Is this you?
If so, you're not alone.
According to experts from the Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion in this article on health.Gov,
- About three-fourths of the population has an eating pattern that is low in vegetables, fruits, dairy, and oils.
- More than half the population is meeting or exceeding total grain and total protein foods recommendations, but... are not meeting the recommendations for the subgroups within each of these food groups.
- Most Americans exceed the recommendations for added sugars, saturated fats, and sodium.
In addition, the eating patterns of many are too high in calories. Calorie intake over time, in comparison to calorie needs, is best evaluated by measuring body weight status. The high percentage of the population that is overweight or obese suggests that many in the United States over consume calories... more than two-thirds of all adults and nearly one-third of all children and youth in the United States are either overweight or obese.
In other words: Americans eat far too few plant-based foods, and as a result, over-consume calories. This has played a part in the obesity epidemic in both adults and children, and the resulting health problems in this population have been estimated to cost $147 billion annually. (in 2008, according to this article by the Center for Disease Control.)
P.K Newby, Adjunct Associate Professor of Nutrition at Harvard University, says, “more than 80% of Americans are befuddled” about whom or what to believe about what to eat. She also says, "since 80% of chronic diseases are preventable through modifiable lifestyle changes,” it’s a topic worth getting clear about.
What's the simplest fix?
Eat more plants.
Whole plant-based foods are not about a brand. They’re not a fad diet. They’re not something that you have to be wary of portion sizes and calories they contain. In fact, you could eat as many fruits and vegetables as you could swallow, and you’d probably never be causing your body harm. As a blanket rule, no doctor is going to say “stop eating so many of those dang vegetables!” In fact, most health assessments probably end more like “if you don’t start eating more vegetables, your health will further decline which will lead to early death.” (I’m not a doctor and this is not real medical advice, but you get my point.)
And I know what a lot of you might be saying…
"but I don't LIKE vegetables!"
Fair point. I get it. You may not have grown up eating tasty, well-prepared plant-based foods, so your palette may not be accustomed to the flavors, colors, and textures of these ingredients. You may have been psychologically conditioned that certain foods are for certain genders, or you may have repeatedly heard bad things about the taste of veggies when you were a kid. You may have sought (and found) comfort in non-plant-based foods to deal with stress and trauma. Your family may center all of their traditions around non-plant-based foods.
That’s ok. It really is.
Give yourself permission to start slow. Take the time to experiment and find what you actually like within each step. Challenge yourself to try new things - even if it’s one small bite. If there’s something you’re on the fence about or that you’re not just totally repulsed by… eat it anyway. You’ll be surprised how quickly your taste buds will start to adapt. But don’t force it. It’s important that you lean into the actual PRACTICE of eating more plants. Just like any other skill, feeding yourself healthfully is something most people have to learn. It can take some effort to get over the hump, but you know what? I believe in you! So, let’s get to it, y’all.
I don’t want to take anything from you. I’m not here to tell you what to STOP.
I’m here to give you the gift of MORE:
How to Eat More Plants
Food without herbs and spices is boring. Seriously. Pizza sauce without oregano, basil, and garlic is just smushed up, boiled down tomatoes. Plants are actually what makes our food TASTE GOOD, so let’s make friends with flavor-enhancing herbs first. That way, you get used to seeing plants on your plate as a GOOD thing. Yes, I'm talking to you, Mr. Meat-And-Potatoes-Man.
Don’t know how to cook yet? You can doctor up your store bought, packaged foods with herbs to enhance the flavor. It’s a great way to start getting comfortable in the kitchen! Get creative and try new herbs and spices (yes, on your meat and dairy dishes, too). Get to know the flavors you like. Try them fresh, dried, homegrown, store bought, from the local farmers market, and everywhere in between. This book: The Flavor Bible, is a great resource if you feel stuck and don't know where to start.
