Most people think a plant-based diet is strictly for those vegan and vegetarian types. Still, 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 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 necessary for good health, with the added benefits of being higher in fiber and phytonutrients.
You can keep meat, 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 decide to be a vegetarian, you do not eat meat. However, you still eat eggs and dairy products as opposed to 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:
- 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, and it will be harder to stick to your choice long term. Increase consumption of plant foods you already like.
- A plant-based diet does not mean boring. You can create a variety of dishes, including ethnic meals that are meat-free and delicious. This is a great time to try new spices to add a punch to your vegetables and green leafy vegetables to your smoothies.
- 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. Don’t throw away vital nutrients like potassium, vitamin C and fiber. You are also reducing waste.
- 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. So, more colors mean more nutrients. Example: Orange foods contain beta carotene, the precursor for vitamin A.
- If you do not eat animal products, you must take a B12 and possibly an iron supplement. Vitamin B12 is an essential vitamin available only in animal products. Low B12 can cause anemia and damage to the nervous system. Some vegan foods are fortified with vitamin B12.
- A meat-free diet does not automatically mean healthy if you replace the meat with highly processed junk food and meat substitutes. You need to eat good quality fresh fruits, vegetables, and grains to get the health benefits that can add years to your life.
Claudia Martin-Ayoade, is a Registered Dietitian, Writer and Public Speaker passionate about educating people on nutrition and addressing food insecurity.
Vegan Cooking for Two
Quick Takes on Elevating Vegan Dishes
This simple recipe elevates grilled zucchini. This is one of 200 recipes from Vegan Cooking for Two. The 384-page book includes 300 clever ways to customize the recipes. Most meals are easy to prepare in under 45 minutes. It includes snacks, breakfast items, and desserts.
GRILLED ZUCCHINI WITH LEMON-BASIL VINAIGRETTE
Makes: 2 servings
Time: 30 minutes
1 lb zucchini, trimmed, sliced lengthwise in planks
2 tsp plus 2 TBLS extra virgin olive oil
salt and pepper
1 tsp grated lemon zest
1 TBLS lemon juice
1 small garlic clove, minced
¼ tsp Dijon mustard
2 TBLS chopped fresh basil or parsley
1. Brush zucchini with 2 tsp oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper.
2. Whisk lemon zest and juice, garlic, mustard, 2 TBLS oil and ¼ tsp salt in a bowl; set aside.
3. Preheat the grill for 15 minutes and set all burners to medium.
4. Grill zucchini until tender and grill marks appear, 10 to 12 minutes, turning zucchini halfway through grilling. Transfer to a serving platter. Add basil or parsley to the vinaigrette and whisk to recombine. Drizzle over zucchini and serve.
Vegan Cooking for Two, AmericasTestKitchen.com, $34.99
What's Fresh in Maricopa County This Winter
While much of the country shovels snow in January, we can enjoy fresh fruits and vegetables here in Arizona. This is the ideal time for healthy eating if you know what's in season.
Some of the ingredients that you'll find for sale at local farmer's markets during January and February include:
- Bok Choy
- Broccoli and Broccoli Raab
- Brussel Sprouts
- Celeriac/Celery Root
- Dates (at the end of their season)
- Green Onions and Scallions
- Strawberries (especially late January and February)
- Sweet Potatoes
We recommend heading to local farm stands and farmers' markets to get the best local options. Here are some suggestions on where to start your fresh food journey this year.
Arrowhead Farmers Market
The West Valley's premier farmers market takes place every Saturday. Now through April, it is open from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Located in the Arrowhead Mall parking lot by Dillard's, it features local food vendors, arts and crafts and more.
7780 W Arrowhead Towne Center, Glendale
Glendale Farmers Market at Cabelas
Each week, you'll find a wide array of food vendors, entertainment, and food trucks in Cabela's parking lot. There are different vendors each week. Held from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Sunday.
9380 W Glendale Ave, Glendale
Park West Market
Head to the parking lot for Park West every Saturday from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. to shop local small businesses. You will find in-season produce and have a chance to talk to the farmers.
9744 W Northern Ave, Peoria
Sportsman's Park Market
Shop, eat and drink with local small businesses, creators and artists. Check out the mimosa and bloody mary bar! This newest market is held the third Saturday of every month from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.
9600 W Sportsman's Park (at State Farm Stadium), Glendale
Vistancia Community Market
Find locally grown produce, gourmet goodies, arts and crafts, food trucks and more. Held at Mountain Vista Club, The Village at Vistancia the third Sunday of each month from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
29701 N Sunrise Pt, Peoria
West Wind Public Market | Glendale Swap Meet
The public market in downtown Glendale is part flea market, part swap meet and part public market. You'll find everything from trinkets and treasures to fresh produce. Open every Saturday and Sunday.
5650 N 55th Ave, Glendale
(Page 3): Plant-based eating is simply eating more foods closer to their harvested state with minimal processing.
(Page 5): While it's winter in other states, it's the prime growing season in Arizona. Take advantage of Arizona winters to find fresh fruits and vegetables.