Plant-Based Nutrition: Health benefits and tips

Updated: May 10

By Amber Charles, MSPH, RDN

November 2, 2020


Plant-based nutrition has been shown to reduce inflammation and your risk for numerous medical conditions, including heart disease and some cancers (1, 2, 3).


It is also associated with longevity and supports a diverse gut microbiome - the variety of good bacteria living in your gut (2, 3).


Do not be mistaken though, "plant-based" is not the same thing as #vegan - where no animal products are consumed or included in the person's lifestyle.


It is actually refers to the concept of a "largely plant-based" diet which is a flexible approach to eating where most of your foods come from plant sources, but may also include meat, poultry and fish.


In addition to these numerous health benefits, plant-based nutrition is more budget-friendly and affordable compared to eating meat daily.


Here are 5 ways you can get more plant-based nutrition, starting today.

1. Meatless Mondays: or any other day

"Meatless Monday is a global movement with a simple message: one day a week, cut the meat".


This is a great way to incorporate more plant-based foods into your current diet, eat less meat and gain many of the health benefits of a largely plant-based diet.


Why Mondays? Monday is the equivalent of the 'new year' - it feels like a fresh start sprinkled with optimism and determination, and sets the tone for the week.


This does not mean you have to go meatless on Mondays, but the concept is what matters.


2. Vegetarian -vs- Vegan: you decide

Going plant-based does not mean completely excluding animal products, although some persons may choose to do so.


You may fall along the vast spectrum for vegetarians, but vegans avoid all animal-based products.


The most basic vegetarian lifestyles are listed below:

  • Flexitarian: Eats a largely plant-based diet, but occasionally eats meat and other animal products

  • Pescatarian: Eats fish (pesca-), dairy products and eggs, but excludes meat

  • Lacto-ovo vegetarian: Eats dairy products (lacto-) and eggs (-ovo), but excludes fish and meat

  • Lacto-vegetarian: Eats dairy products but excludes fish and animal products, including eggs

  • Total vegetarian (vegan): Eats only plant foods

Remember that your style of eating does not need to be defined with a label, so you do you.


3. Getting enough protein: peas and beans

While animal protein is often raved about, there are many excellent plant-based protein sources that help you meet your daily needs.


Peas/beans and nuts (all kinds) are your best bet!


Even popular plant-based products are often made from them; tofu is made from soybeans, peanut/almond butter from peanuts or almonds respectively and hummus from channa (garbano bean/chick peas).


Other non-animal protein sources include nutritional yeast, grains and vegetables.


4. Keep it interesting: eating is pleasurable

Following a plant-based diet does not mean you have to start eating salads all day long.


Having lentils this week? Season boiled lentil peas, roll into a ball and cook with marinara sauce for a delicious spaghetti and lentil-ball dinner!

Or add chia seeds and/or flax meal to your oatmeal and top with sliced banana and peanut butter - yum!


You get the point - keep things interesting and exciting.


5. At least 5 a day: fruits and vegetables

Aim for a minimum of 5 servings of fruits and vegetables per day - with a heavier focus on non-starchy vegetables (example: 3 veggies and 2 fruits in the day).


Rough serving guide:

1 serving of fruit = 1/2 cup fresh fruit or 1/2 cup 100% fruit juice

1 serving of vegetable = 1/2 cup cooked or 1 cup uncooked


Although fresh fruits and vegetables are ideal, canned, dried and frozen produce as just as nutritious (Check out this blog on processed foods that are good for you).


Takeaway

A plant-based style of eating offers many health benefits and is a good approach for the management of many non-communicable diseases (NCDs).


Not to mention, it is more affordable and sustainable in the long-term.


Make changes gradually, including foods that you already enjoy to keep things interesting and fun.

This information is intended for nutrition education purposes only. Always consult with your medical team and Registered Dietitian on a one-on-one basis to determine what is best for you and your health goals.


References:

1: The effects of plant-based diets on the body and the brain: a systematic review - PubMed (nih.gov)


2: Vegetarian dietary patterns and mortality in Adventist Health Study 2 - PubMed (nih.gov)


3: Beyond meatless, the health effects of vegan diets: findings from the Adventist cohorts - PubMed (nih.gov)

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