Each New Year’s, millions of Americans make resolutions related to nutrition. Perhaps you are one of those who resolved to eat better in 2020. You committed yourself to strictly following the latest fad diet eliminating many of your favorite foods. If you are like most people, after a few weeks the honeymoon phase is over. You feel the deprivation and you are at the point of collapse.
What would happen if your resolution to eat better in the New Year were not all or nothing? Would you have more motivation and be more likely to succeed?
Plant-based diets, unlike fad diets, may just be your answer. Plant-based diets come in many different forms, categorized by the extent to which meat plays a role. While vegans eat an entirely plant-based diet void of meat, dairy and eggs, those following a plant-forward diet emphasize plant-based foods but still include small amounts of animal foods.
Whatever end of the spectrum one’s plant-based diet may fall, eating more plants can lead to a lower risk of obesity, heart disease, type 2 diabetes and cancer. Remember though, it’s not just about reducing the amount of animal foods you eat, it’s about replacing them with plant-based foods that are whole, high quality and nutrient dense. Adopting a pattern of eating that is plant-forward gives prominence to nutrient-rich fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds, herbs and spices, and plant-based oils.
Moving to a more plant-forward pattern of eating can happen gradually. Try starting with a meatless meal once a week and adding more meatless meals and days as you become accustomed to it.
Additionally, when meat does make an appearance on the plate, it does not have to be the main feature. Plant foods can take the leading role on your plate while animal foods can serve as a side dish or garnish. For example, load a brown rice bowl with vegetables and top it with just a few pieces of meat.
Not only do whole food plant-based diets have the benefit of reducing risk of chronic disease, they can also help you save on your weekly grocery bills. Plant-based proteins such as beans, lentils, nuts and seeds tend to be much less expensive than their meat counterparts. Studies have shown that consuming a plant-based diet can have environmental benefits as well, placing far less of a burden on natural resources than an animal-based diet.
Looking for tips on how to adopt a more plant-forward diet? Just like any healthy eating pattern, choose foods in their most whole and least processed form. Learn to love legumes, swapping a serving of red meat for lentils or chickpeas. Add a variety of vegetables to omelets, pastas and soups. Use fruit and nuts as toppers to your oatmeal and yogurt or eat them on their own as a snack. Seek recipe inspiration in Mediterranean and Asian cultures, as these cuisines tend to have many plant-based traditional dishes.
Whether you choose a plant-only or plant-forward approach to eating in the New Year, enjoy the benefits of improved health while saving money and the environment.
Sarah Curran is the Family & Community Health Sciences Program Associate for Rutgers Cooperative Extension of Warren County. She can be reached at 908-475-6504 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.