Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Veg Out for Veg Month

There’s no underestimating the power of plants. Packed with vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, phytochemicals, and fiber, plants are medicine, boosting your protection against disease, a longer lifespan, and even a trimmer waistline.

Photo courtesy of Alice Henneman on Flickr

And plant-appreciation is booming. While there’s no denying that Americans love their meat—we’re eating roughly three times the world average—an increasing number of Americans are starting to understand the value in having more meatless meals. In fact, a nation-wide poll conducted among 2, 030 adults found that 47 percent of the population eats vegetarian meals a significant amount of the time. Eating more whole, plant-based meals is a step in the right direction towards better health and a more sustainable food system.

 In our culture of climbing obesity rates, it should be a wake-up call to remember that one billion people around the world don’t get enough food to eat right now. Yet animal agriculture is more intensive in resources, land usage, and inputs, and produces a higher carbon footprint compared to plant foods—animal agriculture is responsible for 18% of greenhouse gas emissions, which is more than the entire transportation sector. According to the Environmental Working Group, shifting towards a plant-centric diet can do Mother Earth some tremendous good.

Consider this: If you eat one less burger per week…It’s like driving 320 miles less in regards to climate-saving action. 

The wonderful thing about a plant-powered diet is that it’s something everyone—from hard-core meat lovers to vegans—can strive for. The premise behind a plant-powered diet is to simply emphasize whole, unprocessed plant foods such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds, and legumes. The key is to start slow, even if it’s just one day a week.

 In recognition of Vegetarian Awareness Month, I (Sharon Palmer) will be sharing delicious recipes, offering the latest tips and research news, featuring plant-powered movers and shakers, reviewing plant-powered restaurants, and hosting some fabulous giveaways all month long! Head over to my Facebook page, Twitter, Pinterest boards or her Plant-Powered Blog for a daily dose of veggie love all month long.  

To kick-start your own diet towards a plant-powered one, try one of these six simple strategies:


1.      Boost your breakfast. Breakfast is a simple way to go meatless. With so many delicious options, you’ll hardly miss the meat. Try a warm bowl of oatmeal topped with dried currants, cinnamon, and toasted almonds. Or how about a stack of whole grain pecan pancakes with sliced bananas?


2.      Plan your meals around the veggies. Rather than planning your meals around the typical beef, chicken or fish selection, turn the table! Start your meal planning with veggies first. You’ll soon realize that this offers much more variety than restriction. For example, you may have purchased some parsnips and turnips at the local farmers market. So, start there.  Maybe you can combine them, along with carrots, celery and onions to a big pot on your stove. And perhaps you can add lima beans, lentils and some interesting spices, such as turmeric and tarragon.  Now that’s an interesting—and health-promoting—meal.


3.      Eat with the seasons. Not only does eating with the seasons offer more nutritional bang for your buck, it puts your palate in rhythm with the natural growing seasons. Isn’t it fitting that apples and winter squash are at their seasonal peak during the autumn months? Take advantage of Mother Earth’s offerings and add hearty chunks of sweet potatoes to your black bean stew. Or serve roasted acorn squash and hazelnuts over a bed of kale for a spin on a traditional green salad.

4.      Snack smart. No need to bust open a bag of processed potato chips, a candy bar, or soda to satisfy your mid-afternoon slump. It just so happens that a variety of plant foods are pre-packaged by nature for easy, convenient, plant-powered snacking. Many fruits already come with single-serve packaging: their outer skins.  Pack along apples, pears, oranges, bananas, peaches, and nectarines for a mid-day snack.  Nuts, seeds, and even some legumes, such as edamame or vegetables, such as cherry tomatoes are the perfect on-the-go pick-me-ups.


5.      Don’t over-complicate things. Not every plant-powered meal has to involve high-tech kitchen gadgets or gourmet cookbooks; cooking up a plant-based meal isn’t as hard as you may think. Top off salads, soups, rice, pasta, casseroles, and stir-fries with a mixture of vegetables, legumes, nuts, and tofu. It can be as easy as black bean burritos, vegetarian chili, or a peanut butter and banana sandwich.


6.      Enjoy plants for dessert. Nutrient-rich plant foods can move beyond healthy meals and snacks to the meal’s final course—dessert. Mashed, ripe bananas or applesauce offer a sweet taste to many baked goods, such as breads, pancakes, muffins, and cookies.  Chopped dates can replace refined sugars, such as cane sugar and corn syrup in cookies, creamy desserts, and pies. Whole fruit, such as in-season pears and apples, can be baked or poached to sweet perfection. Even better? Add toasted almonds, hazelnuts, walnuts, and pecans to your cooked pears or apples for a surge healthy unsaturated fat.



Sharon Palmer, The Plant-Powered Dietitian™ is a writer and author of The Plant-Powered Diet. Over 850 of her articles have been published in national publications, including Prevention, Better Homes and Gardens and Today’s Dietitian. She is also the editor of the award-winning publication Environmental Nutrition and writes for her blog, The Plant-Powered Blog. Her specific expertise is in plant-based nutrition, including Mediterranean, vegetarian and vegan diets. She serves as the consulting dietitian for the Oldways Vegetarian Network, is a Regional Co-Director for the Association of Food Journalists, and is an editor for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetic’s website, eatright.org. Her second book, Plant-Powered For Life: 52 Simple Steps and 125 Delicious Recipes to Get You Started and Make It a Habit, will be in stores spring of 2014.



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