Plant-Forward vs. Plant Based – What’s the Difference?

By: Jada Linton, RDN, LD 

 to the 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans this year is the recommendation for a plant-forward way of eating. I personally like to mix plant-forward and/or plant-based foods in my diet because of the flavor and color they add to my meals and recently took part in the Global Plant Forward Culinary Summit virtual conference to share my perspective. The question I get most frequently is what is the difference between plant-forward and plant-based? Let’s find out the difference between the two eating patterns. 
The Culinary Institute of America (CIA) and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health – Department of Nutrition, have crafted this definition of plant-forward: “A style of cooking and eating that emphasizes and celebrates, but is not limited to, foods from plant sources – fruits and vegetables (produce), whole grains, legumes (pulses), nuts and seeds, plant oils, and herbs and spices – and reflects evidence-based principles of health and sustainability.” 
Plant-forward is the overarching umbrella term that includes a wide range of eating patterns. Plant- forward includes vegan, vegetarian, Mediterranean, and any other eating pattern that focuses on increasing fruit and vegetable consumption.  
The great thing about plant-forward eating is that it also includes the part of the population that doesn't fall into vegan/pescatarian/vegetarian. They may commit to eating less meat in general and increasing their fruits and vegetables-- in this case not necessarily eliminating animal products all together and we refer to those people as “Flexitarians.”  
The plant-forward movement has definitely evolved since the beginning of the year. Originally, plant-forward was seen by consumers as a way to improve their overall health by keeping fruits and vegetables at the center of the plate and keeping animal proteins within the diet, but in a smaller portion. Now plant-forward is seen in an overarching theme. Consumers take into account plant-forwards impact on their overall health and the environment. Sustainability has also taken a huge role when it comes to Millennial health and wellness. Forty-six percent of millennials state that sustainable farming practices influence what they eat, according to the National Peanut Board’s 2018 consumer tracking study. Did you know peanuts are far more water efficient than other nuts? Peanuts have a small water footprint because of their specific growing regions, compact plant structure and underground fruiting. Now let’s talk about plant-based. The Culinary Institute of America is defining plant-based this way: “used to refer to ingredients and foods themselves, i.e., fruits and vegetables (produce); whole grains; beans, other legumes (pulses) and soy foods; nuts and seeds; plant oils; and herbs and spices.”  
The Culinary Institute of America did a great job of defining plant-forward and plant-based during the Global Plant Forward Culinary Summit. It can be easy to get these two terms confused. The easiest way I differentiate between the two is thinking of plant-forward as the umbrella term and plant-based as the foods and ingredients that can contribute to a plant-forward way of life.  
Here are 3 ways to be more “Plant-Forward" using the new Dietary Guidelines for Americans: 
  1. Dedicate half of your plate to fruits and veggies.  Once you start doing this it will become second nature. Whenever you sit down to eat, immediately portion half your plate for fruits and veggies. You will notice pretty quickly how your fruit and vegetable consumption will increase. The DGAs state: “A healthy eating routine is important at every stage of life and can have positive effects that add up over time. It’s important to eat a variety of fruits, vegetables, grains, dairy or fortified soy alternatives, and protein foods.” 
  1. Choose powerful proteins to fuel your day. Peanuts and peanut butter are a great addition to your meals. They are packed with powerful nutrition. At 7g of protein per serving, they have the more protein than any other nut! The DGAs state: “Healthy dietary patterns include a variety of protein foods in nutrient-dense forms. The protein foods group comprises a broad group of foods from both animal and plant sources.”  
  1. Hydrate your body with water. To keep your body hydrated, drink more water. Try starting the day with water, and using a washable water bottle to keep track of the amount of water you are drinking each day. The DGAs state: “Intake of sugar-sweetened beverages should be limited to small amounts and most often replaced with beverage options that contain no added sugars, such as water.” 
Knowing the difference between plant-forward and plant-based can help you add delicious foods into your daily meals. Remember, plant-forward is the term that refers to the style of cooking that incorporates foods from plant sources & plant-based refers to the ingredients and foods themselves. Try the above 3 ways to incorporate more fruits and vegetables into your meals and check out more recipes at Visit our recipe pages for ideas on how to eat more peanuts! 
Click here to download a FREE Peanut Nutrition 101 handout. 
Learn more about how peanuts are good for our health, environment and economy here. 
Menus of Change, a joint initiative of the CIA and Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health –Department of Nutrition. For more information, please visit: 

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