A Plant-Forward Diet
The concept of a plant forward diet has gained a lot of popularity in recent years.
This term has been used to describe several different dietary patterns that have a similar emphasis in common.
Table of Contents
What is a Plant-Forward Diet?
A plant-forward diet is a diet that emphasises plant based foods in the diet.
It can still contain meat and other animal based products such as eggs and dairy but it is an eating pattern focused on getting more plants onto the plate. It makes plant foods more central in the diet.
A Mediterranean type dietary pattern may be described as a plant-forward diet since it focuses on fresh fruit and vegetables, whole-grains, plant oils such as olive oil and some animal products, but is low in red meat.
It may be argued that a plant forward diet is along the lines of the diet recommended by most health bodies.
Fruits and vegetables occupy half of the plate on the USDA’s my Plate recommendations. The DASH diet (for the avoidance of high blood pressure) recommends a diet similar to a Mediterranean diet with an emphasis on vegetables, fruits and grains.
The dietary guidelines of various countries and health bodies tend to recommend an abundant consumption of vegetables and fruits, especially vegetables, whole grains, and the inclusion of plant based protein sources, such as beans.
A Plant-Forward Diet vs A Plant-Based Diet
If you are confused by all of the terms in this area such as plant-forward, plant based and vegan and what are the differences between them all then you are not alone.
A plant based diet is also a dietary pattern that emphasis plant foods in the diet but often plant based is interpreted to represent a diet that is exclusively made up of plant foods.
Others describe a plant based diet as a diet that can still contain animal based foods
but is focused around plant foods. For this definition, a plant-forward diet and a plant based diet are considered the same thing. They both focus on whole foods and plant foods that are not overly processed.
A vegan diet vs a plant-based diet
To add to the confusion, there is also a vegan diet and sometimes the temrs “vegan diet” and “plant based diet” are used interchangeably.
A vegan diet is based around the avoidance of animal based foods for ethical reasons. This includes meat, fish, dairy and eggs.
While focused on avoiding animal based foods, a vegan diet does not necessarily focus on healthy plant foods. A vegan diet can be made up of processed plant based foods such as sugar, refined grains and oils.
Both a plant forward diet and a plant based diet focus on healthy plant foods that are not overly processed.
A Plant-Forward Diet vs a Vegetarian Diet
Like a vegan diet, vegetarian diets can be defined by what they exclude rather than what they include. Vegetarian diets exclude food that is made from the animals themselves but includes foods such as eggs and dairy products. In practice a healthy vegetarian diet and a plant-forward diet can be very similar. A diet that Is focused on whole
What to Eat on a Plant Forward Diet
OK the clue is kind of in the title but what exactly are the plant foods we are encouraged to eat more of on a plant-forward diet?
In order to achieve some of the health benefits of a plant forward diet we are generally referring to plant foods that are not overly processed. These can be broken down into the following categories:
These can be divided into non-starchy vegetables which tend to be very low in calories such as lettuce, cucumbers, cauliflower, broccoli, cabbage, celery, peppers and tomatoes.
There are also starchy vegetables that are a little higher in calories (although not a high calorie food) such as carrots, potatoes, sweet potatoes, corn and butternut squash.
Generally sweet and sometimes bitter foods such as apples, pears, oranges, lemons, strawberries, raspberries, grapes, blueberries, bananas, pineapple, mangos, papaya, passionfruit, melons and plums.
Brown rice, whole grain pasta, whole grain breads, whole grain couscous, oats, barley and quinoa.
Chickpeas, black beans, kidney beans, pinto beans, lima beans, fava beans and soybeans. These also include soy foods such as tofu and tempeh.
Walnuts, almonds, cashew nuts, hazelnuts, pine nuts, pecans and peanuts (OK, technically a legume but nutritionally similar to a nut). These can be in whole form, ground into flours or made into nut butters.
Pumpkin seeds, sunflower seed, linseeds (flax seeds), chia seeds and sesame seeds.
Why follow a plant forward diet
There are several positive outcomes that are associated with a plant-forward diet, however one reason that this diet may appeal to many people is that it focuses on what to include, rather than what to exclude.
You may be able to get behind the idea of adding more of certain foods to the diet, rather than a diet that says, you are not allowed to eat this or that.
When you focus on what foods to include in your diet and eating more of these, then you are naturally going to be restricting other foods that are not emphasised in the diet (well that’s the plan anyway)
Some of the positive outcomes of this diet of diet may include the following:
- Better Health
Diets higher in plant foods tend to be healthier and reduce the risk of chronic disease. When I talk about plant foods I am referring to plant foods that are not too processed, such as fresh fruit and vegetables, whole grains and beans. I am not talking about foods made from refined ingredients such as white flours, sugars and fats or oils.
The evidence of the benefits of including plenty of plants in your diet and limiting meats, especially red meats and processed meats, is reflected in the national dietary guidelines of various countries and health bodies.
These diets tend to be lower in saturated fat and contain more healthier unsaturated fats and more dietary fibre, which is associated with positive health benefits.
