A plant-based diet means eating food that comes from plants, including vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes, seeds, and nuts, and does not contain animal products such as meat and dairy. Eating a plant-based diet is good for the environment, your heart, your weight, and your overall health. Following these simple tips and understanding the benefits of plant-based eating will help you get started on your journey to better health. Before making a significant change in your diet, always be sure to check with your doctor.
Health Benefits of Plant-Based Eating
Lower cholesterol levels
Lower blood pressure
Lower risk of type II diabetes
Helps maintain a healthier weight
Lower rates of cancer
May help slow or prevent cognitive decline
What’s On Your Plate?
It’s important to make sure your meals are balanced with a variety of foods from each food group.
Vegetables: Eat at least 2 ½ to 3 cups per day of non-starchy vegetables like leafy greens, broccoli, zucchini, eggplant, tomatoes, etc. The more veggies, the better!
Healthy protein: Opt for plant-based sources including beans, peas, lentils, nuts, and seeds. For those who want to limit the animal protein in their diets without completely cutting it out, choose fish or poultry instead of red meat, bacon, cold cuts, and other processed meats.
Whole grains: Eat a variety of whole grains, like whole-wheat bread, whole-grain pasta, brown rice, oatmeal, barley, etc.
Fruits: Include a variety of fruits of all colors in your diet, like blueberries, strawberries, cherries, grapefruit, oranges, pomegranate, etc.
Beverages: Choose water, tea, or coffee with little or no sugar.
Know Your Nutrients
Make sure you are getting enough protein from vegetarian sources like beans, peas, lentils, nuts, seeds, and eggs.
Get enough iron from sources like beans and dark, leafy greens.
Good sources of B12 include fortified breads and cereals, fortified milk alternatives, meat analogs, and nutritional yeast. If fortified foods are not eaten daily, you should take vitamin B12 supplement (25 micrograms daily).
Get enough calcium from calcium-fortified milk alternatives and juices, kale, bok choy, soy beans, tofu, broccoli, collard greens.
Adults age 70 and younger need 600 IU of vitamin D daily. Sources include fortified foods (such as some soymilks) or a vitamin D supplement.
Good sources of zinc include beans, peas, and lentils.
Foods to Limit or Avoid
Refined grains like white bread, white rice, and refined flour may be plant-based, but they have little nutritional value and are full of processed ingredients.
Avoid soda, fruit juice with added sugar, energy drinks, blended coffee drinks.
Avoid candy bars, cookies, cakes, and processed snacks.
Try to limit dairy products such as milk and cheese. Instead, try milk alternatives like coconut, soy, almond, cashew, hemp, flax, and oat milk, and plant-based cheese substitutes like cashew or soy-based cheeses.
For recipes that call for meat, try meat substitutes like tempeh, tofu, beans, jackfruit, Portobello mushrooms, or textured vegetable protein.
Avoid foods containing trans-fats, saturated fats, or partially hydrogenated oils.
Avoid foods that contain MSG.
Eating for the Environment
Plant-based diets greatly reduce your carbon footprint (the total set of greenhouse gas emissions caused by an individual or product) and waste byproducts.
Meat products have a larger carbon footprint per calorie than grain or vegetable products because of the inefficient transformation of plant energy to animal energy.
For example, manufacturing one pound of tofu costs 6 gallons of water per gram of protein, while 1 pound of beef costs 20-80 gallons of water per gram of protein.
Research shows that people who follow a plant-based diet can have a 50% lighter carbon footprint than meat eaters.
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