Plant-Powering Your Way to Optimal Health & Wellness
Sharon Palmer, RD, author of The Plant-Powered Diet
Step aside low-fat, low-carb, no-taste, no-fun diets. Make room for the best new dietary trend to hit the nutrition world. The plant-based diet, one that simply emphasizes plant foods, is gaining in popularity. The message to “eat more plants” is coming from numerous sources these days, ranging from celebrities to chefs to the scholarly authorities in the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. Adding to the mix are food and nutrition experts. In my newly released book, The Plant-Powered Diet: The Lifelong Eating Plan for Achieving Optimal Health, Beginning Today (The Experiment, 2012), I explain the dramatic benefits of eating a diet that focuses on more plant foods and why hundreds of research studies have led to one conclusion: a plant-based diet is indeed the healthiest on the planet.
While health is a definite motivator for making the transition to eating more plant-based foods, other factors come into play. As people are becoming more interested in supporting local food, farms, and agriculture, they’re in turn asking more questions about the food on their plates. Asking questions about the food that feeds your family and nourishes your body is a good thing, and it often leads towards a shift in eating more plant-based foods.
Simply eating more plants and less animal products is associated with improved health outcomes, including lower levels of obesity, reduced risk of cardiovascular disease, lower blood pressure, and lower total mortality. Let’s also not forget about the impact a plant-powered eating pattern has on Mother Earth. Eating one to two vegetarian meals per week can make a serious dent in your carbon footprint; it is more effective than driving a Prius in terms of global warming.
The great thing about making the transition to a plant-based diet is that it doesn’t involve complicated instructions. It’s a simple shift towards more whole, unprocessed foods that come directly from plants. To help jumpstart your way to optimal health and wellness, try these 10 plant-powered steps.
- Don’t rule out the gray zone. A plant-based diet is not to be considered a one-size-fits-all diet prescription; it leaves room for a spectrum of dietary preferences and observances. By simply cutting back on your animal intake and adding more plant-based foods such as grains, legumes, vegetables, fruits, nuts, and seeds to your diet, you’re already on your way.
- Ease into it. If you eat meat at every meal, you have room to cut back. Start out slowly with having one completely vegetarian meal per week or even having an entirely meatless day. The Meatless Monday (www.meatlessmonday.com) website is filled with tips and recipes, and is a great resource to get started.
- Start your day “veggie.” Breakfast is one of the easiest meals to skip on the meat. With so many delicious breakfast foods available, such as whole grain cereals and breads, fruit, and even vegetables, there’s little reason to rely on meat for your first meal of the day.
- Look at the glass as half full. It’s not what you can’t have, it’s what you can have! Visit the produce section of your supermarket or a local farmer’s market and feast your eyes on the rainbow of plant-based foods available.
- Change the plate. When planning your meal, start with the vegetable or whole grain component. Meat doesn’t need to be the “center of the plate.” Cut down on the amount of meat you consume by taking one individual portion of meat or chicken and using it to flavor an entire family-size meal of stir-fry, casserole, or stew.
- Keep it simple. There’s a common misconception that preparing vegetarian meals is laborious and complicated, but scores of meatless recipes are incredibly simple to prepare. Think black bean burritos or spaghetti with tomato sauce.
- Use the crock-pot. Using your crock-put or slow-cooker can be quick and easy! Combine all the ingredients in the morning, turn it on and leave it until dinnertime. One-dish meals such as chili, stews, pasta dishes, casseroles, and stir-fries are one of the simplest ways to prepare veggie-filled meals.
- Take your taste buds on vacation. Some cultures know how to do vegetarian right! Visit a local Mexican, Indian, Thai, or Vietnamese restaurant and observe how dishes are prepared. Then, take home a few culinary tricks or ideas with you.
- Keep it whole. The “whole” point of a plant-based diet is to reap the nutritive benefits of whole foods. Rather than piling up on refined grains, which do little for your body from a health standpoint, load up on fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains like quinoa and bulgur, legumes, seeds, and nuts.
- Forget the old cliché. The “veggie” lifestyle has come a long way since the days of munching on alfalfa sprouts and granola. There is a huge variety of plant foods now available – a much bigger variety than meat, chicken and fish. Choose one night a week to experiment with a fun, new recipe. Want a good recommendation? Try my Strawberry Salad with Mache, Brazil Nuts and Balsamic Vinaigrette.
Sharon Palmer is a registered dietitian, food & nutrition writer, editor, and author of The Plant-Powered Diet. She is passionate about foods that are grown locally and sustainably. Checkout Sharon’s Blog at sharonpalmer.blogspot.com