Nutrition makes me come alive. I enjoy it so much that I try my best to live a healthy lifestyle everyday. I’m passionate about helping others understand nutrition and implement changes into their own lives as well. It’s one way that I can extend love to others. Giving them the information and tools to live a healthy life and feel good from the inside out. It’s not easy, but it’s so worth it! Once you decide, take action and start to experience the benefits, you will find that there is a motivation that will start to well up inside of you. Then it will come more naturally.
So, why am I telling you this? As a Registered Dietitian, I want to give the best nutrition advice I can. And I’ve come to the conclusion that nutrition is constantly changing and becoming more and more confusing for the average consumer. What is the best diet? I get asked that all the time. It’s hard to pick one, but it is difficult to beat the simplicity of eating real food and mostly plants. And I want to tell you why.
“Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food” -Hippocrates
Why a Plant Based Diet?
I know after reading those words, there is already some push back. I hear you. I like meat too. And dairy. And eggs. A plant based diet seems impossible to many of us. Especially living in America and constantly being bombarded with the idea that we deserve fried chicken, a nice filet, or the next triple patty burger. But, have you ever considered what you are actually putting into your body when you eat that kind of stuff? There is a lot of speculation, but I won’t get into that in this post. Our bodies run off of the food we eat. We need good, nutritious fuel to keep us going. When it all comes down to it, I have realized whole foods (fruits, vegetables, and whole grains) are truly the building blocks of a healthy diet. As Michael Pollan said in The Defense of Food, “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants”.
Plant based dieting has gained a lot of interest recently with the introduction of popular food documentaries and books. Despite the notion that it looks like another fad diet, I think if adopted correctly it can be a good lifestyle to follow. Many people start a plant based diet to lose weight, improve health, decrease risk of chronic disease (heart disease, diabetes, cancer), or to just stay healthy as they age; BUT you have to also remove the refined, highly processed foods, sugar, and fried foods from your diet to be successful. I like to follow the rule, “everything in moderation”. It’s okay to eat fried foods, red meat, refined grains, and sugar every now and then, but it has become the norm to eat them everyday and at most meals/snacks. This isn’t good for our health. We need to focus on eating less of these and more plants.
How To Still Get Adequate Protein While Minimizing Meat
I do believe protein (meat, poultry, seafood, eggs, and dairy) can still be a part of a healthy meal plan. However, I think minimizing those food groups whenever possible and focusing on increasing fruit and vegetable intake is very important. Plants provide more vitamins, minerals, and fiber, and give you plenty of antioxidants that help fight off inflammation. They are low in calories, and essentially have no saturated fat or cholesterol, unlike the animal protein. Also, you can still get plenty of good protein without all the meat. Some of the best plant based proteins are: spinach, kale, broccoli, edamame, avocado, beans/legumes, and soy. Also, nuts and seeds such as quinoa, flaxseed, and nut butters can all be great alternatives.
How To Get Started
First, focus on getting rid of the refined sugars and highly processed foods in your pantry. Replace it with fruits and vegetables and whole grains. Then start slow. This can look like replacing one or two meals during the week with meat-lite or meatless options. Or if you absolutely need your meat, try making it a compliment to the dish instead of the main course. Make half of your plate fruits and vegetables, a quarter whole grains, and a quarter lean meat. You could also try minimizing red meat first, then poultry, then seafood and so on. Next you could even try minimizing eggs, cheese, and dairy (I am still working on this..it’s really hard!). Try including some protein alternatives like quinoa, tofu, tempeh, beans, or lentils in your meal plan. Before you decide this isn’t for you, think about the positive things that could come out of it: better health, improved energy, weight loss, more variety in your diet, better cooking skills, and just feeling good. Why not give it a try? Maybe make it a 30 day challenge!
Some Easy Steps to Follow to Increase intake of Whole Foods
- Keep fruits and vegetables plentiful in your home
- Snacks should include fruits and vegetables, hummus and nut butters for dipping, whole grains, smoothies (great way to get your greens!)
- Plan a weekly menu
- Add meat alternatives to your meal plan (tofu, tempeh, edamame, lentils, beans)
- Treat meat as a special treat! Use the MyPlate as a good reference
- Try new recipes from a healthy cook book that excites you (Our Current Favorite)
- Have fruit for dessert (the occasional chocolate is still acceptable….at least it is for me!)
- Buy local – shop your local farmers market, join a co-op, or research local farms in your area that you can purchase fresh fruits, vegetables, and protein from
- Try planting a garden – you could have your plant based diet right outside your back door!
- Raise your own chickens – not fond of the store bought eggs? Why not try getting some chickens of your own. They are pretty easy to take care of and you get about 1 egg/day from each chicken!
- Start the 80/20 rule – Go 80% of the time eating whole foods and 20% of the time giving yourself some leeway to indulge.
Our Personal Experience
Mr. SE and I have experimented with reducing our meat consumption in the past, and I personally eat meat once a day or less. We often make meatless meals each week, and rarely eat red meat and pork (a lot due to my history of high cholesterol). We have also tried tofu, beans/lentils, edamame, quinoa, and tempeh as protein alternatives. I have noticed over time that reducing animal based protein in my diet has made me feel better and given me more energy. As an RD, I like to promote tools that actually help people make good food choices, and one that I think is a great visual is the USDA’s MyPlate. It doesn’t tell you exactly what to eat, but it does help you see what a typical serving size should be of each of the food groups for one meal.
Nutrition is a large part of our life, whether we choose to focus on it or not. Making wiser choices with our food is a goal that we could all work towards. Eating real food and consuming a plant based diet are both part of a healthy approach to meeting our nutritive needs. Trying new and different types of food can be a fun and challenging way to train our taste buds into liking a variety of flavors. Learning to enjoy all food in moderation is important to the success of a healthy, sustainable lifestyle. Simply being mindful of what we eat is a wonderful way to live a happier, healthier life.