How to move to a ‘plant-forward’ diet
I’ve been vegetarian for 7 years — I don’t eat meat or seafood — and while it was the right choice for me, I’m well aware it’s not for everyone.
Giving up meat entirely comes with its share of challenges and inconveniences. Fewer dining options and more scrutiny when it comes to labels and menus, for instance.
But it has also opened me up to delicious foods and cuisines I may not have explored otherwise. I’m also in good health and rarely get sick.
Vegetarians tend to have lower cholesterol levels, blood pressure and rates of hypertension and type 2 diabetes, plus healthier weights and lower overall cancer rates, according to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
If you want to work your way toward some of these health benefits but not quit meat entirely, try what’s called a “plant-forward” or “plant-centric” diet in which you cut back on meat and increase your intake of veggies and plant proteins.
You won’t be alone — according to Nielsen data, one-third of consumers are actively trying to incorporate more plant-based foods into their diet.
Plant-forward diets emphasize foods such as produce, whole grains, beans, legumes, soy foods, nuts and seeds, plant oils and herbs and spices — ingredients we sometimes ignore when we eat a meat-centric diet.
“Eating a plant-centric diet means opening yourself up to more possibilities,” says wellness nutritionist Bev Utt, with the MultiCare Center for Healthy Living.
Here are tips from Utt about how to make the transition to a plant-forward diet.
1. Experiment with healthy plant proteins
Protein comes in both animal and plant sources. And getting enough protein isn’t as difficult as we tend to assume. Most Americans get twice the recommended amount of 46 grams a day for women and 56 grams for men.
When it comes to plant sources of protein, you’re also consuming less fat. Beans have similar amounts of protein per ounce as meat, Utt says, without all the saturated fat you’d find in meat.
Try incorporating some of the proteins listed below into your meals where you’d normally serve meat, or if you’re feeling adventurous, look up new recipes. Legumes can be used to make chili, soup, hummus and veggie burger patties, for example.
- Legumes: beans, lentils, peas, peanuts, soy foods such as tofu or tempeh
- Sustainable, humane and healthy plant protein foods such as the Impossible Burger from the Good Food Institute and the Beyond Burger from Beyond Meat
- Meat alternatives/analogues from brands such as Gardein, Tofurky, Field Roast Grain Meat Co., The Herbivorous Butcher
If you’re concerned that faux meats are overly processed, Utt has this response:
“Yes, they are processed, but they serve a convenience. I wouldn’t say eat them every day or as the main part of a meal, necessarily. Try adding a little bit of these products to a noodle dish full of other vegetables, for example. For meat eaters, I would have the same recommendation — give meat less of a starring role.”
2. Try different cuisines
When you look at world cuisines, especially Middle Eastern, Mediterranean and Indian, you’ll see lots of healthy plant proteins being used, such as chickpeas and lentils.
“Borrow ideas from ethnic cuisines because they already embrace plant-forward foods,” Utt says.
You’ll also begin to notice nuts and seeds, such as peanuts and cumin seeds used in Mexican mole sauce or almonds used in Spanish Romesco sauce.
Here are some popular dishes from other cultures for inspiration:
3. Learn new methods for preparing vegetables
Vegetables don’t have to be flavorless and boring. Add a little interest and flavor by trying different techniques such as roasting, sautéing or grilling.
Simply roasting Brussels sprouts in a little olive oil, salt and pepper makes a world of difference in flavor compared to the bland, mushy steamed sprouts many of us had as children.
Turn zucchini into noodles using a spiralizer or mandoline slicer and serve as you would a pasta dish.
Marinate eggplant slices in a jerk chicken sauce and cook on the grill, then serve over rice.
There are endless possibilities when you think outside the box.
Related content: Want to eat more vegetables? Try these tips
About The Author
Roxanne Cooke is our senior content editor and manages Vitals, Kite Strings and Bring Happy Back, plus special projects such as 24 Hours at Tacoma General Hospital and The Healthy Futures Project. She tells stories in words, photos and video. You can reach her at [email protected]More stories by this author