In this new series, Ask IIN, we round up the most pressing health and wellness questions ‒ from food and exercise to relationships and career ‒ from real people, just like you! Then select Integrative Nutrition Health Coaches and wellness experts will answer these questions so that you can feel empowered to live your healthiest, happiest life.
What are the benefits of going plant-based, and how do I incorporate more plant-based foods into my diet?
In this edition of Ask IIN, we heard from two IIN graduates on how they live a plant-based lifestyle, why it matters to them, and how it can support your overall well-being.
Before we dive in, let’s first answer the question: What does plant-based actually mean? If you follow a plant-based diet, you prioritize the consumption of vegetables, fruits, grains, legumes, nuts, seeds, and any products derived from a plant source. There is indeed a difference between plant-based and vegan or vegetarian, which is mainly that you don’t completely cut out all animal products but rather limit consumption in a way that feels best for you.
Going plant-based isn’t better or worse than becoming vegan or vegetarian—it’s simply another option. Exploring different diets and ways of eating to find what makes your body and mind feel their best exemplifies IIN’s concept of bio-individuality, which applies to not only nutrition but also lifestyle practices that effect your health.
Karla Salinari, Integrative Nutrition Graduate, Bilingual Health Coach
If you've given any thought to living a long, healthy life, you have probably thought about your diet. Almost every week, a new trend hits the health food headlines, making it almost impossible to settle on what to eat and not eat.
But there’s one diet that is consistently shown by science to reduce your risk of disease, and it’s a plant-based diet.
Here are five health benefits of following a plant-based diet:
- May help prevent type 2 diabetes: Studies show that eating a plant-based diet can reduce the risk of developing type 2 diabetes by 34%.
- Can help keep your heart healthy: Meat and dairy contain saturated fat, which can contribute to heart issues for certain individuals when eaten in excess. The benefit to your heart really comes from the heart-healthy unsaturated fats found in plant-based foods, which studies have shown to lower the risk for heart disease when replacing animal-based saturated fat.
- May improve your cholesterol: High cholesterol can lead to fatty deposits in the blood, which can restrict blood flow and lead to heart disease. A healthy plant-based diet can help keep cholesterol levels in check.
- May decrease your risk of cancer: The American Institute for Cancer Research states the best way to source cancer-protective nutrients, including fiber, vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals, is to eat a diet rich in a variety of plants.
- May help you live longer: All the health benefits listed here lead to one major thing: living a longer, healthier life.
Eating plant-based does not mean you can’t enjoy the foods you crave and love! It means that most of your meals are made up of plants, leaving you room to enjoy other foods in moderation. Over time, you may even find that you enjoy and seek out plant-based foods. I like to call it a 90/10 lifestyle, meaning 90% of your meals are plant-based and 10% of your meals are things you enjoy that aren’t plant-based.
To get started, think small: Substitute one meal a day for a plant-based alternative ‒ or swap one meal every other day, to prevent overwhelm.
Three easy, plant-based recipes of mine, to help you get started:
Avocado Pesto Pasta
Roasted Delicata Squash w/ Cilantro Chimichurri
Rachael Colasanto, Integrative Nutrition Graduate
Embracing a plant-based diet lends itself to a long list of health benefits, but as unique human beings with different bodies, schedules, environments (the list goes on), the changes we experience due to a shift in eating will vary. For me, the benefits of going plant-based included:
- Skin improvements – During my college years, I struggled with persistent acne, and like for so many, it didn’t matter how many trips I took to my dermatologist. I tried every cream, pill, and skin treatment, and nothing worked. But cutting down my processed-food intake did. It took time, but eventually, my breakouts became less severe and my skin had a more hydrated, healthy glow.
- Money saved – I was raised by a mother who was vegetarian and have spent the majority of my life following a plant-based diet. In early 2020, my partner and I moved in together. I was vegetarian, and he was a meat-loving omnivore who has since moved toward a more plant-based diet. Whenever meat is included in our grocery basket, we’re guaranteed to have a higher bill.
It’s my firm belief that making changes to your diet doesn’t have to be restrictive. Here are a few tips for incorporating more plant-based foods into your diet; hopefully, they’ll make the transition less daunting.
- Start small and embrace flexibility. Plant-based eating doesn’t need to be an all-or-nothing affair, so be gracious with yourself. Choose a specific day or two each week to incorporate plant-based foods into your diet and take note of how you feel.
- Use the buddy system. Invite friends, family, your partner, or a neighbor to a plant-based meal. I love to eat alongside others as a chance to connect over something that is nourishing our bodies. It may even inspire someone else to make a healthy change!
- Get creative. View this shift in your diet as a way to experiment in the kitchen. Some of my favorite meals are plant-based versions of dishes that typically include meat, such as hearty chili made with lentils and sweet potatoes, instead of ground beef.