Time and time again, research has shown that following a plant-based diet can help to prevent chronic illnesses, including diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
Why is a Plant-Based Diet So Healthy?
A plant-based diet is one that emphasizes a variety of vegetables, legumes, whole grains and fruit, but still may contain modest amounts of lean meats, fish and low-fat dairy. Variety is the key word – diversifying your diet with plant foods ensures that you are getting a balanced amount of essential nutrients, such as protein, fiber, healthy fats, vitamins and minerals. Plants also contain natural compounds called phytochemicals, which not only give them their beautiful array of colors, but also have important health benefits, such as reducing inflammation and fighting off free radicals (free radicals often injure cells and damage DNA, which creates the seed for disease).
How to Adopt a Plant-Based Diet
Adopting a plant-based diet does not have to be a challenge.
- Plan a balanced plate: USDA’s MyPlate recommends making half your plate vegetables and fruit, a quarter of your plate lean protein (fish, poultry, or vegetarian sources), the remaining quarter grains (especially fiber-rich whole grains) and having a serving of dairy in order to get all of your essential nutrients at each meal.
- Start slow: Small steps, such as cooking a vegetarian meal once a week or adding an extra serving of fruit daily, can help you feel more comfortable trying new foods and can allow new habits to gradually become part of a permanent lifestyle.
- Get creative: Pick up that unfamiliar vegetable at the store, look into different cuisines, connect with others to find new recipes. Don’t fear the unknown, and make your mealtimes educational and fun!
- Recruit support: Get your family and friends on board! This can make mealtimes, social outings and reaching goals much easier.
How the UVM Medical Center is Helping Vermont Families Adopt Plant-Based Diets
Across the state of Vermont, families are learning how to adopt plant-based diets in their own homes through the Health Care Share program. Through the cooperative efforts of the UVM Medical Center Partners, Central Vermont Medical Center, the Vermont Youth Conservation Corps, and many wonderful volunteers, the Health Care Share provides approximately 130 families at four primary care practices with a weekly farm share, food demonstration, recipes and nutrition education from July through September.
At Winooski Family Health, I have been able to see the amazing success the program has had already – children arriving weekly excited to see what vegetables they get to take home, participants sharing tips and recipes with one another, families cooking together and sitting down for meals, and an overall increased excitement about their newfound food and health knowledge. Food and health are inextricably linked, and the Health Care Share program is helping to cultivate healthy lifestyles, one farm share at a time.
Rutu Shah is a student in the University of Vermont Master of Science in Dietetics program and the site coordinator for the Health Care Share program at Winooski Family Health.