What is a Plant-Based Diet?

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People ask me all the time: What is a plant-based diet? And if I try it what are the benefits of a plant-based diet? Both are excellent questions that  are making it on the radar screen after years of pioneering efforts by a few leading doctors and researchers.

I remember when I first started talking about gluten and eating a gluten-free diet, the concept was unheard of by most people. No one could believe that the gluten protein in wheat and many of our favorite foods could be making us sick.

Today, the gluten-free diet is popping up everywhere in many mainstream venues from restaurants to grocery stores. It’s like suddenly nearly everyone started catching on. That’s the power of the Internet, marketing, and people paying attention to the foods they eat and how they feel after they’ve consumed them.

The plant-based diet has the healing powers to reverse sickness, make you feel energized, lose weight, have greater mental clarity, and overall maintain better health for the long haul.

What is a plant-based diet? How can it really promise me greater health?

The plant-based diet is a lifestyle. It’s a way of eating that focuses on consuming whole food (foods that are as close to their natural state), plant-based meals. It’s not about a dogma or eating plants because you don’t want to eat animals (although some people do believe that it’s unnecessary and vicious to kill animals so we can eat, when truly we could live without eating them). But that’s not why I’m writing this article. Instead I want to answer the question: what is a plant-based diet? It seems to puzzle many.

Plant-based eating is often seen as very limited. But that is only one perspective. If you think about all the foods you can consume that come from plants you begin to realize a plant-based diet is not as restrictive as you might have originally thought. It does, however, require a bit of creativity. Our society is programmed to want everything fast and, while the plant-based diet recipes that I showcase here don’t take long to make and are filled with healing powers, they do require a little more time than just running through a fast-food burger joint.

As an example, let’s take a look at exactly what is a plant-based diet and how you can make it fit into your lifestyle.

The first thing that comes to mind is a salad. There are numerous other plant-based diet recipes that offer not only healthy choices but also satisfying and delicious meals. I like to teach people about some staple items that should fill your pantry. So, I’ll provide two lists: a short and long version.

After you go through this list below, the answer to what is a plant-based diet will be clear. It is eating simple, clean, whole foods, using a variety of plant-based options. It’s avoiding the foods that are highly processed and exceedingly hard to digest (for instance, meat and dairy products) and sugary foods.

The plant-based diet uses ingredients taken from plants that help you live a longer, healthier life. It’s the foods that often get placed alongside a big ol’ piece of meat as merely a colorful garnish. These types of garnishes actually can make quite an interesting meal when given the opportunity. But somehow the flesh tends to overpower the plate.

So here’s the list. Eat anything on this list and as much of it as you want. The plant-based diet isn’t about counting calories or watching your food portions or carb intake. It’s about healthy, nutritious eating and consuming the right carbs. In other words, don’t grab that bag of potato chips–instead you can eat the potato in its whole food form. Forget the heavily processed cookies and blend up a fresh strawberry sorbet, if you need something sweet. I use natural agave to sweeten it. Try our recipe. You’ll love it.

What is a plant-based diet? The short list. It’s what you do with the items on this list that make it magical for the taste buds and your health.

Minimally refined fruits, vegetables, grains, and nuts.

I realize that many people can’t eat a strictly plant-based diet. In fact, I don’t. But what I do eat is a mostly plant-based diet–what some refer to as “plant-strong”. There are many excellent food items to choose from that, creatively combined, make tasty meals.

What is a plant-based diet? The long list.

Fruit: plums, tomatoes, citrus (lemons, limes, oranges, grapefruit, tangelos), apricots, prunes, cantaloupe, pineapple, apples, grapes, peaches, mangos, lychee, watermelon, cherries, pomegranate seeds, blueberries

Vegetables: onions, celery, broccoli, brussels sprouts, edamame, snap peas, squash, peas, yams, sweet potatoes, carrots, bell peppers, beans (wide variety), jicama, radishes

Lettuce: spinach, kale, butter lettuce, arugula (my favorite), endive, swiss chard, romaine, red-tip leaf lettuce, parsley, cilantro

Nuts: pine, pistachios, almonds, cashews, pecan, butternut, walnut, chestnuts, macadamia

Grains: barley, rye, spelt, quinoa, potato, rice, amaranth, barley, buckwheat (I like to make pancakes with the buckwheat grain ground into flour), farro (Italian grain), flaxseed (makes good crackers), kamut, millet, oats, wild rice, sorghum, wheat (go easy on the gluten), corn (in moderation, read “Is Corn Bad for You?”)

And, of course, spices!

So, what is a plant-based diet?–simply, all the healthy, nutritious, delicious foods that belong on your plate and in your body to help maintain healthy living.


Phoebe Chongchua is a multimedia brand journalist who consults and writes on wellness, all things plant-based, fitness, lifestyle, and travel. She is yoga certified and earned her certificate in Whole Food Plant-Based Eating in 2010 through eCornell and the T. Colin Campbell Foundation. She's also a top podcaster for her marketing/storytelling podcast, The Brand Journalism Advantage at

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