How to Eat More Plants
A plant-based diet shines a spotlight on grains, vegetables, fruits, legumes, nuts and seeds, but doesn’t necessarily eliminate meat. The goal is simply to eat more plant foods and minimize animal products. Good examples of plant-based diets include the traditional Mediterranean diet, traditional Asian diet and flexitarian (mostly vegetarian) diet.
What these diets have in common is an emphasis on eating vitamin- and mineral-rich plant foods and, at the same time, eating nutritionally balanced meals that include high-quality protein from plant or animal sources, and healthful plant-based fats. Whole grains, legumes (beans including soybeans, lentils and split peas) and nuts are excellent sources of plant protein.
Healthful fats come from plant-based oils, such as olive, canola and sunflower, as well as from nuts, seeds, avocado, and fatty fish, such as salmon and sardines.
For Health’s Sake
Follow a plant-based diet and you might lose weight, lower your blood pressure and cholesterol levels, and reduce your risk of developing diabetes, heart disease and other chronic illnesses. You may also be able to reduce the amount of medication you need to take to treat an established health condition. Plant foods are not only rich in essential vitamins and minerals, they contain many different antioxidants and phytochemicals (substances found only in plants) that are not technically nutrients, but are known to help protect us from deterioration and disease.
Cook this Way
Here are some tips to help you shift toward a plant-based diet:
- Start collecting recipes that use whole-grains and grain-like ingredients such as quinoa, farro, bulgur, barley, oats, and brown or wild rice as the foundation of a meal, rather than just as a side dish. Look for grain salads, casserole-style dishes and breakfast ideas.
- Add beans—black, white, kidney, lima, pinto, garbanzo, edamame (soy) and others—to soups, stews, salads, and grain and rice dishes. Mash, heat, and season beans to make warm veggie dips and bread spreads or to use as a side dish. Some seasoning ideas: white beans with sage; black beans with cumin and oregano or chili powder; garbanzo beans with smoked paprika.
- Nuts are a nutritious snack to simply eat out of hand, but you can also add chopped nuts to cereals; fruit, vegetable or grain salads; yogurt and smoothies. Try using finely ground nuts in place of bread crumbs to coat chicken breasts and fish fillets before baking.
- Choose plenty of deeply colored veggies: red, green, yellow or orange sweet peppers; dark leafy greens such as kale, spinach, broccoli and chard; tomatoes and carrots. Also include white veggies in your daily diet, such as cauliflower, cabbage, onions and garlic.
- Use meat, poultry, fish and eggs as condiments, or as small-portion side dishes, rather than as the main focus of your plate. Decrease the amount of animal protein in your favorite stews, casseroles, stir-fries, and other mixed dishes while, at the same time, increasing the amount of veggies, grains, and other plant foods.
- Use liquid oils instead of hardened fats for most of your cooking and meal prep. Even when it comes to cakes and other baked goods, you can find recipes that are developed to use vegetable oils instead of butter or margarine.
For a flexible, hearty and refreshing grain salad recipe that exemplified a plant-based, main dish, click here for my Farro and Wild Rice Salad with Mango and Avocado recipe.