Unlike a vegetarian diet, a plant-based diet does not mean eliminating meat or dairy. Instead, it emphasizes eating more food from plant sources. Fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, whole grains, oils, legumes, and beans are all plant-based options.
A plant-based diet can help you:
- Maintain a healthy weight
- Lower cholesterol
- Protect against cancer
- Prevent heart disease
- Manage diabetes risk
- Lower risk for cognitive decline
The positives of eating more plant-based foods extend far beyond your health. Plant-based foods can be less expensive at the grocery store, and the planet reaps rewards, too. Animal agriculture uses a lot of land and water and contributes to global warming via greenhouse gas emissions. Meat production, in particular, is harder on Earth’s resources than any other food group.
Start by slowly adding more plants to your diet, taking time to discover plant-based foods you enjoy.
- Experiment with different strategies. Start with “Meatless Mondays,” or try eating a plant-based diet for breakfast and lunch. Whatever you choose, stick with it until it becomes routine, then add on until you achieve your plant-based eating goal.
- Change the way you approach meal planning. You might be used to having meat at the center of your plate with sides to accompany it. Instead, put vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and beans at the center. These plant-based foods are great building blocks to give you the protein, fiber, and other nutrients you need.
- Start with some simple swaps. If you miss milk in your cereal, try adding almond or oat milk, instead. Take a pass on beef and build your burger with a grilled portabella mushroom and dairy-free sauce. Craving cool-weather comfort food? Dig into some split-pea soup or bean-based chili with dairy-free sour cream.
- Keep health at the forefront. Not all plant-based foods are created equal. Sweet treats, chips, and overly
- processed meat substitutes should not make up the majority of what you eat. To reap the health benefits of eating plant-based foods, look for those that are low in sodium, added sugars, and saturated fat.
- Remember your nutritional needs. Be sure to eat enough calcium, iron, vitamin B-12, and vitamin D. Fortunately, there are good plant-based sources.
- Try the below recipes. These plant-based, protein-packed dishes are perfect for your autumn table.
Plant-based diets sometimes get a bad rap for not offering enough protein. In truth, there is a lot of protein in beans, nuts, seeds, and some whole grains and vegetables. Other protein sources include tofu, tempeh, seitan, and meat substitutes.
Always consult your health care provider before starting any new diet. They may have some great suggestions for plant-based foods you might enjoy!
Asian Quinoa Chop Salad
Quinoa comes in many colors — white, red, and black are the most common. Red quinoa holds its shape best after cooking, so it is especially good for salads. It also adds vibrant color and plenty of protein to your plate. Serves 6.
½ cup dry quinoa
1 cup water
½ cup red bell pepper, diced
½ cup carrots, diced
½ cup pea pods, chopped
¼ cup green onions, chopped
2 tbsp. rice vinegar
1 tbsp. sesame oil
1 tbsp. tamari soy sauce
1 tbsp. honey
½ tsp. grated fresh ginger
1 garlic clove, minced
2 tbsp. minced cilantro
6 large leaves romaine lettuce or 6 cups mixed greens
In a medium saucepan over high heat, bring water to a boil. Add quinoa, stir, cover, and reduce heat to medium-low. Simmer for about 30 minutes or until quinoa is soft and water is absorbed. (If you have a rice cooker, you can cook quinoa in the cooker, as you would cook rice.)
Meanwhile, in a large bowl, combine peppers, carrots, pea pods, and green onions.
Make the dressing in a medium bowl. Whisk together rice vinegar, sesame oil, soy sauce, honey, ginger, garlic, and cilantro. Set aside.
Pour cooked quinoa into a large bowl and let cool for at least 10 to 15 minutes (it chills faster in the refrigerator). When the quinoa is no longer steaming, mix in chopped vegetables, and then stir in dressing. To serve, place one large romaine lettuce leaf or 1 cup of mixed greens on a plate, then top with ½ cup of salad. Enjoy!
Chickpeas and Spinach Sauté
Sautéed veggies simmered with a can of tomatoes, chickpeas, and wilted spinach make this flavorful, colorful, and nutritious dish. This recipe calls for chickpeas and spinach, but any combination of beans and greens will work. Pair your veggies with cooked quinoa or brown rice. Serves 4.
1 tbsp. vegetable oil
1 yellow onion, peeled and chopped
1 clove garlic, peeled and minced
1 celery stalk, chopped
1 carrot, chopped
1 14.5-oz. can low-sodium diced tomatoes (including liquid)
1 16-oz. can low-sodium chickpeas (drained and rinsed with cold water)
¼ cup water
1 10-oz. package frozen spinach (kale can be used instead of spinach)
1 tsp. fresh lemon juice (or red vinegar)
¼ tsp. crushed red pepper flakes
Put a skillet on the stove on medium-high heat. When the skillet is hot, add oil. Add onion, garlic, celery, and carrot and cook about 15 minutes until the mixture is soft and the onions are lightly browned.
Raise the heat to high and add the tomatoes, chickpeas, and water — cook for five minutes.
Reduce heat to low and top the mixture with the spinach (do not worry about stirring). Cover and cook until the spinach has thawed and is heated throughout, about 10 minutes. Stir well. Add the lemon juice and red pepper flakes and stir thoroughly. Your chickpeas and spinach sauté is ready to eat!