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NCHPAD - Building Healthy Inclusive Communities

Moving Toward a More Plant-Based Diet


Gillian Goodfriend, NCHPAD Registered Dietician
Gillian Goodfriend, NCHPAD Registered Dietician

You don't have to be a vegetarian to eat like one. Being a vegetarian is not the right choice for everyone. While I tend to eat many vegetarian meals, I do not consider myself to be a vegetarian. I enjoy meat once in a while and I consume dairy foods daily; I feel that dairy is an excellent source of calcium and protein.

It is well-known that the healthiest diets are high in plant foods (vegetables, fruits, beans, and grains), and low in animal foods (meat, fish, poultry, full-fat dairy products). Rather than convincing you to become a vegetarian, I'd like you to consider "leaning" into the idea of consuming more plant-based foods and less animal foods. During Oprah's final season this year, her staff "leaned" into this idea and established "Meatless Mondays," in which all the food served that day was meat-free.

If you aren't convinced of the benefits of a more plant-based diet, consider the following:

Health:
There is strong scientific evidence that a plant-based diet lowers the risk of heart disease. Eating less animal foods means you are consuming less saturated fat and cholesterol, both of which are linked to heart disease. In addition, soluble fiber in beans, fruits, vegetables, and grains helps to lower LDL ("bad") cholesterol. Evidence also suggests that the antioxidants found in fruits and vegetables help to protect the heart.

While it is not completely clear how fruits and vegetables lower cancer risks, scientists have evidence to suggest that the antioxidants in fruits and vegetables have a protective effect against cancer. In addition, a diet high in fiber helps prevent colon cancer.

Furthermore, some studies have linked a diet high in whole-grains to a lower risk of type 2 diabetes. This is especially noteworthy for people with disabilities, who have a higher risk of developing the disease.

The Environment
There is some controversy surrounding modern meat production and the environment. Controversy aside, however, if it were done on a smaller scale (i.e., we consumed less meat as a society), eating animals would be much less harmful to the environment. The sheer volume of animals that we consume can have the following environmental effects:

-Increased water pollution from manure and sewage from stockyards and chicken factories.

-Increased air pollution from the methane gas from sewage ponds, which contributes to global warming.

-Increased energy use: It can take up to ten times more energy to raise and transport livestock as opposed to vegetables.

Cost
While there is debate on whether or not eating a more plant-based diet can lower your grocery bill, the following article from MSN entitled "Go Vegetarian to Save Money" provides excellent insight, and is really worth reading: http://articles.moneycentral.msn.com/SavingandDebt/SaveMoney/GoVegetarianToSaveMoney.aspx?page=1

As I was searching for vegetarian recipes to include, I discovered that Cooking Light magazine has a meatless challenge this month. Its goal for August is to have people go meatless one day per week. To honor Cooking Light's challenge, try one of its meatless recipes. I have listed two below, but visit http://www.cookinglight.com to search for additional recipes.

Black Bean Soup

Ingredients
-1 pound dried black beans
-4 cups fat-free, less-sodium chicken broth
-2 cups chopped onion
-1 cup water
-1 tablespoon ground cumin
-3 bay leaves
-1 serrano chile, finely chopped
-2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
-1 teaspoon kosher salt
-1/4-cup chopped fresh cilantro
-3 tablespoons reduced-fat sour cream
Cilantro sprigs (optional)

Preparation
1. Sort and wash beans; place in a large bowl. Cover with water to 2 inches above beans; cover and let stand 8 hours. Drain.

2. Combine beans, broth, and next 5 ingredients (and chile) in an electric slow cooker. Cover and cook on LOW 10 hours. Discard bay leaves. Stir in juice and salt. Ladle 1 1/2 cups soup into each of 6 bowls; sprinkle each with 2 teaspoons chopped cilantro. Top each serving with 1 1/2 teaspoons sour cream. Garnish with cilantro sprigs, if desired.

Bulgur with Dried Cranberries

Ingredients
-1 cup coarse-ground bulgur
-2 cups (1/4-inch) cubed peeled English cucumber
-1 cup dried cranberries
-1/3-cup thinly sliced green onion
-1 cup finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
-1 teaspoon grated lemon rind
-1/3-cup fresh lemon juice
-1/3-cup extra-virgin olive oil
-3/4-teaspoon kosher salt
-3/4-teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Preparation
1. Place bulgur in a large bowl; cover with 2 cups boiling water. Cover; let stand 30 minutes or until liquid is absorbed. Fluff with a fork. Add cucumber and remaining ingredients; toss gently to combine.


Please send any questions or comments to Gillian Goodfriend at gilliangoodfriend@yahoo.com.


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