“Plant-based” is often a term used interchangeably with “vegan” or “vegetarian.” Plant-based, however, means that the basis of the diet consists of foods that derive from plants and not animals. Examples of these foods are beans, legumes, rice, vegetables, nuts and seeds. A person can still follow a plant-based diet and consume meat from time-to-time.
Why would a person want to decrease the amount of meat in their diet? Meat contains animal fats (or saturated fats). These are the kinds of fats that are not good for the heart. They increase the risk for chronic health conditions such as cardiovascular disease and stroke when consumed in excessive amounts. The American Heart Association recommends 5-6% of daily calories from this type of fat (www.heart.org). For someone who requires 1800 calories per day to maintain their weight, this comes out to be 10 grams of saturated fat per day. This can easily be exceeded by just one hamburger.
Not only do many plants provide good sources of protein (beans, legumes, nuts, seeds), but they are often a good source of fiber as well. Fiber can be heart-protective, but is also good for digestive health. Nuts and seeds are high in fat, but it’s the type of fat that is good for the heart (un-saturated fat) when consumed in moderation.
Research has shown that a vegetarian diet (a diet that excludes meat) has many health benefits including reduction in obesity, diabetes and heart disease (Tuso, P.J. et al).
I am a big proponent of a plant-based diet. When consuming meat or poultry, try to go as lean as possible. That means 92% lean or higher for ground meat. It means white chicken or turkey without the skin. It means trimming any visible fat from the meat. This reduces the amount of saturated fat greatly. I do support complete vegetarianism, but only if done right. This type of diet can often be lacking in some vital nutrients, such as iron and vitamin B12. As long as anyone following this diet is aware of the plant sources for all of the essential nutrients, a vegetarian diet can be very healthy.
Tuso, P.J, Ismail, M.H., Ha, B.P., Bartolotto, C. “Nutritional Update for Physicians: Plant Based Diets.” The Permanente Journal. 2013. 17(2): 61-66