Tuesday, August 6, 2019

Healthy Habits: Transitioning to a Plant-Based Diet

You may have heard of Meatless Mondays but each year, more and more Americans are switching to a plant-based diet for more than just one day a week.

The transition to a plant-based diet is often intimidating but Guiding Stars, a nutritional guidance program, can offer expert advice on making your lifestyle switch easy. For example, being mindful that making the switch to plant-based eating doesn’t have to happen overnight, and certainly does not need to be an all or nothing deal is a good strategy for long-term success.

I had a chance to interview Allison Stowell, M.S., RD, CDN, and dietitian for Guiding Stars, to learn more.

What are the advantages of incorporating more plant-based foods?
A plant-based diet is a heart healthy diet. Low in saturated fat* and cholesterol-free, our plant based choices are generally fiber and nutrient rich options that help us meet our nutritional goals. When we are eating more plant-based foods, it means we are eating less of the foods we know we should limit like red meat, whole milk dairy foods, and possibly less sugar too.

*It’s important to note that coconut is high in saturated fat and not ideal for those following a heart healthy diet as saturated fat is associated with increased cholesterol levels.

How can people be sure to meet their nutritional needs without meat-based protein?
Meat-based protein provides vitamin B12, which isn’t present in vegetable-based protein and therefore needs to be sought via supplements or B12 rich plant-based foods (especially for vegans, as dairy foods are also B12 rich). Individuals who have sensitive nutrition needs may want to be more careful as they adopt a plant-protein based diet.

What are some tips for encouraging people to try more plant-based items if they’re initially reluctant?
First off, eating a plant-based diet is about eating more plants—it doesn’t require that you purchase “fake meat” products. However, there are newer plant-based products on the market now, and some people like the variety that these foods can help provide. Part of the challenge when trying to incorporate more plants and new-to-you plant-based foods such as tempeh or jackfruit is just unfamiliarity. Combat that by looking up some background info online, and don’t forget recipes!

In general, as you’re moving toward a more plant-based diet, don’t forget to embrace variety in your selection of plant foods—tubers, legumes, nuts and whole grains are all great to include with your vegetable and fruit choices. For more tips on how to navigate the transition to a plant-based diet, check out this blog post, and here is another one with practical tips to help people get comfortable with plant-based eating.

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