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Wellness trends

Understanding the Basics of Plant-Based Diets

April 30, 2024

Keeping up a solid, nutritionally-focused diet is a key part of maintaining good health. The food you eat fuels your body’s functions and can play a part in normal cell growth.  

The United States Department of Agriculture’s “MyPlate” guidelines advise a diet that is heavy in fruits and vegetables. In these guidelines, plant foods make up nearly 50% of the suggested diet. Harvard’s School of Public Health maintains that a plant-rich diet is important because, “A diet rich in vegetables and fruits can lower blood pressure, reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke, prevent some types of cancer, lower risk of eye and digestive problems, and have a positive effect upon blood sugar, which can help keep appetite in check.”

With that core understanding that fruits and vegetables make up a large part of a healthy diet, it’s not surprising that plant-based diets have become incredibly popular. If you’re considering a substantial diet change, be sure to consult with your doctor or a registered dietician before committing. Let’s dive into the basics of plant-based diets including what qualifies them, which are most common, and what potential benefits they might have.

What Makes a Diet Plant-Based?

You may think that plant-based diets are just another name for vegan or vegetarian diets, but that’s not technically true. While both of those diets are plant-based, they’re not the only ones. To be precise plant-based diets focus on getting key nutrients primarily from plants like fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, grains, beans, and other legumes. 

Plant-based diets, as a broad category, do not require you to abstain from eating meat or dairy products, though some diets that fall under plant-based (like veganism and vegetarianism) do.

What Are Examples of Plant-Based Diets?

As mentioned above, there are many more diets and lifestyle choices that can be labeled “plant-based” than just abstaining from animal byproducts. With the rising popularity of online blogging and social media, many of these diets have become much more mainstream and accessible.

A few of the most common plant-based diets include:

  • Vegan Diet: This diet is completely plant-based. It is the strictest of all plant-based diets as you cannot consume any meat, poultry, fish, seafood, eggs, or dairy. This also includes processed foods that contain animal byproducts like gelatin candies. Some vegans will also abstain from consuming things like honey.
  • Vegetarian Diet: Vegetarianism is very closely related to Veganism, but slightly less strict. Most vegetarians will consume eggs and dairy products, but not meat, fish, poultry, and seafood.
  • Flexitarian or Semi-Vegetarian Diet: This diet is nearly identical to the vegetarian diet, but with a bit more flexibility to consume meat, fish, seafood, and poultry on occasion. This diet is a good option for folks who don’t want to entirely forgo meat but want to be mindful of over-consumption. 
  • Mediterranean Diet: This diet, modeled after traditional eating patterns of cultures bordering the Mediterranean Sea, focuses on plant-based foods but also includes fish, eggs, poultry, yogurt, and cheese a few times a week. Red meat and sugary, processed foods are eaten rarely. 
  • Pescatarian Diet: This diet follows almost all the guidelines of vegetarianism but with the allowed consumption of fish and seafood.

What Are the Possible Benefits of Plant-Based Diets?

According to a 2013 study, the benefits of starting a plant-based diet include, “the possibility of reducing the number of medications they take to treat a variety of chronic conditions, lower body weight, decreased risk of cancer, and a reduction in their risk of death from ischemic heart disease.”

Plant-based diets don’t have to be as black and white as “do not eat meat”, but rather emphasize a holistic approach to crafting your diet with nutrient-rich, healthy foods in mind.

Think a plant-based diet may be right for you? Remember to consult with your doctor or a registered dietician before committing to any substantial changes to your diet and learn more about what you need to prioritize in your unique diet.

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