What Is a Plant-Based Diet?

By Cathy Smyser, MSN, FNP-C
Faculty, College of Nursing and Health Care Profession

Woman carrying a basket full of vegetables

While the American Heart Association has marked November as “Eat Smart Month,” we should all consider eating smarter every day of every month. Our good health depends on it!

So what constitutes “smart eating?” A simple web search will result in multitudes of hits with literally hundreds of sites and dozens of books to choose from.  A whole-foods, plant-based diet is one that is getting lots of attention and for a good reason. There is no specific definition of this as a diet, but it is better to consider it a lifestyle. The basic principles of this eating strategy may include:

  • Emphasis on the whole, minimally processed foods
  • Limiting/avoidance of animal products
  • Intake focused on plants including vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes, seeds and nuts, as the majority of the plan
  • Exclusion of refined foods like added sugars, white flour and processed oils

While this may seem to be a vegetarian or vegan diet−it is different. The whole foods plant-based diet is more flexible. Followers eat mostly plants, but animal products aren’t completely off-limits. While one person may eat no animal products, another may eat small amounts of eggs, poultry seafood meat or dairy.

The Health Benefits

Some health benefits for this may include:

  • Weight Loss – many studies have validated the effectiveness of a plant-based diet in sustained weight loss. This may be due to the high fiber content of this diet as well as the elimination of processed foods such as soda fast food and refined grains.
  • A decrease in heart disease – A large study in over 200,000 people found that those who followed a healthy plant-based diet as described above had a significantly lower risk of developing heart disease than those following a non-plant based diet.
  • A decrease in cancer – Several studies have shown a significantly lower risk of development of certain cancers (gastric and colorectal).
  • A decrease in cognitive decline -Many studies demonstrate that higher intakes of fruit and vegetables are strongly associated with a reduction in cognitive decline.
  • A decrease in diabetes – Plant-based diet has been shown to significantly reduce the risk of developing type 2 diabetes as well as improve blood sugar control in people with diabetes.

A whole-foods, plant-based diet is a way of eating that provides enjoyment of plant foods while eliminating unhealthy ingredients such as added sugars and refined grains. This eating style has been associated with many health benefits and by adopting this way of eating you are sure to boost your health!

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  • American Heart Association. Retrieved from: http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/HealthyLiving/HealthyEating/National-Eating-Healthy-Day-2013_UCM_454414_Article.jsp#.XSD_Q-tKhhE
  • Retrieved from: https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/plant-based-diet-guide#overview
  • Increased Consumption of Fruit and Vegetables Is Related to a Reduced Risk of Cognitive Impairment and Dementia: Meta-Analysis. Retrieved from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5293796/
  • Plant-Based Dietary Patterns and Incidence of Type 2 Diabetes in US Men and Women: Results from Three Prospective Cohort Studies. Retrieved from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27299701
  • Vegetarian Diets and the Incidence of Cancer in a Low-Risk Population. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3565018/

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Grand Canyon University. Any sources cited were accurate as of the publish date.