SRx Health

Plant-Based Meals: Eat to Improve Your Health

Benefits of a plant-based diet and tips for making the switch.
Example of skewered plant-based meals

There’s a constant quest happening throughout the medical community and society in general to find the best diet. Which nutritional approach is best for your health? Does it contribute to long-term physical wellness? What type of meals allow you to both be healthy and feel satisfied? In recent years, many of these questions have been about plant-based-meals.

But the truth is, those questions will likely never have concrete answers because each person’s body chemistry and nutritional needs are different. Still, there are certain nutritional approaches that show great promise and are likely to bring health benefits to most people. One of those approaches is a plant-based meals.

Table of Contents

1. What Are Plant-Based Meals?

2. Common Types of Plant-Based Meals

3. Why Eating Plant-Based Meals Matters

4. Health Benefits of a Plant-Based Diet

5. Potential Disadvantages of Plant-Based Meals

6. Easy Plant-Based Meal Ideas

7. Tips to Eat Plant-Based Meals on a Budget

8. How to Get Enough Protein with a Plant-Based Diet

9. How SRx Can Help You Live a Healthier Life

What Are Plant-Based Meals?

Plant-based meals are made entirely or almost entirely of plants. Also, they primarily rely on fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, grains, legumes, oils, beans, and so on. In other words, a plant-based diet includes no meat or animal products like eggs and dairy, or it includes a very small amount of those foods.

Common Types of Plant-Based Meals

There are several well-known categories of plant-based meals:

Vegetarian Plant-Based Meals

Vegetarian meals don’t include any meat. Vegetarians may eat products derived from animals, like dairy, eggs, and honey, but they rely primarily on plants for their nutrition and eliminate meat from their diet entirely.

Vegan Plant-Based Meals

Like the vegetarian diet, the vegan meals doesn’t include any meat. Taking it one step further, though, the vegan diet also eliminates any animal-derived products. Along with dairy and eggs, that typically includes products that are manufactured with the help of animal products, like gelatin or refined sugar, which is processed using bone char.

Mediterranean Plant-Based Meals

The Mediterranean diet gets most of its nutrition from plants and plant-based products. It does include fish, poultry, dairy, and eggs, but these are typically eaten sparingly. Because most of the diet is made up of plants, the Mediterranean diet is considered a plant-based diet.

Pescatarian Plant-Based Meals

The pescatarian diet could be considered a middle ground between the vegetarian and Mediterranean diets. Like the others, a pescatarian diet is primarily made up of plant-based foods, but it does include fish, dairy, and eggs on occasion.

Flexitarian Plant-Based Meals

The flexitarian diet can overlap with a pescatarian diet or Mediterranean diet. The term “flexitarian” simply means that the person eats a vegetarian diet most of the time but may pepper in meat here and there. For example, you might have one or two meals per week that include meat but the other 20 or so meals are vegetarian.

Why Eating Plant-Based Meals Matters

Why is there a growing push for plant-based diets? There are actually multiple reasons why plant-based nutrition can make a difference in your health and the environment.

Benefiting Your Health

A top reason people opt for a plant-based diet is for the health benefits. Meat and animal products have been linked to a higher risk for many serious diseases, as we’ll discuss in more detail shortly. For example, cholesterol is only found in meat and animal products. Plant-based foods do not contain any cholesterol at all. A plant-based diet that foregoes animal products or minimizes them can lower your health risks.

Benefiting the Environment

Along with its advantages for your health, a plant-based diet has benefits for the planet, too. Raising livestock in their current numbers and creating animal-based food is a major contributor to greenhouse gasses.

It’s important to recognize that some plants and plant-based foods are easier on the planet than others. Generally, though, the less of your diet comes from animals, the less impactful your diet is on the planet.

Tractor harvesting field for fresh produce for plant-based meals
Credit: Tom Fisk | Pexels

Health Benefits of a Plant-Based Diet

As we noted, a plant-based diet brings numerous benefits for your health, regardless of the state of your health today. Consider these top benefits of a plant-based diet.

Reducing the Risk of Heart Disease

Heart disease is a major health concern and the second leading cause of death in Canada. Fortunately, a plant-based diet can minimize your risk. Studies have found that eating a plant-based diet can reduce the risk of developing heart disease by 16% and lower the risk of dying from heart disease by 31%.

Lowering Blood Pressure

High blood pressure is a common problem that raises the risk of cardiovascular disease, stroke, and type 2 diabetes. Those who eat plant-based diets, specifically vegetarians, have been found to have a 34% lower risk for high blood pressure (hypertension).

Reducing the Risk of Type 2 Diabetes

There are many reasons people may develop type 2 diabetes, but diet and nutrition play a major role. Some studies show that people who eat a plant-based diet have a 34% lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes than those who regularly eat meat and animal products.

Improving Weight Management

Obesity has been linked to a higher risk for a variety of serious health conditions. While many people struggle to lose weight, a plant-based diet may make it easier. Weight loss often happens when people switch to a plant-based diet, even when they aren’t purposely restricting their calories. Studies have found that the average body mass index or BMI for vegans is a healthy 23.6. By contrast, the average BMI in this study for non-vegans was 28.8, which is classified as overweight.

