Plant-based diet: Beginner’s guide to foods and benefits – Insider

Plant-based diet: Beginner’s guide to foods and benefits – Insider

  • A healthy plant-based diet should include whole foods like fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.
  • A plant-based diet has many health benefits including weight loss and a reduced risk of diabetes.
  • Eating fortified foods is the best way to get enough vitamin D and B12 from a plant-based diet.
  • Visit Insider’s Health Reference library for more advice.

Whether for health, ethical, environmental, or spiritual reasons, plant-based diets continue to grow in popularity, with nearly 10 million Americans adopting one.

Here’s what you need to know about plant-based diets and their potential risks and benefits.

What is a plant-based diet?

A plant-based diet consists of mostly plant-based food sources like fruits, vegetables, beans, legumes, whole grains, nuts, seeds, and oils. However, some plant-based diets still include small amounts of animal products. 

“A key point for those contemplating a plant-based diet is that it does not have to be an all or nothing proposition. Each change one is able to make – whether it’s eliminating some type of animal-based food or just reducing its frequency – can have significant health impact when done the right way,” says Mindy Haar,  RDN, a clinical associate professor and chair of Interdisciplinary Health Sciences at New York Institute of Technology. 

  • Lacto-vegetarian: A diet that excludes red and white meat, fish, eggs, and poultry but allows for dairy products like butter and milk. 
  • Ovo-vegetarian: A diet that excludes red and white meat, fish, poultry, and dairy products but allows for egg and egg products. 
  • Lacto-ovo vegetarian: A diet that excludes red and white meat, fish, and poultry, but allows for egg and dairy products. 
  • Pescetarian: A lacto-ovo vegetarian diet with the addition of fish
  • Flexitarian: A lacto-ovo vegetarian diet with occasional meat intake 
  • Vegan: A diet without any animal products including eggs, dairy, meat, or honey. 

What to eat on a plant-based diet

Plant-based diets require a diverse variety of foods in order to meet nutrient needs. 

“Vegans who consume no animal products at all may be at risk for vitamin B12 deficiency and may consider supplementing this vitamin. Those who eliminate dairy products can still get enough calcium from fortified plant-based milks, calcium-fortified orange juice, and tofu,” Haar says.

On a plant-based diet, you should eat foods like:  

  • Calcium-enriched and fortified products (juices, cereals, soy milk, tofu)
  • Dark green vegetables (spinach, kale, collard greens, broccoli)
  • Fruits (berries, bananas, citrus fruits, apples)
  • Legumes (lentils, chickpeas, beans)
  • Nuts and nut butter (peanuts, peanut butter, pistachios, cashews, almonds, pecans, walnuts) 
  • Seeds (pumpkin, hemp, sunflower, flax, chia) 
  • Whole grains (brown rice, quinoa) 

You should avoid or limit consumption of these foods: