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What the Heck Is a Plant-Based Diet (and Should You Try It)?
Liz Andrew/Erin McDowell

In your quest for wellness, you may have come across the words “plant-based diet.” And although you want to lead a healthy lifestyle (and hey, maybe even shed a few pounds), the idea of subsisting on lettuce leaves alone isn’t exactly appealing. Relax—this healthy eating plan allows for plenty of delicious food and is surprisingly flexible. Here’s a handy beginner’s guide.

So what is it? Put simply, a plant-based diet emphasizes eating plant-based foods. Whereas some diets come with a strict set of guidelines, this one is more of a healthy eating concept that leaves certain details (like exactly how much, if any, meat is allowed) up for interpretation. 

Wait, so I can still eat steak? Sure (on occasion). Following a plant-based diet doesn’t necessarily mean forgoing meat and animal products entirely—although you can if you want to, and many people do. Instead, the idea is to eat mostly plant-based foods and, if desired, modest amounts of fish, dairy and lean meat, as well as red meat sparingly. The Mediterranean Diet and a vegetarian diet are two examples of plant-based diets.

So, what’s on the menu? Legumes, whole grains, fruits and vegetables are all staples of a plant-based diet. You might start your day with a bowl of quinoa porridge made with almond milk (yep, good-for-you carbs are definitely allowed, in moderation), followed by a hearty salad and then shrimp and cauliflower “grits” for dinner. Need an afternoon pick-me-up? Try a handful of nuts or seeds. And while french fries and cupcakes are technically plant-based, that’s not really what the diet is about. Stick to the healthy stuff, OK?

Why should I try it? Experts agree that plant-based diets are good for the environment as well as your health, provided that you focus on good-for-you foods and not just ones that happen to be made from plants (like, you know, sugar). In particular, a plant-based diet has been shown to maintain a healthy heart and weight.

Any downsides? Not really, although if you’re going to give up animal products entirely then you should check in with a doctor to make sure that you’re getting all the nutrients you need and if you need to take any supplements (like vitamin B12, for example). 

Bottom line: You don’t need a degree in nutritional science to know that eating more fruits and vegetables is good for you. But if you’re not ready to go full-on vegetarian, embracing a plant-based diet could be the step in the right direction your body needs. Start by swapping one meal per day to plant-based, then work your way up. Besides, who needs steak when you have cauliflower steaks with lemon-herb sauce?

RELATED: WTF Is the Ketogenic Diet? Here’s What You Need to Know Before Trying It

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