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When resting, people get about 10% of their energy as protein, 40% from fat, and 50% from carbohydrates. In moderate intensity activity, the energy source is 50% fat and 50% carbohydrate.
The What, Why & How of Plant-based Nutrition, for Everyone
Here's something that might surprise you: not all plant-based diets require elimination of meat. From "meaty" to minimal to meat-free, there are a variety of plans to choose from. And whatever plan you choose, you can be confident that your plant-based diet will help enhance fitness performance, reduce your risk for acute illness, and protect against chronic diseases. In addition, your plant-based diet will play a part in reducing society's reliance on fossil fuels, minimizing degradation of environmental resources, and supporting the vitality of Mother Earth and all her creatures.
Here are answers to the most frequently asked questions about transitioning to a plant-based diet.
What is a Plant-Based Diet?
A plant-based diet is a nutritional approach that places the focus of each meal on filling your plate with plant foods and whole foods: foods that are not processed and laden with sugars, preservatives, artificial ingredients, or other chemicals and additives.The greater the volume of plant-based and whole foods in your diet, the greater your likelihood for good health.
Examples of foods that make-up a plant-based menu:
- Vegetables: spinach, kale, broccoli, collards, peppers, peas.
- Tubers (root vegetables): potatoes, carrots, parsnips, sweet potatoes, beets.
- Fruits: every color and flavor enjoyed in their natural season of the year.
- Legumes & Beans: chickpeas, lentils, kidney beans, edamame, pinto beans, etc.
- Nuts & Seeds: nutrient-dense essentials for any diet: almonds, cashews, flaxseed, chia seed, pumpkin seeds, walnuts, and sunflower seeds
- Whole grains and healthy starches: in their whole form, such as quinoa, brown rice, millet, whole wheat, oats, barley, and even popcorn.
What is the Difference Between No Meat and Less-Meat Diets?
Vegan and vegetarian diets, the two most well-known, eliminate meat, fish, and poultry to differing degrees. Vegan diets also eliminate eggs, dairy products, and any other products that are derived from animals. However, there are Vegetarian diet subtypes that allow for consuming different animal products:
- consume dairy and egg: lacto-ovo-vegetarian
- consume dairy, no egg: lacto-vegetarian
- consume egg, no dairy: ovo-vegetarian
- consume egg, dairy, fish, seafood: pescatarian
- consume egg, dairy, fish, and limited poultry: flexitarian
Do I Have to Completely Eliminate Meat to Benefit from Plant-based Eating?
No. A plant-based diet doesn't have to eliminate meat. That choice is one that vegans and vegetarians often make based on personal, health, and environmental considerations. Should you choose a plant-based diet, you may still eat small amounts of meat, as well as poultry, fish, seafood, and dairy (aka flexitarian or a sub-type of vegetarianism noted above).
How Do I Begin?
- Start by eating less meat at each meal, before trying to eliminate meat completely.
- Choose tempeh, tofu, or a similar based protein as a substitute for meat.
- When plating your food, start with fresh greens and a rainbow of fruits and vegetables.
- Add a whole grain and protein to your meal, along with healthy fat (e.g., avocado, nuts)
You may want to plan meals ahead of time so that you can carefully balance nutrients at each meal (that is, making sure you get sufficient protein, carbs, healthy fats and a variety of nutrients throughout the day).
Are Packaged Meat-free Meals a Good Choice?
Packaged meatless meals are available and may be a good option, in moderation. Grocery store shelves are filled with these processed plant-based "fortified with" foods. But buyer beware: many of these products (including the meatless burgers that are on restaurant menus) are highly processed. Look for foods that have a short list of ingredients, most of them being plant-derived, and free of chemical additives, hydrogenated oils, and emulsifiers.
Will I Get Enough Nutrients on a Plant-Based Diet?
