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Eat More Plants to Boost Your Health

By Kaitlin Poillon, MS, RDN, LDN

Posted on March 10, 2023
A marble tabletop with zuccini, carrots, tomatoes, brussels sprouts, ginger and basil, along with food in bowls, a fork and napkins. In one bowl are two limes, in another is a vegetable medley on top of quinoa.

This National Nutrition Month, consider getting more plants into your diet. Explore some tips—and things to keep in mind—from Kaitlin Poillon, Drexel Nutrition Sciences Services Outpatient Counseling Practice Manager and Registered Dietitian.

It’s hard to overstate the positive impact of eating more plants. Plant foods are delicious and are often full of fiber and nutrients—from healthy fats to protein and vitamins—that can improve how you function, both physically and mentally. Research continues to show myriad benefits of plant-based eating, including the reduction of many chronic diseases such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and a variety of cancers.

Do I Have to Go Vegan to Be Healthier?

Although plant-based eating is defined as a diet that “consists of all minimally processed fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds, herbs, and spices and excludes all animal products, including red meat, poultry, fish, eggs, and dairy products,” you don’t have to cut out all animal products to see important health benefits. Simply change the amount and portion size of each food group you eat to incorporate more whole fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and legumes (like beans and lentils).

Plant-Based Meals are Delicious!

Some people dismiss the idea of a vegetable-forward diet because they have limited experience with the variety of vegetables available or how to prepare them. The Vetri Community Partnership is a great local source for recipes and cooking demonstrations to teach you how to prepare delicious and healthy dishes. Why not host a vegetarian potluck dinner party and embark on a journey of discovery with your friends?

Getting Started: What to know

Graphic showing USDA MyPlate eating proportions, showing vegetables, fruits and grains as the majority of recommended food intake.If you want to be more plant-focused in the way you eat, here are some important things to remember.

  1. Start slow. Focus on adding plant-based foods that you know you already enjoy and gradually integrate more of them into your diet. Add fresh, frozen, or canned produce as opposed to processed plant-based “meats” and snack foods. Go for a handful of nuts paired with an apple for a satiating snack. Ensure you are achieving nutrient balance at all meals by referring to the USDA’s MyPlate Model as needed.
  2. Remember protein. There are many plant-based foods that contain protein, such as beans, legumes, lentils, tofu, nuts, nut butters, seeds, and soy products. Aim to substitute animal-based proteins (chicken, turkey, beef, dairy, eggs) for plant-based proteins 2-3 times per week.
  3. Aim for your meals to include more whole grains, fruits, and vegetables. If you look at the MyPlate Model, 75% of the plate includes whole fruits, vegetables, and whole grains; protein makes up 25%. Sticking to this model, whether consuming plant-based or animal protein, will ensure that the majority of your meal is plant-focused.
  4. If you’re eliminating all animal products from your diet, vitamin and mineral supplementation will become key. While plant-based foods contain nutrients like fiber, phytochemicals, Vitamins A, B, C, E, and folate, they probably will not provide all the essential nutrients your body needs. Calcium, Vitamin D, Vitamin B12, Iron, and Zinc are all found in higher amounts in animal products, and they are extremely beneficial to your overall health. Talk to your doctor or Registered Dietitian to determine what additional supplements you may need if you are thinking about transitioning to a 100% plant-based diet.
  5. Don’t forget about balance. Too much of anything is not optimal for your overall health and well-being. It’s important to get adequate amounts of a variety of different nutrients. What’s more, everyone’s dietary needs are different—yours might not even be the same as a close relative’s. Eat a wide spectrum of plant-based foods to make sure you get the nutrient balance that’s right for you!
  6. Skip the sugar-sweetened beverages most of the time. Beverage choices make a big difference, and just because a drink may be plant-based, that doesn’t mean all the extra sugar is worth it. Stay hydrated with naturally unsweetened drinks (water, unsweetened tea, coffee, etc.) that don’t have too many energy-dense calories. Choose sugary or artificially sweetened beverages such as sodas, juice, and sports drinks less often.

Remember: Don’t Fall for Plant-Based Junk Food

Just because a food product is listed as “vegan” or “plant-based” does not mean it is a better alternative. Many plant-based foods and snacks contain added sugar, sodium, saturated fat, and highly processed refined grains. Always be sure to look at the Nutrition Facts Label and the Ingredients List before making a quick assumption. A few rules of thumb:

  • Pay attention to sugar content. Look for “Zero Added Sugar” on the label, but remember that some products may still contain naturally occurring sugars, sugar alcohols, or artificial sweeteners.
  • Limit saturated fat by being aware of oils such as palm or coconut oils that may be added to plant-based products.
  • Look for a short list of ingredients, preferably a list of ingredients that you can pronounce and understand.
  • As always, balance is key. All foods can fit into a balanced diet and still provide nutrition--but don’t get fooled by false marketing!

See more Dos and Don’ts.

Get a Free Consultation to Help Meet Your Goals

If you’re interested in learning more about lifestyle health, wellness, and nutrition goals that are best for you, sign up for a nutrition counseling session with our Registered Dietitians at Drexel University via NutritionAppts@drexel.edu today. All Drexel University employees on the Independence Blue Cross health insurance plan are eligible for up to SIX free visits per calendar year. Your health can’t wait!