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What’s so great about eating a plant-based diet? Concern for food-related environmental impact has grown, contributing to innovations of new and existing food companies.  Plant-based foods are now more accessible due to higher demand for animal-food alternatives.  Sales of plant-based foods increased 5 times faster than total food sales this year.  Plant-based yogurts are a driving force, as purchase increased nearly 40% between 2018 and 2019.  The same year, non-dairy cheese sales increased approximately 20%.  Now more than ever, health and environmentally conscience consumers are seeking plant-based milks, condiments, and butter substitutes.

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A Healthier You, One Challenge At a Time

Advantages to choosing plant-based foods.  Made with vegetables, beans, peas, lentils, soy, nuts, and seeds, meat and dairy alternatives are higher in fiber. Eating a plant-based diet improves fiber intake. The more fiber you eat, the less food you need to feel full.  Most Americans do not consume the recommended amount of fiber. Low fiber intake leads to diseases of the colon.  Most plant-based foods are lower in total and saturated fat and many are cholesterol free.  *According to the newly released 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, replacing processed or high-fat meats with beans, peas, and lentils “could help lower the intake of salt and fat, nutrients often consumed in excess recommended limits.”

Research from the National Institute of Health (nih.gov) shows that plant-based diets are cost-effective and may lower body mass index (BMI), blood pressure, blood sugar (HbA1c), and cholesterol.  These diets can reduce the number of medications needed to treat chronic diseases. Plant-based diets can lower death rates caused by ischemic heart disease.  Accordingly, NIH urges physicians to consider recommending a plant-based diet to all patients, especially those with high-blood pressure, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and obesity.

Finally, the production of plant foods generates a smaller carbon footprint than their animal-based counterparts.  Many believe that the mass consumption of animals is a primary cause of water pollution, global warming, and the degradation and deforestation of land. In fact, meat products are among the most energy-intensive and ecologically burdensome foods.

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Changes for moving (plant) forward. Choose dips and spreads made with beans, peas, lentils, nuts, seeds, soy, and quinoa to get adequate protein. Opt for Greek-style yogurt for its higher protein content.  Fortified dairy alternatives ensure you aren’t missing important vitamins and minerals like calcium and B12. 

It’s common for strict plant-based diets to lack sufficient iron. Include kidney, black, and soy beans, spinach, raisins, cashews, oatmeal, cabbage, and tomato juice for adequate iron intake.  Oysters (especially tinned) are particularly high in iron.  Foods rich in iron should be consumed with citrus which improves absorption.  For example, add orange or grapefruit slices to your spinach salad. Avoid products containing coconut and palm oils due to a high saturated fat content and the detrimental impact of harvesting on the world’s rainforests. 

* excess intake of total fat, saturated fat, cholesterol, and dietary sodium are associated with heart disease

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