Cover the plant-based basics

Plant-based diets have become more popular in recent years, but there’s a ton of confusion regarding meat-less or less meat eating.

Most people think of plant-based as just vegan or vegetarian and won’t even consider trying it because they enjoy their meat too much.

However, the Mediterranean diet and the flexitarian diet are also considered predominantly plant-based. If that surprises you, you’re not alone!

As long as plants make up a significant portion of their food, your diet would be considered predominantly plant-based.

Going by the stricter vegan and vegetarian definitions, vegetarians typically eat dairy products as well as eggs, whereas vegans don’t eat any animal products at all.

READ MORE | Plant-Based Fitness Nutrition Made Easy

Health benefits

Following a plant-based diet offers a host of potential health benefits, even if you only commit to “meatless Mondays”.

Studies show that eating a plant-based diet can have incredible health benefits. It can reduce your risk of developing heart disease and type 2 diabetes and may even reverse them.

Plant-based eating can also help to alleviate high blood pressure, improve your cholesterol levels, reduce your need for some medications, and prevent some chronic illnesses and diseases.

READ MORE | Veganuary Campaign Helps Spread Love For Plant-Based Eating

Inflammation factor

According to a public health and nutrition study, following a vegan diet can significantly lower C-reactive protein (CRP) levels, which is a marker for chronic inflammation.

Even if you aren’t committed to becoming a full-time vegan, adopting elements of a vegan lifestyle for a few days a week while increasing your intake of fruits and vegetables can still do wonders to help quell chronic inflammation.

Inflammation is the body’s natural process to protect you from outside invaders, like infections, injuries, and toxins.

Inflammation happens to everyone, but when inflammation goes into overdrive, it becomes chronic and, often, destructive. This is when we see complications like arthritis, diabetes, obesity, gut issues, and heart disease.

Because plant-based foods contain higher levels of antioxidants, which have anti-inflammatory properties, many plant foods help to reduce the risks posed by chronic inflammation.

For example, tomatoes, avocados, leafy greens such as kale and spinach, and fruit like oranges, blueberries, and cherries are great inflammation fighters.

READ MORE | 5 Tips To Embrace Plant-Based Living The Easy Way

Plant-based basics

If you’re new to plant-based eating, start small with one or two plant-based meals once a week or even once a month.

Over time, you can increase those meals to as many as you want. The only proven way to know if plant-based eating works for you is to try it. Treat it like an experiment and define what it means to you.

Although a plant-based diet includes a lot of fruits and vegetables, you can still aggravate inflammation with fried foods, white bread, pastries, soda, sugary drinks, and processed foods that vegans and vegetarians may still consume.

As with everything else, you can eat these foodstuffs in moderation, as long as you predominantly focus on whole, nutrient-dense foods the majority of the time.

But knowing exactly how to eat a plant-based diet while covering all your nutritional bases can seem overwhelming. It goes beyond just “cutting out” meat and other animal products. You also have to pay attention to your body and what it needs.

READ MORE | More South Africans Embracing Plant-Based Eating

Plant proteins

Now that you’ve decided to forgo meat, dairy, and fish in your diet, you might find yourself asking yourself, “But where do I get my protein?”

It’s a common misconception that you won’t get enough protein while on a plant-based diet.

However, if you follow a healthy, intentional diet, you’ll get sufficient protein from plant-based sources.

Here are five of the best plant-based proteins that you can incorporate into your meals, whether you’re looking to ditch animal products entirely or looking for ways to diversify your options:

1. Lentils

They are loaded with good-for-your-gut fibre, which is something a lot of us struggle to consume enough of. And fibre also helps keep you feeling fuller for longer.

Lentils have been linked with various health benefits, including lower cholesterol and blood pressure and a lower risk of heart disease.

No matter what kind of legume you prepare, it’s essential to ensure it is fully cooked before eating them. Uncooked legumes contain anti-nutrients (phytates, saponins and tannins), which can affect both your digestive system and the absorption of other nutrients. You can enjoy lentils in soups and stews, in salads, or in chilli!

