Changing how we eat, and feel can be difficult. Improving your diet is not impossible, it is all about making some small tweaks that can be beneficial. We are aware that eating a well-balanced diet full of vegetables and fruits can benefit mental and physical health.
Starting a new habit can be challenging because we have unrealistic and poor expectations. It is helpful to identify at least one or two new mini goals that feel both meaningful and approachable. Start by upgrading your diet by putting more plants on your plate.
Many Americans lack fiber in their diet. Registered dietitians agree we could all benefit from plant-based foods in our diets. Here is why and how to make this a habit.
Why Plants Are So Important for Us
Fiber is a non-digestible carbohydrate that is present in foods that come from plants. Plant foods include fruits, beans, vegetables, legumes, seeds, nuts, healthy oils, and whole grains. It is recommended that adults get about 25 to 35 grams of dietary fiber from whole foods daily. The fiber found in plant foods can improve gut health and regularity, lower cholesterol, help manage blood sugar levels, decrease our risk of illnesses, and reduce inflammation.
Here are some ways plant-based foods can support our health.
Plants Support Gut Health
For optimal gut health, it is important to include a wide variety of plant foods in the diet. Think of all of the microbes in your gut as an ecosystem that thrives off of biodiversity. There are different bacteria's that require unique types of plant compounds to thrive, which is why dietary variety is essential.
Dietary fiber promotes bowel regularity and feeds good microbes. Research shows that people who eat at least 30 different types of plant foods weekly have significantly more diversity in the makeup of their gut microbiome compared to those who eat fewer than 10 plant foods weekly.
Plant Foods Are Heart-Healthy
Plant foods are rich in vitamins and minerals like potassium that can help lower blood pressure, but most plant foods are also very low in saturated fat, one of the main contributors to high cholesterol and plaque build-up in the arteries.
High-fiber plant foods like raspberries, oatmeal and beans also support a healthy heart by helping to lower LDL cholesterol levels in the blood.
They Keep Blood Sugar Levels in Check
Eating plant foods can have a positive effect on our blood sugar levels, taking a sharp blood glucose spike and turning it into a soft hump. This is because the fiber in plant foods creates a sort of mesh in our GI tract that helps slow the uptake of sugar into our bloodstream.
How to Start Eating More Plant Foods
It can take anywhere from 18 to 254 days to establish a new habit, that may seem like a long time but beginning a new habit does not have to feel like a heavy lift.
To set ourselves up for success, set one or two achievable goals each week by adding half-cup of vegetables to one meal every day this week. Not only will you gain confidence but overtime, but you will see the ability to make a positive change.
Fruits and vegetables are not the only plant foods around. Add your intake of nuts, seeds, legumes and whole grains. Below, are smart ways to add more plant foods to your diet:
Add veggie noodles like spiralized zucchini to your usual spaghetti bowl
Add berries to your oatmeal or yogurt
Seeded crackers is a crunchy snack for nut butter or crushed up as a salad topping
Exchange traditional butter for smashed avocado or a nut or seed-based butter like peanut butter on top of toast for more heart-healthy fats and plant-based protein
Add a handful of leafy greens like baby spinach to homemade smoothies
Add spices and fresh herbs to everything
Avocado is a perfect substitute for mayo in chicken or tuna salads
Make homemade trail mix made from nuts, seeds and unsweetened dried fruit at snack time
Instead of regular rice, try riced cauliflower into your meals
Replace white bread with whole-wheat bread or keto bread
Swap regular meat to 100% grass fed meat
The Bottom Line
When you are working with more plant foods into your diet you count colors, not calories. All of the different colors in vegetables contain different nutrients. Carrots and sweet potatoes are rich sources of vitamin A, while spinach and Brussels sprouts have high amounts of folate, iron and vitamin K. Blueberries and cabbage are great sources of anthocyanins, a plant compound that has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.
Incorporating plant diversity into your diet just means adding more fruits, more veggies, and an assortment of grains. It is an awesome way to try new foods. This prevents boredom and keeps meals exciting, enjoyable, and definitely delicious!
Diversifying your diet does not just improve gut health, it will also balance your gut health and boost your well-being.