What Is A Plant Based Diet: What Are Plant Based Foods & Why Should We Eat Them?
It’s becoming one of the most popular lifestyles/diets, with an exponentially growing number of people adopting it. But, there’s a lot of confusion and misconceptions around what it means to be plant-based or vegan. Is there even a difference?
One of the biggest misconceptions is that plant-based and vegan diets are bland, tasteless, low-protein, and boring. On the contrary, plant-based diets are extremely versatile and full of possibilities! Plants are what make any meal colourful, flavourful, and packed with nutrients! With that said, we’re so happy to be carrying so many vegan options (and expanding!) at Switch to support anyone on a plant-based journey from lifetime vegans, those just starting to adopt a plant-based, or anyone participating in Meatless Mondays!
What is a plant-based diet and what’s the difference between plant-based and vegan?
As the name suggests, a plant-based diet is one that is made up primarily of foods that come from plants (and generally avoids meat and other animal ingredients like milk, eggs, or honey). While that part is pretty straightforward, there’s some confusion about what it means to be plant-based vs. what it means to be vegan. Some people use the term “plant-based” as a synonym for “vegan”, while others interpret it as closer to a “flexitarian” approach - meaning a diet consisting of mostly, but not entirely, plant-based foods.
For simplicity, veganism can be thought of as a type of plant-based diet. The general consensus on the difference is that veganism is adopted as a lifestyle, not just a diet. Someone who is vegan would not only exclusively eat plant-based, but they’d also avoid anything derived from animals in clothing, skincare, makeup, hygiene products, etc.
People who follow a plant-based diet focus more on their eating habits and might be a little more flexible about consuming animal ingredients (like honey or milk) in small amounts (though these would just play a supporting role in one’s overall diet that would still be centred on plant-based foods).
It’s important to note that there aren’t hard set definitions for this term. There’s flexibility in what plant-based looks like from person to person because of different motivating factors. There are so many benefits to choose from and this is probably a big factor contributing to plant-based diets’ increasing popularity!
Why choose a plant-based diet?
There are so many reasons to adopt a plant-based diet that virtually anyone could find one that speaks to them! This topic could be an entirely separate blog post, but here are a few favourites:
1. Going Plant-Based is Good for Your Health
Many studies have linked plant-based diets to lessening the risk of many health conditions such as heart disease, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and diabetes since animal products are higher in fat and cholesterol. Moreover, eating more plants means you get more sources of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants (for example, plant-based foods contain more fibre which means you also feel fuller and more satisfied). Plant-based diets can also contribute to a healthy gut because the diversity in plants is ideal for promoting a thriving gut microbiome.
2. A Plant-Based Diet is Sustainable
Plant-based diets contribute to sustainability efforts for so many reasons, but mainly due to its significantly lower carbon footprint compared to meat. Animal agriculture contributes to a great chunk of greenhouse gas emissions because of the amount of land and water it takes to produce meat (not to mention, the methane that comes from cow farts). Plants need less water and less land to generate the same yield compared to meat. With more people adopting a plant-based diet and the demand for meat decreasing, there could be less habitat loss and more crops grown to feed people (much of the crops grown today are spent on feeding farm animals).
3. Livestock Demand Decreases When More People Choose Plant-Based Diets
We’ve all seen those pictures and videos of chickens, cows, and pigs lined up, trapped in extremely small cages, surviving in barely liveable conditions. It’s heartbreaking and it’s obvious how a plant-based diet would limit and prevent this. While this can be a disturbing and sensitive topic, it is important to be aware of how meat is produced because these animals are living beings (studies and people’s personal experiences have shown how intelligent and compassionate these farm animals are - very much like our beloved pets!) and because this is what we’re putting into our bodies.
4. Eating Plant-Based Foods Will Inspire Creativity!
There’s an almost inevitable creativity and consciousness (the good kind) that comes with adopting a plant-based diet. Since getting enough macro and micro nutrients is an important consideration with this diet (realistically, with any diet, actually), going plant-based can encourage you to be more aware and knowledgeable about the foods you’re consuming and how they make you feel/affect your body.
Also, while there are increasingly many plant-based substitutes becoming available (and we’re not complaining about this, we love them ourselves: link), consuming only these foods isn’t a balanced diet and can also get expensive! It’s a misconception that going plant-based hurts your wallet because the core of plant-based foods (whole foods like grains, nuts, vegetables, fruits, legumes, tofu, seitan, tempeh, etc.) are often more accessible compared to meat. Buying these basics can encourage so much creativity with your meals, plus there are likely so many fruits and vegetables you might have never tried (and also so many cuisines! Many traditional Asian, African, and Latin American recipes are plant-based or can be made plant-based). The most important thing to remember: plants (vegetables, fruits, and spices) are the key to achieving flavour, not meat!
How do you start a plant-based diet?
Research, research, research
There are definitely quite a few considerations to look into when adopting a plant-based diet:
- What counts as plant-based/what are some "hidden" animal byproducts - Some animal byproducts that are not as obvious as eggs or milk include gelatin, casein/caseinate, collagen, lipase, whey, rennet, monoglycerides and diglycerides. Also, foods and drinks (like wine, refined white bread and white sugar) that seem plant-based can actually have animal byproducts.
- Key nutrients to pay attention to/which to supplement - Some common ones specific to a plant-based diet are B12, Omega-3s, and iron, but it's important to note that this can differ from person to person.
- Which plant-based foods offer which nutrients - For example, lentils, chickpeas, and tofu are great sources of plant protein; beans and legumes are great sources of fibre; leafy greens and seeds are great sources of iron.
Information is power and research will certainly help with the transition and feeling less overwhelmed!
Start small, baby steps
You don't have to go plant-based overnight. You can start off with making one of your daily meals plant-based, or you can start with participating in Meatless Mondays. You could start with decreasing your consumption of pork, then chicken, then beef, then fish, before going fully plant-based. You could even just start with exploring plant-based alternatives like plant milks or veggie burgers! Baby steps will still move you forward and taking it at your own pace will end up being more sustainable for your own personal lifestyle in the long-run.
To stick with a plant-based diet (or to stick with anything, really), we of course, want to get excited and stay excited. Why commit to something that bores you? Following vegan bloggers or Instagram accounts, creating a Pinterest board, trying out viral plant-based TikTok recipes will help you get some inspiration for your meals! We’ve also put together all of our plant-based recipes so you can easily find them all in one place! You’ll see that there are endless possibilities to a plant based diet!
Consult your healthcare provider and/or a nutritionist
As we mentioned, every body is different and people's needs will vary widely even within the same diet because of this! That said, it's always important to consult with your healthcare provider (and perhaps even a nutritionist) regarding your nutrition needs. It could also be a good idea to get a blood test done after a few months of being plant-based to ensure you have all your bases covered in terms of nutrients!
Final Thoughts About Switching to a Plant-Based Diet
The many different reasons and ways to adopt a plant-based diet lend to its flexibility, and it's quite encouraging for anyone to take charge over their own eating choices and health!
The goal isn't to force or to shame anyone for their diets. In general, reducing animal consumption is a great idea for the planet and for our health. The goal is for people not to have to choose between the “normal” option and the vegan “alternative”, but to show that vegan food products are just as good and hopefully become more of a norm! With increased demand for plant-based foods, innovations will only get faster, and the products only tastier. We're so happy to be making vegan options more accessible and helping connect people with these extremely yummy products that you might not have even known existed!
Browse through our collection of plant-based foods and shop all the amazing plant-based products available for purchase as SwitchGrocery Canada!