A new dietary trend is making waves. The plant-based diet, one that simply “emphasizes plant foods” is gaining in popularity. The message to “eat more plants” is coming from numerous sources these days – ranging from celebrities to chefs to health experts alike. As a Registered Dietitian and author of The Plant Powered Diet, I have joined this crusade.
It’s not news that America is a meat-loving country. The US consumes meat at more than three times the global average. And our meat-loving ways have only accelerated over the years – it’s doubled between 1909 and 2007. Even in the recent past, meat wasn’t as plentiful or inexpensive as it is today. We can thank the advent of modern animal-agriculture practices for this; and for the toll it’s taking on our health, food safety, and the environment.
In essence, animals make inefficient “food production machines,” using lots of feed, water, and fossil fuels to turn plants into protein. Producing 1 calorie from grains requires 2.2 calories of fossil fuels, whereas producing 1 calorie from beef requires 40 calories of fossil fuels. And as these animals are confined, fed diets they are unsuited for, and pumped with antibiotics to prevent diseases caused by overcrowding, they produce meat that is inferior in nutritional quality to that of pasture-raised animals. Modern animal-agriculture methods are also bringing about threats ranging from antibiotic resistance to the spread of food borne pathogens.
As evidence-based research now points towards the plant-based diet being the healthiest on the planet, people are catching on. “There are more cookbooks focusing on locally grown vegetables and fruits, and I see more interest in local foods, farmers markets, community supported agriculture, and the health problems from eating a meat-based diet,” says Reed Mangels, PHD, RD, Nutrition Advisor, The Vegetarian Group.
It’s no surprise that when you cut back on animal products in favor of more whole plant foods, you naturally reduce the amount of saturated fat and cholesterol you eat while gaining more health-promoting nutrients such as fiber, vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients. Simply put, a diverse plant-based diet is the best eating strategy for optimal health. So good in fact that the plant-based diet even got a shout out it the Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2010 for its association with improved health outcomes.
Transitioning to a more plant-based diet simply starts with a shift in mind set. When planning your menu, rather than viewing meat as the “center of the plate,” start with the vegetable and whole grain component. Invest in one good, simple vegetarian cookbook and get creative in the kitchen! Start with this Southwest Black Bean Quinoa Salad from The Plant Powered Diet. Or watch me prepare it here.
Finally, focus on eating real, whole foods. The “whole” point of a plant based diet is to reap the nutrition rewards of whole grains, fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, and seeds. Plan meals around fresh seasonal produce and take advantage of all the delicious things you can enjoy.
Sharon Palmer is a nationally recognized nutrition expert, registered dietitian, food and nutrition writer, and author of The Plant-Powered Diet. Throughout her career, Sharon has helped thousands of people find their way to a healthy, sustainable diet through her published work and personal consultation with individuals.
Photo Credit: http://oldwayspt.org/ and USDA