Lowering the Risk of Cancer

Cancer is the #1 cause of death among Canadians, but a plant-based diet could help keep your risk low. Certain nutrients like fibre and specific vitamins and minerals have been found to help defend the body against developing cancer. These are particularly abundant in plant-based foods like fruits, vegetables, and grains.

Reducing the Risk for Cognitive Impairment

While some amount of cognitive (intellectual) decline is common late in life, Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia are more serious. A review of study data has found that eating just an extra 100 grams of fruits and vegetables per day led to a 13% lower risk of cognitive issues. This is likely because fruits and vegetables are high in polyphenols, a particular nutrient that can slow the progression of Alzheimer’s and even reverse cognitive decline.

Potential Disadvantages of Plant-Based Meals

Any lifestyle change you make will have pros and cons, so it’s important to recognize the potential downsides of a plant-based diet. Consider these possible disadvantages.

Access Challenges

There is a term you may have heard called a “food desert.” A food desert is an area where access to fresh produce is limited—often low-income urban neighbourhoods, for example. People who live in food deserts can have limited access to fresh plant-based food, and the plant-based foods they do have available can be overly expensive.

Woman buying fruit for plant-based meals
Credit: Anna Shvets | Pexels

Learning Curve

Adapting to any new diet takes time and experimentation. It takes effort to learn what foods you can make within that nutritional approach, what meals you and your family enjoy, and so on. Furthermore, it can take time to adjust to the tastes and textures of different foods. That learning curve presents a challenge to starting and sticking with a plant-based diet.

Preparation Time

A plant-based diet can require more time than diets that are more convenience-focused. It takes time to plan, shop for, and prepare plant-based meals that are nutritionally balanced, healthy, and satisfying. It can be time-consuming to plan meals that contain enough of the nutrients that are most common in meat, like B12 and iron.

Easy Plant-Based Meal Ideas

Where do you start if you’re trying to eat a plant-based diet? Each person’s tastes and preferences will vary, but consider these easy plant-based meals to start.

Vegetable Stir-Fry

A veggie stir-fry is simple to make and customize however you choose. Just select a variety of your favourite vegetables, like bell peppers, onions, carrots, and so on. Stir-fry those veggies in a pan with olive oil and serve them over quinoa, potentially with a low-sodium plant-based sauce or your favourite herbs and spices as well.

Lentil Soup

Lentil soup is a particularly popular choice for eating plant-based foods on a budget and for warming up in cold weather. There are countless lentil soup recipes online, so choose your favourite based on the flavours you enjoy.

Seasonal Salad

A salad is a classic choice for plant-based nutrition, and you can make it in any way you choose. Grab your favourite greens and mix them with the seasonal veggies you love. For instance, a winter salad could include shaved brussels sprouts, sweet potatoes, beets, and collard greens. For dressing, try a simple mixture of olive oil and lemon juice.

Tips to Eat Plant-Based Meals on a Budget

How do you get a balanced, healthy plant-based diet without spending an arm and a leg? Many people are surprised to find that they spend less on groceries when they eat a plant-based diet because meat and dairy products are expensive. There are several tips that can also help you keep your budget in check.

Shop in Season

As you shop for produce, focus on foods that are currently in season because they will be more cost-effective. It can also be cheaper to buy produce that is grown in your area rather than produce that has to be flown in by plane.

Start an Herb Garden

A common tip for saving money on groceries is to grow your own produce. Truth be told, you probably won’t save much money by growing vegetables because of the amount of time it takes to grow them and their low prices in stores. It can make a larger difference, though, to grow your own herbs. Fresh herbs can be pricey, and they grow rather quickly. In many cases, an entire basil plant, for example, costs less than a small amount of picked fresh basil.

Buy in Bulk

When possible, buy your food in bulk to pay less per ounce. Many plant-based foods can be frozen or stored in specific ways that allow them to stay fresh longer.

How to Get Enough Protein with a Plant-Based Diet

There’s a common misconception that people who follow plant-based diets don’t get enough protein. While meat does have a lot of protein, there are many, many plants that are also packed with protein. You just need to know where to look. Try these protein-rich plant-based foods:

  • Edamame
  • Chickpeas
  • Lentils
  • Wild rice
  • Pinto beans
  • Peanuts
  • Quinoa
  • Brussels sprouts
  • Green peas
  • Pistachios
  • Lima beans
  • Almonds
  • Sweet corn
  • Potatoes
  • Asparagus
  • Avocado
  • Broccoli

Lastly, you can incorporate high-protein meat substitutes like tofu or tempeh.

How SRx Can Help You Live a Healthier Life

Nutrition is a core component of your health, and SRx is here to help you find a diet that works for you. Our integrated health system can use a collection of strategies to optimize your health, including personalized nutrigenomics, custom care for your specific health conditions like diabetes care, and more. Explore our health services to learn more, or contact us to launch your journey to better health.

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