The Plant-Based Diet 101: What It Is and What to Eat

Swiss Chard and Tofu Stir-Fry

The Spruce / Diana Chistruga

A Note From the Editors

The Spruce Eats does not endorse this diet; rather, we are providing some information that can contribute to your decision. Please talk with your doctor or a registered dietitian before making any significant changes to your diet.

Plant-Based Diet Basics

A plant-based diet is a diet that emphasizes plant-based whole foods, limits or avoids animal products, and excludes sugars and processed foods. People who follow a plant-based diet may also include eggs, meat, seafood, and dairy, if desired.

The goal of the diet is to improve heart health, lower cholesterol, and reduce the risk for type 2 diabetes, which in turn often leads to weight loss. A plant-based eating plan that is low in saturated, sodium, and added sugars, and rich in fiber, and includes whole grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds, and heart-healthy fats, such as olive oil and canola oil, which are linked to a lower risk for heart disease and diabetes. 

The rules of a plant-based diet are not hard and fast, and it's not strictly a vegetarian or vegan diet (although some people do follow the diet that way). But the main idea is that plant-based foods should be the main focus of each meal. Fruits, vegetables, nuts, grains, and beans take center stage, as opposed to meats, dairy, eggs, and other animal-based foods.

It also limits sugar and highly processed foods. Animal products can be eaten, if desired, but in smaller quantities and less often. In that regard, it's similar to the Mediterranean diet. 

Pros and Cons


  • Helps to prevent heart attacks, stroke, type 2 diabetes, and premature death. 
  • Can also promote weight loss. 
  • Linked to improved fertility in women, reduced cancer risk, and may protect against cognitive decline.
  • Increased fruits and vegetable consumption is widely agreed to be beneficial.
  • Lots of data supporting the efficacy of the plant-based diet in improving health.
  • Recommended by the American Cancer Society, American Diabetes Association, and World Health Organization. 


  • Limiting or eliminating dairy can lead to insufficient intake of protein, calcium, vitamin D, and other nutrients.
  • Limiting fats, alcohol, and sweets might be difficult for some.
  • Income and other factors, such as lacking geographic and financial access to stores selling fresh fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. 
  • Family dinners and eating out could present moderate challenges.

What to Eat on a Plant-Based Diet

On a plant-based diet, foods that are derived from plants (as opposed to animals) are the central focus of your meals. Although some people choose to eat limited amounts of meat, seafood, dairy, and eggs, the main foods that are recommended on the diet are as follows:

Plant-Based Foods

  • Fruits (such as apples, bananas, strawberries, grapes, oranges, avocados)
  • Vegetables (including lettuce, spinach, kale, broccoli, peppers, sweet potatoes, carrots, parsnips)
  • Whole grains (such as brown rice, whole wheat, millet, farro, oats, quinoa, barley
  • Nuts, seeds, and legumes (including beans, lentils, walnuts, almonds, cashews, flaxseed, sunflower seeds)
  • Soy foods, including tofu, tempeh, and edamame.

In addition, coffee and tea (regular and herbal varieties) are also acceptable. Added sugars, such as maple syrup, raw honey, blackstrap molasses, and brown rice syrup, should be used in moderation, if at all, on a plant-based eating plan.

Here's a one-day sample meal plan, as well as a number of recipes you could enjoy while on the plant-based diet. 



Snacks and desserts that match the plant-based diet don't necessarily require a recipe. For instance, a serving of fresh fruit or a handful of nuts would be appropriate. 

What to Limit on a Plant-Based Diet

Foods that people on a plant-based diet either limit or eliminate altogether include the following.

Not Plant-Based

  • Meat, poultry, eggs, fish, seafood
  • Dairy (including cheese and milk)
  • Highly processed meats like hot dogs, sausages, lunch meats
  • Sweets (like candy, cookies, cakes, pies)
  • Sweetened beverages (such as sugary soft drinks)

Bottom Line

A plant-based diet is based on whole and lightly processed plant foods such as whole grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds, legumes, and soy products. Some people choose to include small amounts of meat, seafood, eggs, and dairy, as well as added sugars.

The benefits of a balanced plant-based diet include improved heart health, lower cholesterol, and reduced risk of type 2 diabetes. The diet can also result in weight loss, although this is not its primary goal. It can be expensive and challenging for people who lack ready access to fresh fruits and vegetables and whole grains. In addition, limiting or eliminating dairy can lead to calcium deficiency. 

Article Sources
The Spruce Eats uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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