A wide range of new scientific research is proving the health benefits of a plant-based diet. But adopting a plant-based diet in order to harness these benefits can be challenging.
A recent study found that eating a diet based primarily on plant foods such as vegetables,fruits, whole grains, beans and nuts, reduced the risk of cardiovascular disease more effectively than a low-fat diet.
According to Dr. Joel Fuhrman, a leading expert on diabetes and the author of The End of Diabetes, reducing our consumption of too much meat and processed foods can also lessen the risk of diabetes and other dreaded diseases.
Fuhrman has been able to treat and even reverse diabetes by prescribing what he calls a nutrient-dense, plant-rich diet, called a Nutritarian diet. “Basically, this means we focus on vegetables, nuts, seeds, beans, and low-sugar fresh fruits and restrict animal products and processed grains,” he tells Newsmax.
Studies suggest that switching to a plant-based diet is associated with effective weight management, reduced risk of mortality, lower blood pressure, reduced cholesterol and reduced risk of certain cancers, according to Forbes.
More Americans are heeding the call. More than one third of consumers are actively trying to eat more plant-based foods, making it one of the most popular consumer trends in dining.
Julieanna Hever, a California-based nutritionist and founder of Plant-Based Dietitian, says that a plant-based diet is not the same as a vegan diet. A vegan diet eschews the consumption of any animal products but could include unhealthy foods such as French fries and plant milk ice creams.
A plant-based diet, on the other hand, focuses on vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes, mushrooms, nuts, seeds, herbs, and spices, Hever tells Forbes. According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, “appropriately planned vegetarian, including vegan, diets are healthful, nutritionally adequate and appropriate for all stages of the life cycle, including pregnancy, lactation, childhood, adolescence, older adulthood, and for athletes.”
Hever, and other experts recommend transitioning to a plant-based food program gradually. Here are some tips:
- Start slow. Include several plant-based meals during the week. You may already enjoy a bowl of oatmeal, pasta with vegetables, lentil stew and other plant-based recipes, so include them more often. Add a few novelty items such as a veggie stir fry or three-bean chili. “Since we are all creatures of habit, we tend to stick to fewer different dishes,” says Hever. “Start slowly and learn this new language of food without any pressure to be perfect.”
- Use animal or fish protein as a flavoring or condiment. “You don’t have to follow a plant-based diet 100% to reap the health benefits,” Dr. Fuhrman tells Newsmax. Fuhrman, whose most recent book is Eat for Life, says you can add an ounce or two of meat, chicken, or fish to a stir-fry, soup, or vegetable salad for flavor. “You just don’t want to make that protein the main focus of the meal.”
- Make breakfast plant-based. Hever suggests serving breakfast muffins, waffles or pancakes with fruit, or smoothie bowls. Next, work on making your lunch and snacks vegetarian.
- Spice up your meals. According to WebMD, herbs such as basil, garlic, cayenne pepper and curry powder not only add flavor to your plant-based recipes, but also offer their own health benefits.
- Say yes to yeast. Nutritional yeast, a favorite protein source for many vegetarians, adds an earthy, cheesy taste to pasta, popcorn, and vegetables.
- Stock up on staples. Meal planning is easier when you have some basic ingredients stocked in your pantry, such as quick-cooking whole gains like oatmeal, quinoa, and bulgur. Canned beans such as black beans and chickpeas are also essential items. Plant foods that are high in protein include tofu, lentils, peas, and edamame. Stock up on nuts and nut butters, non-dairy milk, and buy or prepare vegetarian soups.
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