Expert: Cynthia Sass, MPH, RD, author of Slim Down Now: Shed Pounds and Inches with Pulses–The New Superfood (HarperOne, 2016)

What it means: According to Sass, the basic premise is to eat all or predominantly plant-based foods. Vegans exclude all animal-derived foods, while vegetarians allow some—typically dairy and eggs. Others may limit meat, fish and poultry. As long as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, pulses, nuts and seeds are the mainstay of the diet, it’s plant-based.

Why it’s a thing: People value plant-based eating for many reasons, including religious beliefs, animal welfare, concern for the environment, protection against chronic disease or a combination of these factors.

What it takes: “In my opinion, everyone can benefit from a predominantly plant-based diet, as long as it’s whole-foods based and there is adequate planning to ensure that nutrient needs are met,” says Sass. Nutrients to keep an eye on include protein, iron, vitamin B12, calcium, zinc, vitamin D, iodine and omega-3 fatty acids.

Sass stresses whole foods because she has seen many people adopt vegan or vegetarian diets consisting mostly of processed foods, with few to no servings of fresh produce, whole grains, pulses, nuts and seeds. “With the popularity of veganism, it’s very easy to find vegan versions of nearly any food, from doughnuts to pizza, bacon, ice cream and cheese,” she says. Just because a food is vegan doesn’t mean it’s healthy.

When whole foods are the focus, benefits include greater intake of dietary fiber, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants; better gut health; and a reduced risk of obesity, heart disease, cancer, high blood pressure and type 2 diabetes. Plus, the production of plant-based foods uses fewer natural resources and emits fewer greenhouse gases into the environment. 

What's my ideal diet? Jump to: 

Gluten free Paleo
Mediterranean Plant-based
Intermittent fasting DASH