What Is a Plant-Based Diet?

Plant-Based Eating Bowl

Verywell / Amelia Manley

At Verywell, we believe there is no one-size-fits-all approach to a healthy lifestyle. Successful eating plans need to be individualized and take the whole person into consideration. Prior to starting a new diet plan, consult with your healthcare provider or a registered dietitian, especially if you have an underlying health condition.

What is a Plant-Based Diet?

Plant-based diets have been around for centuries. In fact, both vegan- and vegetarian-style diets are plant-based. As interest in plant-based dieting grows, the ways in which you follow have become more fluid. While vegans typically avoid animal products altogether, plant-based eating isn't as stringent and has many interpretations.

When following a plant-based diet, consider plants—such as fruits, vegetables, tubers, seeds, legumes, and grains—as the foundation of your diet. From there, complement your plant-based intake, if you choose, with high-quality fish and animal products in limited quantities. This can also be considered a plant-forward way of eating.

The reasons for following a plant-based diet are numerous. Some people are looking for a more nutritious way of eating, while others may avoid animal products to reduce their environmental footprint or out of concern for the animals.

Plant-based diets are often touted as healthier than their meat-eating counterparts. Unfortunately, existing research doesn't support those claims. In fact, there are pros and cons across all dietary preferences—vegan, vegetarian, and meat-eaters.

What Experts Say

"A plant-based diet sounds like it’d be inherently healthy, but that’s not always the case. Refined grains, added sugars, and vegan fast-food are all plant-based—but not the healthiest. Fruits, veggies, nuts, seeds, and some proteins make for more nutritionally sound choices."

Kelly Plowe, MS, RD

The 7-Day Diet Plan

When following a plant-based diet, most people focus on whole, minimally-processed foods that come mostly from plants. While plant-based diets do not completely eliminate animal products, most people who follow a plant-based diet do limit these items and instead eat more vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes, seeds, and nuts.

Some people also choose to limit refined foods like added sugar, white flour, and processed oils when following a plant-based diet. Here is an overview of what a seven-day meal plan might look like.

  • Day 1: Oatmeal with blueberries, banana, and peanut butter, tuna wrap, cucumbers with dip, lentil pasta with roasted broccoli, and plain popcorn with dark chocolate
  • Day 2: Oatmeal, almonds and cherries, salad with chickpeas and feta, baby carrots and humus, tofu with brown rice and peanut sauce, Medjool dates and almond butter
  • Day 3: Tofu scramble and avocado, walnuts and a peach, quinoa salad, baby carrots and hummus, ground turkey and whole wheat pasta with steamed broccoli
  • Day 4: Coconut yogurt with low-sugar granola and raspberries, peach and cheddar cheese, brown rice with black beans and salsa, lentil soup with mozzarella and tomato on toasted bread, cubed watermelon and cashews
  • Day 5: Poached egg and avocado toast, apple and peanut butter, whole wheat wrap with hummus and chickpeas, pumpkin seeds and dried mango, grilled salmon with sweet potato and asparagus, coconut milk ice cream
  • Day 6: Oatmeal with peanut butter and apple, almonds and cherries, lentil pasta with tomato sauce, pita chips with cucumber and dip, grilled chicken with quinoa and cauliflower, popcorn and dark chocolate
  • Day 7: Greek yogurt with hemp seeds and blueberries, banana with peanut butter, whole wheat pita with black beans and corn, bell pepper with tortilla chips and guacamole, veggie burger with sweet potato fries, frozen raspberries and bananas

What Can You Eat?

A plant-forward or plant-based diet focuses on whole grains, legumes, tubers, vegetables, fruits, nuts, and seeds. Omnivorous or animal-based foods (including dairy) are eaten in moderation.

There are no off-limits foods or rules to adhere to when following a plant-based diet. The guiding principle is a diet rich in plant-based foods and low in animal-based foods. This means that adopting a plant-based lifestyle does not necessarily require you to give up meat, fish, and dairy.

