A beginner’s introduction to a plant-based diet: foods to consume and health advantages

A plant-based diet, as its name suggests, focuses primarily on obtaining the majority of your calories and nutrients from plants. However, you can still enjoy your favorite meats and animal products in moderation.

The flexibility and health advantages of a plant-based diet are highlighted by registered dietitian Amy Shapiro, who founded and serves as director of Real Nutrition in New York City. Additionally, you don’t have to completely give up items like cheese and meat even if you’re restricting them.

What you should know before beginning a plant-based diet is provided here:

Although eating a plant-based diet is usually a good way to eat, Shapiro advises against assuming that simply because you consume fewer animal products, your diet will instantly become healthier. For instance, eating primarily processed meals and refined carbohydrates isn’t always nutrient-dense or healthful.

The following advice can help you begin eating a plant-based diet:

Non-starchy vegetables and fresh fruits, such as leafy greens, carrots, peppers, broccoli, cauliflower, berries, grapes, apples, pears, and melons, should make up half of your plate for meals and snacks.

Lean proteins (like chicken, tofu, beans, or yogurt), complex carbohydrates high in fiber (like farro, quinoa, whole wheat pastas, and other whole grains), starchy vegetables (like sweet potatoes), and healthy fats (like avocados, nuts, and seeds, as well as olive and other oils) should make up the remainder of your plate or snack bowl.

You can still enjoy things like cheese, red meat, and desserts, but you should cut back on them, pick superior varieties, and make them the focal point of the dinner to fully appreciate and sate your hunger.

Plant-based versus vegan diets

Although a vegan diet is more stringent because it excludes any animal products, it still comes under the category of plant-based diets. That implies no meat, dairy, eggs, or honey.

A plant-based diet is easier to adopt since it is more flexible and permits occasional enjoyment of animal items. You also get many of the same health benefits as vegans because you’re still eating a lot of plants.

The following are a few of the diets that are classified as plant-based:

  • diets that allow for some white meat, fish, dairy products, and eggs while restricting red meat consumption, such as the DASH or Mediterranean diets.
  • A pesco-vegetarian diet allows you to eat fish, dairy products, and eggs but prohibits meat.
  • A vegetarian diet that allows eggs and dairy but forbids meat and fish.

Advantages of a plant-based diet

These are some established advantages of eating a plant-based diet.

Obtaining the recommended daily intake of minerals and vitamins

According to Shapiro, if you put fresh fruits and vegetables on around half of your plate, you’ll probably get all the vitamins, minerals, macronutrients, and micronutrients you require.

Reducing the likelihood of and assisting with health issues

A plant-based diet lowers the risk of heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, obesity, and other health issues by making it easier to portion out foods that are often less healthful, such as sweets and saturated fats.

Because a plant-based diet limits sugar and saturated fats, it’s also beneficial for those with long-term health issues including heart disease, high blood pressure, and Type 2 diabetes.

Losing weight and managing it

According to research, eating a plant-based diet can help you lose weight. People who were given a plant-based eating plan for weight loss dropped an average of 7.5 to 10 pounds, according to a 2015 analysis that was published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. The review analyzed data from 15 trials.

People on vegan, vegetarian, pesco-vegetarian, semi-vegetarian, and omnivorous diets lost weight over the course of a 6-month period in a 2015 randomized controlled trial that was published in the journal Nutrition (Turner-McGrievy was the lead author). The results showed that vegans lost by far the most weight (7.5% of their baseline body weight). Conversely, people following the omnivorous diet and the other four diet plans lost somewhat more than 3% of their starting body weight.

Furthermore, a 2016 review paper that was published in The Permanente Journal states that a plant-based diet can help with weight control, minimize the need for medicine, and cut the chance of dying from heart disease and the majority of chronic illnesses.

Ecologically favorable

Consuming a plant-based diet is beneficial to the environment because raising animals for food is one of the main causes of greenhouse gas emissions.

Does eating a plant-based diet have drawbacks?

It is regarded by several prominent health organizations as a nutritious diet for individuals of all ages and life stages. However, some medical disorders might not react well to a plant-based diet, such as digestive problems, where you should control how much fiber you consume, or kidney disease, where you should watch how much potassium you eat—a mineral that is easily found in plant foods, according to Shapiro.

If you wish to transition to a plant-based diet but have underlying medical conditions, speak with your healthcare professional.

Preparing fresh fruits and vegetables, which are the foundation of your meals and snacks, can take time, which is another drawback of plant-based diets. Shapiro’s tip: Make a plan. Vegetables that you can quickly turn into a salad or sandwich should be roasted in advance. Clean and chop any fruit that can be quickly combined with almonds and yogurt or blended into a smoothie. And always have frozen veggies and fruits available.

Plant-based foods to include in your diet

If you’re attempting to eat a more plant-based diet, here are some suggestions for items to add:


Magnesium and fiber are only two of the many nutrients found in beans. Consuming legumes is also linked to a decreased risk of heart disease. Whether you buy them dried or canned, beans are a flexible food that works well with any budget and can be prepared quickly. Rinse canned beans to cut down on some of the additional salt. Another method to eat beans is in hummus.

Sweet potatoes

Sweet potatoes are one of the best sources of beta-carotene, a phytochemical that is a precursor to vitamin A, and anthocyanin. They also have a naturally sweet flavor that is amplified when roasted. Sweet potatoes have been found in studies to support metabolic regulation.


This hot pickled cabbage dish, which is naturally fermented, is rich in minerals like magnesium, calcium, and selenium, as well as vitamins A and C. It also naturally contains probiotics.


It is advised to eat a handful of nuts every day to help decrease cholesterol and avoid heart disease. Walnuts could be an especially wise option. In addition to providing plant-based protein, fiber, and healthy fats, they also provide three minerals—magnesium, copper, and manganese—that support bone health.

Almond butter

Nut butters are an excellent source of protein and high in unsaturated fat. Select a peanut butter that is natural, low in sodium, and free of added sugar or palm oil.


This ancient grain has long been favored in other nations, namely Italy, but it is currently quickly gaining traction in the United States as a wholesome alternative to other widely consumed grains. It tastes nutty and is high in protein and fiber.


Tofu, whether grilled, fried, or baked, is a full source of all nine essential amino acids required by the body and is high in protein. It absorbs the flavors of any sauces or spices that you cook it in.


Broccoli is a good source of protein and has a high concentration of sulforaphane, which fights cancer.

The sauce chimichurri

Made with fresh parsley, oregano, garlic, oil, and vinegar, this raw sauce is a wonderful way to get more fresh herbs into your diet and increase your antioxidant intake.

vibrantly colored fruits and vegetables

Opt for dark leafy greens like spinach, brightly orange carrots, and brilliant berries as they are higher in phytochemicals than lighter choices. These foods are also strong in antioxidants. However, since all fruits and vegetables are healthy, choose those that suit your lifestyle, are in season, and are reasonably priced.