What is a plant-based diet? Are plant-based diets healthy?

A plant-based diet is any diet that focuses on foods derived from plant sources. This can include fruit, vegetables, grains, pulses, legumes, nuts, and meat substitutes such as soy products.

People often have different interpretations of what ‘plant-based’ eating looks like. Some people still include small amounts of animal products such as meat and fish, while focusing mainly on vegetarian foods – this is referred to as a semi-vegetarian or flexitarian diet. Plans that cut out meat but still include fish are referred to as pescatarian diets. People who don’t eat meat or fish but still include dairy and eggs are referred to as vegetarian, while those who cut out any animal-derived products, including dairy, eggs, honey, and gelatin are referred to as vegan.

Are plant-based diets healthy?

Plant-based diets including vegan diets can be healthy, as long as they are balanced and nutritionally adequate. When followed consistently, a well-balanced, plant-based diet that focuses on whole grains, fruit, vegetables, legumes, nuts, and seeds may provide health benefits. These include a lower body mass index (BMI), lower cholesterol levels, and a reduced incidence of chronic diseases including type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and even protection from some cancers including prostate and breast cancer.

Like any diet, the health benefits are dependent on the quality and nutritional adequacy of the diet – this means replacing refined, typically ‘white’ carbohydrates with whole grains, avoiding sugary, sweetened drinks and confectionery, and focusing on good quality plant-based protein and fats, such as those found in nuts and seeds.

How can those following plant-based diets ensure they’re getting all the nutrients they need?

When following a plant-based diet there are some key nutrients that you should focus on. These include protein, vitamin B12, the vitamins and minerals needed for bone health including calcium and vitamin D as well as the essential omega-3 fatty acids. Certain nutrients are not found very easily in plant foods, including vitamin D and B12 as well as omega-3 fatty acids. These may need to be sourced from fortified foods such as fortified plant milk, spreads, and cereals. If you are considering taking a supplement to support your nutritional intake, discuss this with your GP or doctor first.

Source: www.bbcgoodfood.com