Thinking about a diet? Try one plant-based

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If you’ve ever heard of the term “plant-based diet” and thought, “How restricting, boring and bland,” you might want to rethink it. With all the available options from which to choose, there are so many ways to maintain a plant-based diet and enjoy healthier versions of the foods you already enjoy.

For example, by using foods like potatoes, sweet potatoes, whole grains and legumes to make meals like pesto pasta or bean enchiladas, you just made a tasty plant-based meal. There are recipes online specific for plant-based meals available online at sites like www.nutritionstudies.org. The Ireland Army Health Clinic nutrition staff can also help.

Eating a plant-based diet is simply about eating more plants and less meat. That means eating more veggies, fruits, beans, peas, lentils, whole grains, nuts and seeds, and less animal products and processed foods. On this diet, you can eat the foods you enjoy and not worry about individual nutrients without over analyzing the nutrient content in foods, such as counting proteins or carbs.

“There is a misconception out there that if you are on a plant-based diet, you will be protein deficient,” said Angela Gerrity, a registered dietitian at Ireland Army Health Clinic. “It is rare to be protein deficient on a plant-based diet unless you are not eating enough calories to maintain good health. It’s funny how some people get caught up in being concerned about macronutrients and worried about being deficient on diets with little or no meat, such as plant-based one, but not concerned about the lack of nutrients in the processed foods they consume every day.”

Counting content can make dining less enjoyable, and you are more likely to fall off the wagon. Just choose foods in such categories as whole fruits — but not juice — vegetables, whole grains, nuts and seeds, for example, where you can mix and match for a tasty variety that gives the most impact of nutrients.

And don’t sweat the small stuff, like trying to find fresh, local or organic food. This is especially true when just a few weeks ago your diet consisted of fast foods. Your main focus should be eating whole plant foods and less meats, dairy products and eggs. This will make a difference in your overall health, and change the nutritional composition of the foods you are eating.

“I would start out by taking baby steps anytime when you start to make a change; for example, by eliminating meat from your meals just one day a week to begin with,” Gerrity explained. “Once you feel comfortable with that change, then move up to two or three days a week a few weeks later to eventually remove all or the majority of animal products. Also, plant-based diets tend to be more economical when you have to stretch your dollar.”

Sometimes we get lax on our diets when we go out to eat or travel but by researching before you go, you can stay ahead of the hunger. For example, if you are going out to eat at the last minute with friends, look online or call to make sure there are plant-based food options at the restaurant. With increases in demand, these menu choices have become more available.

Among the benefits to a plant-based diet are lower blood pressure, lower risk of cancer and of type 2 diabetes. The Adventist Health Study-2 found that vegetarians had a lower risk of these health issues. For people who are not total vegetarians, it revealed that cutting down on red meat is associated with cutting the rates of cancer and heart disease.

Type 2 diabetes and obesity are epidemics in this country that have changed our population’s overall health. However, a plant-based diet offers few calories and no unhealthy fat, making it ideal for easily losing weight.

“When you think of a plant-based diet, think of prevention of chronic diseases, which means less medication and medical visits in the future,” Gerrity said.

She pointed out that according to an article in Scientific American, plant-based diets are also better for the environment. The articles points out that the amount of beef the average American eats in a year creates as much greenhouse gas as driving a car more than 1,800 miles (Bartolotto, Eat a Plant Based Diet, Nov. 4, 2013, HuffPost).

There are many reasons to explore a plant-based diet,
such as improving
the environment, overall health and lessening your waistline. Don’t think of it as just a diet but rather a “lifestyle change in the making.” Let’s build on a great New Year with positive changes to our overall health. Even small changes like increasing
more veggies on your dinner plate can make a difference. Tonight, skip the meat and have beans and greens, instead.

For more information or assistance with nutrition and diets, call the IRAHC Nutrition Care Division at (502) 624-9713. n