maya feller nutritionist sitting on steps

Is there anything a plant-based diet can’t do? Over the past few years, plant-based eating has become a way of life for more and more individuals as buzz about the diet’s health benefits goes mainstream.

What is it about plants that has such a big impact on our health? Founder of Maya Feller Nutrition, registered dietitian, and chronic illness expert, Maya Feller explains how following a “plant-forward diet”, as she calls it, can change the trajectory of our wellbeing and even help us minimize the risk of chronic illness… 

A Plant-Based Diet

Maybe all of your friends are vegan or vegetarian — I know many of mine are. We’ve all heard of the health benefits associated with eating this way and yes, they are true. But what if you are not ready to transition to all plants all the time or simply don’t want to follow a plant-only diet you may ask yourself, Where does that leave me?

I’m here to tell you there are many options and ‘plant-forward eating’ is one of them. A plant-based diet has been described as a pattern of eating where the focus is on consuming foods from plants — specifically, vegetables (both starchy and non-starchy), fruits, whole grains, pulses, nuts and seeds. Animal products become the accompaniment, not the main. It’s a reframing of the standard Western plate that is often planned around animal protein with small helpings of non-starchy vegetables. Plant-forward eating allows you to reap nutritional benefits, including a decreased risk of diet-related chronic illnesses. Eating this way fuels the majority of your body’s energy from nutrient-rich sources.

You often hear people talking about diet-related chronic illness. Diet-related chronic illness includes obesity, some cancers, bone health and dental disease, as well as the pre- or borderline classifications for type 2 diabetes, hypertension and elevated lipids. Now, to the question at hand. How do plants or, more specifically, eating with plants at the center of your diet contribute to risk reduction, and in some cases, the reversal of these chronic illnesses?
What’s the Big Deal About Plants?phytonutrients + phytochemicals | These compounds are produced by plants and rich in antioxidants, vitamins and minerals. The antioxidant component works within the human body to delay damage to our cells. There is evidence to suggest that polyphenols have protective properties and aid in reducing systemic inflammation. Vitamins and minerals provide nourishment on a cellular level that promotes balance and optimal function.

fiber | The undigestible part of fruits and vegetables that ferment in the gut and produce short chain fatty acids are protective for gut health. Fiber is involved in regulating glycemic control and insulin sensitivity, reducing cholesterol and aiding in weight management.

unsaturated fatty acids | These are dietary fats with cardio-protective properties. They are known to have a favorable effect on blood lipid composition (reduce LDL and improve the HDL ratio), slightly lower blood pressure and aid in the reduction of systemic inflammation.

plant proteins | Proteins are often called building blocks and involved with many parts of the body. In addition to the proteins that plants provide, they are a good source of fiber, unsaturated fats, vitamins and minerals — all of which are integral to reducing disease risk.

How Does Eating Plants Benefit Our Health?

Components of some plants can:

+ bind to cholesterol in the GI and literally take it out of the body before it enters circulation (fiber)
+ promote insulin sensitivity
+ regulate glucose spikes after a meal
+ help lower blood pressure
+ aid in weight management
+ reduce systemic inflammation
+ protect against metabolic syndrome

How To Add More Plants To Your Daily Diet

If you are looking to add more plants into your daily rotation I would suggest starting with the following:

+ 5 servings of non-starchy vegetables daily
+ 1 serving of starchy vegetables daily
+ 1-2 servings of whole grains daily
+ 1 serving of nuts and/or seeds daily
+ 1 serving of beans daily
+ 2 servings of whole fruits daily

Research tells us that plant-based diets reduce overall risk of mortality, reduce the need for pharmacology, reduce the risk of developing type 2 diabetes, hypertension, high cholesterol and obesity. In short, they can and will improve the quality of life as well as health outcomes.

We also know that a three-month diet and lifestyle intervention for a person diagnosed as pre-diabetic, pre-hypertensive and with borderline-elevated lipids can have the same outcome and return to numbers within normal limits as taking medication. And I think this says it all: Plants won’t make you grow wings but they certainly will improve your overall health. So go on, add a few servings of vegetables to your day.

Want to learn more about adopting a plant-based diet? Read up here.

The Chalkboard Mag and its materials are not intended to treat, diagnose, cure or prevent any disease. 
All material on The Chalkboard Mag is provided for educational purposes only. Always seek the advice of your physician or another qualified healthcare provider for any questions you have regarding a medical condition, and before undertaking any diet, exercise or other health-related programs. 


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