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Health Benefits of Plant-Based Eating
With the uncertainty of national meat supply and elevated prices in these sections of grocery stores lately, now may be a good time to eat more plant-based foods. A plant-based diet is one centered on items that come from plants: fruits, vegetables, grains, seeds, nuts, and legumes such as beans and lentils. Bayhealth Internal Medicine Physician Amita Jain, MD, explained that these foods provide all the nutrients we need, as well as a more digestible source of protein.
You don’t have to necessarily be a vegetarian to enjoy the health benefits of food from plants, said Dr. Jain. A vegetarian diet is usually free of meat, poultry and seafood, and a vegan diet typically means avoiding all animal products and by-products. According to a 2019 study in the Journal of the American Heart Association involving middle-aged adults, a diet high in plant-based foods and low in animal-based foods was associated with better heart health and significantly less chance of dying from cardiovascular disease or heart attack. While going meatless may not be for everyone, consuming mostly foods sourced from plants can also lead to a lower body mass index (BMI), reduced cholesterol, and less risk of obesity, diabetes and stroke.
Plant-based foods are high in fiber and complex carbohydrates. “These are the good kind of carbs that give us our energy,” said Dr. Jain. “It’s a myth that we need meat to get enough protein,” she added. “Ideally, 10-30 percent of our diet should be proteins and there are many plant-based protein sources that are easier to digest and contain more vitamins and minerals.” A few examples are lentils, chickpeas, soybeans, green peas, and broccoli.
The idea of “meatless” products has been trending lately. “A lot of animal fat, particularly in red meat, does not work in our favor for our heart and cholesterol levels,” Dr. Jain said. She advised using caution with alternatives though, as some items designed to closely mimic the taste of meat are loaded with salt and artificial preservatives. “They may be helpful for someone trying to wean themselves off meat and transition to a more plant-centric diet, but you still want to look at nutritional content overall.” She recommends eating healthier fats instead and in moderation like foods high in Omega-3 fatty acids.
Many plant-based foods are minimally processed, which is another reason why they are better for our bodies. “Try incorporating nuts or seeds like pumpkin, chia or flax in your diet. A handful of these or fresh veggies with hummus dip are also great options for snacking that help you maintain good blood sugar throughout the day, stay full longer and avoid overeating or resorting to junk food to curb hunger in between meals,” Dr. Jain said. “In many ways, food is medicine so it’s important to make healthier choices.”
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