As the plant-based trend continues to bring healthy alternatives to restaurants and grocery aisles, millions of Americans are opting for a nutrition plan that centers on fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds, beans, and legumes.
Within the healthcare space, more and more medical professionals are prescribing a plant-based nutrition plan for patients experiencing chronic illnesses such as diabetes, heart disease and certain cancers, because of its proven health benefits, including decreased inflammation, higher energy levels, improved gut health, and weight maintenance.
For instance, while most cancer treatments cause patients to lose weight, new research presented at the European Society for Clinical Nutrition & Metabolism (ESPEN) Virtual Congress demonstrated that adult oncology patients gained or maintained weight when prescribed Kate Farms plant-based, oral, enteral formulas (PBEF), allowing them to receive the treatment they need in their battles against cancer.
While a plant-based nutrition plan offers improved health outcomes, the first step to incorporating whole foods into your diet is overcoming barriers to a plant-based lifestyle. Some may consider this an expensive or time-consuming lifestyle change. For others, transitioning to this nutrition plan can cause digestive issues as the body adapts to increased amounts of fiber and nutrients.
Ultimately, making the transition is different for everyone and finding the right lifestyle diet can benefit your health and well-being.
Here are five strategies for overcoming these obstacles and incorporating plant-based foods into your diet.
Transition One Meal at a Time
Making a slow transition to a plant-based nutrition plan will allow the body to adjust and reap the benefits of eating whole foods. One way to prevent any potential digestive issues and build the foundation of your new lifestyle is to start adapting one meal at a time.
Even a partially plant-based nutrition plan may lower the risk of chronic diseases. Choose one meal a day to incorporate plant-based foods and gradually increase your intake of whole foods. This strategy eases you into a plant-based lifestyle without requiring excessive meal prep or expenses, while still offering the proven health benefits of plant-based nutrition.
Eat the Rainbow
To benefit from a plant-based lifestyle and optimize your health, it is important to make sure each meal is colorful. Staples of the plant-based diet, such as greens, beans, nuts, and berries, provide nutrients and vitamins that decrease inflammation and improve gut health.
Eating foods that are the colors of the rainbow is one way to ensure your plant-based nutrition plan is well-balanced and consists of functional whole foods. There is a misconception that quality whole foods are expensive. Three habits to make a colorful nutrition plan more affordable are to opt for frozen fruits and vegetables, buy produce that is in-season or meal prep by cooking once to have enough food for the week. Making sure you have a colorful plate is the foundation for approaching a healthier nutrition plan that is anti-inflammatory, boosts your immune system and promotes skin, heart and brain health.
Become a Food Label Detective
The food label is a tool for healthy eating. Understanding the information on a food label is critical for avoiding processed foods made of artificial ingredients and instead, identifying alternatives made of whole foods that improve overall health. For example, every patient in the study presented as ESPEN reported that they did not experience digestive issues while using Kate Farms’ formula, which is made of plant-based, USDA organic, non-GMO ingredients and without major allergens or artificial sweeteners.
Processed foods actually lose nutrients and gain unhealthy sugars and fats. One easy tip for selecting healthier food options is to remember “-ose is gross,” and search the label for inflammatory inducing ingredients such as lactose, maltose and sucrose. Not all plant-based foods are made equal, so becoming a label detective is critical for incorporating high quality alternatives into your plant-based lifestyle.
Identify Foods You Enjoy Eating
Eating plant-based is much more than following a diet. This transition is a lifestyle change and finding plant-based alternatives that you enjoy eating makes the process of adopting it easier. While many people think that making this transition means giving up their favorite meals, the growing interest in plant-based foods means this belief is far from the truth.
To increase the likelihood of complying with a plant-based nutrition plan, it is important to find options for snacks and meals that you like and incorporate them into your lifestyle. One reason the adult oncology patients in the recent study benefitted from the plant-based nutrition formula is because they tolerated and enjoyed the shakes. Committing to a meat- and dairy-free nutrition plan can be difficult but eating plant-based foods you enjoy will ensure you are more likely to follow your plan and consequently, benefit from the rich nutrients found in whole foods.
Consult a Health Care Professional
While plant-based nutrition has proven health benefits, those interested in making the transition should speak with their doctor or dietitian to identify a plan that will optimize results of treatment. Healthcare professionals can provide resources and counseling to increase nutrition literacy and prevent potential nutrient deficiencies and impaired digestion.
A professional will assess your medical history and dietary habits to recommend changes or prescribe plant-based medical nutrition to specifically improve your health. These strategies have improved the quality of life of my clients, and a physician or dietitian can work with you to address the specific hurdles you may be facing and offer additional solutions to adopt a healthier lifestyle built upon the foundation of plant-based nutrition.
Nutrition is critical to an integrated approach to medicine and incorporating plant-based nutrition is a low-risk intervention to prevent or decrease the symptoms of chronic illnesses, such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, cancer, and ALS. While a plant-based nutrition plan cannot cure these chronic diseases, it can improve overall well-being. Struggling with a chronic disease brings so many unknowns for patients, but nutrition is one thing you can take control of on your journey.
By Shayna Komar, RD a Registered and Licensed Oncology Dietician who has seen firsthand the health-related benefits of plant-based clinical nutrition in her adult oncology patients.