Fruits & Vegetables

  • Green leafy vegetables
  • Starchy vegetables like squash
  • Corn
  • Tomatoes
  • All fruit including canned, dried, and frozen options

Nuts and Seeds

  • Peanuts and tree nuts
  • Nut butters
  • Seeds
  • Seed butters

Whole Grains

  • Refined and white breads and grains
  • Cold and hot cereals
  • Whole grains, seeds, and pasta


  • Potatoes
  • Sweet potatoes


  • Beans
  • Chickpeas
  • Lentils
  • Soybeans

Animal Proteins and Fats

  • Meat
  • Pork
  • Chicken
  • Turkey
  • Fish
  • Shellfish
  • Eggs


  • Cheese
  • Milk
  • Yogurt
  • Butter

What You Cannot Eat

Given the flexibility of a plant-based diet, there's not one food you cannot eat while following along. Instead of avoiding animal-based foods, opt for quality products and leaner cuts. For example, choose quality protein sources like chicken breast, fish, and eggs over high-fat options like 85% ground beef. A plant-forward diet also suggests limiting refined foods, added sugar, and sugary beverages.

How to Prepare for a Plant-Based Diet & Tips

When embarking on a plant-based diet, start by working with what you're already eating. Find ways to replace animal-based foods with plant-based swaps, and throw in extra fruits and vegetables where you can.

For example, a bowl of pasta with marinara sauce is already plant-based without an animal-based protein source. Ramp this meal up by including a hearty salad on the side topped with roasted chickpeas. Here are some other things to know about the plant-based diet.

  • You don't have to ditch the burger on a plant-forward diet. Instead, opt for 95% or leaner ground beef and a whole grain bun. Instead of cheese, use avocado to adorn your burger. Then fill the rest of your plate with plenty of vegetables.
  • Read labels. Avoid foods and beverages that contain added sugar in the ingredients panel or nutrition label.
  • Meat-less meat products aren't necessarily healthier. Many of them are highly processed or contain very little protein. They can also be high in sodium. Read food labels—check protein and sodium content before purchasing.
  • Take it one step at a time. If you're not sure if you're ready for the full commitment, take small steps to eat less meat and animal products. Give Meatless Mondays a try or challenge yourself to eat two to three meals each week that do not include meat or dairy.
  • Save money with frozen and bulk foods. Plant-based eating doesn't have to be expensive. Fresh fruits and vegetables are flavorful and have the best texture. But frozen foods are usually just as nutritious. Keep frozen berries, peas, corn, and other veggies on hand to throw into recipes. Buy seeds and nuts in bulk.

Sample Shopping List

A plant-based diet emphasizes fruits, vegetables, whole grains, plant-based protein, and high-quality animal products. The following shopping list offers suggestions for getting started with this eating plan. Note that this is not a definitive shopping list and you may find other foods that work better for you.

  • Dark leafy greens (spinach, kale, Swiss chard, bok choy, arugula)
  • Veggies (broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, sweet potatoes, bell peppers, eggplant, carrots)
  • Fruits (grapefruit, oranges, berries, bananas, apples, avocados)
  • Whole grains (oats, quinoa, barley, amaranth, brown rice)
  • Dried or canned legumes (black beans, lentils, chickpeas)
  • Tofu and tempeh
  • Nuts and seeds (walnuts, almonds, cashews, chia seeds, flax seeds, hemp seeds)
  • Nondairy milk (oat, almond, coconut)
  • Tahini
  • Chicken breast, ground turkey breast, 95% lean ground beef, sirloin steak
  • Eggs and egg whites
  • Nonfat milk, yogurt, cottage cheese, and greek yogurt

Pros of a Plant-Based Diet

A well-balanced nutrient-dense plant-based diet offers a host of health benefits that can improve health markers and quality of life.

  • May Improve Insulin Resistance: Some research suggests following a low-fat, plant-based diet with minimal animal products improves insulin sensitivity and reduces insulin resistance. Additionally, a plant-based versus animal-based diet may be beneficial for preventing type 2 diabetes and pre-diabetes.
  • May Provide Cardiovascular Protection: A well-planned, nutritious plant-based diet may improve cardiovascular health markers by improving blood cholesterol and reducing oxidative stress. The key is to a healthful plant-based diet, simply being vegan or vegetarian does not mean you'll experience similar health benefits.
  • May Reduce Blood Pressure: Research suggests the high antioxidant content, lower sodium, increased potassium, reduced oxidative stress, better bioavailability of nitric oxide, and lower calorie content of plant-based diets is to thank for the positive effects on blood pressure.
  • May Contribute to Weight Loss: Plant-based diets have been shown to be associated with greater gut microbiota diversity, reduced calorie density, and reduced cholesterol intake, all of which help promote weight loss and a healthier body weight. Plant-based diets are not weight loss diets, but may help you reach your weight loss goals.
  • May Be Less Restrictive: There are no off-limits foods following a plant-forward diet. And without rules there is less restriction. The more restrictive a diet is, the less likely you are to be able to maintain it for the long haul. Plus, restrictive diets are associated with disordered eating patterns, an inability to lose weight, and weight gain.

