Plant-based eating is currently all the rage. In fact, a 2017 Nielson home study found that 39 percent of Americans were actively trying to eat more plant-based foods. And a 2018 study by Nielsen commissioned by the Plant Based Foods Association found that sales of plant-based foods increased by 20 percent in one year.
When you eat a plant-based or plant-forward diet, you eat foods primarily from plants. That's not only fruits and veggies. That's also nuts, seeds, oils, whole grains (such as brown rice), legumes and beans (chickpeas, lentils, kidney beans). You don't have to necessarily eat plants only. You're not a vegetarian or vegan. You still eat meat and dairy. Instead, you're choosing for more of your foods to come from plant sources, making plants a main part of your diet. You don't completely eliminate dairy, eggs, meats and fish. You just eat less of these foods.
Adopting a plant-based diet brings health benefits like:
- reduced risk of becoming overweight or obese. The high fiber content of the diet, along with the exclusion of processed foods, helps shed excess pounds.
- lowered risk of heart disease. Harvard researchers found that people with eight-plus servings of fruits and veggies a day were 30 percent less likely to have a heart attack or stroke compared to those who had less than 1.5 daily servings.
- decreased risk of type 2 diabetes. Type 2 diabetes is preventable and research suggests eating a plant-based diet can help prevent the disease. A study in more than 200,000 people found that those who followed a healthy plant-based eating pattern had a 34 percent lower risk of developing diabetes than those who followed unhealthy, non-plant-based diets.
- Prevention of cognitive decline. Some studies suggest that diets rich in vegetables and fruits may help slow or prevent cognitive decline and Alzheimer's disease in older adults. Plant-based diets have a higher number of plant compounds and antioxidants, which have been shown to slow the progression of Alzheimer's disease and reverse cognitive deficits.
Here are some easy ways to get started on a plant-based diet.
Eat lots of veggies.
Fill half your plate with vegetables at lunch and dinner, including an array of colors. For snacks, enjoy vegetables with dips like salsa, guacamole or salsa. This alternative to guacamole adds lots of other vegetables and beans for a healthier dip.
Swap vegetables for other ingredients.
Try spaghetti squash instead of regular spaghetti and top it with fresh tomato sauce. Use pumpkin slices instead of pasta sheets in lasagna. For a mac and cheese alternative, grate yellow summer squash and bake it with a sprinkling of low-fat zesty cheese.
Get whole grains for breakfast.
Start your day with oatmeal, quinoa, buckwheat or barley. Add some nuts or seeds plus fresh fruit. Get tips on how to eat more whole grains.
Stick vegetables in your favorite dishes.
Put grated zucchini and carrots into meatballs. Bulk up a meatloaf with rolled oats and boiled brown rice. Add tomato to your scrambled egg. Put vegetables and herbs in a batch of fresh tomato sauce.
Build a meal around salad.
Fill a bowl with greens like romaine, spinach or kale. Add vegetables plus beans, herbs or tofu. Try this mixed green salad recipe tonight.
Add seeds and nuts to meals.
Toss raw seeds in your salad. Throw nuts on steamed vegetables. The rich texture of this soup makes it feel and taste much more decadent than it is, and the fat from the cashews helps increase absorption of beta-carotene from the sweet potatoes. Beta-carotene is lauded for sharpening eyesight, and it's a key player in a healthy immune system. The ground red pepper and fresh cilantro add just the right amount of kick and freshness to excite your palate.
Enjoy fruit for dessert.
Skip that bowl of ice cream. Instead, go for a peach, watermelon slice or apple wedge.
Try one new plant food a week.
Buy and then try some vegetables that are new to you. Perhaps purchase Bok choy, rutabaga, celeriac or squash blossoms. Variety will help prevent boredom with a plant-based diet since you won't be eating the same old carrots and broccoli day in and day out. Even if you didn't like something as a kid, experiment with that same food, but prepare it differently.
Take it easy and don't put pressure on yourself. You don't have to completely overhaul your diet in one day. Change one meal at a time or one ingredient at a time to start. For example, instead of white toast for breakfast, munch on a slice of multigrain. Or, snack on a carrot instead of a cookie. This recipe balances the slightly bitter flavor of Brussels sprouts with the sweetness of your beloved grapes for a delicious, healthy side dish.