Neighborhood NewsLifestyle & Wellness

What’s up doc, is a plant-based diet right for me?

West End Healthline

By Sibel Dikmen, MD 

Whether it was told to you by a parent, taught to you through the food pyramid or recommended by your doctor, all of us have heard that we need to eat more fruits and vegetables. But what does that mean? The exact amount varies by age, but the USDA MyPlate program represents having fruits and vegetables visually as taking up half of your plate and is a fantastic way to assess each meal and snack. Adding more fruits and vegetables to the diet can be a great way to improve your health.

For those who grew up on the meat and potatoes diet of the Midwest, the transition to a more plant-based diet can feel foreign or intimidating. It may even feel unnecessary when you recall the numerous generations that seemed to thrive on such a diet. However, as we continue to learn more about the long-term effects our diet has on our health there is a lot of evidence that supports eating mostly produce each day. The American College of Lifestyle Medicine has recommended a whole-food plant-based dietary approach for those with type 2 diabetes. Multiple studies have linked plant-based diets to a decreased risk of colon cancer, a disease that is rapidly climbing in incidence in both men and women under 50. A study of Blue Zones, areas where inhabitants lived longer and with less chronic health conditions, has found that these communities emphasize plant-based eating that limits meat, dairy, sugar and egg intake. Eating more fruits and vegetables can help improve your health in many ways!

With these benefits in mind, how can you get started? When you are thinking of making a lifestyle change, remind yourself that you are “adding” instead of restricting or taking away. In other words, rather than starting with removing the pot roast from the menu, first think about how you can add produce to your meal. Start slow and improve over time until you are approaching the half plate of produce goal. Remember that this is a process, and it does not have to be perfect, i.e.- broccoli with cheese is better than no broccoli! Once you have consistently added fruits and veggies, you can try enhancing and swapping foods. This is where fun and exploration can come into cooking. For example, you may try a veggie burger this summer on the grill or find a vinaigrette dressing that is just as flavorful as ranch dressing for a salad. You can continue to prepare your beloved family recipes, just with a twist, to improve healthy eating. 

Cost can be a barrier to improving your diet. One great way around this is to utilize frozen or canned produce. If your freezer space or access is limited, canned produce can be used but be aware of the sodium and sugar content in foods preserved this way. If you’re someone watching sodium intake for health purposes, the USDA recommends draining and rinsing canned produce to reduce total sodium and sugar content from canned fruits and vegetables. Market Bucks is also a Minnesota program that allows you to utilize SNAP-EBT benefits dollar for dollar at local farmer’s markets. Try these options to make a healthy diet more affordable.

With nothing to lose but so many benefits to gain, consider making efforts to increase fruit and vegetables in your diet. Start small, make meaningful changes and utilize cost-effective forms of produce. Encourage your friends and family to join you on the journey to improved health and longevity! 

Dr. Dikmen is a family physician at Allina Health United Family Physicians, 233 Grand Ave, Saint Paul, MN 55102, phone 651-241-5200

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