The doctor of the future will no longer treat the human frame with drugs, but rather cure and prevent disease with nutrition.Thomas Edison
So, here we are. Well, actually, it really is: Here I am.
While my journey of a transition to a healthier life and incorporating a plant-based diet into my lifestyle is a personal one, I have chosen to share it with you in hopes that it will be inspiring to both of us. I know there are many of you out there in the same boat that I am when it comes to our health. And now, there is no better day than today to start.
Why a Plant-Based Diet?
At the beginning, it’s important to understand what a plant based diet is and how it contributes to better nutrition.
So where do I start? The first step is to eat more plants! Chances are that growing up, Mom told all of us to eat more fruits and vegetables. Well, guess what? Mom was right! And now dietitians and doctors are backing her up with the science to prove it. A plant-based diet has strong scientific support for improving health, boosting energy levels, and preventing chronic diseases.
Let’s dig into the science and learn how (and why) to incorporate more plant-based foods into your diet!
The National Institute on Aging just published an article in which their research found that those who adhered to a healthy set of behaviors were found to have a 60% lower risk of Alzheimer’s disease. The behaviors included: exercise, a quality diet, no smoking, low alcohol consumption, and cognitive activities to exercise the mind.
What is a Plant-Based Diet?
A plant-based diet, or eating plan, focuses on foods that primarily come from plants. This includes fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, oils, whole grains, legumes, and beans. When selecting plant-based foods, think “how close is this to its whole, natural form?” Plant-based foods in their whole, unrefined, or minimally refined form offer the most health benefits. Who doesn’t want to get the most bang for their buck, especially when it comes to nutrition?
For example, drinking 100% fruit juice does not offer the same health benefits as eating the whole fruit. The 100% fruit juice is highly processed and therefore has a higher sugar content and also has been stripped of its fiber and vitamins.
Plant-based foods offer so many wonderful health benefits. This is why dietitians and doctors look to the plant-based diet often when making nutrition recommendations. Alli Gregg, registered and licensed dietitian and competitive marathon runner, states, “A plant-based diet helps many achieve their nutrition goals. Whether it is weight loss, weight management, disease prevention, fighting inflammation, boosting daily energy, or improving athletic performance, a plant based diet acts as a strong foundation.”
What are the Benefits of Plant-Based Diets
Plant-based diets are full of vitamins, minerals, fiber, phytochemicals, and antioxidants. All of these components work together to lower blood pressure, LDL (“bad”) cholesterol, inflammation, and maintain a healthy weight. They also lower the risk of many chronic diseases including diabetes and heart disease.
So all of this sounds great, but does the science back it up? Yes! Here’s how:
- Weight maintenance and weight loss: A review of 12 studies, that included more than 1,100 people found that those consuming plant-based diets lost significantly more weight — approximately 4.5 pounds over an average of 18 weeks than those who were on non-plant-based diets.
- Heart disease: A large study of over 200,000 people found that those who followed a healthy plant-based diet had a significantly lower risk of developing heart disease than those consuming non-plant based diets.
- Diabetes, cholesterol, mental health: A 2018 review of nearly a dozen studies found that a plant-based diet does indeed help manage type 2 diabetes, improve cholesterol levels, improve body weight, and added bonus improved mental health!
- Improved quality of life: A recent study in June also found that plant-based diets lead to a higher quality of life in women. The study looked at the quality of the plant-based diet and found that the higher the quality of the plant-based diet, the greater the improvement in the quality of life.
Transitioning to a plant-based diet seems overwhelming. However, chances are you already enjoy a lot of plant-based foods, including:
- Fruits: Any type of fruit including grapes, berries, oranges, bananas, melons, pears, peaches, pineapple, etc.
- Vegetables: Any type of vegetable including peppers, greens (lettuce, spinach, kale, etc.), zucchini, eggplant, mushrooms, etc.
- Starchy vegetables: Potatoes, sweet potatoes, squash, etc.
- Whole grains: Brown rice, whole wheat bread/pasta, quinoa, oats, barley, farro, popcorn (yes, you read that right, popcorn is a whole grain! Looks like next movie night is plant-based!)
- Healthy fats: Avocados, olive oil, unsweetened coconut
- Legumes: Peas, chickpeas, lentils, black beans
- Seeds, nuts, and nut butters: Almonds, cashews, macadamia nuts, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, natural nut butters, tahini
- Unsweetened plant-based milks: almond milk, cashew milk, coconut milk
- Spices, herbs, and seasonings: basil, rosemary, turmeric, curry
- Plant-based protein: tofu, tempeh, plant-based protein powders
My lifestyle and diet transition will be a gradual one with a few meals a week as plant based and next to no red meat. I spent the last weekend testing a few recipes, and I loved these two options. I hope you will too.
