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    March 2019

    VEGETARIAN-ish

     

     

    Thirty-nine: Percentage of Americans trying to eat more plant-based foods.

    You don’t have to give up meat for life to reap the benefits of a plant-centric diet!

     

     

    Perhaps you were already thinking about cutting back on hamburgers and hot dogs when you saw the research linking high consumption of red and cured meats to an increased risk of death from cancer, stroke, diabetes, and infections, diseases of the heart, lungs, kidneys and liver. 

    The problem with meat is that calorie-dense animal foods, rich and tasty though they may be, contain high amounts of saturated fats, calories, and possibly carcinogens from processing or preparation.   For the past 60 years, studies have revealed the health benefits of prioritizing plants over meat.  At this point, the evidence has become so clear that the latest edition of the dietary guidelines includes a vegetarian eating pattern all Americans might want to consider, especially since we’re among the world’s biggest meat eaters, consuming almost three times as much as the global average.   So, what’s a vegetable-curious person to do?  Consider these ground rules for making the shift.

    You don’t have to swear off steak forever.   A flexitarian diet, in which you significantly reduce your consumption of meat (especially the red kind) to less than once per week and eat mostly plants, can lead to multiple benefits, including lower risk for obesity, high blood pressure, and type 2 diabetes.  So, you can still occasionally enjoy meat.  And take a fresh look at fish: Pescatarians, who are essentially vegetarians but who eat seafood, are at a lower risk than omnivores for type 2 diabetes.   Also, studies show that the fewer animal products you eat, the less likely you are to be overweight: Vegetarians and semi-vegetarians have a lower BMI on average than meat eaters, while vegans tend to have the lowest BMI of all.

    Go whole.  You’ll get the good stuff from whole plant foods: vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, tofu, beans and lentils, and whole grains like oats and farro.  These foods offer essential nutrients that we can’t get anywhere else, including different types of fibers, slow-digesting carbohydrates, heart-healthy fats, protein, essential vitamins and minerals, and phytochemicals (plant compounds with anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties).

    Consider where your protein comes from.  The first step in going plant-centric is to swap out most animal proteins in favor of plant proteins.  For example, to get the same protein that’s in 2 ounces of cooked lean beef, you could eat a half cup of cooked beans, lentils or split peas, or one ounce of nuts or seeds.  At every meal, aim for half a plate’s worth of vegetables of plant protein and whole grains.

    Eat the rainbow.  As you aim for the recommended 2.5 cups of vegetables per day, think beyond greens.  The pigments that gives vegetables their colors also provide nutritional benefits.  For instance, the beta-carotene in orange and yellow vegetables is a protective antioxidant that can also be converted to vitamin A.

    Make it exciting!  A plant-based diet can involve so much more than salads.  By experimenting with plant foods and creative ways to prepare them, you won’t feel like you’ve lost anything, except maybe a few pounds and points of cholesterol.

     

     

    Putting It All Together

     

    Memorize this balanced-meal formula:

    Plant protein

    + vegetables

    + whole grain

    + healthy fat

    + fruit

    = delicious plant-based perfection!

     

    **See my website for some great ideas.**