Breaking News! A Plant-Based Diet May Not Even Contain Plants
A plant-based diet is a rather broad term that is thrown around on a daily basis (and it’s super trendy, especially since the Game Changers movie) so let’s clarify.
Breaking news! A plant-based diet should actually have some plants in it! You can follow either a healthy responsible plant-based diets with actual plant foods that grow outside like fruits and veggies, or you can eat a processed “plant-based” diet full of meatless soy burgers, vegan mac and cheese and chicken-free chicken nuggets and possibly gain weight! If you adjust from a meat-filled fast-food processed diet to one in which you eat more fruits, veggies, nuts, seeds, beans, and grains, then of course it’s healthier and more beneficial.
Veggies and fruits create lots of volume, fiber and nutrients in meals but provide the least calories of any food. So transitioning to a higher quality diet with lots of actual plant foods on your plate can replace the other processed, less quality foods you used to eat. I recommend that my clients use veggies for volume to fill their plates up so they can visually and physically eat more but naturally take in less. This is key for improved health and sustainable weight loss because you are encouraging volume instead of restriction which almost always backfires with time.
But it is also possible to eat a “plant-based” diet that does not contain any fresh produce! Meat and dairy substitutes are put in the same “plant-based” category as actual plants, but they can be even more processed, higher in sodium and calories etc. than their real animal-based counterparts.
I always encourage placing more of a focus on a plant-based diet, but with actual plants, not processed substitutes. Increasing your produce intake while decreasing the consumption of other foods that are unhealthy will likely contribute to improved health and weight loss if that is a goal because they’re the best nutritional bang for your caloric buck, but of course you also have to take your overall diet and lifestyle into account as well. You have to look at the big picture and slowly begin to consistently incorporate more plant foods into your diet. With time, this real food diet can absolutely contribute to a healthier body inside and out.
If you would like to transition to a more plant-based approach, but you are someone who is barely having any veggies in your diet, I would recommend finding any way to incorporate them 1-2 times a day at first and/or adding them to snacks where they might typically have chips or pretzels. There are so many ways to eat more veggies that are not a salad (see picture below for examples).
If you responsibly begin to incorporate a more plant-based diet with real plant foods, it is typically more than enough effort to just focus on generally eating more produce. Most people lack adequate veggies in their diet so the overall recommendation to work on increasing them every single day is more than enough effort.
As you can see, the term “plant-based” can have different interpretations. You can also very easily eat a highly processed, sugary, crappy plant-based diet.
Oh and by the way, plant-based and vegan are not interchangeable. A vegan diet contains no animal products whatsoever while a “plant-based” diet can mean a lot of things but to me, it means a diet that contains mostly fresh fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, beans, and other things that actually grow outside.
Dietitians like myself have always recommended a plant-based diet. This is nothing new! Unless it is for ethical reasons of course, I would much rather you eat unprocessed lean proteins like quality dairy, poultry, beef, eggs, and fish instead of fake processed meats. If you want to transition to more of a plant-based diet, then I highly recommend it but please understand how to transition responsibly and know that us dietitians (experts in evidence-based nutrition), have always wanted you to eat more real plant foods.