Go Green for Life: Following a Plant Based Diet

by Brenda Morales

Research shows that our typical meat-based Western diet that we consume today may increase the risk of heart disease, compared with diets high in fruits and vegetables. A new study now presents the potential health benefits of following a plant-based diet and why physicians should consider recommending plant-based diet to all their patients, especially those with high blood pressure, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and/or obesity.

A healthy plant-based diet includes eating a variety of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, beans, legumes, nuts, and seeds. It excludes animal-based foods such as meat (including poultry and fish), dairy products, and eggs, as well as minimizing refined foods like bleached flour, refined sugar, and unhealthy oils.
The benefits of plant-based diets are well-established by large scale-studies. Previous studies have shown that people who eat the most fruits and vegetables have a 20% reduced risk of heart disease. A new study published Spring 2013 in The Permanente Journal shows that plant-based diets are also good for the environment, cost-effective, low risk interventions that may help lower body mass index, improve blood pressure, lower glucose levels, and decreased cholesterol levels.

The goal of our diet should be to improve our health. Plant-based diets are low in calories, low-fat, and high in nutrients, especially fiber and water which help increase satiety and resting energy rate. Epidemiological studies indicate that plant-based diets are associated with lower BMI and lower prevalence of obesity in adults and children. Plant-based diets may also offer an advantage over those that are not plant based with respect to prevention and management of heart disease and diabetes.

Getting started with a more plant-based diet
Switching to a plant-based diet may be easier than you think. Start slow, by replacing one to three meals a week to vegetarian options. Cut back on your meat intake by substituting for healthy meat alternatives such as: tempeh (fermented soy), edamame beans, tofu (silken, firm, or exta-firm depending on the dish), and seitan (wheat protein). Or simply try replacing meat dishes with legumes. Legumes are high in fiber, complex carbohydrates, and protein which are excellent for satiety, balancing blood sugar levels, and weight management.
The general recommendation for patients who wish to follow a plant-based diet is to include a variety of fruits and vegetables, legumes, seeds, nuts, and whole grains. A plant-based diet is not a diet plan it is a lifestyle change with tremendous health benefits.

References:
“Nutritional Update for Physicians: Plant-Based Diets.” Pem J 201 Spring; 17 (2): 61-66.

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