We’ve all heard the trendy term “plant-based” these days, but trying to define exactly what it means seems to be somewhat of a mystery. The truth is if something is plant-based, it could be vegan, vegetarian, pescatarian, or even include animal products. The main pillar of the plant-based lifestyle has to do with the ratio of plant-derived foods to animal-derived foods. If you lead a plant-based lifestyle, then you primarily eat plants, with an emphasis on whole, unprocessed foods that are closest to their natural state.
The journalist Michael Pollan—author of such books as In Defense of Food and This is Your Mind on Plants—once said, “Don’t eat anything that won’t eventually rot.” Not only do processed foods like chips, crackers, cookies, sausages, and cured meats contain staggering amounts of refined sugars, fats, and sodium, but the added chemicals, artificial additives, and preservatives mean that they barely decompose outside the body—making you wonder what impact they have inside the body.
There are ample benefits to a plant-based lifestyle, beginning with a lower risk of heart disease, the leading cause of death in the U.S. Eating a diet higher in healthy, unsaturated fats (like those found in olive oil, avocado, and certain nuts) and less saturated fats (like those in animal products) decreases cholesterol. In addition, diets high in antioxidant-rich fruits and vegetables reduce inflammation, the leading cause of chronic disease.
Eating mostly plants can also mean great things for your waistline and the planet. Because whole fruits and vegetables contain fewer calories than meat, simply crowding out some of the animal products on your plate with more plant-derived foods can help you trim down. And countless studies have shown that decreasing meat consumption can save vast amounts of water and reduce greenhouse gas emissions worldwide.
There are some potential drawbacks of a completely vegan diet. Common nutrient deficiencies associated with this lifestyle are vitamin B12, iron, zinc, omega-3 fatty acids, calcium, and vitamin D. However, there are plant-based options to address each one.
For B12, opt for seaweed, sea vegetables, and nutritional yeast. For iron, go with unprocessed soy, and for zinc, go with lentils, chickpeas, black beans, cashews, quinoa, peas, spinach, and pumpkin seeds. Vegan sources of omega-3 fatty acids include chia seeds, hemp seeds, flax seeds, and walnuts. If you’re in need of some extra calcium, incorporate soybeans, navy beans, black beans, chickpeas, almonds, and sesame seeds into your diet. And two of the best ways to up your vitamin D quota are mushrooms and sunshine.
Read on for more helpful info on leading a plant-based lifestyle.
Instead of chicken, try tofu
Instead of red meat/steak, try portobello mushrooms
Instead of ground meat/poultry, try chickpeas or lentils
Instead of bacon, try eggplant or zucchini chips
Vegan “Burger” and Fries
Chickpea-Quinoa Burger Ingredients (serves 4)
1/3 cup uncooked quinoa
15 oz. chickpeas (1 jar or can), rinsed and drained
2 tbsp. olive oil, divided
1 red pepper, diced
2 shallots, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 tsp. cumin
1 tbsp. tahini
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. pepper
» Bring 1 cup of water and 1/3 cup of quinoa to a boil. Add lid and simmer for 10-15 minutes until fluffy. Bring 2 cups water and drained chickpeas to a boil, turn off burner and let sit for 5 minutes. Drain chickpeas and let cool.
» Add 1 tbsp. olive oil to a cast-iron pan over medium-high heat. Add red pepper, shallots, and garlic and sauté for 5 minutes until golden and fragrant.
» Using a food processor, blend half of your cooked chickpeas. Gently smash the other half with a fork. Combine puréed chickpeas, smashed chickpeas, quinoa, sautéed veggies, cumin, tahini, salt, and pepper in a bowl.
» Form into 4 patties. Using a cast-iron skillet, heat 1 tbsp. olive oil over medium-high heat. Cook burgers for 3 minutes on each side. Serve in lettuce cups or on the bun of your choice.
Zucchini Fry Ingredients
1 large zucchini, thinly sliced into rounds using a mandolin
2 tbsp. avocado oil
Garlic salt to taste
» Using a cast-iron skillet, heat avocado oil over medium-high heat. Add zucchini rounds and sprinkle with garlic salt. Cook for 2-3 minutes on each side until crispy and golden. (This may take a few batches in your pan.) Remove from pan and let cool on paper towels before serving.
Vegan Chocolate Chip Milkshake
2 frozen bananas
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 tbsp. raw cacao powder
1 pitted date
1 cup unsweetened almond milk
» Using a high-speed blender, combine all ingredients and blend until thick and creamy.