Plant-based eating is all the rage, and there’s good reason for it. Learn the benefits of skipping the meat and going for fruits, veggies and whole grains.
By Mallory Creveling
Veganism, vegetarianism, plant-based—according to the latest diet trends, people are continuously swapping meat-heavy meals for more fruit- and veggie-filled plates. But before you give up on sirloin or salmon, it’s important to learn what it actually means to follow a plant-based diet. Bonnie Taub-Dix, RDN, creator of BetterThanDieting.com and author of Read It Before You Eat It: Taking You from Label to Table, explains it like this: “It’s when meat and animal proteins become more of a side show, instead of the main event. Plants become the focus.” So while you might have a little meat here and there, produce and whole grains make up most of your meals.
If you regularly eat animal protein, Taub-Dix suggests starting small with just one day a week of zero meat, poultry or fish. “Make a change once a week, and you might realize it’s not that hard and that you can continue to make that change for the rest of the week,” she says. Most importantly, “It’s not just about what you’re taking away, but what you’re adding.” You might be eating less steak or chicken, but you’ll also have more, say, nuts and avocado.
Of course, the idea of eating a plant-based diet isn’t a new concept. People have been turning to plants for years to get their fill of important nutrients. But nowadays, veggie-driven dishes and “Meatless Mondays” have become more popular—and for good reason. Plenty of research and countless experts endorse reaching for produce over poultry. Read on to find why.
Plant-Based Diet Benefits
1. You’ll fill up on fiber, plus other vitamins and minerals.
Plants provide some of the top fiber-rich foods, says Taub-Dix. Split peas, lentils, black beans and artichokes, for example, all contain more than 10 grams per cup. And with more fiber comes improved digestive health, more satisfying meals and potentially better immune function, promoted weight loss and lowered risk of obesity. Plus, you’ll get a strong dose of phytonutrients from fruits and veggies, including vitamin A, B, C, E, magnesium, calcium and potassium. All you have to do is eat a rainbow of colors to help you get a wide range of these nutrients, explains Taub-Dix.
2. You’ll lower your risk of disease.
Just two years ago, the American Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics released a position paper stating the benefits of vegetarian diets, citing a reduced risk of chronic diseases as an important reason for ditching animal proteins. Research has shown that reaching for more fruits, veggies and whole grains can help reduce your chances of conditions like cancer, heart disease, diabetes (thanks to better glucose control), high cholesterol levels, high blood pressure and inflammation.
3. You’ll still get plenty of protein.
“We used to think you had to pair certain plant-based foods to get the full list of essential amino acids,” says Taub-Dix. “But now we know, you can just aim to get everything you need in the course of a day,” rather than one meal. In other words, if you have beans at lunch, it’s OK to hold off on the rice until dinnertime. Also, most Americans actually do hit the target of 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of bodyweight (a number that fluctuates depending on your height, weight, activity level and a few other factors). But it’s more than likely you can get your fair share of the muscle-building macronutrient without having to turn to meat.
4. You’ll help the environment.
With better health, comes a better planet. According to research, eating more plant-based foods can help reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 30 percent to a whopping 70 percent. That’s likely because these foods require less natural resources like water and use fewer pesticides, fertilizers and fossil fuels to produce and distribute the products. By following earth-friendly practices, you contribute to a healthier planet, which means cleaner air and a healthier environment for you, as well as a better food system, which will only lead to more good-for-you foods and products.
When it comes to a plant-based diet, it’s clear that the benefits outweigh the concerns. Knowing you’ll be able to provide your body with the phytonutrients and macronutrients it needs, consume enough protein and fiber to feed your muscles and keep your body feeling full all day, lower your risk of certain diseases, while also helping the environment. It's easy to make the case for swapping out meat for plant products—even just once a week.
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