Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Food for Fuel: Plant-Powered Nutrition

I don't talk much about my work, but I'm really quite excited by a new monthly lecture series I will be giving called "Food for Fuel." In case you didn't know, I'm a long term care dietitian that works with everyone from independent living residents in the retirement community to nursing home residents. It's all about quality of life but also making healthy choices that lend towards better management and prevention of chronic diseases. Anyway, today I kicked off the series with my favorite topic: a discussion of the emphasis of plant-based foods in the diet and the health benefits that come from one.

So fun!
Basically, the series will involve giving a 30-45 minute presentation about various nutrition and wellness topics, followed by me playing "chef" via a cooking demo.  Iron chef retirement edition anyone?! :)

The set-up for today's cooking demo of Asian Slaw with Ginger-Peanut Dressing

Explaining the ingredients...

So, anyway, let's talk shortly about plant-powered nutrition...

What does it mean to eat plant-based?

"Plant based" is a general term to describe an eating plan that is based upon whole and natural plant-based foods rather than foods that are processed or animal-based foods.

Emphasis is on fruits, vegetables, unprocessed whole grains, legumes, beans and plant-based proteins. A plant-based diet does not strictly exclude animal-products, but the emphasis remains on plants.

What are some of the health benefits of eating a plant-based diet?

Research has shown that a plant-based diet can impart the following benefits if followed on a consistent basis:
  • Lower triglyceride levels
  • Less inflammation 
  • Lower blood pressure
  • Decreased body weight and BMI
  • Decreased risk of death from chronic diseases such as heart disease
  • Improved insulin sensitivity & better blood sugar control in patients with diabetes

People who eat the most fruits and vegetables have a 20% reduced risk of heart disease and a 27% reduced risk of dying from cardiovascular disease, especially stroke.

Further research shows that each 10-gram increase in daily fiber from sources such as whole grains is associated with a 27% decreased risk of dying from heart disease.

What types of plant-based diets exist?

Primary Plant Based: Plants are the main focus but there is no strict exclusion of any animal products.

Lacto-Ovo-Vegetarian: Excludes meat but includes dairy and eggs.

Lacto-Vegetarian: Excludes meat and eggs but includes dairy products.

Vegan: Strict exclusion of all animal-based products, including meat, dairy and eggs.

How do I get started? What will I eat?

Most people fear what they will give have to give up in following a plant-based diet rather than focus on what they can gain. That being said, there are many meat and dairy alternatives on the market that can ease the transition to a plant-based diet:

Dairy Alternatives:
Soy-based cheeses (bricks, slices, or shredded)
Soy-based yogurts
Soy, rice or almond milk

Meat Alternatives:
Tofu (silken, firm, or extra-firm)
Tempeh (fermented soy)
Seitan (wheat protein)
Edamame (soy bean)
Nuts & Seeds
Beans & Legumes

Protein-Rich Grains
Whole grain bread

Also, check out this great article for some of the top vegan-vegetarian protein sources!

My biggest tip for making the transition? Focus on adding plants into your diet rather than on removing animal-products. Experiment with vegetarian and vegan dishes throughout the week. Choose to go meat-free for one meal per day or one day per week and see where that takes you!

Honoring "Meatless Mondays" is one great way to incorporate more plant-based foods into your diet. Check out their website for a lot of great recipe inspiration:

Cooking Demo: Asian Slaw with Ginger-Peanut Dressing
Recipe From Once Upon a Chef

Final Thought

Whether you choose to eat a plant-based diet or not, be kind and open to change. Be curious. Stop striving for perfection and instead focus on improvement!


  1. I have some of my favorite vegetarians visiting me this week. I NEED to make that slaw recipe. (Miss Deb)

  2. How neat! Getting the seniors to go plant based will make them feel younger. Very cool.

    1. It's an interesting topic for the population but definitely a movement we'll be seeing more of in the coming years. I'm already seeing a good number of vegetarian/vegans come through out facilities.


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