Complete guide to plant-based foods

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The health-conscious revolution is here, and while you might have noticed yoga studios popping up in your town or daily meditation groups at the office, there’s another trend that’s flying under the radar: Americans are eating less meat. Nearly one in four cut back on meat in 2020, while plant-based food sales have grown 54% over the past three years to an all-time high of $7.4 billion.

Plant-based foods are the next big thing in the world of nutrition. But what is a plant-based diet? What foods can you eat? And how do they help your health?

What is a plant-based diet?
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A plant-based diet, also called a plant-centered or plant-forward diet, focuses on foods that come from plants rather than animals. That means that your diet consists mostly of fruits and vegetables, legumes, beans, whole grains, nuts and seeds. Some people interpret the definition of a plant-based diet strictly, for example, vegans, who don’t eat any product that cores from animals, and vegetarians, who never eat animal protein.

You don’t have to cut out meat completely, especially if you’re considering a plant-based diet for beginners. If you eat mostly plant-based foods, you can also still occasionally eat eggs, dairy or meat. For example, pescatarians eat eggs, dairy and fish, but no other meat, while flexitarians may eat animal products once or twice a week, like meat with dinner or eggs with Sunday brunch. As a general rule, a diet made up of about 90%–100% plant-based foods fits the bill.

What foods do you eat on a plant-based diet?

Traditional plant-based foods include anything that grows in the ground. Modern diets can also include plant-based meat alternatives that are “grown” in a production facility. Here are some examples:

  • Fruits: Citrus fruits, berries, apples, bananas, pomegranates, watermelon, pineapple, peaches; the skin of many fruits is also nutritious
  • Vegetables: Tomatoes, mushrooms, peppers, celery; leafy green veggies like kale, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, collards and spinach; root vegetables like sweet potatoes, yucca, carrots, onions, beets, turnips and celery root
  • Whole grains: Oats, brown rice, quinoa, whole wheat, bulgur, farro, millet
  • Seeds, legumes and nuts: Flaxseed, chia seed, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, beans, lentils, chickpeas, almonds, cashews, pecans and many other nuts
  • Plant-based milks: Soy milk, almond milk, oat milk, coconut milk

So can you eat bread on a plant-based diet? Technically, yes, but eat it in moderation and ensure it’s whole grain. Limit nuts, seeds and oils, as well as healthy fats and plant-based milks. These foods make an excellent breakfast or snack, but are calorie-dense.

The Mediterranean diet is one of the most well-known examples of plant-based foods. Its adherents eat mostly fruits, vegetables, whole grains and healthy fats like nuts, seeds and oils, plus the occasional seafood, poultry, cheese, yogurt or eggs. Tony himself follows an alkaline diet, which means eating foods with an alkaline pH rather than an acidic pH. Most meats and dairy are acidic, and while the alkaline diet doesn’t cut out these foods, it emphasizes leafy green veggies, legumes and healthy fats.

What about plant-based meat alternatives?

As companies figure out how to make plant-based meat alternatives tasty and healthy, their popularity is growing. Look at Beyond Meat, a company who has figured out a way to use an extruder to heat, cool and pressurize a mixture of proteins and various nutrients into a structure that replicates the fibrous texture of muscle. The firm’s flagship product, Beyond Chicken Strips, have been in markets since 2012, and the company released the Beyond Burger in 2016. This meat option has 20 grams of protein, lower fat and calories and no GMOs, soy or gluten. It also happens to taste just like the real deal.

Companies like Good Catch Foods and the Plant-Based Seafood Co. make – you guessed it – plant-based seafoods like shrimp, scallops and crab cakes, which are a great alternative to farm-raised fish. There are even plant-based eggs from JUST Egg. Want something minimally processed? Natural plant-based meat alternatives include jackfruit, tempeh, tofu and chickpeas.

Benefits of plant-based diets

Plant-based foods can help you lose weight, prevent and control chronic diseases, increase your energy levels and even help the environment.

  • Weight loss: Can you lose weight on a plant-based diet? Absolutely. Many plant-based foods are high in fiber and low in calories, so you’ll feel more full after eating smaller portions.
  • More energy: Because plant-based diets are high in fiber, your body digests them more slowly, helping regulate your blood sugar and energy levels.
  • Chronic disease: The benefits of plant-based diets for heart disease and diabetes are well-studied, and they may also help with inflammation, arthritis, liver and kidney function and even certain types of cancer.
  • Environmental benefits: Global consumption of animal protein has skyrocketed, and livestock use resources and produce greenhouse gases. The benefits of plant-based meat eliminate these concerns.

What about the negatives of a plant-based diet? When properly implemented, you’ll get all the nutrients, vitamins and minerals you need. However there is a risk that an unbalanced plant-based diet won’t provide enough protein or vitamin B12. If you’re starting a plant-based diet for beginners, it’s important to determine and fulfill your protein needs and look into supplements if needed.

Ultimately, what is a plant-based diet? It’s a way to take control of your health, achieve lasting weight loss and have more energy to go after your goals. Along with other biohacking strategies, like cryotherapy, red light therapy and compression, plant-based foods are part of a holistic plan for physical, mental and spiritual health.

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