What Is a Whole-Food, Plant-Based Diet?

It isn't just rabbit food!

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Plant-based eating has recently soared to new heights of popularity. And for good reason: Eating more plant proteins is connected with lower risk of heart disease and death in middle-aged adults, according to a study published in Journal of the American Heart Association.

So what is a whole-food, plant-based diet? "It's a style of eating that focuses on choosing whole foods that are free of additives or processing, in order to boost overall health," says Natalie Rizzo, MS, RD, a dietitian in New York City. The diet typically consists of fruits, vegetables, beans, legumes, nuts, seeds, healthy fats such as olive oil, and whole grains. "Generally, packaged snacks and desserts, sugar-sweetened beverages, and anything with artificial additives don't have a place in this type of diet," says Rizzo.

There are many foods you can include in this eating style. Here are a few to get you started:

Oats

"I'm a huge fan of oats, because they are affordable and easy to make — and they contain protein and fiber to help keep me full all morning long," says Rizzo. "Plus, oats contain a special fiber called beta glucan, which has been shown to help reduce the risk of heart disease." Whip up a berry-oatmeal bake, high-protein overnight oats or oatmeal raisin cookies.

Blueberries

"A cup of blueberries contains only about 80 calories and offers plenty of nutrients like vitamin C, vitamin K, manganese, fiber, and phytonutrients called polyphenols," says Rizzo, a nutrition partner with the U.S. Highbush Blueberry Council. She also notes that a study in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that eating just one cup of blueberries per day significantly reduces the risk of cardiovascular events like heart attacks and strokes, and increases good cholesterol. Enjoy blueberries in a blueberry smoothie, a healthy fruit pizza or a blueberry coffee cake.

Sweet potatoes

"Don't fear this starchy spud!" says Rizzo. "It's actually loaded with nutrients like beta carotene, a precursor for vitamin A, as well as fiber and potassium. A medium sweet potato can have up to 600% of your daily dose of vitamin A — a nutrient that plays an important role in eye health, bone development and a healthy immune system." Have sweet potatoes in baked sweet potato fries, sweet potato salad or a sweet potato cauliflower pizza.

Amy Gorin, MS, RDN, is a registered dietitian nutritionist and owner of Amy Gorin Nutrition in the New York City area. She's a regular contributor to many publications, including EverydayHealth.com, ReadersDigest.com, NBCNews.com, and more. She also pens a recipe-focused blog, Amy's Eat List, where she shares easy, healthy recipes. Connect with her on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.

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