Raise your hand if you’ve heard of the Beyond Burger. How about oat milk, or pea protein powder? Even if you’ve never heard of these products, you might be able to guess that their common denominator is that they are plant based.
Plant Based eating is a movement that has exploded over the last several years – with more than half of Americans actively trying to get more plant-based foods in their diet. It’s being promoted on food labels, advertised on restaurant menus, hashtagged on Instagram, and even touted by Beyoncé. But what does the science say about plant-based eating? And how do we make sure we do it right?
I’m Jessie Groth, a registered dietitian with Guckenheimer, and today we Health Hack Plant Based Eating.
First off, what is plant based eating? A plant-based, or plant-forward eating pattern focuses on foods primarily from plants, including fruits and vegetables, nuts, seeds, and oils, whole grains, legumes, and beans. Don’t worry, my meat and dairy consuming crew – plant-based eating is not synonymous with vegan or vegetarian diets, but it does mean your food choices are predominantly coming from plant sources.
While vegans and vegetarians are plant-based eaters, so are flexitarians, pescatarians, and followers of the Mediterranean diet. Scientific literature largely supports a plant-based diet when reviewing both large population studies and randomized control trials.Reduced risk of certain cancers, diabetes, heart disease, depression, inflammation, and all-cause mortality has been seen in those who follow Mediterranean diets and those who follow vegetarian diets.
Newcomers to the plant-forward party often have concerns about getting adequate protein. Most adults need between 15 and 30 grams of protein in each meal to meet their daily requirement. That’s the amount that is provided in about 2-4 ounces of cooked meat. Getting an equivalent amount of protein from plant sources can be just as simple when making the right choices. Here are several portions of plant proteins that contain the same amount of protein as an ounce of cooked meat.
But what about calcium? We get our strong bones from milk, yogurt, and cheese, right? True, while dairy tends to pack the highest amounts of this mineral, plenty of other plant-based sources exist: almonds, dark leafy greens like kale and collards, beans, lentils and seeds all are good sources. Many cereals and breads are fortified with calcium, and pescatarians can get additional calcium from canned fatty fish like salmon and sardines, thanks to their edible bones.
Vitamin B-12 is one micronutrient where plant-based eaters should take particular care; B12 is needed in our body to produce red blood cells and to keep the eyes, brain and nervous system functioning properly. It is also only found in animal-derived foods. Fortified cereals and soy milk do contain this B-vitamin, but those plant-based eaters who are strictly vegan or vegetarian may benefit from a B12 supplement.
Curious about where to start? Start with a positive mindset. Plant-based eating is not about an absence of meat but an abundance of fiber-rich, colorful, plant-based fuel. Build a breakfast with at least 3 different plant based foods. Fill half your plate with vegetables at lunch and dinner. Use meat as a garnish and flavor enhancer in a dish rather than the centerpiece. Eat fruit for dessert.
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