plant based diet

The Plant-Based Diet: What It Is and Why You Should Consider It

By Kristin Zweneman, MS, RD, CSG, LD

If you’ve always considered yourself a “meat and potatoes” kind of person, don’t let the term “plant-based diet” kale your vibe! Following a plant-based diet may mean that you follow vegetarian or vegan meal patterns, but it may also mean that you simply eat meat and other animal-based foods less often, or in smaller portions, than a typical Western diet.

Plant-based diets have increased in popularity in recent years, and for good reason.

Lettuce celebrate some of the benefits of following a plant-based diet:

  • Improved ability to maintain a healthy weight & lower incidence of obesity. Healthy plant-based diets can reduce body fat and contribute to increased metabolism.

Residents and team at San Francisco Campus for Jewish Living love harvesting their own produce in partnership with Farmshelf.

  • Reduced risk of type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, & certain types of cancers. Plant-based diets have been shown to improve insulin sensitivity and blood pressure. Plants (and not animals) also produce chemical compounds (called phytochemicals) that can defend the body against cell damage and be protective against chronic disease.
  • Improved longevity & cognitive status. Consuming more plant proteins instead of eggs and red meat has been shown to reduce mortality risk and improve brain function. In one study, participants who shifted 3% of caloric intake from animal protein to plant protein had an overall 10% decrease in all-cause mortality.A Boston University study also found that plant-forward eating, especially the inclusion of berries and leafy greens, lowered risk of cognitive decline and dementia.

This Teaching Kitchen at Templeton of Cary taught residents about plant-forward eating as they made shaker salads.

  • Minimized impact on the environment. Switching from an animal-based diet to a plant-based diet can reduce our freshwater use by 50%, per a UCLA report, as well as reduce our carbon emissions and waste byproducts. If every person in the United States participated in “Meatless Monday” (including no cheese), it would save the same amount of energy as not driving 91 billion miles (or 7.6 million cars).

Let’s not beet around the bush, not all plant-forward eating is created equal. When planning plant-based meals, emphasize more of the following foods:

  • Whole Grains
  • Fruits & Vegetables
  • Legumes (beans, peas, & lentils)
  • Nuts & Seeds
  • Plant-based oils (such as olive, canola, or safflower oils)

Beet and berry smoothies served to residents at The Reutlinger Community.

At the same time, decrease the amount of less healthy plant foods, such as fruit juices, refined grains (white bread, white rice), potatoes, or sweets and sugar-sweetened beverages. You may consider treating meat as a garnish or making it a side dish instead of the entree.

Planning meals happens peas by peas, just like changing habits. Looking for a quick idea to become more plant-focused? Try joining the “Meatless Monday” trend and choose to eat vegetarian for one day each week.