Perhaps you have a nagging guilt—you should be eating healthier. Or maybe you don’t feel your best and suspect your diet.
Or it could be that you’d like to eat fewer animals for ethical reasons. Whatever your motivation, you’re intrigued about plant-diet eating. What does it entail? What are the benefits? Might it work for you?
We took your top questions to Vanessa Millovich, RDN, nutritionist at Kate Farms. Here’s what you need to know.
Question #1: What Exactly Is Plant-Based Eating?
As the name implies, you’re building your daily meals around foods that grow in the ground, says Millovich. It’s heavy on fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. Protein comes from beans, legumes, nuts, and seeds, along with tofu, soy, tempeh, and hemp.
It’s important to distinguish plant-based from vegetarian and vegan, which are types of plant-based eating.
Most vegetarians don’t eat animals but may consume foods that come from animals, such as milk and eggs (known as lacto-ovo vegetarianism). Lacto vegetarians eat dairy but not eggs; ovo vegetarians consume eggs but not milk.
You may have also heard of pesco vegetarians, who include fish in their diet; and pesco pollo, who consume fish and chicken.
Vegans are much stricter, consuming no animal products at all, says Millovich. Because they often choose this eating plan for ethical or moral reasons, they also avoid non-food products derived from animals (leather, honey, even gelatin) or tested on animals (cosmetics).
Question #2: Are All Plant-Based Foods Healthy?
No. Think about it: Potato chips, French fries, and fruit juice are all plant-based. Prepackaged and frozen items often contain high levels of sodium. And vegan versions of standard foods often use stabilizers or added ingredients to achieve a pleasing texture and taste.
You want to look for foods in their natural forms that haven’t been processed and stripped of their nutrients.
Focus on three components, adds Millovich: protein, fiber, and phytonutrients, the last of which are natural compounds produced by plants to protect them from pests and fungi. In the human body, they have anti-inflammatory and disease-fighting properties.
Phytonutrients are plentiful in fruits, vegetables, grains, beans, legumes, seeds, and nuts. The easiest way to ensure you’re eating plenty of them: Put a lot of color on your plate.
Question #3: What Are the Health Benefits?
How’s a lower risk of heart attack, stroke, cancer, and premature death sound?
A meta-analysis published in the Internal Journal of Epidemiology found that these benefits kick at around 800 grams of fruits and vegetables a day—and 600 grams for the reduction of cancer risk. To help you visualize, a medium-size apple is about 100 grams.
In addition, says Millovich, produce is loaded with fiber, which will fill you up and curb your cravings. In other words, you’ll be less likely to eat bad-for-you foods.
Question #4: How Do I Make Plants Taste Good?
At first, plant-based foods may taste bland because you’re eliminating additives, especially sodium, says Millovich. But really, it’s no different than any other food. Prepare it well and use plenty of seasoning.
Think about chicken or steak. Without sauces or salt and pepper, it can be bland. Sautéed spinach is the same, but with a squeeze of lemon and some garlic, it’s a whole different and more enjoyable experience.
You won’t like everything, of course. Pick up a plant-based cookbook, flip it open, and start experimenting. You’ll learn which flavors you savor and, over time, build your own collection of go-to recipes.