What is a Plant-Based Diet?

Embracing a plant-based diet means prioritizing seasonal foods sourced from plants, which provide a diverse array of essential nutrients and tons of antioxidants.

The range of plant-based food options include fruits, vegetables, beans, legumes, nuts, seeds, oils, and whole grains. 1

Plant-based eating does not necessarily exclude dairy, eggs, meat, poultry, seafood, or fish. People who choose to eat plant-forward or plant-based, build their meals around plant-based foods. 1

This means there are a lot of articles about plant-forward eating – articles that may include strict limits or narrow perspectives on what you should and shouldn’t eat if you’re plant-based. And this is exactly why we wrote this blog.

In this blog, we give you the complete picture on plant-based eating, so you can make informed decisions about this dietary approach. Remember, there is not one way of eating for every single person. You are unique and so are your dietary needs. 

Explaining Plant-Based Diets

A plant-based approach to eating emphasizes foods from plant sources. Plant-based diets that prioritize whole foods, fresh ingredients, and minimal processing are shown to deliver strong health benefits. 1, 2

It’s important to note that a healthy plant-based diet does not rely on packaged food nor overly processed food. Balanced and healthy plant-forward eating revolves around fruits, vegetables, legumes, beans, nuts, seeds, plant-based oils, and other protein-rich plant-based foods such as tofu and tempeh. 2, 3

The general foundation of a plant-based diet includes: 3, 4

  • Minimal or no animal products such as dairy, eggs, meat, and fish.
  • Focus on whole, fresh, and minimally processed plant-based foods.
  • Meals and snacks emphasize fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, beans, seeds, and nuts.
  • Limit or eliminate refined and overly processed foods including white flour, processed oils, refined grains, processed meat, cold cuts, and ingredients such as added sugar and sodium. 

Less restrictive than a vegan or vegetarian diet, it’s up to you to choose what you consume on a plant-based diet. With the only caveat being you choose healthy, minimally processed, fresh, and whole foods. This flexibility can make it easier for you to adhere to plant-forward eating when you’re at a restaurant, traveling, or eating with friends and family. 

Different Types of Plant-Based Diets

The different types of plant-based diets are categorized based on the amount of meat, dairy, eggs, and fish included. 1, 5, 6

  • Flexitarian or semi-vegetarian. A mostly vegetarian diet that may include small amounts of fish, seafood, meat, poultry, dairy, and eggs. This approach to eating is the easiest to incorporate into daily living, giving you freedom and flexibility.
  • Vegetarian or lacto-ovo vegetarian. Based on plant-based food sources, a vegetarian diet includes dairy and eggs. People following this diet do not consume meat, poultry, fish, or seafood. 
  • Ovo-vegetarian. An ovo-vegetarian diet is based primarily on plant-based foods with the inclusion of eggs, but not dairy.
  • Vegan. This diet includes only plant-based foods. On a vegan diet, people eat vegetables, fruit, nuts, legumes, beans, seeds, soy (tofu and tempeh), and plant-based oils. Because animal products are the main source of vitamin B-12, it’s important to take a vitamin B-12 supplement and eat vitamin B-12 fortified foods. 
  • Pescatarian. The focus is on plant-based foods with the addition of eggs, dairy, fish, and seafood. People who are vegetarians who also eat fish and seafood, follow a pescatarian diet.
  • Whole-foods, plant-based. This diet is based on fresh, whole, and minimally processed plant-based foods with the inclusion of some meat, poultry, eggs, fish, seafood, and dairy. People following this diet aim to eliminate added sugars, refined ingredients, and highly processed foods. The Mediterranean diet is an example of a popular, and highly regarded whole-food, plant-based diet. 

Benefits of Plant-Based Eating

The benefits of plant-based eating may extend to your health, the environment, and your wallet. 2, 4, 5, 7, 8, 9, 10

  • Health benefits of plant-based eating. Following a plant-based diet and eating less meat is shown to support a decrease in the potential of heart and cardiovascular conditions, obesity, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, Type 2 diabetes, and many cancers. 
  • Environmental benefits of plant-based eating. When plant-based eating includes primarily whole-foods, minimally processed, and fresh ingredients, there can be a lower environmental impact and footprint. This dietary approach may help lower greenhouse gas emissions and water and land use for factory farming.
  • Personal financial benefits of plant-based eating. It’s no secret that food costs are increasing, but the good news is recent research shows that following a whole-foods, plant-based diet can be easier on the wallet. Plant-based diet staples including beans, legumes, and whole, fresh ingredients may be cheaper than meat, poultry, fish, seafood, and packaged highly processed meat alternatives and plant-based foods.  

Tips for Getting Started with Plant-Based Eating

When getting started with plant-based eating, it helps to start gradually. Do not rush in with an all-or-nothing approach. Slowly, but surely change your approach to eating, adding in new foods and removing others. 

These 6 tips can help you get started and stick with plant-based eating.

