It’s no secret that a plant-based diet is the way to achieve a healthy lifestyle and preserve your body and mind into old age. Well-known plant based diets, such as the Mediterranean Diet, are constantly in the headlines for their role in lowering blood pressure, lowering cholesterol, helping with weight loss, controlling diabetes, providing anti-inflammatory benefits for women with PCOS, and so on. Most people in the United States are raised on a “Western Diet” which is a diet heavier in meat, specifically red and processed meats, as well as refined grains and simple sugar.
In my years of counseling people in different areas of the country on their diets, I’ve noticed that 1. people tend to eat how they were raised to eat and 2. meat is usually the focus at each meal. The reason I mention the first point is because, although it can be really hard to break a habit, especially a habit that we learned in childhood, there comes a time when adults must be held accountable for their eating habits. At what age can we no longer blame our poor eating habits on our parents? At what point does it shift from naivety to willful ignorance? If you find yourself saying things like, “Well this is how I’ve always eaten,” realize that this is an excuse. Change is not easy, but the choice is yours. Okay, I’m getting philosophical here but my main point is that, if adults tend to eat how they were raised to eat, then we as adults have an obligation to set our children up for success. How? That brings me to my second point.
We need a shift… a shift in our mindset from “meat is the star of the dish and everything else is a side” to “vegetables are the star of the dish and everything else is a side.” Before you stop reading and go grab a cheeseburger, hear me out. I’m not telling you to become a vegetarian, unless of course you’re into that sort of thing. The bottom line is this:
Eat more plants and less meat.
The extended version: eat more vegetables, fruits, nuts, beans, and whole grains and less red and processed meats.
- Plants have fiber. Repeat after me: fiber is my friend. Fiber helps to regulate our blood sugar/energy level; it helps build immunity; it fills us up quicker and keeps us full longer; it pulls cholesterol out of our bodies; it prevents constipation and can help control diarrhea; it decreases our risk of colon and rectal cancer; it helps to prevent diverticulitis… need I say more? Most people do not eat enough plants, therefore, they don’t get enough fiber.
- Meats, specifically red and processed meats, have more saturated fat than their white meat, seafood, and plant-based alternatives. Processed meats (like bacon, sausage, bologna, and hot dogs) can be loaded with sodium and preservatives too, yikes! Saturated fat leads to inflammation and makes us more insulin resistant, which is detrimental for people trying to lose weight and those with diabetes, metabolic syndrome, or PCOS.
Tips for Eating a More Plant-Based Diet
- Eat 2-3 different vegetables at meals. While we downsize our meat portion we need to increase the plants at our meals so we don’t feel starving, since you should not be starving when eating a healthy diet. It might be a tad overwhelming to overflow your plate with asparagus (not to mention the dreaded “asparagus pee” you’d experience later on) so instead have a variety! Maybe you roast some asparagus, steam some broccoli, and have salad with your meal as well.
- No time for roasting or steaming? Vegetables can be fresh, frozen, or canned! Microwave freezer bags are amazing, as long as they aren’t filled with a bunch of salty sauce. Don’t avoid canned vegetables, just choose ones that have “no added salt” or “low sodium” and rinse them under water.
- Use half the amount of ground meat you would normally use in a recipe and substitute that other half with plants! For example, when I make stuffed peppers or chili, I cook about 1/2 lb of ground meat then I dice 1/2-1 lb of mushrooms and toss them in with the meat. Mushrooms have a hearty or “meaty” texture and are so flavorful that you won’t even miss the meat. You could also use beans in place of the meat or try mincing onion, dicing zucchini, or shredding carrot and add them to your chili for a veggie-twist.
- Not quite ready to swap your meats for veggies? Instead, try swapping ground turkey breast for ground beef or use half poultry half beef in your recipe.
- Incorporate seafood into your diet. Seafood has so many incredible health benefits and can easily be substituted when you’d otherwise use meat. For example, instead of making chicken alfredo, try shrimp alfredo. If you typically order a burger for lunch, order a tuna sandwich instead. Throw some tuna steaks or salmon filets on the grill instead of your go-to ribeye. If the cost of seafood makes it prohibitive for you, choose frozen or canned options. Also remember, now that the meat portion of your meal is smaller, you can stretch a bag of frozen scallops or shrimp further than before.
4. Try new vegetables and EAT MORE. Feeling stuck in a broccoli rut? Getting tired of salad? Does the thought of mushy steamed cauliflower make you cringe? My best advice is to try different vegetables in different ways. My favorite way to eat vegetables is drizzled with extra virgin olive oil, topped with minced garlic and a dash of salt and pepper, then roasted in the oven. Roasting brings out the natural sweetness in vegetables and the slight char from the oven gives them structure and crunch. Dee-licious! We all know that a raw onion tastes a lot different than an onion in a soup, right? So before you write off Brussels sprouts or beets forever, try them cooked in a different way than you’re used to. You might surprise yourself!
- Don’t limit your non-starchy vegetable intake. Load your plate with them AND have a salad on the side. These are the things you want to fill up on and go for seconds on. These are your non-guilty pleasure foods! Examples: lettuce, broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, beets, radishes, green beans, asparagus, brussels sprouts, cucumbers, onions, peppers, zucchini.
5. Follow my Plate Method at meals for a visual reminder and to keep it simple.
- 1/2 of your plate is non-starchy vegetables vegetables
- 1/4 of your plate is whole grains or starchy vegetables
- 1/4 of your plate is meat or protein
What vegetables do you love and how do you prepare them!