Plant-Based: Eating a plant-based diet has many advantages for your health and the environment. Here’s how to start experimenting with this diet. Even if you’re the kind of person who finds it impossible to fathom a dinner without meat, it’s never been simpler to give plant-based eating a try. And that’s fantastic news since plant-based diets have many positive health effects.
Eating more plants may improve heart health, prevent certain types of cancer, lower the risk of type 2 diabetes, and delay the rate of cognitive decline, according to Kim Rose, RDN, a consulting dietitian with the food-tracking app Lose It! who is based in Lakeland, Florida.
Additionally, this diet can benefit the environment. In a study, it was discovered that compared to diets containing meat, vegan and ovolacto-vegetarian diets result in approximately 50% and 35% fewer greenhouse gas emissions, respectively.
Including plant-based items in your diet may also benefit your wallet. Meat is hardly an exception to rising food prices. The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Economic Research Service reports that meat categories experienced the highest relative price increases in 2020, and the Bureau of Labor Statistics (PDF) reports a 9% increase in the food indices for meat, poultry, and fish from September 2021 to September 2022.
You can benefit from eating more plant-based foods without totally committing to a vegan or vegetarian diet. More plant-based foods can be included in your diet now than ever before. A fantastic place to start is by substituting these seven plant-based items for typical animal-based goods.
1. Beyond Meat for Ground Meat or Impossible
You won’t have to travel very far to find a burger to satisfy your craving. Across the nation, you may find plant-based meat substitutes from Impossible Foods or Beyond Meat on grocery store shelves or even on the menus of fast food restaurants.
You could be inspired to change because of environmental factors. In Rose’s opinion, meat substitutes may be preferable to actual meat because they are more environmentally friendly. This is crucial, especially if you’re worried about the state of the globe. They’re not flawless, though Although meat alternatives are not as pure as they appear to be, plants are more sustainable than meat. After all, these businesses are significant food processors, and the environmental impact of production, packaging, and shipping to grocery stores is significant.
When comparing nutrition, she adds, meat substitutes might not be a better choice than a regular beef burger. They both contain comparable amounts of saturated fat, which when consumed in excess can elevate cholesterol and increase the risk of heart problems or stroke (AHA).
A randomized crossover trial at the same time found that participants’ cholesterol levels and weight were lower when they consumed more plant-based protein than animal-based protein. (Remember, though, that Beyond Meat financed the study, and industry engagement in reflections on their goods may have an impact on the findings, according to Vox.)
While Beyond Meat is higher in protein and vitamin B12 and lower in saturated fat than red meat, it nevertheless has the mouthfeel and flavors of hamburger, according to Scanniello. “If someone enjoys experimenting in the kitchen, I prefer advocating a less-processed method and instead point them toward making their hamburger patties out of black beans.” Online resources offer other homemade plant-burger possibilities.
2. Dairy-Free Milk for Dairy Milk
Almond milk, oat milk, coconut milk, and soy milk are just a few examples of the many dairy-free kinds of milk that are readily available. According to Boulder, Colorado-based Eat Simply Nutrition creator Brittany Scanniello, RDN, “People may choose a dairy alternative for a variety of reasons; one may be due to an allergy or intolerance.” Others might choose a dairy-free diet because they dislike the flavor of milk or the consumption of animal products.
According to the American Society for Nutrition, dairy-free milk often contains less fat and sugar while maintaining the same amount of calories as whole cow’s milk. Check out the milk aisle in the grocery store the next time you’re there; while this is frequently accurate, each variety of dairy-free milk has a slightly unique nutritional composition. To choose the milk that best fits your diet compare the nutritional data of the dairy and dairy-free milk options offered in your neighborhood grocery.
According to data from the USDA, cow’s milk has one advantage over the majority of dairy-free alternatives: it’s a decent source of protein. I constantly try to underline how important it is to locate a dairy alternative with a comparable protein composition,” says Scanniello. For a similar amount of protein, Rose offers soy or pea milk.
Alternatively, Rose advises using unsweetened cashew or almond milk if you’re worried about carbohydrates. Compared to dairy milk, both will provide much fewer carbs per serving.
Scanniello also emphasizes the significance of seeking out calcium- and vitamin D-fortified plant-based milk. She gave her kid, who was allergic to milk, unsweetened pea-based milk that was fortified with calcium and vitamin D. The pea-based milk had a protein content that was comparable to that of dairy milk.
One more thing: The American Society for Nutrition predicts that these milk substitutes will cost more than regular cow’s milk.
3. Jackfruit for Pulled Pork
As a low-calorie alternative to pulled pork, try jackfruit. It is a straightforward exchange thanks to its chewy, slightly stringy feel. According to Scanniello, “I enjoy integrating jackfruit because it truly does lend a comparable texture and appearance to pulled beef.”
It’ll also significantly cut down on your calories. According to the USDA, a 1-cup meal of jackfruit (about 150 g) has 143 calories, while a 1-cup dish of pulled pork with barbecue sauce has 418 calories.
However, it’s not a perfect replacement: Jackfruit can be a fantastic option if you want to follow Meatless Mondays, but it doesn’t have enough protein to take the place of pulled pork or tofu, according to Rose.
