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You probably know by now that my family prescribes to a diet rich in plant foods. I often get asked what my diet looks like, and though I’m not a huge fan of labels I’d consider myself to be predominantly plant-based. Simply, I eat a lot of plants and occasionally eat things like eggs and cheese. For me, it’s the eating pattern that’s most sustainable, healthy and delicious; one that allows me to not feel deprived while still focusing on things that matter most to me, like the environment and personal health.
As a registered dietitian, I also encourage others to make food choices that align best with their personal goals. While giving up all animal products may not be for everyone, it’s hard to argue with eating more plants.
If you’re considering switching to a plant based, vegan, or vegetarian diet, it’s helpful to understand what eating this way means and the benefits it can offer.
The foundation of a plant based diet is that it’s based predominantly – if not exclusively – on plant foods. This includes fruits, vegetables, grains, nuts, seeds, and legumes (beans, peas, and lentils).
For many people, this also means reducing or eliminating animal-derived foods, like meat, fish, dairy products, and eggs.
Even with this foundation, there’s a lot of room for variability on a plant-centric diet. The ease of following a vegan or vegetarian diet today could be seen as both a blessing and somewhat of a curse.
Why? There’s literally a substitute for everything (awesome!), but this also includes heavily processed foods that offer little in the health and nutrition department.
That being said, many people who switch to a this type of diet are doing so for better health. A whole foods, plant based diet aligns well with this goal. It’s focused on whole, minimally processed plant foods as close to their natural form as possible.
A whole foods plant based diet generally avoids highly processed and packaged foods, instead relying on simple ingredients. This often means preparing more dishes at home. Some people choose to also exclude oil, added sugar, and/or added salt though the research behind including certain oils in the diet, like olive oil, is mostly positive and at this time, I don’t see enough of a reason to promote an oil-free diet for the average person.
If your primary aim is to improve the overall healthfulness of your food choices, a plant based diet is a great choice.
What approach is best for good health? One that prioritizes nutrition and is of course sustainable for you. This can take some practice, but it’s not hard to do and will serve you well in the long run.
To design a good plant based diet, it’s important to understand which foods provide which nutrients. From here, you can plan meals that are both delicious and well-rounded.
Examples of plant based meals that provide an array of macronutrients (carbs, fat, protein), fiber, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants include:
A good plant based diet will provide the majority of the nutrition you need. However, some nutrients aren’t as readily available in plants and should be supplemented.
For instance, a fully plant based diet generally won’t provide enough of the vitamins D and B12, iodine, and omega-3 fatty acids on its own. For some people, iron may also be important. The good news is that supplements for these nutrients can easily be found.
Adopting a whole food plant based diet is super tasty and full of feel-good foods. It also offers a number of benefits to enrich your life for the long game.
First, whole plant foods are packed with critical nutrients that have the ability to prevent, and even reverse, certain chronic diseases.
Many studies have examined the correlation between plant based diets and health, finding that eating this way can be protective against heart disease, type 2 diabetes, obesity, and even certain cancers.
When compared to omnivorous diets, whole food plant based diets regularly come out on top. They may even help lengthen your lifespan.
Other benefits include versatility, convenience, and cost effectiveness. If you haven’t been used to cooking with plants up to this point, transitioning to a whole food plant based diet is a perfect opportunity to sharpen your kitchen creativity.
Soon enough, you’ll have a personal catalog of favorite recipes you can put on rotation with little effort.
Some people may argue that eating a vegan or vegetarian diet is more expensive. But this could be true for any diet, depending on the foods you choose to incorporate.
Many staple foods are inexpensive to begin with (e.g., tofu, canned beans, frozen veggies, dry grains). With the help of meal planning, batch cooking, and purchasing local and in season produce as much as possible, extra costs of fueling your body well can be further minimized.
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