What is a Plant-Forward Diet? Dietitians’ Take on This Exciting Movement

What is a Plant-Forward Diet? Dietitians’ Take on This Exciting Movement

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If you have been following along with us for a while, you may have noticed that we use the term “plant-forward” a lot. This term is definitely less popular than plant-based, but we prefer plant-forward because it is more inclusive of a wide variety of dietary preferences. In this article, we will dive into the what, why, and how of a plant-forward diet. Keep reading to the end for helpful resources, other articles, and delicious plant-forward recipes that can help you along your way to plant-forward health!

What is Plant-Forward?

Plant-forward eating is not the same as veganism or vegetarianism.

Plant-forward is not even the same as plant-based; most people that follow a strictly plant-based diet generally do not consume any animal products. Actually, if not planned properly, plant-based eating patterns can be quite unhealthy.

In relation to dietary patterns, a plant-forward diet is most similar to flexitarian eating patterns, but even that doesn’t paint the whole picture.

Plant Forward Definition

Plant-forward is a “big tent” approach to cooking and eating that encourages consumers to get more plants on their plates. Most animal-based foods provide quality sources of protein, vitamins, and minerals, and some even provide healthy sources of fats.

However, most people just consume way too much of these foods, filling their plates up with meat and cheese, rather than lots of colorful plants! Plant-forward diets aim to shift that balance to make plants the focus of most of your meals.

This isn’t to say that you have to turn down tacos, say no to salmon, or pass on pork sliders. If you enjoy these foods, include them! To make a plant-forward plate, start your meal with a green salad, then serve some roasted or fresh veggies, whole grains, beans, and/or fresh fruit with the main entree.

Although most people are not willing to go vegan or vegetarian, a surprisingly large percentage of people are seeking to reduce meat intake, with millennials driving the movement. (1, 2)

Here are some plant-forward diet trends by the numbers:

5%

American adults identifying
as vegetarian

8%

18- to 34-year-olds identifying
as vegetarian

31%

American adults identifying
as flexitarian

39%

American adults actively trying to eat
more plant-based foods

44%

Consumers seeking to
reduce meat intake

80%

Americans at least “open” to trying plant-based substitutes for meat and/or eating less meat (1)

These numbers provide reason to be optimistic about the future of this movement, especially considering all of the benefits of plant-forward diets!

Benefits of Plant-Forward Eating

Why adopt a plant-forward diet? Not only is plant-forward eating better for your health, but it is also better for the environment, is financially savvy, and often celebrates cultural and ethnic traditions.

Health Benefits

Plant-forward diets are rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, nuts, seeds, and healthy oils. All of these ingredients are packed with essential nutrients that promote health. People that eat these foods tend to have healthier body weights, decreased reliance on medications, and lower rates of cancer, cardiovascular disease, and type 2 diabetes. (2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7

Additionally, plant-forward diets tend to be significantly higher in fiber than animal-based diets. (8) Increased fiber consumption promotes a healthy immune system, proper bowel movements, mood regulation, decreased cancer risk, good cholesterol levels, and appetite regulation.

Environmental Benefits

Many conventional animal feeding operations (aka CAFOs) wreak havoc on natural ecosystems and contribute large quantities of pollutants to the local and global environment. (9, 10) Because plant-forward diets are not vegetarian or vegan, consuming smaller amounts of sustainably raised beef, chicken, and pork can still support and promote economic and environmental health. (11)  

Further, plants require significantly less water and resources to grow, produce, and distribute. Regeneratively-grown plant foods may also promote environmental health, as these foods are grown in a way that promotes cleaner air and improved soil health. (12, 13) Locally-grown products are even better for the environment, as they do not use large amounts of fossil fuels to be transported across the country or world. (14, 15, 16)  

If local and regeneratively-grown options are available and within your budget, choose those foods when possible. However, if these foods are not within your budget, there are still many benefits of eating plant-forward meals, regardless!