Now, I am armed with the science, tons of nutritional resources, and a fiery clinical dietitian. So, it’s time to start.
Both of the following recipes are super yummy, gluten-free, vegan and very flavorful. Pair them with a great green salad, and they’re terrific for easy weeknight dinners. I felt satiated and happy after eating both of them, and honestly, I didn’t miss the red meat I would likely have prepared instead of these healthy alternatives.
I admit, this trek isn’t going to be an easy one. Baby steps as they say, right?! So far, so good with finding tasty and healthy alternatives in my diet.
Here’s to a healthier and happier mind and body — for me and for you!
Chipotle-Roasted Butternut Squash Tacos
- Baking Sheet
- Small sauce pan
- 4 cups peeled and cubed butternut squash
- 2 tablespoons avocado oil
- 2 tablespoons chipotle chile powder
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1 poblano pepper
- 1 15 ounce can of black beans rinsed and drained
- "Yummy Avocado Sauce"
- 1 cup fresh cilantro leaves stalks removed
- 1 avocado ripe
- 1/4 cup orange juice fresh
- 4 tablespoons EVOO
- 2 tablespoons lime juice freshly squeezed
- 1 jalapeno fresh
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Toss squash wtih oil, chipotle powder and salt. Arrange in a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet. Bake for 15 minutes. Remove from oven and add poblano pepper. Toss it to incorporate into the squash, oil and spices. Place pan back in oven for another 15-20 minutes, until squash is fork tender and browned.
- Take poblano pepper out of baking sheet and cut into small pieces, removing stem and seeds.
- Prepare avocado sauce. Place the following ingredients in a blender: cilantro, avocado, orange juice, oil, lime juice, jalapeno, salt. Blend until smooth.
- Warm black beans in small saucepan on stove.
- Assemble Tacos. Warm corn tortillas. Divide black beans, roasted squash, poblano pepper evenly. Spoon avocado sauce on top. Add additional avocado slices and cilantro, and salsa.
- It reduces cholestrol and improves heart health.
- Avocado oil contains the antioxidant, lutein, which is tremendous for eye health. Your body does not produce this antioxidant, so one needs to obtain it in your diet somewhere.
- Enhances the absorption of important nutrients.
- May reduce symptoms of arthritis and prevent gum disease.
- Improves skin and enhances wound healing.
Amazing Veggie Burger with Spicy Awesome Sauce
- Medium pot (for rice)
- Food processor
- 1/8 cup ground flax seed
- 1/4 cup water
- 1.5 cup cooked black beans (or 2 15-oz cans, rinsed and drained)
- 1/2 cup cashews
- 3/4 cup cooked brown rice
- 1/4 cup Italian parsley finely chopped
- 3/4 cup shredded carrots
- 1/4 cup chopped green onions
- 1/2 cup bread crumbs
- 1 tablespoon smoked paprika
- 1/2 tablespoon chili powder
- 1 teaspoon salt
- "Spicy Awesome Sauce"
- 3 tablespoons mayonnaise vegan, if you want to keep strict
- 2 tablespoons sweet relish
- 2 tablespoons ketchup
- 1/2 teaspoon cayene pepper
- 1/2 teaspoon Frank's Red Hot Sauce
- In a small bowl, combine the ground flax and water. Give it a stir and set aside. (This is your flax egg mixture.)
- In a large bowl, add the drained and rinsed black beans. Mash with a potato masher (or fork) until most of the beans are a paste. Leave about 1/4 of the beans whole.
- Place the cashews in a food processor, and pulse until they are breadcrumb size, but NOT powder. It's OK if a few larger pieces remain. Add to the bowl with the beans.
- Add the flax/water mix to the bowl with the beans and nuts as well as the remaining ingredients (minus the ingredients for the spicy sauce). Mix well with wooden spoon.
- Shape into a burger, whichever size is your preference. Recipe makes 6 one-half cup burgers.
- Cook on stovetop with 2-3 tablespoons of oil and cook until gold and crispy.
- Mix spicy sauce ingredients together in a small bowl. Build your burger with traditional condiments — with or without a bun.
- Cook on Grill: Refrigerate the patties for 30 minutes prior to grilling. Brush with oil and cook on grill.
- Bake at 350 degrees on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Bake for approximately 20 minutes, flip and cook for an additional 15.