Here's a helpful hint:
Also, herbs are packed with compounds used for healing. Herbalists literally use herbs as medicine to heal people… and not just weird ones you’ve never heard of, either! Common culinary herbs are used in herbal medicine all the time. The Oxford Dictionary describes the field of herbalism as “the study of practice of the medicinal and therapeutic use of plants.” Those babies are powerful! Why would you not want to add as many healing properties to your food as possible, especially if they taste good? Check out The Herbal Academy for some great online resources on using herbs for healing.
Here are just a few ideas for adding flavor-enhancing herbs to your food…
- Add fresh basil to your pizza.
- Add fresh chopped garlic to your scrambled eggs.
- Add an extra scoop of pico de Gallo to your burrito.
- Add some dried oregano, thyme, and garlic powder to your French fries.
- Add fresh chopped chives to your mashed potatoes.
- Add extra fresh cilantro to your pad Thai.
- Add chopped fresh parsley to your macaroni and cheese.
- Add some cinnamon to your coffee.
- Add fresh ginger to your tea.
Once you’ve practiced adding herbs and spices to ery’thang, it’s time to add the next step to your Eat More Plants practice.
We’ve probably all been told (or read or heard or seen) at one time or another that it’s important to eat more leafy greens. On top of being ridiculously full of nutrition, they’re also full of antioxidants, and have a low calorie and carbohydrate content. The USDA states:
“Perhaps one of the most appealing benefits of dark green leafy vegetables is their low calorie and carbohydrate contents and their low glycemic index. These features make them an ideal food to facilitate and achieving and maintaining a healthy body weight.”
Most of us have consumed too many calorie-dense foods in our lives, and eating more plants is the answer to the calorie-density issue. So, the next assignment? Add green plants for bulk. What does this mean, exactly?
Whenever you get the chance, add something green to your plate. If there’s already something green, add a little more of it. For example:
- Add spinach to your omelette.
- Add kale to your fruit and yogurt smoothie.
- Add an extra piece of lettuce to your sandwich.
- Add an extra scoop of green beans to your plate at the cookout.
- Add a second chopped green pepper to that lasagna recipe.
- Add some finely chopped Swiss chard to your homemade hamburgers.
You’re still eating what you would’ve eaten, only slightly more of your plate is now occupied by plants! Your food has slightly fewer calories (than if the same space was occupied by high calorie density food), and it has more nutrients and health benefits. Score!
The 3rd step should be easy to incorporate after step 2. You’re still going to practice adding herbs for flavor and greens for bulk, but now you’re going to:
Green is not the only color that vegetables come in. Just look at this gorgeous basket of homegrown vegetables!
Each color in our plant-based foods is there because of the specific nutritional and antioxidant properties that that food carries called phytonutrients. According to this report from the Nutrilite Health Institute,
… Americans are falling short in virtually every color category of phytonutrients:
- 69% fall short in green
- 78% fall short in red
- 86% fall short in white
- 88% fall short in purple/blue
- 69% fall short in yellow/orange
Therefore, on average, 8 out of 10 Americans have a phytonutrient gap.
Adding a second color to your “eat more plants” practice will help you start closing that gap and getting all of the nutrients your body needs. Plus, according to this article, “visual stimuli have been shown to alter the perception of taste, smell, and flavor.” We eat with our eyes, too, so it will make your food look that much more delicious! Challenge yourself to explore new types of vegetables, and different colors of vegetables you already eat. Did you know that carrots come in many colors?
Here's a helpful hint:
Local farmers markets are a great place to find unique varieties and colors not found in stores!
Some combo's you could try:
- Add fresh chopped tomato and basil to doctor up canned spaghetti sauce
- Add orange bell pepper and cilantro to your tacos
- Add mushrooms and avocado to your burger
- Add cucumber and red onion to your falafel wrap
The next step in the process shouldn’t feel nearly as daunting by now. You’ve accustomed yourself to seeing plants on your plate with herbs that taste good. You’ve added bulk to your meals with extra greens and added a second color of plants, so the portion size of plants on your plate has grown. Now, you’re going to shift the plant portion size again by adding MORE vegetables. The next step is to:
There's a new trend in food, and it's called "plant-forward" eating. Chefs, restaurants, and environmentalists alike are jumping on board. Just check out this article from Food Business News:
This way of eating puts plants at the focal point, and if animal products are incorporated at all, they’re positioned as supporting players.
