Growing up, our parents insisted that we eat our fruit and veggies. And although we responded with an eye roll and a covert under-the-table broccoli pass to our pets, mom and dad knew what they were talking about. Fruits, vegetables, and all other plant-based foods are necessary components of our diets. They are not only the cleanest and least processed foods we consume, but they have the capability to mend medical issues, prevent future illnesses, and improve overall quality of life.
But what are plant- based foods? Fruits and vegetables immediately come to mind, but nuts, seeds, and whole grains fall under the plant-based umbrella as well. Each one of these categories contain different health benefits that our diets tend to lack, and making simple changes to our meals can be life-changing…. literally. Studies show that the more plant based foods people eat, the less likely they are to come down with diseases like heart disease and cancer. And according to the CDC, heart disease is the leading cause of death in America, with cancer closely trailing behind—transitive property, those plant-based foods make a difference!
One cohort study of over 5,000 adults, published in the American Journal of Epidemiology, tested the effects of plant-based foods and heart disease, and found an inverse relationship between vegetable intake and Coronary artery disease, an illness within the heart disease family. In other words, the more vegetables you eat, the happier your heart becomes. This monumental finding is due to the healing powers of fruits and vegetables. Folate, potassium, flavonoids, antioxidants, and vitamins are a few of the nutrients packed inside these plant powerhouses, and these nutrients protect against diseases like heart disease. But the benefits don’t stop there; plant foods also protect from diabetes, cancer, Alzheimer’s, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, Crohn’s, macular degeneration, Parkinson’s disease, cataracts, premature death…need I continue? When plant foods are introduced into our diets, we are giving our bodies proper fuel so it can function to its’ fullest.
Plant-based foods provide the tools needed for weight loss and weight maintenance as well. Foods like vegetables, legumes, and whole grains typically contain large amounts of dietary fiber. Fiber is the magical, indigestible part of a carbohydrate that makes for weight loss without hunger. It adds bulk to our food but passes through our bodies, so it helps to fill us up, without filling us out. The average American eats around 9-11 grams of fiber per day, when we should really be consuming 25-35 grams per day. But this magical nutrient can only be found in plant foods, so eat more plants to get more fiber. Plant-based foods also tend to be low in calorie but high in nutrients. This means that you can eat larger volumes of food and pack in all your vitamins and minerals, but still maintain a healthy weight.
The best thing about plant foods is that they’re easy to dress up. Roast your broccoli and sprinkle it with Parmesan for some extra flavor, or layer your eggplant with tomato sauce for a cozy rollatini. When cooking with plant foods, the flavor combinations are not only endless, but delicious as well. So next time you’re debating a broccoli toss to your dog, remember the power of plant foods. Your body, and your tummy, will thank you for it.