

Additionally, the fiber-rich calories found in a plant-based meal leave the eater feeling fuller for longer, which decreases that person’s desire to snack throughout the day. Research on beans, filled with protein and fiber, specifically shows how weight loss occurs when one decides to go plant-based and includes beans in regular meals.

“Plants are remarkable sources for getting vitamins, minerals, healthy fats, and needed fiber,” said McDonald. “It’s nature’s way of giving the body what it needs. There’s a variety of different studies on the topic but to sum it up, when a person crowds their plate with plant-based foods they’re less likely to overconsume saturated fats, sugar, or processed ingredients.”

Drawbacks of a Plant-Based Diet

A group of different fruits and vegetables are arranged on a table.
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“Clever marketing” for plant-based diets scattered throughout the grocery store was McDonald’s first “red flag” to identify if and when you make the choice to go plant-based. The rise in popularity of a plant-based diet has made marketing scams increase as well.

“Just because something says ‘plant-based’ doesn’t mean that it is the best option. I suggest flipping the item over and reading the ingredient label,” McDonald recommended.

To avoid eating processed foods, thinking you might be eating something healthy, safe, and plant-based, McDonald recommended sticking to the produce aisle whenever possible.

Another perceived drawback to a plant-based diet is the potential to miss out on a balanced meal filled with macronutrients (your fibrous carbs, complete proteins, and healthy fats) if you don’t plan accordingly. While vegetables on their own supply your fibrous carb intake, forgetting to add a protein and healthy fat such as quinoa and avocado to your salad can result in an unbalanced meal and diet.

How Do You Go Plant-Based?

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According to McDonald, the easiest way to transition from a more meat-centric diet to a plant-based diet is to find “swaps.” Swapping a few of your meat options for plant-based protein such as quinoa, edamame, tempeh, and tofu, is a good start. Additionally, instead of traditional whole milk or greek yogurt, you can try coconut-based yogurt, nut milk, and alternative butters.

“Another trick is crowding your plate with plant-based foods first,” said McDonald. “Say you have a full salad on one half of your plate, a piece of grilled chicken on a quarter of the plate, and roasted sweet potatoes on the other quarter. When you imagine that plate in front of you, you will notice most of the plate is full of vegetables. This will allow you to fill up on mostly plant-based foods and not overconsume the other stuff.”

Lastly, McDonald recommended spending the first half of your trip at the grocery store in the produce section to imagine filling up most of your plate with fruits and vegetables.

Who Should and Shouldn’t Go Plant-Based?

A plant-based diet can be for anyone! Meat eaters typically have a relatively easy time making the transition to de-prioritizing meat rather than omitting it completely.

McDonald cautioned vegans and vegetarians who choose to incorporate meat back into their diets to do so slowly, to ease into digesting meat again. She recommended vegans and vegetarians with sensitive stomachs take a digestive enzyme if they choose to go plant-based and eat a small amount of meat during the week.

If a vegan or vegetarian is converting to a plant-based diet and experiences heartburn, acid reflux, or any other kind of discomfort in the gut, McDonald advises seeing your health care practitioner. Generally, McDonald shared that no studies exist to go against any individual converting to a plant-based diet.

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Best Foods for a Plant-Based Diet

A baking sheet has different roasted vegetables on it.

Fruits, vegetables, potatoes, seeds, beans, and legumes describe the best plant-based foods.

“The best plant-based foods don’t even have ingredient labels,” McDonald reiterated.

Frozen or canned fruits and vegetables are a good alternative for anyone who can’t easily afford the freshest produce in the produce section. McDonald simply advised to be aware of additives and high levels of sugar and sodium in this case.

As it turns out, plant-based eaters aren’t required to completely give up eating a side of chicken with dinner, they are simply encouraged to make it a quarter of the plate, while making the rest of dinner colorful and from the earth.

Jenn Vigh Jenn Vigh
Jenn is a pilates and yoga instructor, an aerialist, and a travel blogger with 5 years of experience in nonprofit communications, and over 10 years of experience writing, teaching, training, performing and collaborating with creatives across the globe. For the last 6 years, her American home-base has been Austin, TX, where she’s worked with the aerial dance company, Blue Lapis Light, and enjoyed the sunshine with her world-traveling yorkipoo, Sheila. Read Full Bio »
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