Curious about plant-based eating? A beginner’s guide to adding more plants to the diet.
This post is sponsored by Clif Bar & Company, though all thoughts and opinions are my own.
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I’m anticipating that 2020 will be the year, if not the decade, of plant-based eating. 10 years ago, when I set out on my own meatless journey, it was still weird. I’m fairly certain it took my grandma at least 5 years to figure out that meatless didn’t include chicken or turkey, and the only non-dairy milk that was fairly easy to find was soy. I vividly remember getting so excited when my local grocery store finally started carrying almond milk in the refrigerated section.
We’ve come a long way, baby. Now, even in meat-centric St. Louis, I can find vegetarian options on most menus, with easy ways to customize to fully plant-based. It feels like things are continuing to evolve at a rapid pace, at least here in America. When even my meat-and-potato in-laws start asking about how to incorporate more plant-based meals into their diet, you know we’re at a tipping point.
To me, this increasing interest is a good thing. I don’t believe that everyone needs to give up meat completely. I know how difficult of an ask that is and I don’t think that staunch lines in the sand are attractive to most people. However, I do think that all of us can shift to a more plant-centric diet; one that incorporates more fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, legumes and seeds.
I call this approach a predominantly plant-based diet, and it’s the one that I’ve followed since graduating college back in 2007. I eat plant-based, mostly vegan, most of the time and allow for small amounts of animal products like eggs, cheese and dairy when the mood strikes. This balance feels flexible and without deprivation. I can travel to any country and still be able to enjoy local cuisine, yet honor my health and ethical beliefs.
A predominantly plant-based diet embraces the overwhelming evidence of the beneficial effects of eating mostly plants while discarding the unnecessary dogma that’s often associated with this term. It’s the best of both worlds for most people: a way to enjoy the health benefits of a plant-based diet, without feeling restricted. While the breakdown will vary for each person, I like to recommend an 80-90% focus on plant foods, with the rest featuring animal products as desired.
Technically, there is no set definition of a plant-based diet. Many people (including me!) define it as any diet that focuses primarily on plants, but doesn’t have to be fully plant-exclusive (i.e., a vegan diet). A vegetarian diet, a pescatarian diet, a flexitarian diet and a Mediterranean diet could all be considered plant based.
Essentially, when you are eating a plant-based diet, you are eating many more plants and far less meat than the standard American diet. As a dietitian, I promote this way of eating to all my clients as research shows time and time again that it’s the most health-promoting and sustainable way of eating.
First and foremost, rest assured that research shows a well-planned plant-based diet to be healthy for everyone! The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics official position on plant-based diets is that they are appropriate, safe and healthy for all ages of the lifecycle, including pregnancy, lactation, childhood and infancy. (PS- if you want more information on plant-based diets and babes, make sure to check out my other platform, Plant-Based Juniors!)
I love pointing this out to my clients and readers. As a mom myself, my first question always comes back to my kids. I know this way of eating is healthy for me, but it’s also very healthy for young babes as well. Whether you choose to follow a vegan, vegetarian or a predominantly plant-based diet, know that your choice is safe, healthy and can confer an array of benefits.
Regardless of what’s on the rest of your plate, everyone can benefit by adding more plants to the diet. Plant foods like colorful produce, whole grains, nuts and legumes provide essential vitamins and minerals, nourishing fiber and fats, phytonutrients and numerous other beneficial plant nutrients, which all contribute to wellbeing.