Tips to Incorporate a Plant-Based Diet for Your Heart Health

February 13, 2020plant-based diet

What do you think of when you hear the word, “plants?” How would you react if somebody encouraged you to try a plant-based diet? Lauren Vierling, an Aramark Registered Dietitian affiliated with Jefferson Health in New Jersey, recently shared why a plant-based diet is a heart-healthy diet, along with simple tips we can use to incorporate these foods into our everyday life.

Plants don’t just include leafy greens and common veggies; they also include whole grains, such as barley, farro, quinoa and millet. In addition, a plant-based diet is not the same as a vegetarian or vegan diet.

“Some may refer to it as ‘flexitarian,’ because it involves consuming primarily grains and veggies, with smaller portion sizes of your favorite meats and fat,” Vierling explained.  

A plant-based diet being heart-healthy is not a new trend. Studies have been uncovering its benefits since the 1990s, including the finding that an estimated 87 percent of people who follow plant-based diets reduce their risk for heart disease.

“This diet may also reduce the risk for cancer, diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and stroke,” Vierling said. “It also helps prevent obesity. This is because plants are chock-full of nutrients and are much lower in calories compared to proteins and starches.” 

Contrary to popular belief, Vierling explained that a plant-based diet does not cost more. “You can bargain shop for healthy foods, and there are many simple meals you can make that follow this diet,” she said.

For a plant-based breakfast, try adding more veggies to your omelet or making your smoothie “green.” Some grocery stores carry pre-packaged “juicing greens” to make the task easier. Other ideas include overnight or regular oatmeal (add-ins could be almond milk, peanut butter, zucchini, carrots, flax seed, chia seed, etc.) and toast with avocado or almond butter and banana.  

For a plant-based lunch, try a bean burrito, hummus with veggies and pita, a plant-powered sandwich, or a veggie wrap. Other great ideas that may take a little bit more time to prepare include zucchini fritters or a Buddha bowl (typically comprised of whole grains, proteins, veggies, nuts and seeds). It never hurts to keep it simple and make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich on whole grain bread!

For a plant-based dinner, try converting your favorite meat-based dishes into veggie-based dishes. Mushrooms are commonly used to replace the flavor of beef. Take the meat out of your chili and load it with more beans. Instead of eating spaghetti, try spaghetti squash. The options are endless! 

If you’re finding that you’re still hungry in between meals, there are plenty of plant-based snacks you can make, such as guilt-free potato chips or zucchini fries, baked oatmeal bars, or roasted chick peas.

“Don’t forget, when you’re shopping for fresh groceries, you want to get the most ‘bang for your buck’,” Vierling said. “Steer clear of bags of greens that are overinflated; these will go bad faster. Also, if a plant was just sprayed, it will wilt a lot faster. Don’t be afraid to reach to the back of the display for the better product.”

If you’re looking for a place to start that has countless smart recipe ideas, check out Aramark’s Feed Your Potential 365 health engagement website. To learn more about Nutrition services offered at Jefferson Health in New Jersey, click HERE.