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Consider Eating More Plant-based Foods

The interest in plant-based diets has been growing across the globe in recent years. Those who choose a plant-based lifestyle may do so for various reasons—improving health, ethical beliefs pertaining to animal cruelty, environmental concerns, allergies or even improving athletic performance (think Tom Brady). 

So, what is a plant-based diet, and what are the benefits of eating more of these foods?

Benefits of Plant-based Foods  

A plant-based diet excludes all animal products, including all meats, dairy, eggs, honey, etc., and includes fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds. These foods are rich in fiber, carotenoids, isoflavones and antioxidants, and they are lower in saturated fats compared to animal products. 

The American Heart Association recommends incorporating more plant-based foods to reduce the risk of heart disease and improve overall health. Eating more animal products than plant-based foods may increase your daily intake of cholesterol, saturated fats and sodium. Cutting back on animal products has shown to reduce one’s risk of heart disease, stroke, obesity, hypertension, type 2 diabetes and many cancers. Additionally, fiber in plants improves gut health and reduces constipation.

Reducing meat and dairy intake does not mean reducing daily protein intake. There are many vegetarian foods packed with protein, such as legumes, beans, lentils, tofu, nuts and seeds, whole grains, etc. Plus, these foods are lower in saturated fats. 

The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics states that appropriately planned vegetarian and vegan diets are nutritionally adequate and may provide health benefits by preventing and reducing the risk of developing certain diseases. 

Plant-based diets are also environmentally more sustainable as they use fewer natural resources compared to animal products. For example, it takes 683 gallons of water to produce 1 gallon of milk and 2400 gallons of water to produce 1 pound of beef. In comparison, producing 1 pound of tofu requires 244 gallons. Usage of vast amounts of water and land, pollution of air, river and lake waters, as well emissions of greenhouse gases by livestock, destruction of ocean life and coral reefs, are just a few examples of how the production of animal products taxes the environment.

Healthy Versus Unhealthy Plant-based Foods

It is important to understand that just labeling a food as “plant-based” or “vegan” does not necessarily make it healthy. There are plenty of vegan junk foods available in the market that cater to our taste buds. Avoiding heavily processed foods and incorporating nutrient-dense, plant-based foods is the key to making this healthy transition.

Reading the ingredients on nutrition labels can help you make healthier food choices. For instance, when you read the label on a carton of milk, you’ll notice 1 cup of whole milk has 25% saturated fat, 2% milk contains 15%, while oat milk only has 3%. There are plenty of non-dairy milk and yogurts available that are significantly lower in saturated fat content.

Examples of healthy plant-based foods that contain healthy fats include nuts, seeds, natural nut butters, olive oil and avocado oil. 

It’s important to limit highly processed carbohydrates. Instead, eat more whole grains like quinoa, brown rice, barley, beans, lentils, and 100% whole-grain breads and pasta. 

Simple Ways to Add More Plant-based Foods to Your Diet

It doesn’t have to be all or nothing. You can start transitioning slowly to a more plant-based diet by adding these foods to your meals and snacks and decreasing the amount of animal products you use.  

The following tips are some easy ways you can incorporate more plant-based foods in places where you’d traditionally eat meat/dairy:

  • Choose avocado or hummus over cheese in your sandwich.
  • Add more veggies and cut back on meat slices when building a sandwich.
  • Choose natural nut butter over regular butter.
  • Cut back on meat and add more beans when you make chili.
  • Throw some beans in your salad.
  • Have a cup of lentil soup with dinner.
  • Go light on cheese and choose veggie toppings for pizza.
  • Make bean and veggie tacos (see recipe below). 

These changes are easier than you think. All you need are the right ingredients in your pantry and fridge.

If you need more ideas, there are many online resources available for those who would like to increase their daily plant-based food intake. Just remember to focus on plant-based whole foods and avoid heavily processed foods—your body will thank you.

Recipe for Veggie Tacos

This is a favorite recipe in my family for lunch or dinner. Hope you will enjoy it, too!

Boil dry black beans in water and season with lemon juice, oregano, ground cumin and thyme.
Chop sweet potatoes into small cubes. Coat lightly with olive oil, salt and pepper and bake at 400F for 15 minutes.

Saute onions, peppers, mushrooms, zucchini, broccoli with olive oil, salt and pepper. You could also add tofu to the saute.

Top with fresh pico de gallo (finely chop onions, tomatoes, cilantro; add lemon juice and salt per taste), avocado or guacamole, jalapenos or crushed red pepper (if you like it spicy).

Serve with warm corn tortillas or enjoy it as a taco bowl without tortillas.

Need help from an expert? Overlake Nutrition Services offers nutrition counseling from registered nutritionists and dietitians. Contact Nutrition Services today to make an appointment.  

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