It’s time to feel great about yourself 

First things first. What is a plant-based diet?

A plant-based diet is a diet that includes foods primarily from plants. This includes not only fruits and vegetables, but also whole grains, legumes, nuts, seeds and oils. Eating a plant-based diet doesn’t mean that you never eat meat, fish, eggs or dairy, but instead, you choose the majority of your foods from plant sources on a daily basis.

Plants are healthy – and they help you lose weight

By eating more fruits, vegetables and legumes (green beans, lentils, peas, beans, etc.), you will get more essential nutrients into your diet. These nutrients include vitamins, minerals and other beneficial plant compounds such as antioxidants that help protect against inflammation, cancer and neurodegenerative disorders. Fruits and vegetables are a great source of vitamin C, vitamin A and folate, as well as minerals such as potassium, calcium and magnesium.

Fruits and vegetables are also rich in fiber. Dietary fiber is the portion of plant-derived food that cannot be completely broken down by your digestive enzymes – but your gut microbes thrive on it! It lowers your cholesterol, can reduce your risk of type 2 diabetes and feeds your “good” gut microbes. In addition, fiber helps you feel full. When you feel full, you are less inclined to continue eating. This is why fiber can help reduce food cravings and promote weight loss! It can also help you reduce your intake of unhealthy, heavily processed foods that tend to be high in sodium, sugars and saturated fat (and low in fiber). Diets that include lots of processed foods are associated with higher food intake in general.

Legumes are a class of vegetables that includes beans, peas and lentils. Legumes are low in fat and calories, but a serving of legumes provides 10 to 20 grams of protein! (Protein is the most satiating of all the macronutrients.) Because legumes contain less fat than a serving of meat, you can eat more plant protein foods while consuming fewer calories, making them an excellent choice for a well-balanced diet.

A burrito bowl with quinoa or brown rice is a fantastic plant-based, filling protein-rich meal that won't spike your blood sugar too much and that provides lots of gut healthy dietary fibers.
A burrito bowl with quinoa or brown rice is a fantastic plant-based, filling, protein-rich meal that won’t spike your blood sugar too much and that provides lots of gut healthy dietary fibers.

Including nuts, seeds and olive oil in your diet will provide protein, dietary fiber and healthy fats that can help you lose weight and improve your heart and metabolic health. Nut consumption is associated with a lower risk of all-cause mortality, cardiovascular disease and sudden cardiac death in humans. Seeds contain plant-based essential omega 3 fatty acids known to decrease inflammation and to protect the brain from neurological disorders such as stroke and dementia in adults.

Olive oil is low in saturated fat and its consumption is associated with an improved blood lipid profile. Consumption of olive oil decreases blood cholesterol and triglyceride levels to a greater extent than does consumption of other plant oils.

Mix it up: Plant variety will improve your health

Eating different types of fruits and vegetables on a daily basis gives you extra benefits, because all fruits and vegetables contain their own unique mix of beneficial plant compounds. This is why it is so important to combine, mix and vary your fruits and veggies.

Here are three different fruits with different compounds beneficial to your body:

Try to include vegetables from all vegetable subgroups in your diet on a weekly if not a daily basis: a) cruciferous and dark-green vegetables, b) starchy vegetables and legumes, c) red and orange vegetables, d) water-rich and other vegetables. (Learn more about and browse these vegetable groups in the LIFE Extend mobile app!)

Here are three different vegetables with different compounds beneficial to your body:

Yum. Cook your veggies with plenty of olive oil and seasonings of your choice. Photo by Max Delsid on Unsplash.
Yum. Cook your veggies with plenty of olive oil and seasonings of your choice. Photo by Max Delsid on Unsplash.

Eating a plant-based diet helps to prevent chronic diseases

Eating a diet high in fruits and vegetables reduces your risk of developing several different types of cancers, including cancers of the mouth, esophagus, stomach and lung. These cancer risk-reduction effects are thought to happen partly because of the antioxidant properties of fruits and vegetables.

A high-fiber diet, like what you get from eating plenty of fruits and vegetables, reduces your risk of cardiovascular disease, colon cancer, obesity, insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes.

Moreover, dietary fiber promotes the “good” gut bacteria that metabolize this fiber into beneficial short-chain fatty acids in the human colon. These short-chain fatty acids have powerful effects in colorectal cancer cells, leading these cells to self-destruct (a process known as apoptosis). Short-chain fatty acids produced by your gut microbes in response to food have a range of health benefits, protecting you from hypertension and the progression of kidney diseases.

What about the Mediterranean-style diet?

A Mediterranean-style diet typically includes high consumption of fruits, vegetables and legumes, along with whole grains, nuts, potatoes, olive oil and a small amount of poultry and fish. Wine, dairy and red meat can be included in small amounts.

A plant-based Mediterranean-style diet is associated with better blood sugar control and improved cardiovascular risk factors. This style of eating can help in preventing and better managing type 2 diabetes. In addition, this eating style improves health in overweight and obese patients and prevents increases in weight and waist circumference in non-obese individuals. 

Find quick and easy veggie-filled recipes online. Photo by Tina Dawson on Unsplash.
Find quick and easy veggie-filled recipes online. Try Forks Over Knives and BudgetBytes and Epicurious. Photo by Tina Dawson on Unsplash.

Plant-based cooking promotes sustainability!

Plant-based home cooking is also planet-friendly as eating less meat has environmental advantages. Moreover, home cooking increases your awareness for healthy eating and saves you time and money in the long run. You’ll also notice that you use less disposable food packaging and tableware, which is also more eco-friendly!

Why not start today?!

So where and how should you begin your plant-based eating?

1. Keep it simple. Start with one small step to increasing your plant intake and build from there. Instead of trying to cook an entire vegetarian meal from scratch, try to rearrange your favorite meals to swap in legumes for some of the meat you would normally eat, for example.

2. Eat whole grains for breakfast. Add nuts or seeds to oatmeal along with fresh fruit. This way your breakfast could count as two or three plant categories in one!

3. Enjoy vegetables at lunch and dinner. Start with a delicious vegetable soup with homemade vegetable stock. Include vegetables with different colors in the soup, or eat them as a salad or as a snack with hummus, salsa or guacamole!

4. Plan your homemade meals in advance. Try to build your meals around beans, whole grains and vegetables.

5. Build a meal around a colorful salad. Start by filling a bowl with salad greens and then add a mix of other colorful vegetables on top along with legumes, beans, peas or tofu. Sprinkle in some seeds and/or dried fruit and use olive oil and fresh herbs as salad dressing. Whether you keep these ingredients at home (try your local produce stand for affordable items!) or visit your favorite grocery salad bar, this is an easy and super healthy meal!

6. Try to be mindful about the way you think about meat. Start by reducing the frequency of meat meals per day or have smaller meat amounts per meal.

7. Choose fruit for dessert. Especially whole fruit as it contains higher amounts of fiber. Sweet seasonal options include cherries, figs and peaches in the summer, apples in the fall, citrus fruit in the winter and spring!

8. Drink plenty of water. Other options include teas, hot or iced, vegetable/fruit juice (from food you juice yourself) including, of course, fresh lemonade! Try the unsweetened version, mixed with ginger and mint leaves.

Home-made juices are worth it! Photo by Jan Sedivy on Unsplash.
Home-made juices and smoothies are worth it! Photo by Jan Sedivy on Unsplash.

The take-home message!

By choosing a plant-based diet, you will feel great about yourself and the planet!