Many of us pledge in the new year to take better care of ourselves with a better diet and getting more exercise. The next two Health Watches will help you get started on improving your diet and fitness.
Today’s Health Watch looks at the health benefits of adding more plant-based foods to your diet. The Dec. 31 Health Watch will help you start an exercise program in 2017.
Shifting more of your diet to plant-based meals that include fruits, vegetables, whole grains and legumes can provide significant health improvements for you. A growing library of nutritional research shows that if you make this change in what you eat in the coming year, you will be more likely to lose weight, keep it off and reduce your risk for developing many chronic diseases.
What is a plant-based diet?
A healthy, plant-based diet increases the nutrient-dense, lower calorie vegetables and fruits in your diet while reducing processed foods, oils and animal-based foods. The diet includes lots of whole grains, cooked or raw vegetables, fruits, beans, peas, lentils, soybeans, seeds and nuts. A plant-based diet is naturally low in fat.
Pursuing a plant-based diet does not have to be an all-or-nothing program. A slow, steady shift to eating more vegetables, whole grains, fruit and legumes and consuming less animal-based food provides many benefits to your overall health. The greater the shift towards plants, the greater the benefit.
What are some benefits of a plant-based diet?
Numerous studies have shown that plant-based diets can be especially beneficial for those with Type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, lipid disorders, cardiovascular disease and obesity. In some cases, people who maintain a plant-based diet are able to reduce the number of medications they take for a variety of chronic conditions. In general, the health benefits realized will be relative to the level of adherence to a plant-based diet and the reduction of animal products consumed. Eating a variety of plants is essential to obtain all the nutrients and vitamins you need. Check with your physician before shifting to a diet that is completely plant-based.
How do you shift to plant based diet?
Changing long-term eating habits is a big challenge with shifts in meal planning, shopping, preparation, cooking and restaurant choices. A few meatless meals each week is an effective plan to start your transition. Breakfast is often the easiest meal for shifting to a meatless menu, choosing whole-grain cooked cereals such as oatmeal mixed with walnuts, fruit and soy milk. Other choices could be pancakes made from a whole grain like buckwheat or a tofu scramble instead of eggs.
One method for shifting to a diet with less meat and more plants is redesigning your plate. Fill at least half of your plate with produce, grains, or beans, and downsize your meat serving. Aim for a four-ounce serving of meat, about the size of a deck of cards.
Where can people get help in learning how to shift to a plant-based diet?
Many people who come to the Cayuga Center for Healthy Living are referred by their primary care physician for health issues that improve with lifestyle changes related to diet and exercise. The initial visit includes a thorough medical and lifestyle history and physical examination with a health care provider. Based upon this assessment, goals are identified and a plan created for each person’s specific needs to improve their health through lifestyle changes. At CCHL, we use a variety of approaches to meet individual needs, from dietary counseling to exercise prescriptions. If a plant-based approach is pursued, the tools and support to make that transition are provided.
For patients in need of a very structured dietary approach, we offer a meal replacement program that includes weekly coaching sessions for weight loss and behavior change for long term success. As patients lose weight, they learn how to modify their behavior about eating, make better food choices and include regular exercise to improve their health.
Can a plant-based diet provide sufficient protein?
A plant-based diet provides plenty of protein from a variety of different foods. The most important issue is eating a wide variety of whole grains, vegetables and fruits. Working with a health care provider who understands the plant-based approach is an important starting point, and can guide the transition to ensure balanced nutrition.
Donna Sandidge is the medical director of the Cayuga Center for Health Living. She holds board certification from American Board of Internal Medicine. She graduated from the University of Alabama School of Medicine and did a residency and a fellowship at Vanderbilt University Medical Center. For information on the diet and lifestyle programs at the Cayuga Center for Healthy Living, call (607) 252-3590.