If you've ever heard "plant based diet" and thought "how restricting, boring, and bland," you might want to think again. With all the available options, there are so many ways to maintain a plant based diet and enjoy healthier versions of the foods you already eat.

For example, by using foods like potatoes, sweet potatoes, whole grains, and legumes to make a meal, such as pesto pasta or bean enchiladas, you just made a tasty plant-based meal. There are recipes specific for plant based meals available online at sites such as www.nutritionstudies.org, www.eatingwell.com/category/4243/special-diets/ or the Ireland Army Health Clinic nutrition staff can help.

Eating a plant based diet is simply about eating more plants and less meat. That means eating more veggies, fruits, beans, peas, lentils, whole grains, nuts, seeds and less animal products and processed foods. On this diet you can eat foods you enjoy and not worry about individual nutrients without over analyzing the nutrient content in foods, such as counting proteins or carbs.

"There is a misconception out there that if you are on a plant based diet you will be protein deficient," said Angela Gerrity, a registered dietitian at Ireland Army Health Clinic at Fort Knox, Ky. "It is rare to be protein deficient on a plant based diet unless you are not eating enough calories to maintain good health. It's funny how some people get caught up in being concerned about macronutrients and worried about being deficient on diets with little or no meat, such as plant based one, but not concerned about the lack of nutrients in the processed foods they consume every day."

Counting content can make dining less enjoyable and you are more likely to fall off the wagon. Just choose foods in categories such as whole fruits--but not juice--vegetables, whole grains, nuts, and seeds for example, where you can mix and match for a tasty variety that gives the most impact of nutrients.

And don't sweat the small stuff--like trying to find fresh, local, or organic food. This is especially true when just a few weeks ago your diet consisted of fast foods. Your main focus should be eating whole plant foods and less meats, dairy products, and eggs. This will make a difference in your overall health and change the nutritional composition of the foods you are eating.

"I would start out by taking baby steps anytime when you start to make a change for example by eliminate meat from your meals just one day a week to begin with," she explained. "Once you feel comfortable with that change then move up to two or three days a week, a few weeks later, to eventually remove all or the majority of animal products. Also, plant based diets tend to be more economical when you have to stretch your dollar."

Sometimes we get lax on our diets when we go out to eat or travel. But, by researching before you go you can stay ahead of the hunger. For example, if you are going out to eat at the last minute with friends look online or call to make sure there are plant based food options at the restaurant. With increase of demand these menu choices have become more available.

Among the benefits to a plant based diet are lower blood pressure, lower risk of cancer and of Type 2 Diabetes. The Adventist health Study-2 found that vegetarians had a lower risk of these health issues, and for people are not total vegetarians, cutting down on red meat is associated with cutting down the rates of cancer and heart disease.

Type 2 Diabetes and obesity are epidemics in this country that have changed our populations overall health. But a plant based diet is low in calories and no unhealthy fat, which makes it easy to lose weight.

"When you think of a plant based diet think of prevention of chronic diseases, which means less medication and medical visits in the future," Gerrity added.

And she pointed out that according to an article in "Scientific American" plant based diets are better for the environment. The articles says that the amount of beef the average American eats in a year creates as much greenhouse gas as driving a car over 1,800 miles.(Bartolotto, Eat a Plant Based Diet, Nov. 4 2013 HuffPost).

There are many reasons to explore a plant based diet, such as improving the environment, overall health, and lessening your waistline. Don't think of it just as diet but a "lifestyle change in the making."

Let's bring in the New Year with positive changes to our overall health. Even small changes like increasing more veggies on your dinner plate can make a difference. So, tonight let's skip the meat and have beans and greens instead.

For more information or assistance with nutrition and diets contact the IRAHC Nutrition Care Division at 502-624-9713.
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