This could be as simple as:
- Veggie supreme pizza (bonus points for adding fresh basil)
- Spring veggie risotto (bonus points for adding chopped fresh parsley)
- Stuffed bell peppers (bonus points for having them stuffed with more veggies)
- Grilled cauliflower “steaks”
- Sweet potato and black bean enchiladas
“According to a 2018 trendsetting report from Datassential, 22% of consumers are increasing their fruit and vegetable intake, and 49% report choosing plant-based foods because they are viewed as “healthier” options. And it’s not just vegetarians - a full 36% of self-described carnivores are looking to eat more plant-based foods.” - FSR Magazine
Here's the good news: by this point, if you’ve been practicing these steps on a regular basis, you’re probably eating a diet that’s at least 50% plants. If you started with a Standard American Diet composed of too much animal protein, starches, and sugar, then that is a massive improvement! (This diet is commonly known as the S.A.D. …Appropriate, right?) Make sure to stop and look back at where you started and take a moment to appreciate your progress! The next step will get you even closer to a diet that’s chock-full of plants:
Want to add even more plants? Try swapping out a non-plant-based food with a plant-based one. You could:
- Swap your beef burger for an Impossible Burger, Beyond Burger, or veggie burger
- Swap your cheese and butter with plant-based versions (I like Miyokos a lot)
- Swap regular egg-based brownies for fudgy avocado brownies
- Swap your regular mayo for a plant-based version
- Swap out the milk in your coffee for oat milk (or another plant-based variety)
- Swap out the heavy cream in that recipe for homemade cashew cream
Plant-based swaps are actually fairly easy these days. Whether homemade or on-the-go, almost everywhere has some sort of plant-based swap options. In July of 2019, The Plant Based Foods Association and The Good Food Institute reported that “U.S. retail sales of plant-based foods have grown 11% in the past year, bringing the total plant-based market value to $4.5 billion.” They go on to stay that “refrigerated plant-based meat is driving category growth with sales up an impressive 37%.”
A note on prepared and pre-packaged plant-based swaps:
A lot of plant-based swap foods like The Impossible Burger or plant-based ice creams are processed foods (vs. whole plant-based foods), but since they’re made of plants, they still have the benefits of the plants they’re made from. They also tend to be more easily digestible and have a better impact on the planet.
Well, you’ve done it. You’ve made it to the final stretch. Stop. Take stock. Pat yourself on the back, cause there’s only one more step in the How to Eat More Plants process:
Yes. That’s literally it.
Now that you’ve practiced each step, and hopefully practiced the combination of some of them, you’re ready to practice eating an entire plate full of plants.
It's actually pretty simple once you get the hang of it:
- Pasta primavera + basil + plant-based cheese
- Impossible Burger + grilled onions + heirloom tomatoes + vegan garlic aioli + sweet potato fries
- Mixed ancient grains + roasted butternut squash + sautéed shallots + pomegranate seeds + parsley
- Buffalo cauliflower "wings" + celery + plant-based ranch dressing + extra fresh dill + extra squeeze of lemon
Practice makes progress, and there are infinite tastes, textures, temperatures, and colors to choose from. Have fun, experiment, and try new things. Choosing to invest energy into your health and healing is a big deal, and you should be so proud. This has been a practice about MORE, and I couldn't be more proud of you.
I would love to keep up with your Eat More Plants journey. Make sure to follow on Instagram @farmbasedfoodie and share your journey with us using #platefullofplants. I'm here for you. We're all here for you. Let's do this together.