Plant-based or plant-forward eating patterns focus on foods that are primarily from plants. This includes not only fruits and vegetables, but also nuts, oils, seeds, legumes, whole grains, and beans. It does not mean that you are a vegetarian or a vegan and never eat meat or dairy.
What Can You Eat On A Plant-Based Diet?
The definition of a plant-based diet depends on who you are asking it. In general, the diet is an eating style that emphasized real and whole foods which come from plants only. Some of the widely known examples of these are as follows.
Vegetables: kale, spinach, tomatoes, cauliflower, potatoes, squash, etc.
Legumes: peas, chickpeas, lentils, peanuts, beans, etc.
Whole grains: brown rice, oats, quinoa, barley, etc.
Unsweetened beverages: coffee, tea, sparkling water, etc.
Plant-based protein like tofu or tempeh
Nuts and nut butter
Spices and herbs
If you are following a plant-based diet, you could follow a typical routine of something of this sort.
Breakfast: Oatmeal with sliced banana
Lunch: Black bean soup
Snack: Roasted kale chips with nutritional yeast
Dinner: Lentil pasta with homemade tomato sauce
What Can’t You Eat On A Plant-Based Diet?
Before going further into discussing this, it is entirely up to you what you want to avoid during the diet. For the most part of it, people who are on plant-based diets eat less or prevent the following foods altogether.
- Refined grains: white rice, white bread, refined pasta, etc.
- Packaged foods: cookies, chips, sugary cereals, etc.
- Processed meats: bacon, sausage, etc.
- Fast food
- Desserts and sweetened beverages
Now you may be wondering what to do with eggs, cheese, meat, seafood and all other favourites of yours. Well, you could prepare a diet plan and follow that so that you can include all of these somewhere at the same time working towards your aim.
What you can do is eat mostly vegan in the first month, but include these favourites somewhere. Point to be noted here, make sure the foods you want to include can still be counted as plant-based.
Another important point to remember here is to not confuse between vegetarian and vegan. A plant-based diet does not necessarily mean eliminating food groups and lean sources of protein altogether. The diet is more friendly than that.
You could choose low-fat, unsweetened dairy products and alternatives such as unsweetened soy milk so that your body is supplied with sufficient magnesium, potassium, and calcium. Further, these nutrients also counterbalance the impact of sodium in the diet and also gives a minimized bloating effect.
If you are someone who eats non-veg and could add some seafood to your veggies plate. As you know, seafood is rich in Omega-3. Therefore, your body will get an ample amount of cognition-boosting omega-3’s.
How Do You Switch To A Plant-based Diet?
For a person who eats normally, eat whatever whenever they want, strictly following this diet may be nothing less than a horror story. Not to worry, you have the option of converting slowly into it. You can start with your snack options since we are all used to munching on heavy, oily, and fast-food kind of snacks. Have light snacks, something like baked chips or a bowl of popcorn.
You don’t have to subscribe to a meal plan to start a plant-based diet. Here are a few tips that you can follow and you are good to go.
- Eat more veggies, more often whenever you can.
- Fill up on a salad or vegetable-heavy soup before your main meal.
- Sip on unsweetened coffee and tea.
- Switch your typical portion sizes for meat and vegetables.
- Enjoy sweets and treats as indulgences in smaller amounts.
- Snack on nuts and seeds for more fibre and protein.
- Cook with plant-based oils, like olive, canola, sesame, and peanut.
- Emphasize real, whole foods over processed ones.
Is Plant-Based The Best Diet?
Not to worry, the plant-based diet is 100% okay to follow. Plant-based eating helps you take a better approach to your health in a simple, tangible, and actionable way that will not daunt you.
The main reason most diet types backfire is due to the fact that they are not as motivated as they are in the beginning. In the initial stages, it might all seem fun and games to follow it, but eventually, it only leads to restricting yourself and eliminating some foods completely. This is not how a person, in general, wants their lifestyle to be.
You will start noticing a big difference within a few days of starting the diet. Some of the changes will be waking up easily, feeling more present, having more energy, and riddance of all your stomach pains.
The people who have followed this diet also saw a change in how their clothes fit. Once so tight or difficult to fit-on jeans, have now started to slip up easily. They have felt as though they lost more inches than weight.
How Will Plant-Based Diet Benefit You?
You may be wondering what’s all the fuss about the plant-based diet and following it. Well, here’s a list of major benefits it has on you and your health. In addition, they are all backed by science. Therefore, you don’t have to be sceptical about following it.
Easy Weight Management: People who eat a plant-based diet tend to be leaner than people who don’t. This diet makes it easy for you to lose weight and keep it off. A plus point here is that you don’t have to count calories before eating something. Wonderful, isn’t it!
Disease Prevention: Plant-based eating can prevent, obstruct, or even reverse chronic diseases, including type 2 diabetes, heart disease.
A Lighter Environmental Footprint: This diet that includes a lot of plant-based foods places a lot less stress on the environment as compared with the regular diet-type.
While these are some of the major benefits that are seen immediately or within a few weeks of following the diet, there are a few other benefits it has in the long run. One such benefit is the prevention of cognitive impairment. Let’s take a closer look.
A Plant-Based Diet May Prevent Your Cognitive Senses From Declining
According to new research, following a diet that includes more plant-based foods and less of animal products during midlife shows a considerably low risk of cognitive impairment in the latter part of life.