When you opt for more plant-based eating, be adventurous in trying new foods and different combinations of foods to help ensure that you consume the nutrients essential for optimal health, including:
- B vitamins, particularly B12 and B6
- Calcium, zinc, selenium, and iron
- Essential Fatty Acids
- Protein and fat in an amount suitable for your age and activity level
To help you establish a plant-based diet that meets your specific needs, talk to your holistic practitioner to assess your nutrient status. This may involve running blood tests or other assessments to check for nutrient deficiencies in your diet.
Food for Thought
"The human body has been designed to resist an infinite number of changes and attacks brought about by its environment. The secret of good health lies in successful adjustment to changing stresses on the body."
- Harry J. Johnson
Beans...Good for You, Good for the Planet
Beans are a terrific example of a healthful food that provides what foodies call "sustainable nutrition." They are an affordable, nutrient and protein-rich food that does not negatively impact the environment. Choose a few of your favorite beans, add a healthy grain, and you have a dish filled with protein and nutrients without taxing the farmlands already suffering under the stress of the meat industry.
The wonderful variety of beans makes them easy to incorporate into a range of hot and cold meals. Beyond canned, ready-to-use beans, you can choose from a wide array of dry beans, a subgroup of legumes and pulses (an edible seed that comes from the legume plant) that are "climate-smart." By this we mean that they simultaneously adapt to varying climates and use less water compared to many other protein sources. Dry beans also require less fertilizer and promote biodiversity, all of which plays a part in reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
Each type of bean calls for slightly different preparations. Some varieties of canned beans may be eaten out of the can after rinsing, others require gentle heating, and others are so delicate, they are best used in cold dishes. Likewise, dry beans will have different storage requirements, require rinsing or soaking, and are ideal for use in a variety of cooking methods.
With a little extra time and an array of seasonings or supplemental ingredients, you can turn basic beans into a flavorful meal. For example: combine kidney beans, black beans, and garbanzo beans with diced tomato, diced colorful peppers, corn off the cob, fresh squeezed lime juice, chopped cilantro, EVOO, ground cumin, salt, and pepper. This makes a gorgeous, aromatic bean salad that you can serve over greens or with warm farro.
Spicy Chili Bean Cakes
Just when you thought summer couldn't get any hotter, this recipe lands in your inbox. The perfect combination of spice and tang, these chili bean cakes drizzled with lime chili sauce will be the hit of any outdoor gathering. They're so robust with flavor and meaty texture that you might just convince a few meat-eaters to shift to a plant-based diet!
Lime Chili Sauce:
- 1/2 cup dairy-free sour cream (plain yogurt of any type can be subbed here)
- 2 tsp fresh lime juice
- 1 small jalapeno pepper, minced (optional)
- 1/2 tsp chipotle chili powder
- salt to taste
- 1 TBSP safflower or avocado oil
- 4 medium scallions, thinly sliced
- 6 cloves minced garlic
- 1 fresh jalapeno pepper, finely diced (optional, can adjust amount for personal preference)
- 1 tsp ground cumin
- 1 tsp oregano
- 1 tsp turmeric
- 2 cans black beans, drained and rinsed
- salt and black pepper to taste
- 2 cups raw sweet potato, grated
- 1 egg or egg-substitute (Just Egg), lightly beaten
- 1/2 cup plain dried gluten-free bread crumbs
Turn on oven broiler with rack on second slot (about 4-6 inches from broiler).
- Mix sour cream, chili powder, lime juice, minced jalapeno, and salt together in a small bowl. Cover and refrigerate.
- Heat 1 T of oil in a small skillet over medium heat. Saute garlic, scallions and jalapenos until softened, about 1 minute.
- Place beans in a large bowl and roughly mash with a fork or potato masher, leave some chunks.
- Add the sauteed vegetables and spices (oregano, cumin, turmeric, salt and pepper).
- Mix in sweet potatoes, egg, and bread crumbs.
- Form 8 patties.
- Place bean patties on baking sheet, and broil 8 to 10 minutes. Turn cakes over, and broil until crispy, about 3-5 minutes.
- Serve and enjoy with lime chili sauce.
