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Benefits of a Plant-Based Diet

woman with box of vegetables

It’s easier than ever to follow a plant-based diet thanks to the expanded popularity of meatless options at the grocery store. Adding more fruits, veggies and whole grains to your diet can help improve your health.

“When we look at chronic diseases that are lifestyle related, there are many studies showing that a plant-based diet can have risk reductions,” said Ellen Liskov, registered dietitian nutritionist at Yale New Haven Hospital.

For example, studies show a plant-based diet can result in:

  • Reduction in risk of heart attack
  • Reduction in risk of some cancers
  • Reduction in diabetes
  • Reduction in inflammation
  • Reduction in fibromyalgia symptoms

What is a plant-based diet?

Most people are familiar with a vegetarian diet, which excludes meat, and vegan diets, which exclude all animal products including dairy and eggs. However, there is no standard definition of a plant-based diet and there is some flexibility in how people choose to interpret it. For example, Liskov said someone following a plant-based diet might choose to eliminate beef, but continue to use chicken broth when making a vegetable soup.

All three rely on meals rich in plants. Brightly colored foods like kale, spinach, sweet potatoes and peppers tend to be higher in phytochemicals and antioxidants.

Are there any risks of a plant-based diet?

People typically trying a plant-based diet for the first time may be concerned about getting enough protein. However, Liskov said she is usually more concerned about patients getting certain nutrients. She suggests looking at your intake for vitamin B12, iron, zinc, calcium and Vitamin D. Some people may need to take supplements if they are not getting the adequate intake.

How to start a plant-based diet

Before making any dietary change Liskov recommends talking with your doctor or a registered dietician first. Anyone with an underlying medical condition, such as osteoporosis may need to add in certain foods or vitamins to stay healthy.

After that, just start with one meal at a time. If you love chili in the winter months, sub out the ground meat for black beans. Instead of scrambled eggs in the morning, try a tofu scramble loaded with veggies and a side of whole grain toast. Fruits, nuts and hummus are great options for an afternoon snack. If your family is opposed to giving up meat altogether, Liskov said she loves meatless Mondays. It is an easy way to reduce your intake of meat and gain some of the benefits of a plant-based diet.