Planting the Seed of Health
Whether you’re looking to take Meatless Mondays to the next level or just thinking about sampling a Beyond Burger, you’re not alone: Interest in plant-based diets is booming. (In fact, from 2014 to 2017, the number of U.S. consumers identifying as vegan jumped 600%, according to GlobalData.) And for good reason. Going all-in on plant-based foods has been linked to major health improvements such as lower blood pressure — and it may even prevent certain kinds of cancer.
But what’s exactly involved with making the leap to a meat-free menu?
Simply put, a plant-based diet consists of whole, unprocessed plant foods, including:
- Beans (such as lentils)
- Whole grains
- Small amounts of healthy fats (as in olive oil)
At the same time, you cut out processed foods, meat, dairy, and refined sugars — all while inviting major improvements in your health.
See what the experts say
Kara Lee, MPH, is a wellness coach at Kaiser Permanente Northwest and has seen firsthand the benefits of a plant-based diet. Lee explains that it may curb health problems such as gastroesophageal reflux disease, irritable bowel syndrome, and sleep issues, among other big-time benefits.
“A plant-based diet can help people lower their blood sugar levels and prevent conditions such as cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes,” says Lee.
Michael S. Alberts, MD, PhD, at Kaiser Permanente Northwest agrees with the plant-heavy approach, pointing out that similar regimens such as the Mediterranean diet (which is rich in fruits and vegetables, nuts, and olive oil, while limiting the intake of animal proteins) have been associated with about a 20% reduction in the risk of type 2 diabetes,1 along with other attention-getting upshots, such as a lower risk of certain kinds of cancer.
“Our results suggest a beneficial effect of a Mediterranean diet supplemented with extra-virgin olive oil in the primary prevention of breast cancer,” Dr. Alberts says. You can learn more about Kaiser Permanente’s comprehensive cancer care programs at kp.org/cancer/nw.
Control weight and increase energy
A plant-based diet can also make it easier to maintain your fitness, including maintaining a healthy weight.
“You’re naturally reducing foods in your diet that are high in fat, calories, refined sugars, and sodium, which could help you lose weight,” says Lee.
Dr. Alberts adds that Mediterranean diet patterns can positively influence insulin resistance and help lower blood pressure.
Plus, a plant-based diet’s high fiber content helps by keeping you full throughout the day and aiding in digestion.
But if weight management is your top priority, it’s important to remember that these results are different for everyone.
“This isn’t a quick fix,” says Lee. “This is a lifestyle way of eating.”
Get started with tasty snacks
When switching to a new way of eating, it often helps to focus less on what you can’t eat and more on the wide range of options still available to you.
- If you have a sweet tooth, you can satisfy it with some fruit.
- Prefer something savory? Try veggies such as celery, carrots, or broccoli dipped in oil-free hummus.
- Whole-grain toast with avocado and tomato makes a great comfort food.
- During your next movie night, enjoy some popcorn sans butter. At home, you can pop it on the stove or put the kernels in a brown paper bag for healthy, homemade microwave popcorn.
To give your snack some zing, try mixing in different spices and flavorings. Nutritional yeast, lime juice, garlic, or chili powder can give any snack an extra burst of flavor.
Take healthy snacking a step further
With some planning, it’s possible to enjoy the benefits of a plant-based diet without sacrificing taste or convenience. And as you get used to your new way of snacking, you’ll find prepping plant-based meals that much easier.
1 Satija A, Bhupathiraju SN, Rimm EB, Spiegelman D, Chiuve SE, Borgi L, et al. (2016) Plant-Based Dietary Patterns and Incidence of Type 2 Diabetes in US Men and Women: Results from Three Prospective Cohort Studies. PLoS Med 13(6): e1002039. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1002039
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