If you look at the national dietary guidelines from countries such as Canada, the UK, the US and Ireland, you will see an emphasis on eating plenty of vegetables and fruits. In Canada and the US, this is visually represented by fruits and vegetables making up half of a typical plate of food.
The American Heart Association’s website states that less meat decreases the risk of many chronic diseases such as heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, diabetes and many cancers.
- The environment
Diets higher in plant foods generally have less of an environmental impact and lower carbon footprint than diets high in animal foods. They tend to use less land, less water, less energy to produce, and less resources in general.
In 2019, the Eat-Lancet Commission described a diet that promoted human health and was also a diet that reduced the negative impact on the environment.
The Lancet is one of the most prestigious medical journals and brought together 37 leading scientists from around the globe to look at how to design a healthy diet that would feed a growing world population of 10 billion people.
The recommended diet from this report may be described as a plant forward diet, with a typical reference plate being made up mainly of healthy plant foods such as whole grains, fruits and vegetables, with the addition of small amounts of animal products and limited meat consumption.
typical reference plate being made up mainly of healthy plant foods such as whole grains, fruits and vegetables, with the addition of small amounts of animal products.
- Body Weight
If you follow a dietary pattern that is high in fruits and vegetables and lower in animal products (especially high fat meats) and low in processed foods, then you may naturally lose some weight.
Vegetables and fruits generally contain the least amount of calories per weight, contain fibre and lots of water. They can help to make you feel full while consuming less overall calories. I have a calorie density chart where I show the calorie content of various foods per 100g.
This is also linked to better health, since having less body fat is also associated with a reduced risk of many chronic diseases, however weight loss is also something that we may desire for aesthetic and functional reasons.
- The animals
As we eat more animals and animal products, and increase demand, there is more pressure on the system to increase production and intensify farming practices. These tend to be increasingly cruel and result in more miserable for the animals involved.
If you eat less meat, you put less demand on the overall system. This may or may not result on improved conditions for the animals, however if you are eating less animal products overall, you may be more likely to make an effort to choose less intensively farmed animal products.
Will I get enough protein on a plant-forward diet?
This is a question that lots of people ask when it comes to plant-forward eating. The good news is that there are plenty go protein-rich plant-based foods.
Animal proteins tend to be higher in all of the essential amino acids, however once you are eating a variety of plant sources of plant-based proteins such as beans, vegetables and whole grains, you are likely to be getting enough protein in your diet.
I have written an article on the best Best Vegan Protein Sources which is worth checking out for more information on plant-based protein.
Plant-Forward Diet Tips
Add More Plants to Your Favourite Meals
You can add more plants to your favourite meals that you are already used to making, by adding more veggies, swapping out some meat and adding in replacements such as beans, or making a totally plant based version.
If for example, you love a chilli con carne, you could reduce the meat content and add extra beans and some extra veggies instead. You could also completely replace the meat with extra beans (and maybe some lentils) and make a plant based version. As you get in the habit more plant-centric cooking, you will become more used to this style of cooking.
Learn to Cook New Recipes
In my experience, many people are afraid to change their diets because they are afraid the food will be bland and boring and they won’t enjoy it. We don’t like the idea of losing the joy of food as one of life’s pleasures.
We also spend less time in the kitchen these days and rely on meals that we can throw in the oven or that get delivered to us.
If you take the time out to prepare some suitable recipes, you can get the double benefit of finding recipes that are healthier and that you also enjoy.
I have found that if someone who is used to eating meat every day prepares a healthy and tasty plant based recipe, they don’t miss the fact that it does not contain meat.
Once you learn a new recipe that you like you can have that in mind for perhaps a meatless Monday dish or any other day that you like. Then you can move on and find another recipe to make until you have a few “go to” plant-forward recipes.
Not every one will be a winner, but you won’t know until you try.
Yes, you can still leave out the animal foods and experience the joy of eating good food.
Add Soups and Salads
Soups and salads are both great meals to increase your daily plant food intake. You have the blended cooked vegetable option of a soup or the fresh chopped vegetable option of a salad.
These can be a full meal option or served as a starter. If you start a meal with a veg packed soup or salad, you are likely to eat a smaller main meal, so the proportion of vegetables in the overall meal will naturally increase.
Sometimes jumping in headfirst is the tempting option, especially when you are highly motivated but more lasting change may come from more gradual and sustained changes to your diet.
Making some of the changes mentioned above, and sticking with these, and then making some additional changes may lead to bigger changes over a long time horizon.
If you are used to having meat with every meal than starting with meatless Mondays (or any day really) will be a step forward. You can then progress from there and gradually include more plant-based meals from week to week.
The Bottom Line
There are several potential benefits of adopting a more plant-forward diet, and although there may be benefits to reducing overall meat consumption, there are also benefits to including more plants in the diet and reducing the amount of processed foods.
As you adopt a more plant-forward approach to your diet, the positive impact that this change will hopefully bring may spur you to continue to focus on this style of eating.