Spring Into Spring and Plant-Powered Eating

By Eli Follick

Longer, warmer days and plenty of sunshine bring out a whole new world of possibilities when spring begins. Winter’s heavier meals, like stews, thick soups, and rich desserts are replaced with salads, fruits, smaller portions and lots of seasonal vegetables. Adding vegetables can be done to fit any culture, any family favorites, any occasion, any holiday and does not require anybody to completely give up any foods they enjoy.

The American Heart Association, the American Diabetes Association, and other groups in the National Institute of Health agree that a plant-based eating pattern matched with minimal meat, fat, sugar, and processed and salty foods is healthy. In fact, the American Medical Association says that the benefits of a plant-based diet include reducing the risk of chronic conditions, such as cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, and some cancers. People on a plant-based diet tend to have improved insulin resistance, improved body weight, and healthier blood-fat levels. The organization adds that people following a plant-based diet generally consume more fiber, vitamin C, vitamin E, and magnesium, and less saturated fat.

Yet, the question for many remains: How do you incorporate more vegetables into your eating plan? Below are some tips, but remember to consult your health care provider before you make any changes.

1) Keep it simple. Don’t overcomplicate things in the kitchen especially when you are just starting out. Make easy trades for animal-based products. Use beans instead of meat in chili, tacos, wraps, etc. Experiment with various substitutions. Trade dairy for plant alternatives, like soy milk on cereal or oat yogurt with fruit.

2) Add fiber. Shifting the food choices on your plate may also mean shifting your viewpoint on certain foods. Eating fiber-rich foods benefits every system in your body. There are two basic kinds of fiber – soluble and insoluble – and each plays an important role in your health. For example, eating soluble, fiber-based foods such as oats, peas, beans, apples, citrus foods, carrots, and barley enhances the body’s movement of cholesterol through and out of the system in addition to helping avoid constipation. Insoluble fiber is the basic food of organisms in the gut – the microbiome. Those bacteria are critically important in keeping us healthy and affect just about every system. Examples of this kind of fiber include lentils, beans, and many fruits.

3) Learn how to make vegetables taste delicious. Sharpen your culinary skills at home using different cooking methods – steaming, roasting, grilling, and sauteing. Over-cooking yields a gooey mess that may have had nutrients drained away. There are many great resources available from cookbooks and online classes and videos.

4) Learn to experiment with herbs and spices. Minimizing salt while adding spices like turmeric and oregano can help make a delicious meal. Realize that not every meal has to be gourmet. As long as the food is tasty, easy to prepare, and healthful, you’ve got a fine addition to any meal and possible leftovers for snacks. A meal might include
a simple vegetable wrap, salad, or a bean-based burger.

5) Become a health-conscious shopper. When you go to the store, you may see some new items in the produce department. Pick one or two to try. Remember that any changes that move you closer to a plant-based eating pattern are likely to have positive health benefits.

6) Believe that it’s never too late to start.

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