In 2015, the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee issued a report to the U.S. government promoting a more plant-based eating approach. What does that mean exactly, and what’s the rationale behind the recommendation?
“Healthy eating may be best achieved with a plant-based diet — a regimen that encourages whole, plant-based foods and discourages meats, dairy products and eggs as well as all refined and processed foods,” a study in the Permanente Journal points out.
While vegans and vegetarians certainly fall into this category, a plant-based diet more broadly is about promoting whole plant foods, restricting fat and refined sugar and eating in an eco-friendly way.
So, how do you get on board? Well, there’s plenty of room to tailor the transition to your own lifestyle and needs. Some people prefer to start by going plant-based just once a week. Once you acclimate, consider moving up to two or three days a week and then take it from there.
When making changes, look for options that are healthy and work for your needs. Dietary experts rated 11 plant-based diets for U.S. News and World Report. The healthy-diet superstars were judged not only on their nutritional value but also how accessible they are — a pretty key deciding factor for anyone trying to change their family’s kitchen habits for the better. A Mediterranean diet ranked top of the list, as it includes fish, lean meat, low-fat dairy and red meat in moderation, simplifies cooking and going out to eat and is full of fresh flavors that just make life better.
Put simply, whole foods are healthy, and processed foods are risky. The American diet in general relies heavily on food processed with sodium, preservatives and other additives, many of which can increase the risk of cancer.
So if you must partake, consume things like butter and red meat sparingly, all the while adding more plants to your plate. You may also consider supplements and multivitamins to fill in the gaps between what you consume and what you need. Make sure you get enough:
“A healthy, plant-based diet requires planning, reading labels and discipline,” the authors of the Permanent Journal study note. They also point out that eating plant based “is not an all-or-nothing program but a way of life that is tailored to each individual.”
Plant-based eating is also praised for being more sustainable, with less of an impact on the environment than processed foods, including processed meats and dairy. Just the processing and delivery of these send an influx of pollution and greenhouse gases into the environment. Consider that about it takes a gallons of water to produce a single quarter-pound hamburger. If you embrace a plant-based diet, you can cut the amount you contribute to these environmental effects.
Changing your diet or your family’s eating habits takes time, of course, but eating plants can be simple, tasty and rewarding, helping you feel good about how your choices impact the planet.