What is the difference between a plant-based and vegan diet?

If you’ve ever researched ‘the best diet’, you probably noticed a new food cool: eat more plants. Funnily enough, a plant-based diet has been around for yonks, yet it’s quite misunderstood, reports Nutritionist Kathleen Alleaume

What is a plant-based diet?

Not quite a bland plate of spinach leaves or kale. And no, it’s not strictly vegetarian or vegan. Unlike other diets, which are all about elimination (low-carb, sugar-free, ketogenic, Paleo), the plant-based diet focuses on making plants the fundamental ingredient.

Typically a vegetarian or vegan diet are defined by what they exclude, a plant-based diet on the other hand is defined by what it includes — lots of plant foods! This means eating predominantly veggies, fruits, legumes, whole grains, nuts, and seeds and less animal products and processed foods. Others like to call it “flexitarian”, while other may integrate it as part of their Meatless Monday repertoire.

The Proven Perks of Plants

Plants provide integrated health power that can’t be replicated by any pill or animal product. Reason being, pretty much all plants are made up of a unique combination of essential nutrients, including heart healthy fats, antioxidants, protein, quality carbs and lots of fibre, which is often the forgotten ingredient that’s been shown reduce the risk of chronic disease, add years to your life, and create a healthy gut microbiome.

A major scientific review looked at the diet and chronic disease links from 304 meta-analyses and systematic reviews published in the last 60 odd years. As for dietary patterns, the findings showed that plant-based foods were more protective against the risk of developing Type 2 diabetes, overweight and obesity, cancer and cardiovascular disease compared to animal-based foods .

Beyond this already convincing list of health benefits, plant-based diets are also excellent at filling you up on fewer calories. Consider the last time you found yourself unable to stop eating apples or spinach or chickpeas. Among the many virtues of ‘real food’ is that, even if it’s delicious, generally, you can eat just a handful. So, if you want to whittle your waistline, look no further.

How to become a plant-based pro

If you’re thinking “sign me up!”, here’s a quick guide to achieving plant-based success.

Eat 50 shades of veggies – You’ve heard it before: “eat five serves of veg a day.” Variety is best, so aim to decorate your plate with different colours. Fill at least half of your plate with veg (or legumes) and make meat the side dish.

Go nuts for nuts – Nuts are right up there with fruit and vegetables as daily essentials. Grab a handful for an afternoon snack, sprinkle them through your salads and stir-frys, or slather nut butters on sourdough toast or smoothies for a dose of protein, fibre and heart-healthy fats.

Balance meals with beans – They’re cost-effective and a nutritious addition to any meal. Not only do they have filling-power, but they also provide a solid protein hit. This food family covers chick peas, black beans, kidney beans, butter beans and soy products like edamame, tofu and tempeh. Whether you’re cooking a casserole, curry, soup or stir-fry, beans and legumes are an excellent go-to to pump up your plant volume.

Become a greenie – Dark, leafy greens – like kale, spinach, broccoli, collards and cabbage – serve up a healthy dose of fatigue-fighting iron and beta-carotene – a combo that helps to keep your energy and immunity boosted.

Go the whole way – Plant-based doesn’t mean carb-free. It simply comes down to making smart carb choices. Adding sweet potatoes, rolled oats, barley, amaranth, buckwheat, millet or corn to your repertoire gives you a sustainable source of fuel. Plus, having carb-petrol in the tank staves off blood sugar crashes, preventing mindless munching later on.

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Zac Zacharia (Managing Director) has been assisting clients to create wealth and secure their futures for over 14 years.

He is also an accomplished presenter and educator

Co-authoring the popular investment book, Property vs Shares.