How often were you told to eat your vegetables growing up? It’s no secret that veggies are healthy – they’re full of vitamins and minerals your body needs to stay healthy – but what about a plant-based diet? Numerous diets prioritize eating vegetables and other plant products over meat, including the vegetarian diet, the vegan diet, and the flexitarian diet. Each has different guidelines around what animal products you can and can’t eat, including meat, eggs, milk, and other dairy products. What are the benefits of plant-based diets? Which diet is right for you? What kind of snacks can you eat? Here’s what to consider!
A vegetarian diet does not include meat and instead provides nutrients through vegetables, fruit, grains, legumes, and other non-meat items. There are several different vegetarian diets, including lacto-vegetarian (meat and eggs are excluded but other dairy products are allowed), lacto-ovo vegetarian (meat is excluded but eggs and dairy products are allowed), and ovo-vegetarian (meat and dairy are excluded but eggs are allowed).[i]
Foods to eat
Even though vegetarians don’t eat meat, there are still plenty of delicious meal options and ways to get important vitamins and minerals. One question you may have is “How do vegetarians get protein if they can’t eat meat?” Protein is found in a variety of non-meat items like beans and other legumes, peanut butter and other nut butters, soy products, and whole grains. Vegetarians who eat dairy products and eggs can also get protein from these sources. Eating eggs and dairy products are also great ways to add calcium, Vitamin B12, Vitamin D, and Iron to your diet. Broccoli, kale, collard greens, and beans also provide calcium.[ii]
Foods to avoid
The type of vegetarian diet you follow will determine the foods you’ll want to avoid. While all vegetarians cut meat from their diets, some also cut out eggs and/or dairy, while others do not. Another type of vegetarian diet called the pescatarian diet excludes meat and poultry but allows fish and other seafood.
Vegan diets are similar to vegetarian diets in that they don’t include meat, but vegan diets take it a step further by excluding any products from animals, such as eggs, milk, and cheese. People follow vegan diets for many reasons, such as not wanting to hurt animals, environmental reasons, religious reasons, health reasons, and more.
Foods to eat
Even with animal products out of the equation, there are still plenty of healthy, delicious food options for vegans. You can eat vegetables, fruit, grains like pasta and rice, legumes, nuts, seeds, and more. A number of companies also make alternatives to popular dairy products, such as soy milk, almond milk, or oat milk instead of milk from cows. Vegan cheeses, plant-based burgers and nuggets, and vegan “beef” jerky are also options.
Foods to avoid
When it comes to foods that vegans don’t eat, some are pretty obvious: red meat from animals like cows and pigs, poultry from animals like chickens and ducks, and fish and shellfish are all off-limits. Products that aren’t meat but do come from animals are also excluded, such as eggs, butter, cheese, ice cream, milk, and other dairy products. However, there are also items you may not even realize are made with animal products or labor, such as mayonnaise, which is made with egg yolks; marshmallows, which are made with gelatin; and honey, which is made using bee labor. These items are also excluded from a vegan diet.
Some people decide to eat a mostly plant-based diet even if they’re not fully vegetarian or vegan. This is called a “flexitarian” diet, as it’s a more flexible version of a vegan or vegetarian diet. On a flexitarian diet, you’ll mostly eat vegetables, fruit, grains, nuts, and legumes. Meat, dairy, and animal products can also be eaten, although these tend to be limited. The Cleveland Clinic recommends eating no more than 9-28 ounces of meat per week, depending on how far along you are on your flexitarian journey.[iii]
Foods to eat
Like vegetarian and vegan diets, a flexitarian diet can be a great option for people who love eating fruit and vegetables. Grains like pasta and bread can be eaten on a flexitarian diet, as can nuts, nut butters, beans, and more. Red meat, poultry, fish, eggs, and dairy products can also be consumed in moderation.
Foods to avoid
No food is totally off limits on a flexitarian diet, but meat and other animal products should be limited. Keeping processed foods to a minimum can also help the flexitarian diet be a healthy diet.[iv]
Benefits of Plant-Based Diets
Just how good for you are plant-based diets? Well, they provide all the protein, carbohydrates, fats, vitamins, and minerals you need to stay healthy, so very good for you![v] Plant-based diets, when done correctly, also help you get enough fiber and antioxidants in your day. Just be sure you’re not simply replacing meat with highly processed meat-free snacks and other junk food like French fries. When you focus on eating plenty of green vegetables, beans, whole grains, mushrooms, nuts, seeds, and soy products, you can make sure you get enough protein, vitamins, and minerals in your diet to help you stay in good health.[vi]
Eating less meat can help reduce your risk of stroke, heart disease, obesity, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and many cancers. Eating less processed meat like bacon and deli meat can also help you lower your sodium intake.[vii]
Eating a plant-based diet doesn’t mean your snacks have to be boring! Try swapping your milkshake for a fresh fruit smoothie, or replacing a meat and cheese plate with a tray of colorful vegetables. Craving something crunchy? Try Roasted Chickpea Snacks, Chickpea Puffs, and Keto Puffs from Biena Snacks. All of our snacks are either vegan or vegetarian and offer 5-6 grams of plant protein per serving. You can enjoy tempting flavors like sea salt, ranch, habanero, honey roasted, and more, so snack time is always delicious. Check out all of our plant-based options here.