WHAT IS PLANT BASED?
It wasn't until I started reading the book Plant-Based Sports Nutrition (by D. Enette Larson-Meyer, PhD, RDN and Matt Ruscigno, MPH, RDN) that I realized how controversial the term "plant based" was. Having been new to being vegan/whole food plant based I just assumed that it meant no animal products. But after starting to read the book I did some digging myself because it defines plant based as a diet consisting of MOSTLY plants.
So I went back to the original source of the research that was conducted and it came from the Vegetarian Journal (2018, vol. 4). It breaks the topic down into three areas: how the general public defines plant-based; how researchers define plant-based; and how the media defines plant-based. What were the results? Inconclusive of course. But here is what they came up with:
The poll that was conducted for the "general public" can not be accurate to the actually population of the United States, but here are the percentages: 20% thought plant-based referred to vegetarian; 17% thought it referred to vegan; 18% thought it referred to both vegetarian and vegan but eating whole foods; 13% thought it referred to a whole foods plant-based diet; and 24% admitted to not knowing what plant-based meant at all.
The Vegetarian Journal managed to find 80 scientific research studies that involved the term plant-based in relation to human dieting. 74% of those articles didn't define plant-based. To be honest with you, the rest of the percentages were all over the place in terms of how each study defined plant-based. Some defined it as avoiding all animal products. Some said that plant-based was only avoiding meat, fish, and poultry. Other studies defined plant-based as increasing the amount of plants in your diet or simply low-meat consumption. Again the results are very inconclusive with some of these studies being done overseas which further supports the confusion of the topic altogether.
When the Vegetarian Journal researched the media, they picked articles from Runner's World, CNN, CBS News, and The Washington Post. All of them defined plant-based in different ways: avoidance of animal products; any type of vegetarian diet; increased plants in a diet; same as the vegan diet; same as vegetarian; or plant-based wasn't defined. Once again: inconclusive.
Now, there are many different diets out there, such as: vegan, flex-itarian, vegetarian, whole food plant-based, pesco-tarian, ovo-tarian, lacto-tarian, and even lacto-ovo vegetarian.
Veganism is a lifestyle not involving animal products at all to include the use of leather products and toiletries.
Whole food plant based is no animal products and eating food in its whole form (no processed foods).
Vegetarian is no meat products (red meat, poultry, or fish) but eats dairy and eggs.
Flexi-tarian limits animal product intake.
Pesco-tarian does not eat red meat or poultry, but eats dairy, eggs, and fish.
Ovo-tarians do not eat meat, poultry, fish, or dairy, but they eat eggs.
Lacto-tarians do not eat meat, poultry, fish, or eggs, but they eat dairy products.
Lacto-ovo vegetarians do not eat meat, poultry, or fish, but they eat dairy products and eggs.
Is anyone else more confused now???
Here's the point: clearly no one is on the same page on what the term "plant-based" really means considering everyone uses it different ways. After doing this research, I see that it can be defined anywhere from limiting animal products to no animal products.
One very important takeaway from all of this research is that when you see or hear the term plant-based either at a restaurant or in the grocery store, ALWAYS ask what it means to the restaurant and ALWAYS check the ingredients.
The last takeaway from this is how I personally will use this term on my page. When I use this term, I'm referring to a diet comprised of mostly plants; typically vegan or whole-food plant based. So when it comes to the nutrition piece, it will not include any animal products. I felt it to be very important and clear on how I use this term considering there is no absolute definition.
Thanks for reading!
Brown C, Mathew J, Wolf I, Kerckhoff A. What does "plant-based" actually mean? Vegetarian Journal. 2018;37(4):24-27.
Larson-Meyer, D. E., & Ruscigno, M. (2020). Plant-based sports nutrition: expert fueling strategies for training, recovery, and performance. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.
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