“Plant-based” eating has been a trendy phrase in the nutrition world some time now. But is it for good reason?
Considering only 1 in 10 Americans are consuming enough fruits and veggies (CDC), most of us have room for improvement. Prioritizing plants is an easy way to improve our health and the health of the planet.
What counts as a ‘Plant’?
Plants are considered any fruit, vegetable, legume (think lentils and chickpeas), or whole grain. These also include processed foods like frozen broccoli, frozen blueberries, canned tomatoes, and dried lentils. Ultra-processed foods (yes, even those made from plants… looking at you veggie crisps!), are not part of this category.
Why are plants so good for us?
Plants contain an incredible amount of nutrients, ranging from the well known vitamins and minerals, to fiber, and over 10,000 phytonutrients. Phytonutrients are what gives plants their color, flavor, scent, and taste. These nutrients are also extremely protective towards cancers, heart disease, and other illnesses.
Diversity is key
Eating broccoli every single day is great, but mixing it up is even better. Our bodies have billions of micro-digestors in our gut, which has more commonly been coined the ‘gut microbiome’. While we have much to learn about how this microbial ecosystem impacts our health, we do know one thing for sure. The wider diversity of plant-based foods we eat, the more diverse and resilient our gut microbiome becomes.
Diverse diets are also essential for planetary health. Our planet contains hundreds of thousands of edible plant species (many of which are also food for other living creatures). Unfortunately, the global food system has been consolidated to the point where we now source over 75% of our calories from only 12 species. The three main crops are corn, rice, and wheat.
Monocropping – or growing vast fields of a singular variety – is horrible for Earth’s ecology. Monocropping also puts us at risk when dealing with climate change, as growing a slim number of species makes our food system more vulnerable to changing weather patterns, pests, and disease – similar to our gut microbiome!
Eating more plant-based foods
Eating more plants is simple, and can be affordable for most people. Below are some evidence-based resources to get you started. While some of these resources are geared towards vegetarians, they can also be used to simply increase the amount of fruits and vegetables in your diet.
- VN DPG’s Free Consumer Resources to eating more plant-based meals
- EatRight’s Top Myths for eating plant-based meals
- The Plant-Powered Diet: A book by registered dietitian Sharon Palmer
- The Heart Foundation: Fresh, Frozen, Canned Veggies!
- The perks of eating a Vegetarian Diet with registered dietitian Ginger Hultin
And remember, diets only work if you are consistent with them. One piece of cake will not make you unhealthy, just as eating one apple won’t make you healthy. Your body works best when you aim to eat mostly healthy foods, consistently over time.