Plant-based diets are gaining in popularity and for good reason.They are associated with a number of health benefits, tend to be cheaper, and still offer plenty of variety and flavor.
Plant-based diets feature plant foods like fruits, vegetables, legumes, and grains but they don’t need to be vegan or even vegetarian. You don’t need to rule out meat, dairy, or sweets to get the health benefits associated with eating a plant-based diet. Plant-based diets provide all of the nutrients you need like protein, vitamins, and minerals.They are often higher in fiber and phytonutrients.
Research around plant-based diets has mostly been focused on the Mediterranean diet and vegetarian diet. The Mediterranean diet is mostly made up of plant-based foods; it also includes fish, poultry, eggs, cheese, and yogurt a few times a week, with meats and sweets less often. Vegetarian diets include eggs and dairy, but no animal meat.
The Mediterranean diet has been shown to reduce risk of heart disease, metabolic syndrome, diabetes, certain cancers, and depression. In older adults, following a Mediterranean diet is linked to a decreased risk of frailty, along with better mental and physical function. Vegetarian diets have also been shown health benefits. These include a lower risk of developing coronary heart disease, high blood pressure, and diabetes.
Here are some actionable ways to eat more plants:
- Fill half of your plate with fruits and/or vegetables at every meal.
- Try participating in Meatless Monday. Every Monday, or any day that works for you, try to eat vegetarian all day. You could try one of these easy meat-free dishes:
- If you want more of a baby step, keep the meat but try to think of it as a side instead of the center of your meal.
- Experiment with new foods. While tofu isn’t going to be for everyone, you might like a different vegetarian substitution.
- Try a black bean burger
- Use beans instead of meat in your quesadillas
- Make vegetarian tacos
- Make a chickpea salad sandwich instead of tuna
- Eat fruit for dessert.
- Instead of a side salad, have salad be the base of your meal. Here are a few hearty salads that are full of veggies, protein, and healthy fats:
- Try adding greens into meals. Add greens into smoothies, soups, stir-fry, and pasta dishes for extra plant nutrients.
Written by Rachel Caty, MPH, RDN, LDN