When people hear the term “plant-based diet,” they fear they’ll never eat anything they find tasty again—especially meat. But plant-based is different from vegan, and it’s not limited to leafy, green vegetables.
“Plant-based eating simply means you incorporate more foods that come from plants into your diet,” says registered dietitian and nutritionist Sharon Katzman at Chambers Center for Well-Being.
To get a feel for what plant-based eating means, think about food in two groups. One is foods that come from animals, such as beef, pork, chicken, fish, animal-based milks or eggs. The second is, plant-based, meaning anything that comes from a plant. Yes, it includes vegetables, but it also includes whole-grains, nuts, legumes and fruits. You’ll find most plant-based foods around the perimeter of your local grocery store.
How Plant-Based Diets Improve Your Health
Plant-based eating has soared in popularity due to its health benefits, which are similar to those of the highly regarded Mediterranean diet. The best potential benefit: a reduction in overall inflammation.
“Research shows that eating a steak dinner with a baked potato, for example, will produce a larger inflammatory response than eating that same dinner with a side of asparagus or brussels sprouts,” Katzman says.
Plants naturally include antioxidants that carry anti-inflammatory properties and help to build a better immune system. “Many of the diseases associated with aging, such as high-blood pressure, cancer and osteoporosis, are diseases of inflammation, so reducing that inflammation is important,” Katzman says.
While foods derived from animals include macronutrients – mostly fat, protein and carbohydrates – foods derived from plants include micronutrients, which naturally boost a body’s energy level. Plant-based foods also include phytochemicals that can increase immunity.
How to Incorporate Plant-Based Eating into Your Everyday Life If you’re saying to yourself, “I don’t like veggies,” you’re not alone. You don’t have to go 100% plant-based to reap the health benefits of plant-based eating, and the more plant-based foods you add to your diet, the more your taste buds will crave different flavors. “Over time, people who adapt a plant-based diet tell me, ‘I never knew how much I would like it,’” Katzman says.
Here’s one trick: It’s OK to add meat to any dish in a plant-based diet. “Use beef or chicken as a garnish,” Katzman says. “Just make sure half of your plate includes vegetables.”
Some simple ways to incorporate plant-based foods into your daily life:
In the morning:
- Add peppers, tomatoes and onions to an omelet
- Add berries, seeds and a plant-based milk (almond or soy milk) to oatmeal
At lunch or dinner:
- Add lettuce, cucumbers or arugula to sandwiches
- Use whole-grain breads and wraps
- Mix up a stir fry with fresh vegetables, quinoa and a garnish of chicken or beef
- Try a colorful veggie bowl
- Plan a #MeatlessMonday. Find a vegan recipe online and try it.
At snack time:
- Reach for berries – fresh or frozen.
- Take a handful of nuts (almonds, pistachios, walnuts, cashews, etc.)
- Eat cut veggies (save time; buy them in pre-washed and pre-cut bags)
- Create a frozen banana ice cream with a plant-based milk
Looking for more ways to add plant-based foods into your diet or to start a different nutrition plan? The Chambers Center for Well-Being offers a nutritional assessment and private nutritional counseling.