Plant-Based Diet for Beginners: The Health Benefits & More

Chef & Registered Dietician By Miranda Hammer, M.S., R.D., CDN
Chef & Registered Dietician
Miranda Hammer M.S., R.D., CDN is a New York City-based Registered Dietitian, chef, and founder of the clean-eating, healthy-living blog Crunchy Radish. She received her master's in clinical nutrition and dietetics from NYU, and completed chef training at the National Gourmet Institute for Health and Culinary Arts.

Image by Cameron Whitman / Stocksy

You may have heard the term plant-based, but are you confused about what it really means? Is it the same thing as being a vegan or a vegetarian? Does it consist solely of a squirrel-like diet in which you are subsisting on nuts and seeds? NO!

I'm here to demystify some common misconceptions and concerns and tell you how to get started if you want to lead a more plant-based lifestyle.

What do you eat on a plant-based diet?

First, what even is a plant-based diet? Is it just a trendy new term for “vegan” or is it a whole different thing? While there is no set definition a plant-based way of eating focuses on consuming plant-derived whole foods that are unrefined and minimally processed. This means pure, unadulterated ingredients that are in their original form.

Whole grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, tubers, and legumes are the dietary staples. These are full of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and phytochemicals and provide an abundance of nutrients for your body.

Following a plant-based lifestyle doesn't necessarily mean fully avoiding animal products like a vegan or vegetarian. For plant-based eaters, animal proteins can happily fit into the lifestyle, yet they serve as more of a supporting role to your veggies and whole grains.

Overall, “plant-based” is more of a broad and flexible way of thinking about nutrition and ingredient quality rather than a rigid diet. With a plant-based diet, the focus is on simple, nutritious whole foods.

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Vegan vs. plant-based: What's the difference?

To get technical, a vegan doesn't consume any animal products including meat, eggs, milk, dairy, and honey. For some vegans, the primary reason for leading a vegan lifestyle is related to ethics and animal welfare. Yet, a vegan diet is not always as nutritionally virtuous and as clean as a plant-based lifestyle—hello, faux meat and french fries.

The vegan focus is usually set on avoiding animal products, but the priority is not placed on unprocessed plant-based whole foods.

A huge concern for many when contemplating a plant-based lifestyle is whether eating in this manner is balanced and nutritionally sound. The resounding answer is YES!

But it's important to be mindful and considerate of the foods that you're eating. It's key to make sure that you are consuming a colorful and diverse diet in order to optimize your nutrition.

Plant-based protein

Where to get your protein is often the major concern for individuals considering a plant-based way of life. Beans, nuts, seeds, and whole grains are all plant-based sources of protein that are also filled with vitamins, minerals, and fiber.

Protein needs vary from person to person depending on age, health status, and amount of physical activity. But garnering all of your protein needs from a plant-based diet is simple and achievable.

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The health benefits

One of the main reasons to start following a plant-based diet is for the health benefits. Now, more so than ever, research is showing how eating more plants and less meat can positively affect health.

Most notably, a plant-based lifestyle has been linked to heart health. Ditching meat in favor of veggies can lower blood pressure and cholesterol, and reduce the risk of cardiac events. In a study of more than 10,000 adults published in the Journal of the American Heart Association it was shown that those who followed a more plant-based diet had a 16 percent lower risk of having cardiovascular disease and a 32 percent lower risk of dying of cardiovascular disease.

A plant-based lifestyle can also help to promote weight loss and help to maintain your goal weight. Weight loss commonly occurs because the diet consists of foods that are full of fiber and have a high water content, which promotes the feeling of fullness.

Studies have shown that adhering to a plant-based diet helps to improve blood glucose levels in those who have diabetes or are prediabetic. This means a lower risk of diabetes-related medical conditions, as well as a reduced reliance on medications.

A plant-based lifestyle is full of fiber, which helps with digestion by moving things along, preventing constipation, and promoting regular bowel movements.

The other benefits

Another major reason to jump on the plant-based eating train is for the external benefits. Plant-based foods are loaded with healthy fats, vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals, which improve skin clarity and help you get that glow.

One of the plant-based vitamin all-stars is vitamin C, which is a powerful antioxidant. A large number of fruits and vegetables contain vitamin C, such as broccoli, papaya, apricot, and bell peppers. They assist in stimulating collagen production, smoothing lines, and reducing wrinkles.

Feeling more energized and alert is another benefit of following a plant-based diet. The standard American diet is filled with processed foods, sugar, and white flour, which de-energize your system and make you fatigued. These foods cause spikes and rapid declines in blood sugar levels, which can result in spurts of energy followed by extreme tiredness.

Eating whole foods, which are clean sources of carbohydrates, protein, and fruit, sustains your energy more naturally. Consuming foods high in fiber causes blood sugar levels to increase and decline slowly and steadily, without the sugar rush and the crash.

Transitioning away from processed foods to a more plant-based way of life will help your body function optimally. Your digestion will likely improve, your skin will start glowing, and your total energy will increase due to the nutrient-dense attributes and high quality of the foods being consumed.

Want to adopt a plant-based way of life? Take my 14 Day Plant-Based Challenge and start living your healthiest life yet!

Miranda Hammer, M.S., R.D., CDN
Miranda Hammer, M.S., R.D., CDN
Miranda Hammer M.S., R.D., CDN is a New York City-based Registered Dietitian, chef, and founder of...
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Check out The 14-Day Plant-Based Challenge
Join natural foods chef and registered dietician Miranda Hammer for this powerful 14-day plant-based challenge!
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Miranda Hammer, M.S., R.D., CDN
Miranda Hammer, M.S., R.D., CDN
Miranda Hammer M.S., R.D., CDN is a New York City-based Registered...
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