Going Green: Exploring the Benefits and Drawbacks of Plant-Based Diets

Plant-Based Diets

Plant-based diets are on many people’s radar these days. This trend is all part of the green movement that includes eating more plant foods and less animal-based fare. Some people go vegan or vegetarian, while others simply eat fewer animal products than usual. So, if you’re curious about the benefits and drawbacks of eating a plant-based diet, let’s take a closer look at the pros and cons of building a diet around plants.

What is a Plant-Based Diet?

Vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes, and nuts are all prominent components of plant-based diets. A strict plant-based diet doesn’t include dairy, eggs, fish, or other animal items, such as meat. The structure of plant-based diets varies, but they all have the same focus: eating lots of vegetables (including leafy greens), fruits (fresh or dried), whole grains like quinoa or brown rice; legumes like chickpeas or beans; nuts like almonds or cashews. These foods are all nutrient-dense, which is what distinguishes a whole, plant-based diet from a vegan diet that includes ultra-processed foods.

Nutritional Benefits of Plant-Based Diets

A plant-based diet is rich in vegetables, fruits, and whole grains. These foods are high in vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, which may help reduce the risk of heart disease, stroke, and some cancers. A plant-based diet is also low in saturated fats (e.g., animal products like meat) and cholesterol. This means you can lower your levels of bad cholesterol (LDL) while raising good cholesterol (HDL).

Plant-based diets are typically low in sodium due to their lack of processed foods, like canned soups or frozen dinners containing high amounts of salt. However, if you eat processed vegan products, such as mock meats, then this may not apply to you!

Possible Risks and Concerns of a Plant-Based Diet

Know that plant-based diets can be healthy and nutritious. However, there are also possible risks and concerns with this type of eating pattern. While most people get all the nutrients they need from a well-balanced diet, there is some risk of nutritional deficiencies when following a vegan or vegetarian lifestyle. This is particularly true if you don’t eat enough calories from foods like legumes, nuts, and seeds — which are good sources of protein — as well as calcium-rich leafy greens.

Vitamin B12 deficiency is also an issue for vegans since it only comes from animal sources, such as eggs and dairy products. For this reason, most vegans supplement with vitamin B12. Iron deficiency may occur if your intake doesn’t meet daily requirements. This is something to talk to your physician about.

However, you can increase iron absorption by pairing plants with vitamin C-rich foods like citrus fruits or tomato sauce. This boosts iron absorption up to three times more than eating them alone. Monitor your calcium intake closely too because many plant-based diets tend not to include dairy products high in calcium.

Vegan vs. Vegetarian

Veganism and vegetarianism are both types of plant-based diets. Veganism is a lifestyle that excludes all animal products. Vegetarians are people who do not eat meat but may still consume dairy and eggs. Vegetarian diets vary:

Lacto-ovo vegetarian: This is the most common type of vegetarianism. Lacto-ovo vegetarians do not consume meat, poultry, seafood, or any animal flesh, but they do include dairy products (lacto) and eggs (ovo) in their diet. They primarily rely on plant-based foods, dairy, and eggs for their nutritional needs.

Lacto-vegetarian: Lacto-vegetarians avoid meat, poultry, seafood, and eggs. However, they do include dairy products such as milk, cheese, yogurt, and butter in their diet. They obtain their protein and other nutrients from plant-based sources and dairy.

Ovo-vegetarian: Ovo-vegetarians exclude meat, poultry, seafood, and dairy products from their diet but consume eggs. They rely on plant-based foods and eggs as their sources of nutrition.

Vegan: Vegans follow a plant-based diet and abstain from consuming any animal products, including meat, poultry, seafood, dairy, eggs, and even honey. They rely solely on plant-based foods, grains, legumes, fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds for their nutrition. Veganism is often motivated by ethical, environmental, and health reasons.

Pescatarian: While not technically a form of vegetarianism, pescatarians abstain from meat and poultry but include fish and other seafood in their diet. They generally follow a plant-based diet supplemented with fish for their sources of protein and other nutrients.

