Plant-based eating is becoming one of the most popular eating styles, for both health and environmental benefits. A 2017 Nielson home study found that 39 percent of Americans were actively trying to eat more plant-based—and, indeed, a 2018 study by Nielsen commissioned by the Plant Based Foods Association found that sales of plant-based foods increased by a whopping 20 percent in just one year.

But what does “plant-based” mean, exactly?

Truthfully, it can be kind of confusing since the term is not clearly defined.

“In the past, the definition of ‘plant-based’ (as used by nutrition researchers and organizations) has meant a diet based primarily on plants; however, the definition has emerged to mean different things to different people,” says Sharon Palmer, R.D.N., The Plant-Powered Dietitian. More recently, people have been using the term to mean a 100-percent plant-based vegan diet, she notes.

On the other hand, registered dietitian Amy Myrdal Miller, M.S., R.D.N., F.A.N.D., founder and president of Farmer’s Daughter Consulting in Carmichael, CA, defines plant-based more broadly as, “following the Dietary Guidelines and the MyPlate pattern where the majority of foods come from plants (like fruits, vegetables, grains, nuts, plant-based oils).” (See: What’s the Difference Between a  Plant-Based and Vegan Diet?)

It’s worth noting that, while plant-based diets come with tons of benefits, following a vegetarian or vegan diet doesn’t automatically mean you’re eating healthy. That’s because most of the health benefits described below don’t simply come from reducing animal products—they come from increasing consumption of healthy, whole foods.

“Whether you’re eating a plant-based diet with plants and a smaller amount of animals or decided to go vegan, eating more plants in your diet has numerous benefits,” says Myrdal Miller. Here, some of the benefits you can score whether you decided to go full veg or just opt to eat more plants. (See: Plant-Based Diet Rules You Should Be Following)

1. Lower risk of heart disease.

Extensive research shows that people who consume the most fruits and vegetables have the lowest risk of cardiovascular disease, says Myrdal Miller.

One study by the Icahn School of Medicine at New York’s Mt. Sinai Hospital looked at more than 15,000 people with no known issues of heart disease who followed one of five dietary patterns including convenience (fast food and fried food), plant-based (fruits, vegetables, beans, fish), sweets (desserts, candy, sugary breakfast cereals), southern (fried foods, organ meats, processed meats, sugar-sweetened beverages), and salad and alcohol (salad dressings, vegetable salads, alcohol). The study followed these individuals over four years and found that those who stuck to a plant-based diet had a 42-percent decreased risk of heart failure compared to those eating fewer plant foods.

Again, it’s not just about limiting animal foods; food choices matter. (It’s kind of like clean vs. dirty keto.) Another study published in 2018 in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology examined the food choices of male and female health professionals and created a plant-based diet index to gauge the healthiness of their diet. Healthy plant foods (such as whole grains, fruits, vegetables, oils, nuts, and legumes) were given positive scores, while less-healthy plant foods (such as sugar-sweetened beverages, refined grains, fries, and sweets, and animal foods) received a reverse score. The data revealed that a more positive score was associated with a lower risk in coronary heart disease.

The study shows that it’s not about having any type of plant-based food (like French fries) but rather the quality of the plant-based foods you select that’s most important. Your plant-based diet should still consist of well-balanced plants like whole grains, fruits, vegetables, oils, nuts, and legumes, that are prepared and cooked in a healthful manner. (Try these plant-based diet recipes for every meal of the day.)