Catnip: A Soothing Botanical Remedy
Many intriguing stories come along with the herb, catnip (Nepeta cataria), also known as catmint. There's folklore regarding women ingesting catnip and being turned into...you guessed it, cats. And, the more credible lore about cats exhibiting strange behavior around the plant. While big cats and domestic kitties alike get happy, spunky, and amorous after nibbling catnip, the herb has a more calming effect on people. Rich in B vitamins (so great for those following plant-based diets), catnip is a versatile herb for holistic remedies.
An herbal favorite since ancient times, catnip made its way across the Mediterranean, Europe and to the Americas where it is widely used by Native Americans. A gentle herb with calming effects, catnip is useful for adults and children alike and in a variety of ways. You'll find catnip as an ingredient in products such as:
- lotions, ointments, creams
- soaps, shampoos and conditioners
- bath salts, body scrubs
- face masks and skin cleansers
- natural insect repellants
- ancient formulas for love potions (though we can't confirm or deny effectiveness!)
As a medicinal herb, catnip can be made into a tea, tincture, powder, or capsule. A liquid topical solution can also be formed of the leaves and stem. Catnip has a wide variety of properties including sedative, anesthetic, antiseptic, antibiotic, astringent, antimicrobial, antibacterial, and antifungal. In various formulations, catnip may be used by qualified holistic practitioners to help with anxiety, hives, colic, indigestion, insomnia, hyperactivity, diarrhea, upset stomachs, and flatulence. Though known to be gentle for most people, consult with your health practitioner before adding a new botanical medicine to your regimen. Pregnant and nursing women should not ingest catnip as it may produce uterine contractions.
If you would like to grow catnip, it is best to do so in a container, since it can be invasive in some areas. You will be delighted by this gray-green perennial's fuzzy leaves and tall stem adorned with heart-shaped lavender and pinkish-hued flowers.
Nutritional Yeast: It's NOOCH What You Think
Though we aren't sure where the name comes from, nooch, or nutritional yeast, is a food supplement that is a versatile addition to plant-based diets. Rich in B vitamins, nutritional yeast comes in the form of yellow flakes, granules, and powder that adds "cheesy" flavor to other foods.
Some of the many ways to use nooch include:
- sprinkle it on popcorn instead of butter or salt
- mix into risotto instead of other types of cheese
- stir into creamy soups for added nutrients
- add it to scrambled eggs or a tofu scramble
- stir into stews, chilli, bean dishes in which you'd like a hint of cheese and added texture
- sprinkle atop pasta dishes, veggie burgers, or over veggies
Nooch is not the same as brewer's yeast. The two types of yeast are derived from different sources. Nutritional yeast comes from a species known as Saccharomyces cerevisiae. The heating process renders the yeast "inactive," so nooch is not useful in baking. Rather, it is a dairy-free and usually gluten-free food supplement. It can be useful for people who have food allergies or sensitivities, as well as those on special diets. It is also low in fat and contains no sugar or soy. Nutritional yeast contains vitamins B 1, 2, 6, and 12.
You can find nutritional yeast in the bulk aisle of most natural food stores. It may also be available boxed as flakes or powder.
Nutrient Tracking for More Healthful Eating
Keeping track of the nutritional quality of your meals can help you identify where you are meeting essential daily nutrient requirements and where you may be falling short in getting nutrients that are crucial to good health. This is especially important for people who are following a plant-based diet.
An easy way to do this--and one of the most reliable ways for doctors to help support your health journey--is to use a tracking app. There are many reliable ones out there. A well-known tracking app is the Cronometer, a highly accurate, comprehensive nutrition tracking app that is often recommended by healthcare practitioners and now used by 3.5 million people. Other nutrition tracking apps include My Fitness Pal, My Food Diary, and Wholesome.
No matter your health, fitness or nutrition goals, tracking apps can help you improve your health habits and achieve desired results. Check with your holistic practitioner to see if they like a specific tracking app as many have a feature that allows you to share your logged information.