Vegetarianism isn’t the same as veganism–you can be a vegetarian without being vegan by eating eggs or drinking milk from cows treated well on organic farms, where they were allowed outside to roam freely in fields full of grasses, flowers, and trees. Some vegans choose not to wear leather shoes because they don’t want any part of an animal’s body used for clothing purposes. Other vegans try not to use any type of product made of animal skin (for example leather bags).

Does Science Support Plant-Based Diets?

Research does suggest that plant-based diets have health benefits. A study published in Nature found short-term beneficial effects of plant-based dietary interventions on weight status, glucose, insulin, plasma lipids, and inflammatory markers. Another meta-analysis of randomized clinical trials found overall robust support for the beneficial effects of a plant-based diet on metabolic measures in health and disease. So, adding more plants to your diet may benefit your health in the short and long term.

The Bottom Line on Going Green with a Plant-Based Diet

So, is a plant-based diet right for you? The answer depends on your goals and lifestyle. If you’re looking to improve your health and environment, then yes! A vegetarian or vegan diet can be beneficial for both reasons. But if you’re skeptical about whether this approach is right for you, or think it’s too hard to maintain, you can always increase the amount of plants in your diet without going completely plant-based. There are many ways to eat green for health and the environment!


A plant-based diet can have many benefits for your body, including a lower risk of heart disease and cancer. You may also feel better if you include more plants in your daily meals. However, there are some concerns with this type of eating plan. It’s not always easy to follow because there aren’t many options when dining out or traveling abroad.

You may also need supplements, particularly vitamin B12 if you exclude both meat and dairy from your diet. Most other nutrients you can get from plants, although some, like iron and calcium, are less absorbable from plant-based foods. Still, it’s possible to be healthy, and possibly healthier, than meat eaters if you focus on eating a variety of whole, plant-based foods.


  • “Vegetarian diet: How to get the best nutrition – Mayo Clinic.” 01 Mar. 2023, mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/in-depth/vegetarian-diet/art-20046446.
  • Neufingerl N, Eilander A. Nutrient Intake and Status in Adults Consuming Plant-Based Diets Compared to Meat-Eaters: A Systematic Review. Nutrients. 2021 Dec 23;14(1):29. doi: 10.3390/nu14010029. PMID: 35010904; PMCID: PMC8746448.
  • “The right plant-based diet for you – Harvard Health.” 30 Mar. 2021, https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/the-right-plant-based-diet-for-you.
  • Hever J. Plant-Based Diets: A Physician’s Guide. Perm J. 2016 Summer;20(3):15-082. doi: 10.7812/TPP/15-082. Epub 2016 Jul 6. PMID: 27400178; PMCID: PMC4991921.
  • Medawar, Evelyn, Sebastian Huhn, Arno Villringer, and A. Veronica Witte. 2019. “The Effects of Plant-Based Diets on the Body and the Brain: A Systematic Review.” Translational Psychiatry 9 (1). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41398-019-0552-0.
  • Medawar, Evelyn, Sebastian Huhn, Arno Villringer, and A. Veronica Witte. 2019. “The Effects of Plant-Based Diets on the Body and the Brain: A Systematic Review.” Translational Psychiatry 9 (1). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41398-019-0552-0.

Related Articles By Cathe:

5 Types of Plant-Based Diets Revealed Along with Their Pros and Cons

Can You Get All the Nutrients You Need from a Plant-Based Diet?

Is a Plant-Based Diet More Effective for Weight Loss?

Pros and Cons of Eating Plant-Based Protein

Can Compounds Found Naturally in Plants Boost Brain Function?

Hi, I'm Cathe

I want to help you get in the best shape of your life and stay healthy with my workout videos, DVDs and Free Weekly Newsletter. Here are several ways you can watch and work out to my exercise videos and purchase my fitness products:

Get Your Free Weekly Cathe Friedrich Newsletter

Get free weekly tips on Fitness, Health, Weight Loss and Nutrition delivered directly to your email inbox. Plus get Special Cathe Product Offers and learn about What’s New at Cathe Dot Com.

Enter your email address below to start receiving my free weekly updates. Don’t worry…I guarantee 100% privacy. Your information will not be shared and you can easily unsubscribe whenever you like. Our Privacy Policy