5 Things You Need to Know About a Plant-Based Diet

by Contributor ; Updated April 18, 2017

A large assortment of vegetarian foods sit on a white counter.

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Plant-Based Diet Defined

A plant-based diet doesn't necessarily exclude animal products, but it definitely includes very limited amounts of meat and animal byproducts, including dairy and eggs. All vegetarians follow a plant-based diet, though not all individuals who follow a plant-based diet are necessarily vegetarian. Individuals who eat meat occasionally fall into the latter group, and they're often called "flexitarians".

Nutrition and Plant-Based Diets

Limiting meat products or avoiding them completely won't necessarily result in nutritional deficiencies. It's a common myth that vegetarians are anemic and deficient in other important nutrients. Plant-based sources of protein including beans, lentils and peas can provide sufficient iron and protein with none of the fat. The problem with animal sources of protein is that that they're loaded with saturated fat, cholesterol and in the case of conventional meat, hormones and antibiotics.

Be Heart Healthy

Following a plant-based diet can help reduce your risk of heart disease. In the U.S., heart disease is the number one killer for both genders, and a diet high in saturated fat contributes to high cholesterol, which in turn increases the risk for heart disease. If you're concerned about your cholesterol levels but are hesitant to give up meat completely, incorporate more vegetarian meals into your week on a gradual basis. Over time, try to limit your red meat consumption to just once per week.

V for Variety

Eating a varied diet is a healthy way to ensure that you meet your nutritional requirements. Interestingly, following a plant-based diet is one way to increase the variety of foods you eat. Many omnivores rely on meat as their main dish on an almost-daily basis. When you eliminate meat from your diet, the quantity and variety of vegetables you consume increases dramatically. Before long, you'll regularly consume new vegetables including kale, daikon and Swiss chard.

Dinner without Meat

For many individuals, finding a meat substitute is the most difficult part of following a plant-based diet. A wide variety of plant-based meat substitutes exist. Tofu, seitan and textured vegetable protein are great options for making meat-free meals. The biggest challenge with using tofu is knowing how to prepare it properly. Make sure you drain your tofu for at least 30 minutes. Then marinate it in your choice of sauce or seasonings. The added flavors and seasonings are what makes meat so appealing. You can mimic the same end result when using meat substitutes.

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