Plant-based diet

Plant-based diets offer a wide variety of health benefits including preventing the risk of certain cancers and weight-related chronic diseases and can even prolong life, according to Harvard Health.

Professor of nutrition at Bakersfield College and registered dietitian Leah Carter supports the plant-based diet because “there are a lot of nutrients in plants that are not in animal products, especially fiber, vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals. People are concerned that they will be malnourished if they do not eat enough meat, but people that don’t eat enough plant foods can be malnourished, too.”

“To have a healthy diet, you should not eliminate any food group because each food group offers needed nutrients,” said Carter.

When choosing foods, ask yourself if the product you’re choosing exists in nature in this form. Whole foods have more nutrients than processed foods. Fresh fruits are more nutrient-dense than a sugar-infused juice – and much cheaper, too. We should choose foods based on nutrient density, choosing foods high nutrients and lower in calories.

Whatever your reasoning for trying a plant-based meal or diet, it is important for any dieter to be satisfied with their meals to continue eating healthier.

“Even if you are not willing to change your entire diet, at least focus on adding healthful foods such as vegetables to your diet,” said Carter.

You are more likely to succeed this way than banning foods from your shopping list.

Adding one serving of vegetables per day is a small but important step, as well as expanding your palate by cooking with uncommon vegetables and fruits you find in the produce section. A local example of this is Better Bowl’s barbecue jackfruit bowl, which is a delicious play on a pulled pork sandwich paired with whole grains in a power-packed and filling meal.

Legumes/beans are energy-rich and packed with fiber, protein and vitamins, so adding one serving of legumes per day instead of meat can greatly improve health outcomes while leaving you feeling full and satisfied. Beans, chickpeas, peas, lentils and soybeans are also in this family of low-glycemic index foods.

Nuts are high in protein and have high concentrations of nutritious oils, meaning they are high in calories but great for light but hearty preworkout snack. Blend nuts like cashews with lemon, spices and herbs to create a light and creamy Alfredo dressing for pastas, salads and more without butter or flour to use as a thickener.

Colorful root vegetables like sweet potatoes and cassava are filling, high in fiber and named “dietary powerhouses” by Harvard Health. Despite their nutritional value, be wary of the high carbohydrate content of some starchy root vegetables, especially potatoes. A sweet potato is more nutrient dense (and worth the calories) than a russet potato.

If you are not yet convinced to try a plant-based diet or even to try one plant-based meal per day, start replacing foods with relatively low nutritional value with flavorful, colorful and nutrition-centric foods that come from plants.

Carter’s best advice: “Make one change at a time and it doesn’t have to be all or nothing.”

Even one small step toward a healthier diet is better than no forward momentum at all. 

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