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What is a Plant-Based Diet?


By Cathy Smyser MSN, FNP-C
Faculty, College of Nursing and Health Care Professions

While the American Heart Association has marked November as “Eat Smart Month,” we should all consider eating smarter every day of every month. Our good health depends on it!

So what constitutes “smart eating?” A simple web search will result in multitudes of hits with literally hundreds of sites and dozens of books to choose from.  A whole-foods, plant-based diet is one that is getting lots of attention and for a good reason. There is no specific definition of this as a diet, but it is better to consider it a lifestyle. The basic principles of this eating strategy may include:

  • Emphasis on the whole, minimally processed foods
  • Limiting/avoidance of animal products
  • Intake focused on plants including vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes, seeds and nuts, as the majority of the plan
  • Exclusion of refined foods like added sugars, white flour and processed oils

While this may seem to be a vegetarian or vegan diet−it is different. The whole foods plant-based diet is more flexible. Followers eat mostly plants, but animal products aren’t completely off-limits. While one person may eat no animal products, another may eat small amounts of eggs, poultry seafood meat or dairy.

The Health Benefits

Some health benefits for this may include:

  • Weight Loss – many studies have validated the effectiveness of a plant-based diet in sustained weight loss. This may be due to the high fiber content of this diet as well as the elimination of processed foods such as soda fast food and refined grains.
  • A decrease in heart disease – A large study in over 200,000 people found that those who followed a healthy plant-based diet as described above had a significantly lower risk of developing heart disease than those following a non-plant based diet.
  • A decrease in cancer – Several studies have shown a significantly lower risk of development of certain cancers (gastric and colorectal).
  • A decrease in cognitive decline -Many studies demonstrate that higher intakes of fruit and vegetables are strongly associated with a reduction in cognitive decline.
  • A decrease in diabetes – Plant-based diet has been shown to significantly reduce the risk of developing type 2 diabetes as well as improve blood sugar control in people with diabetes.

A whole-foods, plant-based diet is a way of eating that provides enjoyment of plant foods while eliminating unhealthy ingredients such as added sugars and refined grains. This eating style has been associated with many health benefits and by adopting this way of eating you are sure to boost your health!

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  • American Heart Association. Retrieved from: http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/HealthyLiving/HealthyEating/National-Eating-Healthy-Day-2013_UCM_454414_Article.jsp#.XSD_Q-tKhhE
  • Retrieved from: https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/plant-based-diet-guide#overview
  • Increased Consumption of Fruit and Vegetables Is Related to a Reduced Risk of Cognitive Impairment and Dementia: Meta-Analysis. Retrieved from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5293796/
  • Plant-Based Dietary Patterns and Incidence of Type 2 Diabetes in US Men and Women: Results from Three Prospective Cohort Studies. Retrieved from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27299701
  • Vegetarian Diets and the Incidence of Cancer in a Low-Risk Population. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3565018/
About Dulce Ruelas, MPH, CHES, CBC
Instructor, Master of Public Health Program

Dulce Maria Ruelas was born in Mexico and immigrated to the United States with her mother at the age of four. She is dedicated to the promotion of health education and has been an activist for human rights and public health to the Latino populations for the past 15 years.  She has worked and volunteered at grass-roots and non-profit organizations that advocate for the Latinos in promotion of health education.  Ms. Ruelas is currently an instructor in the Masters of Public Health Program.

Over the years Ms. Ruelas worked with a variety of disparate populations like the migrant and seasonal farmworkers, homeless, foster infant and children, substance exposed infants and children to immigrant and low income families. She has worked across all 15 Arizona State counties and in Chicago, Illinois to find health and dental services for pregnant women and children. She is also a breastfeeding counselor. Lastly, she is improving collaboration and community capacity in the areas of access to preventive health care, health information and health resources for children and their families by being a steering committee member with the Health Improvement Partnership of Maricopa County, City of Phoenix Head Start Policy Council, and board member of the Mountain Park Health Centers.