Happy National Nutrition Month!
March is National Nutrition Month so I’m kicking it off with the Top 3 (nutritional) Reasons to Add More Plants to Your Diet. Research agrees time and time again that the most healthful diets have one thing in common: a foundation of lots of fruits + veggies! In fact, the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee (the panel of experts that helps to shape the Dietary Guidelines for Americans) found that across nutritional research, fruit and vegetable intake was the only dietary factor consistently associated with positive outcomes. Behold, the power of plants!
1) Disease prevention
Have you seen the comic floating around that depicts a doctor writing “fruits + veggies” on a prescription pad? (This is actually happening!) Or how about the play on the words “farmacy”? Nutrition has a significant impact on overall health, and a diet rich in plants is profoundly beneficial. The vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals, antioxidants, and fiber present in plants helps to prevent major chronic diseases like heart disease, diabetes, kidney disease, and cancer.
When it comes to nutrition, the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. You will reap the greatest benefits by including lots of whole plant foods in your diet. Many of the wonderful nutrients in plant foods are lost during processing. Additionally, there are likely beneficial compounds in fruits + veggies that we haven’t even discovered yet, and the synergistic effect of all of the nutrients in a fruit or veggie cannot be replicated by a supplement or miracle pill.
2) Nutrient Density
Nutrient density. More bang for your buck. Vegetables + fruits are packed with many more nutrients per calorie than any other food on the planet. Did you know that just 1 cup of kale contains almost 1.5x the amount of vitamins A + C you need for one day?
Not only are whole fruits + veggies loaded with beneficial nutrients, they also contain plentiful fiber + water. Aim to fill half of your plate with whole, colorful fruits and veggies to pack your meals with nutrients and filling fiber.
3) Digestive Health
Oh, fiber, how I love thee. Not only does fiber + water from fruits and veggies help keep your pipes regular and flowing, it also helps keep them clean and healthy. Insoluble fiber (think celery roughage) acts like a scrub brush for your intestines and helps to prevent hemorrhoids.
1 in 19 Americans suffer from colon cancer–a cancer that has been strongly linked to dietary factors (makes sense–your food comes into direct contact with the inner lining of your digestive tract). Eating processed meat and meat cooked at high temperatures increases your risk for colon cancer while eating plentiful fruits + veggies lowers your risk.
A word about fiber–go slow. If you don’t eat much fiber, don’t suddenly load up on lots of raw veggies. Gradually add in more fibrous foods and include whole grains as well. Remember to stay adequately hydrated too.
Additionally, those with diseases or conditions of the digestive tract may not be able to tolerate certain plant foods. It is best to know + avoid your “trigger foods” and discuss them with your health care provider.
It’s clear that a diet based on whole plant foods is extremely healthful for our bodies, but it is beneficial for our planet and earthly co-inhabitants as well. Plant foods are the lowest carbon-emitting foods (compared to animal foods like meat, dairy, and eggs), so they contribute to environmental destruction less than animal foods. They also help keep our air + water cleaner than does the animal agriculture industry. By eating just one meatless meal a week, you can make a significant difference in the environmental impact of your food choices.
In fact, the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee also discussed sustainability in their report, stating
“A diet higher in plant-based foods, such as vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds, and lower in calories and animal-based foods is more health promoting and is associated with less environmental impact.”
So there you have it. Go green by eating your greens and helping the planet at the same time.