Do you remember the times when a vegetarian diet was the only commonly-discussed alternative eating method? Nowadays there are new diet buzzwords, phrases, and trends that are constantly thrown around. With everything from vegan to keto diets on the cover of every magazine, it can sometimes feel like there is a new eating plan created every day!
One of these newer, popular diet trends is called the "plant-based" diet. But what exactly does that mean? Is it another passing trend, or does it really offer proven health benefits for seniors? Let’s discuss the definition of “plant-based”, and the steps you can take to incorporate some of these healthy eating techniques into your daily diet.
What is “Plant-Based”
One of the confusing things about a plant-based diet is that there isn’t a common definition used by every dietitian or nutritionist. What “plant-based” means can change depending on who you ask. That’s why plant-based eating is less of a strict diet and more of a collection of eating habits.
That being said, the general working definition of “plant-based” includes eating foods that come directly from plants and are considered “whole food”, or foods that are not heavily processed. This includes things like:
- Leafy green vegetables
- Root vegetables
- Whole grains
What is Not Included in Plant-Based
Plant-based diets are different than diets that just exclude meat, such as a vegetarian diet. Plant-based doesn’t just mean “food from plants”, but includes thinking about how processed or natural foods are, and making eating decisions that favor unprocessed, whole foods. This means that a plant based diet excludes things like:
- Refined grains (white rice, some pastas, white bread, etc.)
- Sodas and sweet drinks
- Fast food
- Packaged foods (chips, cookies, crackers)
- Processed meat (bacon, sausage)
One thing you might notice from the above list is the inclusion of “processed” meat, but not all meats. Remember, because plant-based is more of a collection of healthy eating choices there is plenty of room to customize the plant-based eating plan to meet your needs. While most plant-based eaters exclude meat entirely, there are also plenty of people who have light dairy products and other sources of proteins in addition to plant products.
Health Benefits of a Plant-Based Diet
By cutting out sweets and refined grains, you are putting better food into your body. After all, we all know that sugar and processed foods aren’t the healthiest for us. These are some of the health benefits of switching to a plant-based diet:
Plant-based diets are heart-healthy
A plant-based diet is rich in vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and legumes and nuts, making it beneficial to heart health and reducing the risk of developing heart disease.
Help slow cognitive decline
Plant-based diets have a large amount of plant compounds and antioxidants that have been linked to slowing the progression of Alzheimer’s disease in older adults.
Manage and reduce risk of diabetes
Because plant-based diets are low in refined sugars and heavily processed foods, they can help control blood sugar in individuals with diabetes. Additionally, removing these foods from your diet and going plant-based can reduce the risk of developing diabetes.
How to Incorporate Plant-Based Eating into Your Diet
Like any other diet, plant-based eating may or may not work with your lifestyle. However, it’s worth considering, especially if you want to cut back on processed foods and unhealthy calories that come from sugars. While plant-based eating may sound strict and scary at first, there’s plenty of room for customization and flavorful meals. So don’t dismiss it out of hand!
If you’re considering a plant-based diet, you don’t have to give up everything about your current diet at once. Start with small changes and transition slowly to form healthy habits instead.
Start your transition to a plant-based diet by incorporating more vegetables and fruit into your meals. You can even substitute vegetables for processed grains, such as creating a cauliflower pizza crust or using zucchini spirals in place of pasta.
You can also start cutting back on meat and trying different sources of proteins, like lentils, mushrooms, and tofu. When you’ve started getting the hang of things, try full vegetarian meals. If you find a recipe you enjoy, be sure to save it to make again later!
Reducing your sugar intake doesn’t mean you have to miss out on a sweet dessert. Try having your favorite fruit for dessert instead, or a fruit medley if you can’t decide on just one.
While switching to a plant-based diet might seem like a drastic change, starting small and gradually including more plant-based and whole foods into your diet can make the transition easier. And once you’ve made the switch, you’ll be reaping all the health benefits of a delicious, plant-based diet!