I eat a whole-food plant-based diet, but I still eat meat.
Say that again.
You mean you can eat meat on a plant-based diet?
That is exactly what I hear from my health coaching clients and lifestyle medicine patients when they learn that they don’t have to give up all animal products in order to eat a plant-based diet.
If you, like them, are wondering how you can eat a plant-based diet and still eat meat, eggs, and dairy… then let me explain!
There is absolutely no doubt that the bulk of the medical literature supports the claim that diets that are high in fruits, vegetables, whole grain, beans, nuts, and seeds are associated with the longest life spans and the least amount of chronic disease.
The studies are also pretty clear that diets low in meat, eggs, and dairy are also associated with longer lifespans and less chronic disease.
But did you know that many studies showing the benefits of diets high in whole, plant foods are not studying purely whole-food plant-based diets? Many (if not most) actually refer to either predominantly whole-food plant-based diets, vegetarian diets, vegan diets, pescatarian, or Mediterranean-style diets.
So what’s the difference?
A purely whole-food plant-based diet includes only fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, nuts, and seeds. It excludes all animal products and highly processed foods, including sugar and refined oils. It can include some minimally processed foods.
A whole-food plant-predominant diet includes mostly fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, nuts, and seeds. Animal products, including meat, fish, eggs, and dairy are minimized but not necessarily excluded. Highly processed foods, including sugar and refined oils are minimized or entirely excluded. It can include some minimally processed foods.
A vegan diet excludes all animal products but doesn’t necessarily exclude processed foods or sugar. Although a lot of vegans follow a purely whole-food plant-based diet, you can eat a lot of junk food and still be on a vegan diet.
A vegetarian diet is the same as a vegan diet but allows for eggs, cheese, and dairy.
A pescatarian diet allows fish but excludes all other meat.
A Mediterranean diet is very high in fresh fruits and vegetables, beans, whole grains, nuts, and seeds. Fish is eaten 2-3 times per week. It also includes small quantities of dairy, eggs, and poultry, but mostly excludes other meats. It includes olive oil, as well as red wine in moderation.
So, as you can see, there are a large variety of “plant-based” diets in the medical literature.
What do I tell my patients and clients?
If you are trying to reverse a chronic illness such as diabetes, heart disease, or even obesity… the closer you can eat to an entirely whole-food plant-based diet, the better.
But if you don’t have a chronic disease and you aren’t trying to lose a lot of weight, then including some occasional animal products in your diet probably isn’t going to hurt. The key is to make it minimal and occasional. Whole plant foods should still make up the majority of what you eat.
So yes, I eat a whole-food plant-based diet, but you may occasionally see me at Panera with a little chicken and feta on my salad 🙂
*I just want to add a note that I love, admire, and respect my vegan friends who choose not to eat animal products for ethical and environmental reasons.