  1. Focus on more vegetables. Start by building two of your daily meals and snacks around vegetables. Fill half your plate with a fresh salad, roasted vegetables, pair snackable vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower, cherry tomatoes, carrot sticks with a plant-based dip like hummus, salsa, or guacamole.
  2. Shrink your meat. Cut back on your portion size of meat, fish, seafood, poultry, eggs, and dairy. Try to have one meal and snack a day that is only plant-based.  
  3. Start your day with fresh, whole foods. Many of us rely on packaged cereals and baked goods for breakfast. Some breakfast options include fresh fruit smoothies (bananas, peanut butter, milk, with spinach is delicious), whole-grain oatmeal (mix in berries and walnuts), and other whole grains including quinoa, buckwheat, and barley. Get creative with your mix-ins – berries, nut butters, seeds, and veggies. 
  4. Get green. Spinach, kale, Swiss chard, romaine, collards, and other greens are nutritional powerhouses and extra bonus – they taste great. Add greens to your smoothies, oatmeal, stir-fry, soups, stews, casseroles, etc.
  5. Rethink dessert and snacks on-the-go. Yes, you can still have dessert but make it fruit-based. From eating a fresh orange or baking a healthful apple crisp, fruit is a delicious and healthy way to get your sweet fix. When you’re heading out for the day, bring an apple or banana instead of a packaged granola bar. 
  6. Meatless Monday. Choose one day a week and aim to be 100% meatless. Get creative with your meals and snacks, and try new recipes. Breakfast could be oatmeal with raspberries, pecans, and oat milk. Lunch can be a fresh salad with roasted butternut squash, pumpkin seeds, and poppy seed dressing. Supper could be vegetarian chili. And finally, your sweet dessert could be a blueberry-apple crisp made with whole grains

Transitioning to a whole foods, fresh, and minimally-processed plant-based diet can be one of the best things you do for your overall health and wellness. We applaud you for being interested in plant-based diets and making a positive change for your short- and long-term health.

Remember, it’s important to not become rigid about your eating patterns and the foods you consume. Variety is, after all, the spice of life. 


‡ The products and claims made about specific products on or through this Site have not been evaluated by the United States Food and Drug Administration and are not approved to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent disease.

‡ This Site is not intended to provide diagnosis, treatment, or medical advice. Products, services, information and other content provided on this Site, including information that may be provided on this Site directly or by linking to third-party websites are provided for informational purposes only. Please consult accredited healthcare professional organizations, evidence-based herbal monographs, and published clinical research regarding any medical or health related diagnosis or treatment options.


  1. McManus, Katherine D. “What is a plant-based diet and why should you try it?” Harvard Health Publishing, 2021, https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/what-is-a-plant-based-diet-and-why-should-you-try-it-2018092614760. Accessed February 20, 2024
  2. Thompson AS, Tresserra-Rimbau A, Karavasiloglou N, et al. “Association of Healthful Plant-based Diet Adherence With Risk of Mortality and Major Chronic Diseases Among Adults in the UK.” JAMA Netw Open. 2023;6(3):e234714. https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamanetworkopen/fullarticle/2802814. Accessed February 20, 2024
  3. Harvard Health Publishing Staff. “The right plant-based diet for you.” 2021, https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/the-right-plant-based-diet-for-you. Accessed February 20, 2024
  4. Kubala, Jillian. “Whole-Foods, Plant-Based Diet: A Detailed Beginner’s Guide.” Healthline.com, 2023, https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/plant-based-diet-guide. Accessed February 20, 2024
  5. Henderson, Lily. “Plant-based, vegetarian and vegan diets.” New Zealand Heart Foundation, https://www.heartfoundation.org.nz/wellbeing/healthy-eating/nutrition-facts/plant-based-vegetarian-vegan-diets. Accessed February 21, 2024
  6. Denmon, Amber E, and Lynn James. “Plant-Based Diet.” PennState Extension, 2021, https://extension.psu.edu/plant-based-diet. Accessed February 21, 2024
  7. Clem J, Barthel B. “A Look at Plant-Based Diets.” Mo Med. 2021 May-Jun;118(3):233-238. PMID: 34149083; PMCID: PMC8210981. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8210981/. Accessed February 21, 2024
  8. American Heart Association. “How does Plant-Forward (Plant-Based) Eating Benefit Your Health?”, 2023, https://www.heart.org/en/healthy-living/healthy-eating/eat-smart/nutrition-basics/how-does-plant-forward-eating-benefit-your-health. Accessed February 21, 2024
  9. Kahleova H, Sutton M, Maracine C, et al. “Vegan Diet and Food Costs Among Adults With Overweight: A Secondary Analysis of a Randomized Clinical Trial.” JAMA Netw Open. 2023;6(9):e2332106. https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamanetworkopen/fullarticle/2808910. Accessed February 21, 2024
  10. Pais DF, Marques AC, Fuinhas JA. “The cost of healthier and more sustainable food choices: Do plant-based consumers spend more on food?” Agric Food Econ. 2022;10(1):18. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC9321292/. Accessed February 21, 2024

Alexa Fry is a health educator with a certificate in technical writing and 10 years of experience in the medical field. She has held roles as a science writer and clinical trial specialist at the National Cancer Institute's Cancer Information Service. She also wrote, edited, and coordinated content for Testing.com, SleepFoundation.org, and SleepDoctor.com. Alexa is passionate about making meaningful, actionable medical information available to everyone.