What exactly does it mean to eat a plant-based diet?
‘Plant-based’ eating may be simpler than you’d think. It simply means eating meals that are made up predominantly of minimally processed foods grown out of the earth, with very few animal products.
Vegetables, fruits, whole grains, nuts, beans, and legumes are the staples of plant-based eating. Meat and dairy may still be included as small sides or condiments.
As fad diets go in and out of style, one healthy eating principle has always been agreed on: Including more plant-based foods has many benefits for your health.
One major benefit of eating fewer animal products is a reduction of insulin resistance. Meats and dairy products such as butter, cheese, and whole fat milk provide most of the saturated fat in the American diet. Diets high in saturated fat foods have been shown to increase insulin resistance and decrease your insulin’s ability to let sugar get from the blood into the cell. It’s because of this that replacing some meat and dairy with plant foods can help lower your blood sugar.
When people hear about plant-based eating, they often think it means eating salads three meals per day. This couldn’t be further from the truth!
Here are some ways to go beyond salads and to receive the benefits of eating more plants:
- Smoothies: Try adding some kale or spinach to any of your favorite smoothie recipes. You hardly taste it, and it’s a great way to sneak in some greens. Breakfast is the hardest meal to include vegetables in an appetizing way, but green smoothies make it easy!
- See meat dishes differently: Take a traditional meat dish and substitute beans or mushrooms. Try a Portobello mushroom in place of a burger.
- Use nuts in place of dairy: You may have noticed that the grocery store shelves are brimming with nut milks and nut yogurts. That’s because they replace dairy very well and provide healthier fats and protein. Grab a handful of nuts instead of a cheese stick as a protein packed snack or try making a cashew cream sauce instead of a cheese sauce.
- Have fruit for dessert: It’s just human nature to crave sweets now and again. Satisfy that craving with something your body really needs: fruit! The fiber content of fruit helps you digest food more slowly, thus keeping it from raising your blood sugar as high. Fiber also helps lower cholesterol and protects against colon cancer. Fruit also provides cancer-fighting phytonutrients. Choose fruits with more color and include a variety of colors to get a wide array of nutrients.
- Vary your veggies: Serve vegetables in new, fun ways such as grilled, roasted, steamed, or stir fried. To stir fry frozen veggies, let the pan get hot first and stir fry in small batches.
Some people like to start small with a weekly tradition like Meatless Mondays. Whether you decide to start with once a week or jump right in, the benefits of plant-based eating are just a forkful away!
Kate Newkirk is a dietitian nutritionist and diabetes educator at Samaritan Lebanon Community Hospital.