2. Chickpeas

Chickpeas are high in protein and fibre, which makes them a filling food that may help lower appetite and reduce calorie intake at meals.

They are also an excellent source of protein, which has various health benefits, ranging from weight management and muscle maintenance to bone health.

Chickpeas rank low on the glycaemic index (GI), which supports healthy blood sugar control. They are rich in L-tryptophan and have a high level of magnesium – a mineral that our bodies need to combat stress, among other important functions.

Chickpeas are the main ingredient in hummus, which you can buy from the store or make it yourself. Another way to enjoy chickpeas is to roast them, which makes for a delicious and crunchy snack. You can also incorporate them into veggie burgers or tacos.

3. Quinoa

Quinoa has earned superfood status because of its impressive nutritional profile. Quinoa is an excellent substitute for rice, pasta and other starches. It is also gluten-free because it’s technically a seed and not a grain.

Quinoa is considered a complete protein, which means it packs all the essential amino acids that our bodies need.

In addition to being protein-rich, quinoa is a fantastic source of fibre – it contains almost double the amount of fibre than most other grains.

Quinoa has a low GI (around 53), making it a healthy choice for everyone, especially individuals with diabetes.

You can serve it as a side dish or in salads.

4. Chia seeds

Some nutritional researchers consider chia seeds the most nutritious foods you can eat because they contain good-for-you fats and fibre.

Their excellent fibre content will keep you feeling full and satisfied for hours after eating – just 1 ounce (28g) contains 11g of fibre!

Chia seeds can help lower triglycerides, blood sugar, inflammation, and belly fat. They might also help raise your body’s good HDL cholesterol level. Additionally, they appear to help reduce blood pressure, and they contain micronutrients that support bone health.

With their mild taste, chia seeds are easy to add to your diet – sprinkle them on salads, make a pudding by soaking them in liquid for 20 minutes or use them as a thickener in recipes. They are also a great addition to smoothies.

5. Non–GMO tofu

Tofu is a great plant-based ingredient because it takes on the flavour of the ingredients it’s cooked with.

It is made by pressing condensed soy milk into blocks in a process similar to cheesemaking and comes in different textures, from ultra-soft to firm. If you’re not a fan of tofu’s texture, try pressing out the liquid from a block of tofu before cooking it.

Because it tastes pretty bland, it can be added to tons of recipes, marinated, grilled, broiled, stir-fried, and more! It’s also a viable option when dining out, particularly at Asian restaurants.

Among its many health benefits, it may lower your risk of heart disease and it is linked to a lower risk of some cancers (breast, digestive system, and prostate). Tofu also appears to help keep blood sugar under control.

It may even help to balance hormones, reduce bone loss, improve skin elasticity, and improve your memory (especially for women over 65!).

One important tofu consideration relates to the use of genetically modified soybeans to manufacture it. If that is a concern for you, choose a non-GMO brand, which you should find at most supermarkets.

READ MORE | Top 10 Tips For Transitioning Into A Plant-Based Diet

Make the switch

Ultimately, a plant-based diet doesn’t have to be all-or-nothing. Rather than eating only fruits and veggies, you can focus on eating more of them while eating less processed foods and animal products.

How ever you implement a plant-based diet, whether going wholly vegan or doing a “Meatless Monday,” remember that an imperfect plan implemented consistently beats a perfect plan done rarely.

By Brittinie Wick, a health and fitness coach. Her mission is to empower women through fitness and nutrition and help them gain confidence, lose weight and celebrate the feeling that comes with being strong and sexy. www.brittiniewick.com

Author: Pedro van Gaalen

When he’s not writing about sport or health and fitness, Pedro is probably out training for his next marathon or ultra-marathon. He’s worked as a fitness professional and as a marketing and comms expert. He now combines his passions in his role as managing editor at Fitness magazine.

When he's not writing about sport or health and fitness, Pedro is probably out training for his next marathon or ultra-marathon. He's worked as a fitness professional and as a marketing and comms expert. He now combines his passions in his role as managing editor at Fitness magazine.

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