Financial Benefits

Plant-forward diets tend to be less expensive than animal-based diets. Unprocessed, whole, plant foods cost less than their animal counterparts. (17) Canned or dried beans, whole grains, fresh, frozen, or dried fruits, and fresh or frozen vegetables are some of the most affordable foods to purchase when following a plant-based diet on a budget. 

When purchasing meat, poultry, fish, or dairy, choose to pay a slightly higher price for higher quality items. By consuming smaller portions of these items less frequently, it will cost as much as, or maybe even less than, what you would pay if you bought these products more often!

Societal Benefits

Plant-forward menus are culturally appropriate and ethnically diverse. Grains, beans/legumes, fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds are ingredients that support and sustain societies across the globe.

Bean tacos, hummus and pita, injera and fasolia, lentil dal, green curry, soba noodles, miso soup, three sisters stew, and minestrone are just some examples of global plant-forward dishes. If you’ve never tried one of these dishes, find a local ethnic restaurant or prepare a new recipe, then celebrate the diverse culinary perspectives of the world!

All of the To Taste dietitians attended this year’s Global Plant-Forward Culinary Summit, where we learned how chefs and restaurateurs around the world are promoting plant-forward menus in their establishments.

Is plant-forward eating a new phenomenon?

Not at all! Cultures and communities around the globe have been practicing plant-forward eating patterns that promote health, sustainability, and longevity for thousands of years. Examples of generational plant-forward eating patterns can be found in the Blue Zones and the Mediterranean Diet, but most countries have rich histories of plant-forward diets.

How to Follow a Plant-Forward Diet

The Culinary Institute of America, restaurateurs, chefs, and dietitians are breathing life into the plant-forward movement by highlighting plant-forward menu items across the globe. Again, rather than telling people to cut out meat (good luck being that person at a backyard barbecue!), plant-forward proponents simply recommend making plants the focus of your meals! 

Which plants should I eat?

If you hear the phrase “plant-forward” and worry that the rest of your life will be spent eating beans, rice, lettuce, and tomatoes, think again! With a few tools in your toolbelt, you will be ready to buy, make, and eat flavorful plant-forward meals that will sustain and satisfy.

For a balanced plant-forward diet, focus on using whole grains, beans/legumes, fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and healthy oils in the majority of your meals. Use small portions of dairy, meat, fish, eggs, and poultry to add nutrients and flavor.

If you know that one of your meals is going to be more meat-heavy that day, aim to fill your other meals with lots of plant foods! You can still enjoy Texas barbecue while following a plant-forward diet!

What about snacks and desserts? Isn’t sugar technically a plant? Aren’t potato chips plant-based? Yes, and yes, but part of the idea of the plant-forward movement is encouraging people to consume whole, “slow-metabolizing”, plant foods. That “slow-metabolizing” bit helps plant-forward diet newbies narrow their focus on the true elements of a plant-forward diet.

Foods to Emphasize on a Plant-Forward Diet

foods to emphasize on a plant-forward diet
Foods to Emphasize on a Plant-Forward Diet

Does adopting a plant-forward diet mean giving up all of your favorite foods? Not at all! As dietitians and chefs, we acknowledge the role that flavor, variety, and pleasure play in our eating choices. In fact, we enjoy burgers, pizza, and dessert just as much as anyone else! The key in making these foods work within a healthy lifestyle is making plants the star of the meal.

Pizza for dinner? Choose a veggie pizza instead of meat lovers pie. Burger for lunch? Replace half of the meat with mushrooms or lentils, or double up on a side of veggies. Fajitas when dining out? Load up with grilled veggies and beans first, then choose smaller portions of meat. By making simple swaps like these, you can take control of your health without sacrificing flavor or nutrition!

What about potlucks? If you are going to a gathering where there will be lots of meat and cheese options, be the person to bring a plant-forward dish! Our grain salads, hummus flatbreads, and black bean corn salad are all great plant-rich recipes that are perfect for sharing!

Here are a few simple ways that you can up your plant-forward game.

