Following a plant-based diet means that the main part of all your meals is mostly based on plants. Some health experts insist “plant-based diets” should be vegetarian or even vegan, while others also include small portions of animal meat or dairy products from grassfed and sustainable sources.
Whether or not you choose to eat meat, you can still revamp your diet to be more plant-centric, the best way possible, with these easy tips to get more vegetables and fruit into your daily meals.
If You Eat Meat
Try to eat meat less frequently throughout the week, check out meatless Monday recipes — or when you do decide to add meat to your meals, enjoy it in smaller portions from 2 to 3 ounces (for women) and 3 to 4 ounces (for men).
Look for a humanely-raised label and learn more about the health and environmental benefits of grassfed raised meat. Support farm-to-table restaurants and start with salads — and if you choose to order a meat dish, split it with a friend. Fresh greens and other vegetables should take up the most room on your plate, think of meat as the garnish. Aim for 5 to 6 cups of veggies daily.
If You Don’t Eat Meat
If you choose not to eat meat, keep in mind you’ll need to supplement your diet with a B12 supplement (check in with your primary doc) and consider several plant-based sources of protein.
Include nuts, seeds (especially protein-rich flax and chia), grains, beans, and minimally processed soy items like edamame and tofu, as well as whey protein. Sadly, many vegetarians I have met in my travels tend to eat mainly bread and processed foods — so swap your bread for leafy lettuce, and roll-up and dig into a fresh salad each and every day. Also avoid highly processed protein bars, sugary store-bought fruit smoothies, and frozen vegetarian meals.
Well-traveled people are interesting, but well-traveled food is bland and low in nutrients! Whenever possible, buy local. When plants are harvested and have to travel long distances, their nutrients can become damaged: This is especially true for out-of-season produce that has to come from out of the country.
Not only is it picked too soon (to lessen spoilage during travel), which strips it of its natural flavor, but continuous exposure to wind, sunlight, and heat can damage vitamins and antioxidants. Your best bet is to support a local farmers’ market — you’ll be helping out the environment and your local economy. But if that’s not an option, check out this handy guide for seasonal produce and delicious ways to prepare them.
Cook Your Plants Properly
To get the most out of your veggies, don’t overcook them: 15 minutes or less on high heat (400°F in the oven or in a hot skillet) or under 25 minutes in a 350°F oven.
I’ve never been a fan of steaming since it’s easy to oversteam and damage delicate plant pigments, turning them yellow or gray, along with destroying their flavor and texture. Instead, I prefer to cooking prepped raw veggies in hot oil (do not steam prior), allowing their natural moisture to come out. Simply cook for 1 minute on high, sprinkle with a pinch of salt and cover. Reduce the heat to low and cook 2 additional minutes until the vegetables soften. Choose 1 to 2 tablespoons of healthy fats to cook your veggies — like coconut oil, olive oil, grassfed butter and sesame oil that will help capture the fat-soluble vitamins, feed your brain with healthy fats, and keep you feeling fuller, longer.
Two are Always Better Than One
Everyone who knows me can tell you that I’m very kale-centric! That being said, no one veg can give you complete nutrition — so be sure you’re mixing and matching green, red, orange, and yellow vegetables with grains, legumes, and the protein of your choice for best nutrition.
Focus on superfood vegetables (they have more vitamin and mineral content compared to other veggies) to make the dish even more nutritious — experts say that combining some superfoods make their nutrients or anti-oxidants up to four times more potent compared to consuming foods separately.