Most people think a plant-based diet is strictly for those vegan and vegetarian types, but there is no debating the overwhelming evidence showing the benefits of improved health for those who make that diet choice. Plant-based eating is more of a lifestyle than a diet. You are simply eating more foods that are closer to their harvested state with minimal processing.
Meatless diets have been shown to improve health outcomes by lowering the risk of developing heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, inflammation, and some cancers. It also improves gut health because of added fiber to your diet. A plant-based diet still allows you to consume the carbohydrates, protein, fats, minerals, and vitamins that are necessary for good health, with the added benefits of being higher in fiber and phytonutrients.
You do not have to give up meat entirely, and there are labels to identify where you fall in your plant-eating journey. Do what is comfortable for you so you will stick with it. You can choose to be a flexitarian, which means you occasionally eat meat, but you choose plants as the primary foods you eat. You have some flexibility with your diet. If you choose to be a vegetarian, then you do not eat meat, but you can still eat eggs and dairy products as opposed to being a vegan, who eats no animal products.
There is also another reason to add more fruits and vegetables to your daily food intake—it is better for the environment. The industries that produce our dairy and meats are said to account for a third of the world’s water usage in addition to producing greenhouse gas emissions. Eat your greens and save the planet!
Tips to get started on your plant-based journey:
1. Make small changes to test your comfort level when reducing meat intake. There is a risk of being overwhelmed if you suddenly stop eating meat altogether.
2. A plant-based diet does not mean boring. You can create a variety of dishes, including ethnic meals that are meat-free and delicious.
3. Use the whole plant because there are nutrients in every part of the plant, including the stems and leaves. Use the leaves from celery, radishes, beets, and carrots, and use the stems from spinach.
4. Eat the rainbow! Choose different colored fruits and vegetables to get a variety of nutrients. The color of plant-based foods is often an indicator of the vitamins and minerals they contain.
5. If you do not eat any animal products, you will need to take B12 and possibly iron supplements. Vitamin B12 is an essential vitamin available only in animal products.
Claudia Martin-Ayoade, is a Registered Dietitian, Writer and Public Speaker who is passionate about educating people on nutrition and addressing food insecurity.
Get Started with Plant-Based Eating
Looking to add more meat-free dishes to your menu? Here is a quick and flavorful curry also known as chhole. Made with canned chickpeas, vegetables, and an array of spices, it takes only 15-20 minutes to prepare, so it is a perfect choice for a busy weekday dinner.
Easy Chickpea Curry
1 medium serrano pepper, chopped
4 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
1 2-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and chopped
1 medium onion, chopped
6 tablespoons olive, avocado, or grapeseed oil
2 teaspoons ground coriander
2 teaspoons ground cumin
½ teaspoon ground turmeric
2 ¼ cups canned diced tomatoes, with juice
¾ teaspoon salt
2 15-oz cans chickpeas, drained and rinsed
2 teaspoons garam masala
Fresh cilantro (to garnish)
1. Pulse pepper, garlic, and ginger in food processor until minced. Add onions and pulse again.
2. Heat oil in large saucepan. Add mixture from food processor and cook until softened, 3 to 5 minutes. Add coriander, cumin, and turmeric. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 2 minutes more.
3. Add tomatoes and season with salt. Reduce heat and simmer for 4 minutes.
4. Add chickpeas and garam masala. Cover. Continue to simmer, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes.
5. Garnish with cilantro. Serve over rice or with naan.
You do not have to give up meat entirely...do what is comfortable for you so you will stick with it.