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A Rich Harvest for Health: Benefits of a Plant-based Diet

The idea is simple: get more plant-based foods into your diet and you’ll reap all sorts of benefits. Isn’t it time to give it a try?

By Sarah Copeland

We’ve all heard our doctors, nutritionists, and environmentalists alike tout the benefits of plant-forward diets. The fiber and nutrients found in plants are proven to reduce disease and  inflamation. They are also easier to process— for our bodies and the planet. 

Evidence suggests plant-based foods improve health

“There’s a lot of evidence to suggest that a diet that is rich in plants, including vegetables, fruits, legumes, nuts—and rich in plant-based oils, such as olive oil, canola oil and other vegetable oils—has been shown to lower blood pressure, lower blood sugar, decrease heart attacks and other cardiovascular disease, decrease cognitive impairment and lower the likelihood of developing dementia,” says Kumar Dharmarajan, MD, MBA, Cardiologist, Geriatrician and Associate Chief Medical Officer at Clover Health. 

Plant-based foods are higher in fiber and lower in calories

Plant-based diets are oftentimes lower in calories and higher in fiber—helping you feel fuller for longer. Bonus: They’re also easier on your pocketbook. But saying we want to eat less meat and actually doing it are two different things. Can vegetarian meals eally be as satisfying as our favorite family pot roast? And what if faux meats just don’t appeal to us? 

There are plenty of delicious options for plant-based eating made with simple ingredients you can find in your grocery store, and—surprise—you are probably already eating them. Think: Your entire produce section, all the beans and legumes on the pantry shelves, and all those vitamin- and nutrient-rich nuts in your cabinets.

Yes, you may need a few new tricks to make this way of cooking your norm, but it’s well within your reach. And there’s no evidence that you need to quit meat cold turkey, or celebrate your favorite days without your favorite foods to reap the benefits. “The key is, let’s try to shift our diet from fewer animal products toward more plant products,” adds Dr. Dharmarajan.

It’s what you do most of the time that will win you health benefits in the long run. An occasional piece of bacon won’t break you, so allow yourself a little wiggle room. Look for simple ways to gradually make your plate more plant-forward.

Here Are a Few of Our Vegetarian Diet Tips: 

Ease In

Start by picking a day—or days—of the week to go meatless. Jump on the Meatless Monday phenomenon, or if you’re feeling ambitious, a concept like Weekday Vegetarianism might be a good fit for you, saving splurges like pulled pork and pot roast for weekends.

Think Flavor

Sauces you typically love on meat—from barbecue to chimichurri and pesto—will shine on grilled vegetables, seared tofu, and even beans. Use them to make the transition to meatless days seamless and delicious. They can go on before or after cooking, or both.

Savor Soup 

Brothy vegetarian soups are deeply satisfying, filling, and healthy. Load them up with beans, chopped vegetables, and greens (which wilt nicely when they hit the broth) for a big portion of plants in one serving. If you’re really missing the flavor of, say, chicken, consider making otherwise meatless soups with chicken broth. 

Protein Power

When you remove meat from a meal, make sure to replace it with another protein so that you’ll feel satisfied and inspired to come back for more. Beans, nuts, tofu, and seeds are all excellent sources of plant-based protein. Eggs, dairy, and cheese are also good choices (in moderation, of course). Try sprinkling toasted sesame and pumpkin seeds onto a salad. Or crumble goat cheese over roasted squash. Try homemade bean burritos with fresh salsa, shredded lettuce, and melted cheese—or turn sweet potatoes into tacos.

Eat Eggs

Egg lovers will find easy ideas to power up with plants: omelets, frittatas, and egg bakes all make excellent meals any time of day and can be loaded with any seasonal vegetables. Even a fried egg over polenta with fresh peas or a handful of herbs is hearty and hits the spot every time. 

Swap Meat for Mushrooms

Some mushrooms—like chicken of the woods, portabellas, and porcinis—have a meat-like quality to them that lends deep satisfaction. Try them in ragus, meatless meatballs, as burgers (grilled), and roasted. Don’t forget to score and season them well with salt and pepper, just like a steak. 

Marinate

Just like meat, mushrooms, vegetables, and tofu benefit from a marinade, which also gives you a jump-start on meal prep. Marinating in olive oil and lemon juice or other citrus, plus fresh or dried herbs, will give tenderness and flavor to every delicious bite. 

Looking for inspiration? Check out The Weekday Vegetarians, by Jenny Rosentrach. It’s got more than 100 comforting, fun meat-free meals. 

This article was originally published in the Spring 2022 issue of Clover Living magazine. Want to see more articles like this? Subscribe to Clover Living magazine for free (if you aren’t already subscribed) here.

 

Published on 8/24/22

Lead blog image by photographer: Sarah Anne Ward, Food Styling: Eugene Jho; Photo Editor: Jessie Adler; Creative Direction: Peter Yates