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How to Start Adding More Local Plants to Your Plate

Here's how you can do healthy plant-based eating for yourself, and the planet too!

Plant-based eating has been trending for years, and it’s not going away for a good reason. Studies show that there are many worth-it health benefits from eating in a more plant-forward style. And a healthier body can also mean a healthier planet to live on: producing plant foods generally has a lower impact on the environment compared to animal foods. 


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The even better news is you don't even need to give up all animal-based foods if you enjoy them. Just slowly adding in more plants makes a difference too. And it’s not just about veggies: foods like whole grains, mushrooms, beans, nuts and seeds, and of course, fruits are plants too. So if you’re not quite a veggie lover, there’s other ways and other foods to add. Here are a few good reasons to add more plants to your plate and how to get started.


THE BENEFITS


Your Health In general, plant foods are richer in vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and dietary fiber that we need. So it’s no surprise that plant-based diets are associated with a lower risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, and even certain types of cancer. Adding in more plants can also support better gut health and weight management thanks to fiber, the part of plants that we can’t digest. So if you’re struggling with any of these health conditions, or want to prevent them, you can slowly shift to a more minimally processed, varied, plant-forward plate to improve your health.

A Healthier Planet Generally, growing plants can use less land, water, and energy compared to animal-based foods. By reducing the negative impacts of intensive farming practices and creating less pollution, wildlife and biodiversity can thrive, and we can minimize the human effect on ecology for more sustainable practices. And when we live in healthier, less polluted spaces, we are healthier too.


Animal Welfare The vegan movement is a social movement that also considers the ethical treatment of animals in production of food, clothing, and other products. By reducing the demand for animal products, your food choices can mean more humane and compassionate farming practices.


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Cost Benefits There are many ways to save money when shifting to a plant-forward diet. You may have lower healthcare and medication costs by staying healthier and preventing diet-related chronic illnesses. And plant foods like grains, proteins like beans and soy, and local and seasonal produce are often more affordable and accessible compared to animal proteins. Don’t forget canned and frozen options work just as well, and can be just as nutritious and even more convenient.


Variety and Fun Trying out a more plant-based diet might also mean you eat a bigger variety of foods. Variety means exposing yourself to a wider range of vitamins, minerals, and nutrients, and also a healthier gut microbiome. Plus, cooking and trying new foods is also great for creativity and skill-building while experimenting in the kitchen. Knowing how to cook also is linked to improved health benefits for the whole family. 

Here’s how to get more local plants onto your plate:


Try a “meatless” day:  Change your menu just one day a week to include meals that use beans, peas, or soy for protein. Substitute tofu instead of meat in dishes like stir frys or soups. Make bean or chickpea burger patties or “meatballs”. Try taho for a snack. Or make a smashed pea toast with sautéed mushrooms. Plant sources may not have as much protein as animal products, but it is definitely possible to get enough.

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Substitute tofu instead of meat in dishes | Photo by charlesdeluvio on Unsplash

Switch to a whole grain: When eating more plant proteins, pair them with grains like red or black rice, adlai, quinoa, or whole wheat bread. These grains are less processed and have a little more protein to boost your intake, and also other antioxidants, vitamins, and fiber than your usual white rice. If you don’t love whole grains, you could mix them in with white rice too for a nutrient boost.

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Switch to a whole grain! | Photo by Sasan on Unsplash

Balance your plate: A balanced plate is actually half-filled with veggies. So make a little more space for them and reduce your protein to ¼ of your meal. Add more eggplant, kang kong, string beans or okra to pinakbet, or kare-kare. Load carrots, bell peppers, cabbage and bean sprouts in chopsuey or on pancit. And try malunggay or alugbati leaves in soups like sinigang and tinola. Focus more on veggies as a highlight of a meal instead of seeing them as a side, or forgetting them altogether!

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Add more veggies to dishes like Kare-Kare! | Photo by SJ 📸 on Unsplash

Fruits and nuts make a great combo: Buy a fruit that you haven’t had in a while and have that as a snack with locally produced nuts like peanuts or cashews. Pairing your carbohydrate foods with proteins and fats make for a more filling and blood-sugar stable snack, and can replace animal based products with saturated fat, or also highly processed foods. Snacking smart can make a big impact on your day.

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Fruits and nuts make a great combo! | Photo by Christine Siracusa on Unsplash

Make a different green smoothie: Sure, you’ve tried spinach and kale, but what about malunggay, alugbati, or pechay? Yes, these can go into your smoothies too! Add a plant-based milk like soy, and some frozen fruit, and even some seeds like sunflower or pumpkin, which are often locally produced. This also works as a snack or a breakfast if you’re looking for something sweet. 

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Make a different green smoothie! | Photo by Alex Lvrs on Unsplash

Swap olive oil for butter: Butter can be so delicious and decadent if you’re used to it, but know that your taste and palate can adjust. For flavor, you can try onions, garlic, ginger, and fresh or dried herbs and spices too. These are also plants, and often have a kick of antioxidants or phytochemicals that can boost your health.


When switching to a plant-based diet, it is important to be sure you are getting enough of certain nutrients. Animal-based foods are good sources of some hard-to-get nutrients too. Some to pay attention to are protein, vitamin B12, iron, calcium, zinc, and omega 3s. So do a little research and plan your meals well, or work with a dietitian, and choose nutritious sources as often as you can. 


Chella Po, MS, RD is a New York City-trained US registered dietitian who can be found on Instagram as @betterbeing.ph. She uses science to back up her professional advice for clients seeking to create a sustainable, healthy diet without counting calories, restrictive plans, or stress! Contact her for a free discovery call today.


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