Go for ½ and ½ 

Aim to make at least 50% of all of your meals plants – even the “junkiest” meals! You can still enjoy meat-based burgers on a plant-forward diet. Use a whole grain bun, top the patty with veggies, and serve with a salad and/or roasted veggies. Adding these ingredients shifts the focus to the plants, while still giving you the satisfaction of eating a burger! Get creative with plant-based sauces, spreads, sides, and salads.

Color Your Plate

Make it a goal to include at least three natural colors in every meal. (Hint: plant foods are rich in a variety of colors!) Up for a challenge? Aim for five different colors.

Learn to Cook!

This is what we’re all about at To Taste – teaching you fundamental culinary skills so that you can take control of your health through cooking. By learning how to make plant foods look, smell, and taste delicious, you will be more likely to include lots of plants on your plate.

Lucky for you, we have LOTS of resources to help you along your way to delicious plant-forward cooking. Check ‘em out!

Base Recipes
All Recipes
Ingredient Guide
Culinary Videos

Finally, be sure to sign up for our email list for priority access to our online culinary classes coming this spring!

Here are some of our favorite plant-forward recipes!

Breakfast

Whole Grain Strawberry Pancakes

Banana Buttermilk Muffins

Dairy Free Banana Berry Smoothie

Blueberry Baked Oatmeal Cups

Lunch/Dinner

Healthy Beef Tacos with Mushrooms

One Pan Mexican Quinoa Skillet

Hummus Veggie Wraps

Baked Tostadas with Black Bean Corn Salad

Snacks and Dessert

Dark Chocolate Covered Date Bites

Taco Hummus

Roasted Chickpeas

Cranberry Zucchini Bread

Want to learn more about plant-forward eating?

Check out these helpful resources!

To Taste Articles

Although these articles say “plant-based”, vegan, and vegetarian, we are not necessarily promoting these eating patterns. Rather, we hope to simply provide more ideas, inspiration, and helpful strategies for adopting a plant-forward diet.

What to Eat on a Vegan Diet: Helpful Tips, Nutrition Facts, and Recipes

Plant-Based Meal Prep: Preserve your Time, Money, and Health

Plant Based Milk vs. Cow’s Milk: Which is Better?

Vegetarian Lunch Ideas for Kids

Food as Medicine: How Diet Can Prevent and Manage Disease

Mediterranean Diet 101: Principles of the World’s Healthiest Diet

Plant-Forward Books & Cookbooks

Some of these books and cookbooks provide strictly vegetarian or vegan recipes, but we don’t necessarily endorse these eating patterns. However, the recipes inside can provide some ideas and inspiration for tasty plant-forward meals!

In Defense of Food – Michael Pollan

Fiber Fueled – Will Bulsciewicz, MD

How Not to Die Cookbook – Michael Greger, MD, FACLM

The Blue Zones – Dan Buettner

The Blue Zones Kitchen Cookbook – Dan Buettner

The New Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone – Deborah Madison

How to Cook Everything Vegetarian – Mark Bittman

Podcasts / Videos

The Rich Roll Podcast

The Doctor’s Farmacy

Why I’m a Weekday Vegetarian

The Nutrition Show with Mary Purdy

Websites

The Plant-Forward Kitchen

Menus of Change

We hope that this article leaves you feeling inspired to adopt a plant-forward diet or to go learn more about it! We would love to hear about your plant-forward journey, and how we as culinary nutrition professionals can support you along your path!

Here’s to plant-forward cooking to YOUR Taste!

Lexi

Lexi Endicott, RD, LD, CCMS

Lexi Endicott, RD, LD, CCMS

Lexi is a Registered and Licensed Dietitian. She received her Bachelor of Science in Coordinated Dietetics from Texas Christian University (’19). In her free time, she loves running, cycling, cooking, and playing with her puppy, Milli!

Please note that this post may contain affiliate links. As an Amazon Associate, we earn from qualifying purchases. If you click on those links and make a purchase, we will earn a small percentage of the sale, at no extra cost to you. 

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This Post Has One Comment

  1. Tallon Endicott

    Inspiring and beautifully written!

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