However, the thought of cooking with jackfruit can be frightening. Uncertain about where to begin? Consider making the BBQ Jackfruit Sandwiches with Avocado Slaw recipe from The Minimalist Baker. Most of the components are likely already in your cupboard; the most challenging part may be finding jackfruit, which is easily accessible at Whole Foods, on Amazon, or at Asian grocers. You can also look at these 10 jackfruit recipes for beginners that are RDN-approved.
4. Nondairy Ice Cream for Ice Cream
No need to worry; if you decide to increase your intake of plant-based meals, you may still indulge in your late-night ice cream habit. You may now sate your sweet desire with a variety of dairy-free ice cream options. To mimic the creamy consistency of classic ice creams, companies like Halo Top and So Delicious use substitutes including soy milk, coconut milk, almond milk, and oat milk.
Dairy-free desserts might also be a method for individuals who avoid ice cream because of the high sugar and calorie content to have a more nutritious treat. According to the American Society for Nutrition, all of these dairy substitutes—oat milk being the exception—have fewer calories and sugar.
According to the American Society for Nutrition, nondairy kinds of milk, except hemp milk, also provide 25 to 63 percent of the fat found in cow’s milk, which is advantageous for your health. The American Heart Association says the impact on your cholesterol is lessened by a lower fat level (AHA). Saturated fat is typically present in higher concentrations in animal-based meals than in unprocessed, plant-based foods, including dairy products like butter, full-fat milk, and ice cream. The AHA advises reducing your consumption of saturated fat because it can elevate cholesterol levels and increase your risk of heart disease when consumed in excess.
According to StatPearls, limiting saturated fat, trans fat, and refined sugar may aid in lowering inflammation in the body. Systemic, or chronic, inflammation has been linked to several diseases, including autoimmune disorders, cancer, heart disease, and neurological diseases, according to research.
5. Flax egg, Aquafaba, or the simple egg substitute
According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, choosing a vegan egg over a chicken egg may be due to ethical considerations or a food allergy. “Aquafaba or flax egg substitution is a feasible plant-forward choice for cooking and baking,” adds Rose. “Eggs are a frequent food allergy.”
Have you never heard of aquafaba? Check your pantry. According to U.S. News & World Report, chickpeas are boiled and bottled in aquafaba. You can substitute it by tablespoons, using 1 tablespoon (tbsp) for one yolk, 2 tablespoons (tbsp) for one egg white, and 3 tablespoons (tbsp) for a whole egg. Because it only includes trace nutrients, it has fewer calories, sodium, cholesterol, and fats than eggs.
Meanwhile, a flax egg combines water, flaxseed powder (ground flaxseeds), protein, fiber, and omega-3 fatty acids to create an egg alternative. You can get started by following Jessica in the Kitchen’s recipe for a flax egg. According to the USDA, flax eggs have a higher nutritional value than aquafaba and have 37 calories, 2 mg of salt, 3 g of fat, and no cholesterol. According to the USDA, a large chicken egg contains roughly 70 calories, 5 g of fat, 0.5 g of carbohydrate, 6 g of protein, and 207 mg of cholesterol.
However, Rose says that if you want a fluffy egg-like texture for a breakfast or lunch entrée, the Just Egg brand substitution is a fantastic [plant-based] grab-and-go option. Additionally, its nutritional profile is the closest to that of actual eggs. According to the Just Egg website, one serving of the product has 70 calories, 5 g of fat, 1 g of carbohydrate, and 5 g of protein.
6. Calcium and protein-fortified vegan cheese
The thought of giving up cheese is a turnoff for some people who are considering switching to a plant-based diet. The good news is that you don’t have to stop using it altogether. Vegan cheese, which may include cashews, seeds, or tofu as its creamy base, can occasionally be substituted if you consume only plant-based foods due to ethical considerations.
It’s difficult to say which is healthier nutritionally. According to Rose, vegan cheese, especially those made from potato starch, may help you lose weight and consume fewer calories and fat than regular cheese.
However, vegan cheese can also include fewer healthy elements like calcium and protein. Scanniello says she hasn’t found a vegan cheese whose nutrient profile she loves, which is why she doesn’t like it.
Avoid coconut oil-based cheese to safeguard your heart; it is high in saturated fats and salts and has similar amounts of calories as other cheeses. In addition, the review claimed that cheeses made from tofu and cashew nuts had fewer calories and less saturated fat.
7. Avocado for Mayonnaise
Avoiding animal products doesn’t require you to live in a world of bland, dry sandwiches. The next time you prepare sandwiches or an egg salad, try substituting avocado for mayo. According to the USDA, a tablespoon of calorie-dense mayonnaise contains almost no carbs, fiber, or protein. According to the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, avocados, on the other hand, are loaded with vitamins and minerals, including potassium, magnesium, carotenoids, and vitamins B, C, E, and K which are related to a decreased risk of chronic diseases.
According to the USDA, avocados also provide heart-healthy monounsaturated fats, satiating fiber, and carbohydrates, making them a delicious and healthy alternative to mayo. To replace mayonnaise on your next sandwich, in chickpea salad, or as a tasty dip, mash an avocado.