According to recent estimates from the United Nations, at present, there are 137 million people over the age of 80 worldwide. Experts predict that this number will triple by 2050, reaching a rough 425 million.
The number of people with Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia is also increasing. According to a study, in our country alone, there are currently 5 million adults living with Alzheimer’s. This number is further likely to triple within the next few decades.
As people continue to age, it is becoming more and more important to be able to identify modifiable risk factors for conditions such as Alzheimer’s, as well as any lifestyle changes that may prevent neurodegenerative conditions such as this from developing in the first place.
New research points to nutrition as one among such factors. It suggests that eating a diet rich in vegetables, fruits, and whole grains and low in animal products such as dairy and meat reduces the risk of cognitive decline in later life.
Studying Diets And Cognitive Health
In a study where around 63,000 odd people were examined, the results were obtained as follows.
As part of this initial study, adults aged between 45 and 74 provided information during face-to-face interviews about their general diet, alcohol consumption, cigarette smoking, sleep duration, physical activity, height, weight, and medical history.
This occurred at baseline, between April 1993 and December 1998. Researchers again interviewed the participants during three follow-up visits until 2016.
To assess the participants’ eating habits, the researchers used five dietary patterns:
- The “alternative Mediterranean diet,” which is a modified version of the typical Mediterranean diet
- The Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet
- The alternative Healthy Eating Index
- The plant-based diet index
- The healthful plant-based diet index
All of these diets are similar in their significance on plant-based foods. The latter two indexes assign positive scores to eat plant-based foods and opposite scores for eating less healthy plant foods or animal foods.
Up to 33% lower risk of cognitive decline
In 2014–2016, over 2000 of the participants (approximately 14.4% of them) had cognitive impairment.
The researchers found that people who had strongly stuck themselves to the five dietary patterns outlined above during midlife were a lot less likely to develop cognitive impairment later on.
Specifically, those whose diets the researchers deemed most similar (in the top 25%) to those five dietary patterns were 18 to 33% less likely to develop cognitive impairment than those with the least similar diets (in the bottom 25%).
This pattern is not really about restricting a single food item but the composition of an overall pattern which recommends cutting down red meat, particularly processed ones. Further, the composition includes lots of plant-based foods such as whole grains, beans, nuts, vegetables, fruits and fish.
How To Get Started With The Plant-Based Diet?
Because you are new to this and might be confused as to where and how to begin, here are some tips to help you get started.
Eat lots of vegetables. Fill half your plate with vegetables for lunch and dinner. Make sure your plate is colourful. You could also enjoy your vegetables with some salsa, hummus, or guacamole.
Change the way you think about meat. Eat smaller amounts of meat. You could use it as a garnish rather than having it as the main part of the meal.
Choose good fats. Fats in olive oil, olives, seeds, nuts and nut butter, and avocados are excellent healthy choices.
Go for greens. Try a variety of green leafy vegetables such as spinach, spring onion and other greens each day. Instead of deep-frying the vegetables, Steam, grill, braise, or stir-fry to preserve their flavour and nutrients.
Cook a vegetarian meal at least one night a week. Make sure these meals include beans, vegetables, and whole grains.
Include whole grains for breakfast. Start with oatmeal, quinoa, or barley. You could add some nuts or seeds along with fresh fruit of your choice.
Build a meal around a salad. Fill a bowl with salad greens such as spinach, or red leafy greens. Add a few choices of other vegetables along with peas, fresh herbs, beans, or tofu.
Eat fruit for dessert. A ripe, juicy peach, a refreshing slice of watermelon, or a crisp apple will satisfy your craving for a sweet bite after lunch or dinner.
Some Inspirations You Could Try
With time, eating a plant-based diet will become a part of your lifestyle. Here are some delicious ideas for you to get started on the right track. Try these menus for a few weeks until you get the hang of the diet and soon after you could start with your plans.
- Rolled oats with banana, walnuts, and a sprinkle of cinnamon.
- Breakfast Wrap: Fill a whole-wheat tortilla/roti with scrambled egg, black beans, peppers, onions, cheese, and a garnish of hot sauce or salsa.
- Whole-wheat muffin topped with fresh avocado and tomato slices, and blueberries.
- Greek salad: Chopped mixed greens with fresh tomatoes, olives, fresh parsley, cheese, extra virgin olive oil, and vinegar. Whole-wheat pita on the side, and fresh melon for dessert.
- Tomato basil soup, whole-grain crackers/biscuits, and an apple.
- Vegetarian pizza with a whole-wheat flour base topped with mozzarella cheese, tomatoes, onions, broccoli, peppers, and mushrooms. Fresh strawberries for dessert.
- Grilled vegetable kebabs with grilled tofu, a quinoa and spinach salad.
- Whole-wheat pasta with beans and peas, and a salad with cherry tomatoes, with a dressing of extra virgin olive oil and vinegar.
- Vegetarian chilli with a spinach salad.
Because you are completely new to this diet, the know-how gets a bit difficult in the beginning. Hence, it is best to take professional help. Consult with a dietician or a nutritionist who will evaluate your health, your capacity, and other aspects of your food-style. They will then help you plant out a diet plan that is full of nutrition, tummy-filling and ensures sufficient supply of vitamins, nutrients, and minerals to your body.