Nutrition for Life - 2017

Eat More Plants!

By Parul Kharod

October greets us with cooler temperatures and warmer colors. Many cultures around the world celebrate this time of the year giving thanks to the Earth and its harvest.

All these events and celebrations are an attempt to inspire us to take better care of this planet we call home. The hurricanes and natural disasters in the past months remind us that we need to accept climate change and do whatever we can to preserve this planet for future generations.

Research is showing that it is imperative that we start thinking about how our diet has a lasting impact on everything around us. What does protecting the planet have to do with what we eat? More than you know!

Meat and dairy production requires large amounts of pesticides, chemical fertilizer, fuel, feed, and water. It generates greenhouse gases, toxic manure and other pollutants that contaminate our air and water. Reducing animal foods in the diet can help reduce your carbon footprint and save precious resources like fresh water and fossil fuel.

We can tackle issues such as energy conservation, environmental pollution, and world hunger by eating a plant-based diet.

Plant-based diets have been associated with a variety of health benefits including healthy weight, optimal health and longevity. According to the World Health Organization, chronic diseases will be the cause of ¾ of the deaths by the year 2020.

These chronic diseases such as obesity, diabetes, and heart disease are largely preventable by changing our eating habits. Studies show that a diet of plant-based foods can decrease levels of oxidative stress and inflammation, which are associated with the development of chronic diseases.

Health benefits of minimally processed plant foods:

• Plants are high in fiber, vitamins, minerals, healthy fats, phytochemicals, and anti-oxidants.
• Plant-based foods are low in saturated fat, dietary cholesterol, sodium, and toxins (nitrous compounds, heterocyclic amines, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, glycation end products formed in cooking, curing, processing meats).

The term vegetarian has been a subject of prejudice, misconceptions, and ridicule for the longest time. People envision angry animal rights activists or wimpy nerds. Eating meat is considered to be essential for men and a show of masculinity. A lot of Indian/Asian parents, who themselves are vegetarian, start allowing their children to eat meat to “fit into the Western society."

It is time to change that and embrace the long-known benefits of a plant-based diet. This month is the perfect time to make this change. October is celebrated as Vegetarian Awareness month. The first day of October is celebrated as World Vegetarian Day.

It was established as an annual celebration to promote compassion towards all living beings. The day was originated by the North American Vegetarian Society in 1977 and endorsed by the International Vegetarian Union in 1978. Every year the celebration continues to help raise awareness about how plant-based diets benefit humans, animals, and our planet. It is not magic and it may not be easy for some, but it has the potential to make us a lot healthier as a society.

Of course, if you make the wrong food choices, a vegetarian diet can be unhealthy. A steady diet of candy and potato chips, which technically are vegetarian, won't lead to good health.

Tips for healthy plant-based eating:

• Eat a variety of fruits and vegetables. Make half your plate vegetables at meals. These can be salad, soup, steamed or sautéed vegetables. Eat a rainbow!
• Eat a variety of whole grains, not just bread/roti made with whole grains but actual cooked grains. Experiment with oats, barley, brown rice, bulgur, quinoa, millet, ragi, jowar, bajra, etc.
• Eat a variety of beans and lentils. Use traditional recipes for daal, chole, rajma etc. Sprout mung and chana. Include hummus or bean dips, make soups, stews or chili with beans, or put beans on top of your salad.
• Eat nuts and seeds for healthy fats. Be mindful of portion sizes and choose raw or dry roasted nuts and natural nut butters.
• Use a variety of herbs and spices to flavor your food instead of fat or salt.
• Drink plenty of water daily.
• Limit eating out. Eat simple home cooked meals.
• Explore new foods and new flavors. Get out of the rut of buying and preparing the same foods repeatedly. Try a new grain or vegetable. Choose a different way of preparing it.

The World Health Organization and other global entities have already stated that unless we limit meat consumption and devote the land and water resources to agriculture, we will not be able to feed the world's population in the next fifty years.

As we celebrate Vegetarian Awareness Month, let's hope some of us can make the change and pledge to eat a more whole, minimally processed plant-based diet. Go back to our roots and eat what our grandmother's cooked - simple, humble, home cooked vegetarian meals.

Enjoy amazing food that is tasty, nourishing for the body and mind, and is cruelty-free and good for the environment and our planet!

-- Parul Kharod, MS, RD, LDN is a registered dietitian and licensed nutritionist and works as a Clinical Dietitian with Outpatient Nutrition Services at WakeMed Hospital in Cary and Raleigh. She can be reached at