In recent years, plant-based diets have grown in popularity. But you do not have to go completely meat-free to gain the health benefits. “Plant-based doesn’t necessarily mean you are excluding meat from your diet,” says Jane DeWitt, RD, manager, Food and Nutrition Services, Hackettstown Medical Center. “You can focus on getting some of your protein from plant-based foods like lentils, nuts, peanut butter or tofu.” Sabrina Lombardi, dietitian for Newton Medical Center, adds, “Don’t be afraid to experiment with different preparation methods of fruits or vegetables, such as grilling or roasting. This can enhance texture and bring out new flavors in foods.”
Mary Finckenor, RD for Morristown Medical Center, agrees. “In a plant-based diet, meat and fish are not at the forefront of eating even though they can be included. A plant-based meal could include a smaller piece of fish, beef or pork, with more fruits and vegetables.”
From a health standpoint, Finckenor says, “People who eat more plants are generally healthier. They have lower rates of cancer and heart disease, less obesity, better blood pressure, and reduce their risk of Type 2 diabetes.” Finckenor says fatty meat and animal products can increase inflammation in the body, which is linked to several chronic diseases.
When changing to a plant-based diet, DeWitt says nutritional needs to be aware of include increasing calcium, vitamin D and iron. “You don’t necessarily need to take supplements because you can get those nutrients by increasing your intake of leafy green vegetables, tofu, broccoli or chia seeds.”
Making the switch to plant-based eating can be an easy process. “Once or twice a week, have a meatless meal,” says Finckenor. DeWitt recommends keeping a record of foods eaten. “You can decide what you want to decrease or eliminate and have a plan of what is going to replace that.”
DeWitt says focusing on plant-based foods is a matter of making better choices. “People are probably nervous because they are thinking about all of the food they can’t have. But fortunately, today in grocery stores there are so many more items available. You just want to stay away from refined or processed food and focus more on whole foods.”
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