Many of us have heard the term “plant-based” eating. There are books and resources written on the topic or you may know someone who has adopted a plant-based lifestyle. Whether it is the scientific evidence showing this lifestyle choice is helpful for preventing disease that peaks your interest or the personal testimonies of weight loss and improved health, “plant-based eating” is worth taking a look at. With any dietary change, breaking habits that we thoroughly enjoy, such as swapping out our go-to foods, can often feel like a sacrifice. It might be challenging at first, but we do not need to completely ban our preferences from the menu. The goal is to fill our plates with vegetables, fruits, whole grains, beans, healthy oils, nuts and seeds – most of the time. Here are four reasons to consider this dietary shift.
1. Cost-effective disease prevention
As we know, many Americans struggle with chronic health issues and healthcare providers are hard-pressed to find the right combination of treatments within the healthcare system to help their patients feel better. Healthcare costs continue to rise with this approach. However, diet-based interventions provide a lower risk, cost-effective opportunity to regulate weight, blood pressure, blood sugar, and cholesterol levels. Besides saving money on drugs and medical procedures, a plant-based menu has never been easier or more affordable. Meat or fish-based meals actually require more expensive ingredients and take more time to prepare! There can be a learning curve when you are first adopting a plan-based lifestyle, but as you become more familiar and confident with it, the savings for your pocketbook, time and health become very evident!
2. Anti-inflammatory benefits
Inflammation is a protective response by the body to heal infections and repair tissues. With a rising number of auto-immune conditions and inflammatory markers being detected, current research is studying how diet contributes to inflammation. Foods such as refined carbohydrates, including white bread, fried foods, sodas and other sugary drinks, red meat, processed meat, and even artificially made butters and spreads are ranking as the highest inflammatory foods. Unfortunately, these are found everywhere, including convenience stores, restaurant menus and even the family dinner table. The best anti-inflammatory foods are tomatoes, avocado oil, leafy green vegetables such as spinach, kale and collards, nuts like walnuts, pistachios, and pecans, as well as bright colored fruits including apples, strawberries, blueberries, cherries, and oranges. In addition, omega-3 fatty acid rich fish, wild caught salmon, tuna, and sardines are also recommended for their anti-inflammatory properties. Be sure to add these to your grocery list!
3. Improved mental and emotional health
Many of the highest consumed foods are devoid of most nutrients because they are processed; this also means that they are likely to be full of refined sugars and other additives. This combination may lead to blood sugar spikes and drops which can impact our mood, attention, and focus. A diet that combines complex carbohydrates with lean proteins and colorful produce can support emotional well-being and perhaps even lead to improvement in depression and anxiety.
4. Flavor freshness and flavonoids
There are many plant-derived flavors and recipes to explore. Whether you are using mushrooms to replace steak or chicken in a recipe, creating a veggie blend for meatballs or a sandwich “patty,” or simply opting for a bright, vibrant plate full of vegetables – all of these options are packed with nutrition, while also being low and fat and calories. Ditching animal fats, white flour, and sugar in favor of plant foods will increase intake of vitamins, minerals, trace elements, phytonutrients, antioxidants, flavonoids, and fiber to help fight disease which we can all use a healthy dose of!
Whether you are ready to make the switch or willing to try a few swaps, a plant-based diet that includes colorful fruits and vegetables, healthy fats, and lean proteins such as beans, peas, and lentils, may offer improved health benefits. Here are a few more ideas to get started:
- Try a new plant-based recipe weekly.
- Encourage family members to choose their favorite fruits and veggies to prepare.
- Swap out the meat in favor of beans or soy protein.
- Keep your plate rich in color and variety to take advantage of the best nutrients for your body.