The Surprisingly Easy Plant-Based Diet
Considering a plant-based diet? You’re not alone. Many people are now choosing this healthy and mindful way of eating. Restaurants and cafes are adding plant-based items to their menus, and plant-based products are being stocked on store shelves. When you hear “plant-based diet,"you might automatically think about bland dishes and dietary restrictions, or maybe you think it's some new-age diet fad. In fact, it's anything but - and that's why the trend has taken seed and is growing quickly.
A plant-based diet isn’t the same as a vegetarian or vegan diet. It’s much more inclusive. With a plant-based diet, animal products (meat, poultry, fish and seafood, and dairy) are included, but are treated more like a small side dish or condiment. It’s an eating style with an emphasis on whole foods that come from plants. In other words, more of your plate is filled with vegetables, fruits, legumes, whole grains, nuts and seeds.
So, what’s the appeal? For many people, switching to a plant-based diet is inspired by an interest in healthier eating habits. Plant-based diets have been shown to lower the risk of heart disease, stroke and diabetes, and can lead to a healthier weight. For some, the plant-based diet lines up with social, spiritual or environmental concerns.
Interested in giving it a try? It’s easy once you’ve grasped the basics. Here are a few important things to know.What Can You Eat on a Plant-Based Diet?
Plant-based diets promote foods that are as close to their natural state as possible – think whole foods with no processing. With that as the groundwork, the options become almost endless! A helpful way to get your creativity flowing is to think of plant-based eating from a regional cuisine perspective. Take Mexican food, for instance. You can eat burritos, tacos or bowls stuffed with brown rice, beans, veggies, guacamole and salsa. Middle Eastern cuisine offers silky baba ghanoush and crispy falafel. Craving Italian? Enjoy a pasta primavera or a veggie-topped pizza. How about Ethiopian? Fill up on a hearty lentil-and-vegetable stew with spongy Injera bread.
With endless cookbooks, websites, blogs and social media channels offering recipes, tips and inspiration, you’ll be cooking up delicious meals in no time.
Grocery Shopping Tips for Plant-Based Eaters
Grab a cart and start in the produce department – whole fruits and vegetables will make up the bulk of a plant-based menu. Think of all the smoothies, snacks, stir-fries and other colorful dishes you’ll enjoy!
Next, navigate through the store’s main aisles. Here, a little label reading is required. For example, think about the delicious nut butters you can enjoy. And get creative with the wonderful grains available, such as couscous, barley, quinoa and bulgur. They can be added to soups and stews or served as sides.
In the dairy section, you’ll find multiple varieties of plant-based milks (in many flavors) made from soy, coconut, almonds, cashews and oats. Other high-quality, minimally processed items to keep your eye out for are plant-based cheeses (shredded, grated and sliced), egg substitutes, yogurts and mayonnaise, and all can be found on most mainstream grocery store shelves. Try some protein-packed tofu as a meat alternative. If you claim to not be a tofu fan, you probably just haven’t had it the right way!
Speaking of meat alternatives, plant-based replacements have come a long way. Besides tofu, you’ll find tasty plant-based burgers, ground-beef-style crumbles and sausages.
Plant-Based Meal Planning Tips
Appliances are Your Friends
As with any cuisine, plant-based dishes and recipes can range from simple to complex. Appliances such as blenders or multi-cookers can offer huge time savings (think of brown rice or home-cooked beans in a flash) and opportunities to batch cook.
Don’t Forget the Snacks
In addition to whole fruits, veggies and nuts, many chips and cookies are plant-based – just be sure to check labels. For a sweet treat, look for plant-based “ice cream” in a fabulous flavor.
Quick Lunch Idea
Got leftover grains? You can make lunch in a jiffy. Combine a mixture of any leftover cooked grains (quinoa, brown rice, etc.) with canned black beans, chopped cucumber and salsa, then scoop into avocado halves. No measuring is needed; just do it to taste. Serve with your favorite whole-grain crackers.
Plant-Based Dinners in a Flash
For a convenient, family-friendly dinner, grill up some plant-based burgers and serve them with toasted buns, sliced tomatoes and lettuce. Add a side of plant-based macaroni and cheese and some sliced apples and, presto, dinner is served!
Beginners should be mindful of protein intake and include plenty of protein sources such as beans, lentils, nuts and meat alternatives like tofu. Also, be sure you’re eating plenty of foods rich in calcium and vitamin B12, two nutrients that may be lacking in a plant-based diet.
Please note, when making any significant dietary change, it’s always advisable to consult your healthcare provider.