For World Vegetarian Day, Power up with Plants

For World Vegetarian Day, Power up with Plants

As a registered dietitian, food and nutrition journalist, and author, I have dedicated the majority of my 25-year career communicating health messages to the American public.  It has been my overarching goal to help educate others about healthy eating habits, particularly on the benefits of powering up their diets with whole plant foods.

I believe that there are health benefits awaiting everyone (and the planet!) from simply incorporating more plant foods, such as whole grains, fruits, vegetables, beans, lentils, nuts and seeds into your daily diets.  Can you imagine the impact on our country’s health—not to mention the health of the environment and animal welfare—if everyone in the US cut their meat intake by half?  Eating more whole, plant-based meals is a step in the right direction towards better health and a more sustainable food system.

In our culture of climbing obesity rates, it should be a wake-up call to remember that one billion people around the world don’t get enough food to eat. Yet animal agriculture is more intensive in resources, land usage, and inputs, and produces a higher carbon footprint compared to plant foods. The World Bank and IFC estimate that livestock are responsible for at least 51% of green house gas emissions.  According to the Environmental Working Group, shifting towards a plant-centric diet can do Mother Earth some tremendous good.

Consider this: If you eat one less burger per week…It’s like driving 320 miles less in regards to climate-saving action spread over a year.

The wonderful thing about a plant-powered diet is that it’s something everyone—from hard-core meat lovers to vegans—can strive for. The premise behind a plant-powered diet is to simply emphasize whole, unprocessed plant foods, such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds, and legumes. The key is to start slow, even if it’s just one day a week or with one meal a day, such as my recipe below.

So, to celebrate World Vegetarian Day, I’m encouraging everyone out there to get more plant-based. Whether that means being a flexitarian, pescatarian, vegetarian, or vegan, get on that plant-based spectrum and start eating more plant-based meals instead of animal-based meals.

My Five Tips for Going Plant-Based

Making the shift towards more plant-based foods is not as difficult as you may think.

Try one of these 5 strategies and before you know it, you may be making friends with plants.

  1. Ease into it. If you eat meat at every meal, you have room to cut back. Start out slowly with having one completely vegetarian meal per week or even having an entirely meatless day. The Meatless Monday (meatlessmonday.com) program is a great place to start with delicious recipes and cooking tips.
  2. Change the plate. When planning your meal, start with the vegetable or whole grain component. Meat doesn’t need to be the “center of the plate.” You can even try using on individual portion of meat or chicken and use it to flavor an entire family-size meal of stir-fry, casserole, or stew.
  3. Plant-power your morning. Breakfast is one of the easiest meals to skip on the meat. With so many delicious breakfast foods, such as whole grain cereals and breads, fruit, and even vegetables – you’ll be too busy eating buckwheat pecan pancakes with peaches to even notice the bacon missing from the table.
  4. Take your taste buds on an adventure! Visit a Mexican, Indian, Thai, or Vietnamese restaurant, observe how dishes are prepared and what spices are used, and then take home a few culinary tricks or ideas with you.
  5. Keep it whole. The “whole” point of a plant-based diet is to reap then nutritive benefits of whole foods. Rather than piling up on refined grains, which do little for your body from a health standpoint, load up on fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains like quinoa and bulgur, legumes, seeds, and nuts. The recipe for this Southwest Black Bean Quinoa Salad from The Plant-Powered Diet is the perfect starting point.

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