Spring Forward into Plant-Based Foods

By: Stefanie Heath – Higgins

Stephanie H 7178With spring just around the corner, upstate New York will soon be showered with decadent fresh produce. The anticipation for zesty radishes and sour rhubarb is great as many of us flock to local farmer’s markets to check out the abundance of seasonal offerings. What better time to try plant-based meals when you have these fresh vegetables and fruits to fill up your plates? Add some whole grains and nuts for a nutritious and wholesome dish. Adding more veggie-centric meals like this to your diet can make a world of difference for your health, the health of the planet and for animals.

Taking a holiday from meat one day a week by participating in meat-reduction plans like Meatless Monday is more important now than ever. Cardiovascular disease continues to be the number-one killer of both men and women in America. According to the State of Obesity Report, “Nationally, 37.7 percent of adults consumed fruits less than one time a day and 22.6 percent of adults consume vegetables less than one time a day.”

Nancy Brown, CEO of the American Heart Association, says, “The American Heart Association recognizes the role of plant-based foods in a healthy dietary pattern, as evidenced by our recommendations that emphasize fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes and nuts.” She continues, “Use Meatless Monday as another opportunity to eat a well-balanced diet.”

Shifting plants to the center of our plates could not only support heart health, but weight management, too. While plant-based foods are a good source of fiber, which leaves you feeling full with fewer calories. Alternatively, meat and dairy products contain no fiber.

Many plant-based foods are rich in protein and contain essential vitamins and minerals. For example, chickpeas contain protein, fiber, calcium and iron to help keep your bones strong and your heart healthy. Chickpeas and other legumes can easily be transformed into meals like savory falafel sliders. An extra benefit: chickpeas and other beans cost a fraction of the price of meat and have a longer shelf life.

Some people are choosing the flexitarian lifestyle, which means eating more plant-based meals and less meat overall. In addition to the health benefits, many people choose to cut back on their meat intake to reduce the number of animals subjected to inhumane conditions at factory farms, where the vast majority of meat comes from.

With millions of animals suffering on factory farms right now – for example, pigs who spend the majority of their lives in gestation crates, not even able to turn around – it’s not surprising that demand for plant- based meals is skyrocketing.

Eating more plant-based meals also helps protect the environment. It takes massive amounts of natural resources such as land, water, fertilizer and oil to maintain America’s demand for meat. Most people are shocked to learn producing two pounds of chicken meat requires 1,100 gallons of water, enough to fill about 25 bathtubs! Not only is this system wasteful and resource intensive, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations reported that the factory farming industry is the number-one contributor to greenhouse-gas emissions.

Consumers have taken notice of the benefits of a plant-based diet. According to a leading food-industry research group, three out of five Americans are consuming meat-free meals at least once a week. Restaurants are highlighting plant-based options, and the fast-food industry has followed suit. Taco Bell and Burger King offer veg-friendly foods. Even celebrities are highlighting the importance of less meat and more plants. Oprah Winfrey encourages her fans to take a Meatless Monday and Dr. Oz said, “Vegan will be the biggest movement of 2017.”

The easiest path to better health for us, the planet and animals is to follow the Three R’s of eating: “reducing” or “replacing” consumption of animal products, and “refining” our diet by switching to products that support higher animal welfare standards.

Conscious consumers can make the world a better place. With an open mind, I encourage you to break from your old food routine and dive into the world of plant-based foods.

Stefanie Heath is the New York food and nutrition coordinator for The Humane Society of the United States.