What are the health benefits of a plant-based diet?

by Kaiser Permanente |
Toddler eating from a plate of broccoli and tomatoes

If you’ve heard people talking about the benefits of a plant-based diet, you may have wondered exactly what is involved. To put it simply, a plant-based diet consists largely of plant foods, ideally whole and unprocessed, including:

  • Fruits
  • Vegetables
  • Beans
  • Legumes
  • Nuts and nut butters
  • Whole grains
  • Small amounts of healthy fats, including oils

As you take advantage of this wide selection, you cut out meat, dairy, and eggs, and use plants to replace unhealthy fats and refined sugars.

What the experts say

Kara Lee, MPH, is a wellness coach at Kaiser Permanente Northwest who knows the value of a plant-based diet. She works with patients in remission from cancer who switch to a plant-based diet to prevent recurrence. Lee has also seen that plant-based diets help curb health problems like gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), irritable bowel syndrome, and even sleep issues.

"A plant-based diet can help people lower their blood sugar levels and prevent conditions such as cardiovascular disease and diabetes," says Lee.

A lifestyle to control weight and increase energy

Some of Lee’s patients are already in good health, but take on the diet to help maintain it. This includes the benefit of easier weight management.

"You’re naturally reducing foods in your diet that are high in fat, calories, refined sugars, and sodium, which will help you lose weight," says Lee.

Many of Lee’s patients have also reported improved energy levels. Plus, a plant-based diet’s high-fiber content helps by keeping you full throughout the day and aiding in digestion.

But if weight management is your top priority, it’s important to remember that these results are different for everyone.

"This isn’t a quick-fix diet," says Lee. "This is a lifestyle way of eating."

Get started with tasty snacks

When switching to a new way of eating, it often helps to focus less on what you can’t eat and more on the wide range of options still available to you.

  • If you have a sweet tooth, you can satisfy it with some fruit.
  • Prefer something savory? Try veggies such as celery, carrots, or broccoli dipped in hummus.
  • Whole-grain toast with avocado and tomato makes a great comfort food.
  • During your next movie night, enjoy some popcorn without the butter. At home you can pop it on the stove, or put the kernels in a brown paper bag for a healthy, homemade microwave popcorn.

To give your snack some flavor, try experimenting with different spices and flavorings. Nutritional yeast, lime juice, garlic, or chili powder can give any snack an extra burst of flavor.

Take your healthy snacking a step further

With a little planning, you can enjoy the benefits of a plant-based diet without sacrificing taste or convenience. As you get used to plant-based snacking, you’ll find planning for plant-based meals that much easier. To learn more about making the switch to plant-based eating, find a class near you at kp.org.