Whether you choose to go meat free on Mondays; live as a flexitarian or are a full vegetarian or vegan, you are not alone. The interest in plant based diets has grown exponentially in recent years, as more and more evidence suggests there are numerous health benefits associated with diets packed full of plant based foods. So how can you too get the benefits of a plant based diet no matter what your overall dietary preferences are?
You do not need to be a full vegan or vegetarian to get the benefits of a plant based diet. Rather, a diet that includes a significant proportion of grains, nuts, seeds and fresh fruits and vegetables will automatically give you many of the health benefits associated with plant based diets, including lower body weights; lower cholesterol, blood pressure and blood glucose levels and a longer life span. Evidence suggests that it is the lower calorie and higher fibre and antioxidant intakes associated with plant based diets that result in these numerous health benefits.
So how much do you need? While there is no set proportion of plant foods that will give you these benefits, basically the more the better, and simply basing our meals and diets around plant based foods in some capacity is a good starting point. This translates into wholegrain carbs along with loads of fresh fruits and vegetables each and every day, along with meat free main meals occasionally to again bump up our intake of plants. In the case of snacks too it means focusing on fruits, seeds, nuts and wholegrain snacks to again boost our intake of essential nutrients each day.
It also means looking at the quality of the plant based foods especially when it comes to considering our protein intake. As complete protein, or protein that is more readily absorbed in the body comes from animal based foods including meat, fish, eggs and dairy, swapping to a diet filled with more plant foods means we also need to be mindful of the quality of proteins we are consuming. Mixes of different grains such as legumes and rice means that you will get the complete mix of amino acids and higher protein quality in plant based meals.
Eating more plant foods also does not mean you need to ditch the meat, eggs, dairy and fish unless you want to. Dietary balance is all about consuming foods in the right amounts. Simply focusing on plant based foods and meals means that we tend to get our animal proteins in smaller portions which is also good for our weight, our health and environment long term. It is not about eliminating them or having good or bad foods, rather creating a dietary balance that complements our health long term.