Plant-based diets are enough to make carnivores turn green. The popularity of this movement is growing, and it doesn’t mean you have to go completely vegan. Here’s how to plant the seeds of change in your eating so your health and the environment can reap the rewards.
The health benefits of a diet that’s more plant based are well established. Research shows the you decrease your risk of certain cancers, diabetes, obesity, heart disease and inflammation. You may even start to lose weight and sleep better if you take the right approach.
Plant-based and vegan diets aren’t the same. Vegans exclude all animal products and are relatively strict. Plant-based diets are more loosely interpreted by the individual. Generally, this means increasing your vegetable intake and reducing your consumption of animal products. The approach is a dietary pattern rather than a focus on single foods.
The best way to start going more plant-based is to focus on what nutritious greens you include in your diet rather than what you exclude. Aim to have half your plate packed with different coloured salad and vegetables. One quarter should contain protein such as legumes, tofu or lean meat. The other quarter should contain whole grains such as brown rice or quinoa.
Start slowly and make sure you abate hunger by including wholegrains, legumes such as chickpeas, lentils, kidney beans and also nuts and seeds. I see many clients struggle with hunger as they try to replace a steak with a simple bowl of salad greens. Your gut will take a little while to adjust to the increased fibre so be prepared for some gurgles and gas.
Although, you’ll be increasing your fibre and anti-oxidant intake you need to ensure your iron remains high if you’re replacing red meat. Eat fortified breakfast cereals, beans and dark leafy greens such as spinach and chard. Also, enjoy eggs and consume plenty of vitamin C rich foods such as citrus fruits, strawberries and tomatoes as they aid iron absorption.
Protein may also be compromised so eat low fat yoghurt, milk, eggs and cheese to ensure you get high-quality protein. Remember, your plant-based foods don’t always have to be fresh. Adding in canned and frozen vegetables or legumes can be just as nutritious and helpful if you’re on a budget or time-poor.
Choose to replace unhealthy meats with plant-based foods. Processed meats such as salami, bacon and hot dogs are the ones that have been linked to cancer. They’re also high in saturated fat and sodium. White meat like chicken and pork have a lower risk. Don’t reduce your intake of fish where possible.
The good news is that the range of vegetarian menus and recipes have been expanding rapidly. Go online and google plant-based eating ideas if you’re not sure where to start. Mexican and Indian restaurants have superb options. You’ll soon expand your palate and your cooking creativity.