The Mediterranean approach to eating is described as plant-based, as are vegan, vegetarian, flexitarian and pescatarian eating patterns. What does plant-based really mean?

Plant-based or plant-forward eating patterns primarily focus on plant foods. Think of plant foods - fruits, vegetables, grains, legumes/beans, nuts, seeds, and oils – as the foundation of meals and snacks. This is contrary to the usual Western eating pattern that is meat or poultry prominent.

Mediterranean, vegetarian, flexitarian and pescatarian eating patterns include select animal-based foods, such as meat, poultry, fish, eggs, dairy milk, and/or cheese. However, these foods are included in small amounts and/or eaten infrequently. 

The vegan eating pattern is different. Food choices are based on ethical concerns, such as animal welfare, environmental issues, and personal health values. As such, vegans don’t eat foods or use ingredients that come from animals. Additionally, vegans shun products tested on animals (i.e. make-up), and clothing made from animals (i.e. leather shoes).

The healthfulness of plant-based food matters. Important qualities, such as minimally processed, whole grain, and minimal added sugar, are emphasized. After all, many processed foods are plant-based, such as Goldfish, Frosted Flakes, and Lifesavers. (Link to July 2023 feature.)

Five simple tips to eating plant-based, no matter which eating style you choose:

  • Make ½ your plate produce – fresh, frozen, dried, and/or canned.
  • Include plenty of protein, whether plant or animal-based.
  • Purchase food options with less saturated fat, sodium, and added sugars.
  • Check out ingredient labels to raise your awareness of where highly processed foods exist in your go-to brands. Give minimally processed alternatives a try.  
  • Go for whole grain breads, cereals, pasta, and rice products at least ½ of the time. 

About Mary Lynne Hixson, MA, RD:

Mary Lynne, a registered dietitian, helps others enhance their health through the advocacy of nutrient-rich food choices and safe food-handling practices. Her expertise also includes counseling patients who have Type 2 diabetes and advising those who are in medically managed weight loss programs. After her 35+ year career, she retired and became involved with the launch of Harvest of Hope Pantry in 2012 as a Board of Directors member. Mary Lynne is a weekly volunteer with Cultivate’s Carry-Out Caravan program, shopping and delivering groceries to seniors in the Boulder area, and also a frequent volunteer with Harvest of Hope.