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How to incorporate plant-based foods into your diet

Plant-rich diet based on organic food benefits environment better. Picture: Supplied

Plant-rich diet based on organic food benefits environment better. Picture: Supplied

Published Apr 1, 2022

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The cold, crsipy mornings are a clear indication that it’s only a matter of time before we start digging out our cozy woollens.

With that being said, with cooler weather comes spending more time indoors, poor eating habits and excuses to ditch exercise regimes. Most experts believe it takes an average of 66 days to form a habit, so there’s no better time to start firming up on good eating habits and establishing a healthy lifestyle mindset ahead of winter.

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Many diseases such as diabetes, high blood pressure, and other lifestyle-related diseases may be prevented by a healthy diet.

Dietician Aziwe Booi suggests trying a plant-based diet that has many health benefits and as worth looking into to develop healthier eating habits.

Understand what plant-based eating is and why it’s good for you

As a nation of meat-eaters, the term plant-based might sound a little scary but all it means is a diet rich in vegetables, wholegrains, legumes, nuts, seeds and fruits that do not include meat products.

Starting to incorporate plant-based foods into your diet may raise questions about protein – which keeps you fuller for longer- isn’t it coming from chicken or beef? Then how do you get your daily intake from plants?

“Certain plants such as legumes, wholegrains and nuts contain plant-based proteins which are good for preventing non-communicable diseases such as diabetes and high blood pressure,” Booi explains

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Our bodies took a knock with the pandemic and the stress thereof. Not only does they reduce diseases but also help one to gain energy, build muscle and maintain overall heart and organ health.

According to a report in MD Cancer Center, a plant-based diet has consistently proven over more than two decades, to reduce the risk for cancer.

“Plants give your body what it needs to help fight off infection,” says Andrea Murray, an MD Anderson health education specialist. “A plant-based diet strengthens your immune system to protect you against germs and micro-organisms.”

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Many assume that incorporating plant-based diets mean you can’t eat meat but that’s not the case. It simply means your meals mostly consist of; vegetables, whole grains and fruit, beans, seeds, and nuts.

Going back to basics

For families trying to include more plant-based food into their daily eating habits, the question around finances is an important one. Imported products and fancy packaging may leave shoppers in a tizz but it’s actually about going back to basics when it comes to the type of plant-based foods you include in your diet by educating yourself.

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Be intentional and educate yourself

When moving to plant-based eating, educating yourself about this lifestyle change is important. Read as much as you can, speak to a dietician and ask questions. Doing research can help you make informed decisions about the type of foods you should be eating. It can also assist with identifying what you can treat yourself with and what to stay away from, thus reducing wastage and helping you to reduce costs. Understanding labels is also important as it will help you to make informed purchases.

“Take your time to understand what makes up a plant-based diet, a simple peanut butter and jelly sandwich is also considered a plant-based meal. Things like hummus, pesto (without cheese) are all plant-based, you just need to be intentional about what you are eating. Another way to incorporate plant-based is to go for meatless Mondays, for example,” adds Booi.

Plan.

Meal planning has proven to be one of the most effective ways to stick to eating plans and save money. By planning weekly and monthly menus, shoppers are able to make informed purchases without overspending and may save money considering that plant-based diets do not contain expensive meat but things like lentils and chickpeas which can be purchased for as little as R20.

Top tips for going plant-based:

  • Get educated about going plant-based
  • Speak to your dietician or health practitioner
  • Find meat substitutes for your favourite meals
  • Understand the health benefits

Read food labels

Trying plant-based can be challenging in the beginning but incorporating it into your daily life gets easier with a little bit of research and experimentation. Often we think that medication is the only solution to good health, but if you take simple steps in your diet it can make a bigger difference than you think.

As Murray says: “Plants give your body what it needs to help fight off infection.”

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