As a registered dietitian and food and nutrition journalist, I am often asked to dole out my best diet advice for optimal health and weight. My recommendation is simple: eat more whole plants.
While hundreds of science based studies back up my advice to eat a more plant-based diet, the conversation is spreading beyond the confines of scientific journals and conference rooms into mainstream media. A number of influential people in the public eye are now speaking out on the benefits of eating more plants. For example, former president Bill Clinton is an often-quoted supporter of the plant-based diet which helped him regain the physique of his youth and arrest the progression of serious heart disease. A long list of celebrities including Anne Hathaway, Woody Harrelson, and Alicia Silverstone also boast vegetarian lifestyles. Even Oprah had a week of going vegan on her show. The trend to eat a more plant-based diet is definitely catching on.
As the plant-based diet continues to gain in popularity, it’s important to consider that this dietary trend is very personal and unique, leaving room for a spectrum of dietary preferences of observances. For Clinton, his plant-based diet meant that he ate primarily legumes, vegetables, and fruit. For others, a plant-based diet might be a more gradual process of shifting away from the traditional Western diet that is high in meat, fat, saturated fat and sodium, and low in fiber to include more plant foods in the diet.
People are becoming more interested in reducing their animal intake for a variety of reasons. For starters, the health advantages of a plant-based diet are plenty. The 2010 Dietary Guidelines report a number of advantages associated with vegetarian-style eating patterns, including lower level of obesity, a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease, and lower total mortality. Research indicates that plant-based diets reduce the risk of ischemia (restriction of blood supply to an organ), hypertension, and type 2 diabetes; lower LDL cholesterol and blood pressure, reduce body mass, and reduce overall cancer rate.
And eating more plants extends beyond health benefits. According to The Environmental Working Group, eating less meat can significantly reduce your carbon footprint. Consider this:
· If you eat one less burger per week…It’s like driving 320 miles less.
· If your four-person family skips meat and cheese one day a week…It’s like taking your car off the road for five weeks.
· If everyone in the United States ate no meat or cheese for just one day a week…It would be like driving 91 billion miles less, or taking 7.6 million cars off the road.
Making the shift towards including more plant foods in your diet is not as hard as you think. Try one of these 5 simple strategies to make the positive transition to a more plant-powered diet.
1. Hop on the Meatless Monday bandwagon. Just going meatless one day a week can make a difference, so why not start the week out right and do it on a Monday? The Meatless Monday website is filled with tips and recipes to help get you started.
2. Wake up “veggie”. Breakfast is one of the easiest meals to skip on the meat. With so many delicious breakfast foods, such as whole grain cereals and breads, fruit, and even vegetables – it’s easy to pass on the bacon.
3. Forget the old cliché. The vegetarian lifestyle has come a long way since the days of when munching on alfalfa sprouts and granola was the stereotype. Visit your local supermarket and feast your eyes on all the new plant-based products available.
4. Keep it simple. There’s a common misconception that preparing vegetarian meals is laborious and complicated – but tons of meatless recipes are incredibly simple to prepare. Think: black bean burritos or spaghetti with tomato sauce.
5. Invest in a good vegetarian cookbook. A cookbook can give home cooks valuable ideas for how to put together simple, delicious meals. Try a new recipe each week, such as this Southwest Black Bean Quinoa Salad from my book, The Plant Powered Diet.