Plant-Forward Eating: The Benefits of Incorporating Plant-Based Foods into Your Diet
Plant-based or plant-forward eating has become a popular dietary choice for those who are looking to increase the nutritional value of their meals, whilst cutting back on meat. As the term suggests, plant-forward eating simply means that you adapt your diet to eat more foods that come from plants.
What are the benefits of eating plant-based foods?
Plant-forward eating has proven to be great for your overall health. Research shows that it can reduce your risk of developing heart disease and cancer, help lower your cholesterol levels, and assist with maintaining a healthy weight.
Unlike a meat-based diet that is usually high in saturated fats and cholesterol, the plant-based diet focuses on consuming fewer meat products to eliminate the effects of these harmful fats. Considering that plant-based diets include lots of fruits and vegetables, the diet ensures that your body receives plenty of antioxidants, natural fibre, vitamins, and nutrients.
Antioxidants play a very important role in our body’s health and cell functioning, as they protect our cells from being damaged by free radicals. Free radicals are unstable molecules that form naturally in our body when it converts food to energy. However, cigarette smoke and even air pollution can also expose our body to these molecules. The negative effect of free radicals is that these unwanted molecules cause oxidative stress, which leads to cell damage. Oxidative stress has also been shown to play a role in the development of inflammation, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and neurodegenerative disorders like Alzheimer’s and Huntington’s disease.
A diet rich in antioxidants will therefore enable your body to reduce oxidative stress and combat the negative health effects thereof!
What foods can I eat when I follow a plant-based diet?
When following a plant-based diet, the goal is to cut back on meat as much as possible. Especially, very fatty meats and processed meats like bacon, sausages, canned meat, and typical fast-food meats.
This means that your diet will mainly consist of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds, legumes and beans. You can also include foods such as eggs and low-fat dairy products like yogurt, milk and cheese.
How do I incorporate more plant-based foods into my diet and what should I consider?
Changing your eating habits is not always easy. But by slowly incorporating more plant-based foods into your meals, you will soon realise that you can still eat balanced, hearty meals without overconsuming meat. Here are some ways of how to make these changes to your diet, as well as important factors to consider:
- Experiment with meatless meals: Pick two or three days in the week where you cook meals that do not contain meat. There are plenty of delicious vegetarian meal recipes online that can come in handy.
- Treat meat as a ‘side dish’: If you are not yet ready to cut meat out completely, try halving your meat portions or treat it as a side dish rather than your main dish during a meal.
- Eat vegetables at every meal: Get in the habit of eating vegetables at every meal. Focus on eating a variety of vegetables and experiment with different ways to cook them – steaming, roasting, boiling, sauteing and blending. Raw vegetables are also a great snack with hummus or guacamole.
- Eat fruits after meals: If you are a sweet tooth who enjoys desserts try to eliminate processed sugar by rather opting for a small bowl of delicious fruits.
- Chat to your doctor or dietitian: It is always recommended that you chat to a healthcare provider before you make changes to your diet, especially if you want to cut back on meat products. Your doctor or dietician will be able to recommend which foods to increase in your diet so that you still get a balanced amount of protein, calcium, iron, fat, carbohydrates, and other nutrients.
The lenmed Group is a world-class chain of Private Hospitals that brings quality healthcare to communities across Southern Africa.
Disclaimer: Any information contained here is merely a guideline. Always visit your healthcare practitioner for any health-related advice or diagnosis.