Since Earth Day was yesterday and eating healthy and more sustainably is fresh on your mind, I have some tips to help you eat more plants! Eating a whole food, plant-based diet is not only the healthiest way to fuel your body, but it’s also the healthiest and most sustainable for the entire planet. The animals tend to like it as well 😉 So whether you are vegan, vegetarian, pescatarian, or omnivore, everyone can benefit from eating more plant foods. After all, where do you think your zesty steak, hamburger, or your grilled chicken gets all the flavor that you really love? That’s right folks-plants! Seasonings, herbs, lemon, soy sauce, etc. are all plants or are derived from plants. Our palette craves these flavors-not the true flavors of flesh and blood. This is an interesting thing to think about because I have come across people who think the foods that I eat must be bland or flavor-less. I always find this funny because one of the main reasons that your steak or chicken tastes palatable is because, well, first you’ve cooked it so that you don’t die or get sick eating it, and then secondly, you’ve seasoned, infused, or marinated it with the flavors of vegetables or herbs. Remember this as you transition towards eating more vegetables. The secret lies in the plants.
I’ll be the first to admit that over the last 10 or so years that I have been a vegetarian, I didn’t really eat enough vegetables. I liked them just fine, but that was it. I relied on veggie meats and pastas with only occasional true vegetable-based dinners. I guess I was intimidated by preparing vegetables on my own. I also didn’t have the knowledge that I do now about how important and key the nutrients in plants really are. Once I did my own homework and decided to go vegan 9 months ago, I started to understand what health really is all about. It isn’t about fat or skinny. It isn’t about that processed bag of crackers that only has 100 calories or that sugar-free soda. It isn’t only about the fats, carbs, or protein. It’s about micro-nutrients and phytochemicals! It’s about real living foods that contain the energy of life! It’s about regeneration of cells through respiration, perspiration, and nutrition. It’s about knowing how certain foods and activities make you feel and how they affect your body and your mind! I’m not saying that I have reached the peak of health or that I am perfect in everything I do and eat-because I’m definitely not. But I have come a long way from where I was-and I feel all the better for it and am still learning and growing in this lifestyle. I enjoy my meals a thousand times more now and that is such a fun gift to myself!
So now that I’ve gone on my passionate shpeal, I’ll get down to business. I really want to give you guys a few tips and pointers on how to add more plants to your diet.
Tip 1-Experiment With Your Own Recipes
Over the 11 year course of my sister and I being vegetarian, our mom’s first inclination for accomodating us was to cook her usual meals, only she would replace the chicken, fish, or meat with vegetables instead. Or she would make a side dish minus the animal protein. For example, if she made red beans and rice, she would make a side pot of it leaving out the sausage. And once we went vegan, she would do everything the same minus the meat/dairy/eggs, and add the veggies or mushrooms or beans. For instance, instead of making Chicken Cacciatore she would make Vegetable Cacciatore! And it was always delicious-whatever she’d make in this new way! And through this trial run of helping us out, she, along with my step-dad, transitioned into a plant-based lifestyle.
Tip 2-Try Any One New Veggie/Fruit/Bean/Nut/Grain a week.
If I would have stayed in my little box of only eating what I know, my food would get old and boring. I would not really have discovered the tastes and possibilities of foods such as sweet potatoes, grapefruit, kale, watercress, chia seeds, fresh ginger, edamame, avocados, different rices and grains including quinoa, garbonzo beans, cashews, walnuts, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, berries, tofu, mushrooms, etc. Once you try something new, you’ll become familiar and comfortable with it and you will possibly continue to use it in creating new recipes or incorporating into your current recipes. I always suggest that whatever you’re cooking, throw a little something green in it! If you’re making spaghetti or pasta, throw in some fresh spinach! Spinach doesn’t have a bold, too noticeable flavor and it will add nutrient value to your meal! Also, remember that if you try something and don’t like it, there are sooo many other plants out there to try! That’s the beauty of this-you aren’t stuck if you find one that you don’t like!
Tip 3-Make a Green Smoothie!
Green smoothies are a fun way to get a blast of nutrients that you otherwise would not have gotten! Start with adding spinach since you really won’t be able to taste it once it’s mixed in with you smoothie. It’s really the most bizarre thing how it hides in there and doesn’t interfere with the fruity flavor. The most basic and easy smoothie to make that I like is my banana smoothie. Cut up a banana, freeze it overnight, or for a few hours, throw it in the blender. Add some almond or soy milk, some ice, a little handful of oats, a big handful of fresh spinach, maybe some almonds, walnuts,chia seeds, or ground up flaxseeds and blend away. It’ll be green and it’ll taste delicious! I even add a little almond butter, peanut butter, cocoa powder, or frozen blueberries sometimes. Just experiment with what you know you like, adding in the green. Once you become familiar, try adding fresh kale or spirulina or even some avocado! If the leafy greens freak you out, find an organic whole food green powder. I personally haven’t tried those but I know a lot of people use them and like them.
Tip 4- Eat Salad Before (or as) Your Dinner.
My husband Jason is a big salad-lover. I’d even say he’s been more of a salad lover than I have been-until now that is. Even before he decided to be a vegetarian, he insisted on eating salads before dinner. I wouldn’t always join him (saving my appetite for the grand prize of whatever meal we had cooking), but I started to and I really loved doing this. Salads can be so good! Sometimes we’ll just make a huge fully-loaded salad for our meal-and it’s way more than enough to fill us up. As for dressings, sometimes we’ll top our salads with a little olive oil, fresh squeezed lemon, and sea salt. Other times we enjoy Annie’s Goddess Dressing. You could even make your own low-fat, oil-less citrus dressing by blending some fresh orange, a little water, and some cashews.
Tip 5- Eat Fruit
Everyone loves fruit! The next time that you have a craving for sugar, go for fruit instead of processed and refined sugary treats! Start with fruits you know and love, and then branch out trying new ones! Eventually, you will be accustomed to not eating refined sugar. You’ll realize the difference in the way you feel once you stop eating refined sugar for a few weeks and then have a cookie or a piece of cake. You’ll probably get a headache, stomach ache, or feel super tired afterward-or super wired and then tired. It’s no fun, but you’ll feel the difference and know you were on the right path staying away from those things.
Tip 6-Be Aware
Realize that most Americans eat animal products at every single meal. Usually there is a hunk of some kind of meat/chicken/fish as the centerpiece and there are sides such as potatoes, corn, or other vegetables–but they are usually slathered in butter or cheese. Even someone eating a fairly “healthy” American diet eats some sort of animal product at each meal, using things such as grilled chicken, low fat cheeses, light butter, dairy yogurt, 2% milk, etc. Every Single Meal. Think about it-that’s 3 meals a day, 21 meals a week, 1, 092 meals a year-all going into your system for your body to process. Once you are aware of just how much animal flesh/products that you consume, you can make a conscious decision to alter some of your meals so that they include more plants and less animals.
I hope that this helps you guys add more plants into your life! Do any of you have easy tips on what helped you transition to eating more plants? We’d love to hear them!