Half of us want to pack more plant-based items in our diet, according to a Hartman Group report—and that’s largely because we know vegetables are good for us. Yet we consistently fall short on our veggie intake (although, admittedly, vegetables aren’t the only plants we eat). Most of us eat, on average, 1.4 cups of vegetables a day. The recommendation? Two and a half cups.
That said, eating more plants is not exclusively synonymous with eating more vegetables. Let’s explore the basics of a plant-based diet, plus the why’s and how’s of this way of eating.
What is a plant-based diet?
The idea of eating “plant-based” sounds healthy. (It is.) “Plant-based” is also a buzzword we’re hearing more and more. But what exactly is a plant-based diet?
Eating “plant-based” means eating a diet of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, and nuts and seeds. And because “plant-based” doesn’t have much of a definition beyond eating plants, you can determine how strict you want to be. Put another way, a plant-based diet doesn’t mean eating plants only. For some, it’s about choosing more of your foods from plants than from animal sources. While for others, a plant-based diet does exclude all animal products—in essence, eating vegetarian or vegan.
So, why should you eat a plant-based diet?
It’s good for you and the environment. Here’s how.
The health perks of eating plant-based:
- Health benefit #1: Better nutrition. Research shows that people who eat a vegetarian or vegan diet have better nutrition overall, compared to those who eat an omnivorous diet.
- Health benefit # 2: Weight loss. Studies consistently find that people who follow a plant-based diet tend to have lower BMIs compared to those who are omnivores.
- Health benefit #3: A healthier heart. Eating plant-based is associated with a lower risk of cardiovascular disease, and may also help you lower your blood pressure and cholesterol.
- Health benefit #4: Cut diabetes risk. Following a vegetarian diet or a vegan diet can lower diabetes risk—regardless of your BMI—and possibly even stave off insulin insensitivity.
Eating more plants is also healthy for the planet. Interestingly, one study of studies (and published in PLoS ONE) found that cutting back on meat, and replacing it with plants or even dairy, lowered greenhouse gas emissions, and land and water use—and more so than eating an all-vegetarian diet.
How to shift to a plant-based diet
Now that we’ve extolled the virtues of a plant-focused diet, you want to pile on the plants, right? Well, here are 5 tips to get you started.
- Make plants (or plant-based foods) the center of your plate. You can still eat meat, poultry, or seafood, but instead of those items being the focal point, make them the side-show.
- Use plant-based fats. Trade out butter, lard, and ghee for oils, such as hemp seed oil, avocado oil, olive oil, etc. Lean on nut and seed butters, too, where it makes sense (think: peanut, almond and hemp seed butters, and tahini, which is made from sesame seeds).
- Mix it up. Be mindful of variety—for a couple reasons. One, varying up the plants you eat is key in helping you get all of the amino acids (the building blocks of protein) your body needs—and especially if you are eating vegan. Aiming to eat a variety of plant foods will also help keep you from getting in a rut and becoming bored, particularly because you’re already narrowing your food choices.
- Start small. Make (or order out!) a vegetarian dinner once a week. Because we so often put an animal protein at the center of our dinner plate, going meatless once a week can make a significant impact without feeling like a drastic shift. If a meatless dinner is a total no-go, try instead with breakfast and lunch one day a week.
- Try fruit for dessert. Dessert is often made with an animal product like butter and/or eggs (think about what goes into cookies, cakes, icing, and ice cream). Choosing fruit can still satisfy your sweet tooth—especially if you get creative (hello, sorbet!)—and also give you an extra serving of plants at the end of the day.
Learn more about these mighty seeds and how they can pack a powerful punch of plant protein and good-for-you omega fatty acids into your plant based diet.