What to Know About Plant-Based Food
More and more people are now switching to plant-based diets, both to protect their own health and that of our planet, but what exactly is plant-based food and how can you incorporate more of it into your meals? Let’s take a closer look.
What is Plant-Based Food?
As the name suggests, plant-based food is food that originates from plants rather than animals. Some examples of plant-based foods include:
- Fruit and vegetables
- Pulses and other legumes
- Nuts and seeds
- Herbs and spices
- Plant based milks (soy, almond, oats)
- Plant based protein (tofu, tempeh, seitan)
A plant-based diet is a diet that mainly consists of plant-based foods. This means limiting your intake of meat, poultry and fish, and other animal products such as dairy and eggs.
While eating a balanced plant-based diet can take some planning and effort, it is less restrictive than other diets such as a fully vegan diet.
Plant-Based Diet vs Vegan Diet
Although a plant-based diet shares some common features with a vegan diet, the two are not exactly the same. A vegan diet does not contain any meat or animal products at all. This includes eggs, dairy products and honey.
With a plant-based diet, you are free to eat small amounts of these foods occasionally. The key is to ensure that animal products are kept to a minimum and the majority of your diet is made up of plant-based foods.
Types of Plant-Based Food
Aside from the obvious fruit and vegetables, there are many other types of plant-based foods. These include the following:
Although all grains come from plants, the healthiest options are whole grains such as quinoa, barley, buckwheat and brown rice. These plant-based foods have a higher nutritional content and provide a steadier supply of energy than processed grains like white rice, white pasta, or white bread.
Pulses and Legumes
The legume family includes plant-based foods such as peas and beans. The word pulse refers to the edible seed of the plant (lentils, garbanzo beans, kidney beans). The word legume, on the other hand, refers to the whole pod and the seed (string beans, edamame beans, fresh peas, peanuts). Both pulses and legumes are an important part of a plant-based diet as they are rich in protein, fibre and other nutrients.
Nuts and Seeds
Nuts and seeds are another key component of a plant-based diet. They are packed full of healthy fats, protein, fiber, vitamins and minerals, and make a great snack when you are on the go.
Herbs and Spices
Like the other foods on this list, herbs and spices can be considered part of a balanced plant-based diet. They can be used to season dishes if you are trying to cut down on salt, or bump up the flavor if you are missing the taste of meat.
Plant-based milks such as soy, almond, oat, or coconut milk can be used as a substitute for cow’s milk. Try pouring them over cereal, adding to tea, coffee, smoothies, or drinking neat. The taste of some plant-based milks can take some getting used to, but with so many to choose from, keep experimenting and you are bound to find one you like.
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If you are cutting down on meat and fish, you will need to ensure you get enough plant-based protein. Some of the best sources are tofu and tempeh, which are made from processed soy beans. Another good option is seitan which is made from wheat protein.
Plant-Based Meat Substitutes
Now that plant-based diets are becoming more popular, it is easy to find plant-based burgers, sausages and even steaks. These offer a great solution for anyone who wants to eat more plant-based food, but misses the taste and texture of meat. However, some of these products are highly processed, so read the label before buying and avoid anything with long lists of unpronounceable ingredients.
If you are new to a plant-based diet, you may be wondering how to treat yourself. Aside from snacking on fresh fruit, you could try dried figs, dates, or raisins. Other plant-based foods that could be considered a bit of a treat include nuts, nut butters and dark chocolate.
If you are looking for something a little more luxurious, there are plenty of choices too. You can now buy plant-based yogurts, ice cream and desserts (usually made from soy) in most large supermarkets. Just watch out for those long ingredient lists and high sugar contents. Just because a food is plant-based, it does not automatically make it healthy.
Eating a plant-based diet can make it more difficult to get certain nutrients. For example, vitamins B12 and D are usually found in meat and fish, and calcium is usually found in dairy products. Certain brands of bread and breakfast cereal are fortified with extra vitamins and minerals, making them a useful addition to any plant-based diet.
Plant-Based Diet Benefits
There are many benefits to eating a plant-based diet. Research has shown that eating more plant-based foods can help to keep your weight under control. Plant-based diets are also thought to reduce the risk of diabetes, heart disease and even certain forms of cancer. However, as with any diet, you should steer clear of refined sugars, highly processed foods and trans fats.
Plant-based diets are great for the health of our planet too. They use less water and create fewer greenhouse gas emissions that the intensive farming used to produce meat. So, it seems that plant-based diets are a win-win. Good for the Earth and good for you.
Talk to a Doctor
Remember to talk to a qualified dietician before making any drastic changes to your diet. They will help you to ensure that you get all the nutrients you need and that your plant-based diet is sustainable in the long run.