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Here's why an 80/20 plant-based diet is the healthiest way to eat

Updated: Apr 11

80/20 plant based diet, 80/20 plant based diet meal plan; 80/20 meal plan
An 80/20 plant-based diet is the healthiest way to eat

An 80/20 plant-based diet (AKA a balanced diet) includes lots of plants–but not only plants! It's a nutritious balance of plant foods and other foods, so you get the benefits of eating plants (which are many!) without limiting your diet or avoiding foods you love. Since you don’t have to give anything up, this form of plant-based eating is more realistic and manageable than going exclusively plant-based. And it’s a delicious and healthy way to eat.

What types of foods do you eat on an 80/20 plant-based diet?

An 80/20 plant-based diet is a healthy mix of plant foods and other foods. Many people think of veggies when they think of plants, but you eat a much broader spectrum of foods on a balanced 80/20 plant-based diet. I think of an 80/20 plant-based diet as very similar to the Mediterranean diet in terms of the proportion of plant foods to other foods. Here are a handful of the foods you’ll eat on an 80/20 plant-based diet.

  • Nuts

  • Walnuts

  • Almonds

  • Peanuts

  • Pecans

  • Pistachios

  • Seeds

  • Pumpkin seeds

  • Hemp seeds

  • Chia seeds

  • Sunflower seeds

  • Flax seeds

  • Sesame seeds

  • Whole grains

  • Brown rice

  • Oats

  • Quinoa

  • Whole wheat breads and cereals

  • Sorghum

  • Popcorn

  • Fruits

  • Apples

  • Pears

  • Blueberries

  • Strawberries

  • Peaches

  • Mangoes

  • Kiwi fruit

  • Dried fruits, including plums, dates, and raisins

  • Non-Starchy Veggies

  • Asparagus

  • Broccoli

  • Cauliflower

  • Spinach

  • Kale

  • Zucchini

  • Mushrooms

  • Starchy Veggies

  • Spaghetti squash

  • Potatoes

  • Sweet potatoes

  • Butternut squash

  • Canned pumpkin

  • Pulses

  • Black beans

  • Chickpeas

  • Lentils

  • Peas

  • Kidney beans

  • Pinto beans

  • Plant-based oils

  • Extra-virgin olive oil

  • Avocado oil

  • Sesame oil

  • Walnut oil

  • Flaxseed oil

  • Animal foods

  • Greek yogurt

  • Cottage cheese

  • Eggs

  • Seafood

  • Poultry

  • Grass-fed beef

What are the benefits of an 80/20 plant-based diet?

The best part about an 80/20 plant-based diet (besides the delicious food!) is how you’ll feel. Here are some of the benefits you can expect from this nutritious eating strategy.

Feel better in your body and clothes. Numerous studies have shown that plant foods, such as pulses and whole grains, promote healthier weight outcomes. You can read more about a plant-based diet and weight care here.

Feel healthier with better gut and metabolic health. Your gut health supports your metabolic health by regulating inflammation, blood sugar, and cholesterol levels. And plant foods are the key to better gut health. One study found that people who ate 30 or more unique plant foods per week had a more diverse gut microbial community compared to those who ate 10 or fewer unique plant foods per week.

Experience a higher level of happiness and better mental well-being. Getting a consistent supply of key nutrients can play a role in your happiness levels, but your overall diet matters, too. One major factor is the number of fruits and veggies you eat. Research shows that these foods are correlated with higher levels of happiness and well-being, so adding more servings of fruits and veggies to your daily diet could result in a happier mood.

Meanwhile, much of the evidence on how nutrients influence your mood has to do with the effects of deficiency on your mood states. Low levels of nutrients, such as fiber, omega-3 fatty acids, and magnesium, may be interfering with your happiness levels, and once you replace less healthy foods with nutritious plant foods containing these nutrients, you may notice you have more energy and feel better and happier.

Experience more energy during the day and better sleep at night Your eating habits can impact your sleep–or lack of it. The typical American diet exceeds recommendations for added sugars and red meat yet falls short of fiber targets. One study found the typical American diet pattern was associated with poorer quality sleep and more arousals during the night, so your sleep suffers when you eat like this.

What’s more, a 2020 study found that the Mediterranean diet pattern, which is similar to an 80/20 plant-based diet in composition, was associated with better sleep quality and fewer sleep disturbances.

Feel more in control of your health and eating habits. By filling up on wholesome plant-based foods, you’ll feel more satisfied after a meal, and you’ll be less hungry in the period between meals. When you’re not walking around hungry all the time, you’re not constantly thinking about your next meal and all the snacks you want to eat. Plus, by reducing the amount of highly processed foods you eat–especially the ones containing refined grains and added sugars–you’ll minimize cravings for unhealthy fare.

Enjoy more youthful-looking skin

If better health, energy, and mood aren’t enough for you, how about slowing down skin aging? Yup, plants help with that, too. The antioxidants and healthy fats in plant foods help protect your skin from cellular damage caused by the sun and other environmental toxins.

Who should follow an 80/20 plant-based diet?

The 80/20 plant-based diet is a great choice for anyone who wants to enjoy a better and healthier life but doesn’t want to give up animal foods. So, maybe you love eggs or Greek yogurt, or you can’t resist a juicy hamburger or a turkey sandwich. But, you know that it’s also helpful to eat more of the other foods. That’s what this eating plan is all about! You’ll enjoy all the foods you love in the healthiest way.

The best part of an 80/20 plant-based diet is that it’s flexible, so you don’t have to label it. If you want an exclusively plant-based pasta one night, go for it. If you want turkey on Thanksgiving, help yourself. There are no rigid rules to follow. The idea is simple: Load up on plant foods, but save room on your plate for the other foods when you want to.

How to get started on an 80/20 plant-based diet?

Here comes the fun part! I’ve made this super easy for you with The Refresher, a balanced 80/20 pant-based diet that includes more than 60 recipes, 4 weeks of meal plans, and grocery guides for each week. The plan includes recipes for breakfast and brunch, soups and salads, pasta dishes, chicken, seafood, and beef meals, low-sugar desserts, and nutritious snacks. You’ll also get tips and tricks to help you refresh your eating habits and make every day a healthy and delicious balance of plants and other foods. Learn more about The Refresher here!

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