I’m not a fan of fad diets or short-term changes. Besides being just plain exhausting, there are so many contrasting studies — what’s popular with nutritionists and scientists one day will be disregarded by others the next (this is because every body is different and responds differently to various foods or eating techniques). But you know the one method of eating that does not have contrasting studies and is universally deemed “good for you”? Eating more plant-forward. This is because plants (fruits, vegetables, legumes, whole grains, nuts, seeds, and herbs) are some of the most nutrient-dense foods in the world.
Adding more plants to your diet can help with everything from heart health to gut health to brain health, and even have some beauty benefits, too. When you’re eating more plants, you’re filling your plate and your stomach with the fiber, vitamins, minerals, and healthy fats that most Americans don’t get enough of. Plant-forward is not a diet, it’s a game-changing lifestyle. Here are our tips for eating more plant-forward, so 2019 can be your healthiest year yet:
1. Replacing dairy with delicious and non-dairy alternatives
Trust me, I love pizza and queso as much as the next girl, and maybe even more (my love runs deep!). But cheese can be full of saturated fat, especially when it’s unnatural and filled with bad-for-you oils. Plus, 75 percent of the world’s population is said to be dairy-intolerant. (Your regular bloat or breakouts could be coming from dairy.) But good news: we can actually get many of dairy’s benefits (like calcium and protein) from non-dairy alternatives.
I recommend Daiya, a leader in plant-based products, for their dairy alternatives that are not only dairy, gluten and soy free, but also seriously delicious. I mean really, you guys, their cheeses taste and melt like regular cheese, but are made with 100 percent plant-based and non-GMO ingredients. I also love Daiya’s new coconut cream yogurt alternatives, which tout 6 grams of plant protein per serving. Plus, the fruit flavors have 50% less sugar per serving than the average dairy-free brand.
Daiya is one of the easiest plant-forward and dairy-free brands out there, with products in major grocery stores like Whole Foods, Kroger, Safeway, and Publix, as well as most natural food retailers. Never decide between your health and nachos again — just add Daiya to your diet!
2. Add more leafy greens
Because we’re all about adding instead of taking away when it comes to eating healthy, one of the easiest ways to be more plant-based is simple: just add more plants! Dark leafy greens (like kale, arugula, romaine, and collard greens) help your heart, detox your body, and are loaded with folate and many other essential nutrients that provide amazing benefits to your body. Just make sure to not stick to just one type of green — over-consuming one kind can cause unwanted side effects. Just make sure to add in a variety of leafy greens, and you’ll feel the healthiest you’ve ever felt! Add spinach to your smoothie, arugula to your veggie burger, and order a side salad when you’re out to dinner.
3. Substitute white carbs with veggies
No, eating more plant-forward doesn’t have to mean salads 24/7 — I couldn’t live! Instead, it means looking for ways to trade the food you used to eat for more produce. For example, wrap your taco toppings with lettuce instead of tortillas, top your burgers with portobello mushroom instead of a bun, and use spaghetti squash instead of spaghetti. Finally, know all the ways to utilize cauliflower — pizza crust, rice, mac and cheese. Cauliflower, you the real MVP.
4. Avoid processed foods
I know, I know, restricting foods or making them “off limits” is not exactly a formula for success. Restricting just leads to cravings, bingeing, and feeling unsatisfied with what you’re eating — food should be enjoyed, not off-limits! But when it comes to highly-processed foods (like chips, sauces, cookies, refined sugars and carbs, and basically anything packaged or commercially-processed), you don’t know all the ingredients being used, and therefore, it likely has additives and chemicals that aren’t good for you.
Instead of thinking about restricting yourself from packaged goods, make your own alternatives at home, so you know what ingredients are in it, and make healthy swaps for more natural, plant-based options. Make your own pasta sauce, use olive oil instead of canola oil, and swap packaged cookies for dark chocolate.
5. Give your food flavor
You read that right: plant-forward eating doesn’t have to mean bland, boring foods. In fact, if you’re doing it right, it should mean the opposite! Certain plants are actually extremely potent and flavorful. Keep spices on hand like cinnamon (which fights bacteria), turmeric (an antioxidant that reduces inflammation), or cayenne pepper (which increases the body’s metabolic rate) for an extra kick.
Also add in good-for-you (and delicious!) herbs like basil, rosemary, mint, and cilantro. You can also add in ginger or garlic for extra flavor and health benefits. Start experimenting with which herbs and spices taste best with each dish, and aim to add some to every meal. Trust me, you won’t miss your processed table salt or sugary sauces at all.
6. Make sure you’re getting proper nutrients
You can’t just stop eating meat and continue eating white bread and Oreos (yes, they’re shockingly dairy-free!) and call yourself a vegan with a healthy lifestyle — you have to put in the work to know you’re getting enough nutrients. Make sure you’re getting enough protein by eating plenty of plant-based proteins like quinoa, chickpeas, nuts, edamame, and tofu. Consider taking a b12 supplement if you are limiting animal-product intake, and make sure to get enough calcium, iron, and Omega-3 fatty acids (which you should be doing anyways, if you’re eating lots of dark leafy greens and nuts).
7. Know that it doesn’t have to be all or nothing.
Using dairy-free cheese or making a salad for lunch might feel like that means you need to go full-on vegan — the term “plant-forward” itself can be intimidating! But we’re realistic here at The Everygirl (or so we like to think). We know your busy lifestyle, and we also know how good a cheesy, greasy pizza tastes. Eating more plant-forward does not mean you need to move to a farm or even totally give up meat and dairy if you don’t want to. Eating plant-based meals even just a few times a week can have a profound impact on your health and well-being, not to mention the environment. So meal prep your dairy-free alternatives and extra veggies in bulk — and save the pizza for moderation.
This post was in partnership with Daiya, but all of the opinions within are those of The Everygirl editorial board.