Cons of a Plant-Based Diet

The health risks associated with plant-based diets are due to the difficulty in meeting protein needs. And since animal products are a great source of protein and essential vitamins and minerals, it's easy to miss out on certain nutrients.

  • Potential Nutrient Deficiencies: Vegetarian and vegan diets need to pay extra attention to ensure they're getting enough protein, calcium, iron, and vitamin B12 in their diets. Iron and B12 are found in an optimal form in animal products, while dairy is an excellent source of calcium and vitamin D.
  • Difficult to Meet Protein Needs: Though plant-based foods do contain some protein, the amount is not often great enough to easily get you to your daily protein goals. And though most plant-based proteins are not complete proteins (with the exception of soy and quinoa), it's important to eat a variety of plant-based proteins throughout the day to reach essential amino acid needs.
  • Takes Much Planning: Successfully meeting daily nutrient requirements following a plant-based diet means you'll have to spend some time planning your meals and snacks. This can be tedious and time-consuming—which many people may not prioritize.

Is a Plant-Based Diet a Healthy Choice for You?

With proper planning, it is possible to meet your daily nutrient needs following a plant-based diet. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) dietary guidelines include calorie recommendations and tips for a healthy, balanced diet. The following nutrient-dense foods are recommended as part of a healthy diet.

  • Vegetables and dark, leafy greens (kale, spinach, broccoli, Swiss chard, green beans) 
  • Fruits (apples, berries, melon)
  • Grains (quinoa, brown rice, oats)
  • Lean meats (chicken breast, fish, turkey breast)
  • Beans and legumes (all beans, lentils, peas)
  • Nuts and seeds (walnuts, almonds, sunflower seeds)
  • Dairy (reduced-fat milk, cheese, yogurt) 
  • Oils (olive oil, avocado oil

Because animal proteins are not forbidden on a plant-based diet, it's easier to meet daily protein needs which can be challenging following a vegan or vegetarian diet. The USDA indicates that a person's daily caloric needs vary based on age, sex, and physical activity level. Use this calculator to determine the right number of calories for you.

Though research suggests both plant-based and animal-based diets can be healthy, focusing on a plant-forward diet may be beneficial while relieving restrictions and improving nutrient variety. If you're considering a plant-forward diet, start small by making swaps for plant-based versions of your favorite foods.

A Word From Verywell

Plant-based diets continue to rise in popularity due to the promising health benefits and environmental impact. Though following a plant-forward diet can improve your health, incorporating nutrient-dense foods as well as foods that nourish the soul matter the most.

A plant-based diet that is high in processed foods, added sugars, and sodium probably will not give you the results you desire. A healthy diet that you can stick to for the long-term is your best bet. Make gradual changes and enlist the help of a registered dietitian to put together a plan that keeps you healthy and satisfied.

Remember, following a long-term or short-term diet may not be necessary for you and many diets out there simply don’t work, especially long-term. While we do not endorse fad diet trends or unsustainable weight loss methods, we present the facts so you can make an informed decision that works best for your nutritional needs, genetic blueprint, budget, and goals.

If your goal is weight loss, remember that losing weight isn’t necessarily the same as being your healthiest self, and there are many other ways to pursue health. Exercise, sleep, and other lifestyle factors also play a major role in your overall health. The best diet is always the one that is balanced and fits your lifestyle.

9 Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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Additional Reading

By Shoshana Pritzker RD, CDN, CSSD, CISSN
Shoshana Pritzker RD, CDN is a sports and pediatric dietitian, the owner of Nutrition by Shoshana, and is the author of "Carb Cycling for Weight Loss." Shoshana received her B.S in dietetics and nutrition from Florida International University. She's been writing and creating content in the health, nutrition, and fitness space for over 15 years and is regularly featured in Oxygen Magazine, JennyCraig.com, and more.