6 May 20210 Comments
A new diet craze or a better path to a healthier and longer life? To answer that question, we spoke with area experts who weighed in on the advantages of plant-based eating.
“When it comes to a plant-based diet, there are so many health benefits for older people,” says Chappaqua-based dietitian Michael Wald, MD, DC, PhD. “People usually lose weight when they follow a plant-based diet. And the risk of stroke, cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, hypertension, and some cancers are lower in people who eat a plant-based diet.”
According to Janet Levine, RDN, DMD, of Tarrytown, a plant-based diet may help you feel more energetic, improve gastrointestinal issues, relieve acid reflux, and potentially send autoimmune diseases into remission.
While plant-based eating is not necessarily a lifelong decree to opt out of meat or dairy, the foods consumed on this diet would be mostly vegetables and fruits, along with nuts, seeds, whole grains, and beans. Some nutrition experts maintain that meat and all animal products are entirely off-limits. Others steer a more moderate course, insisting you don’t have to follow a plant-based diet exclusively to reap the benefits.
Tarrytown-based functional nutritionist and integrative health practitioner Angela Russo, MS, CNS encourages people to follow an 80 percent plant-based diet with limited amounts of clean (grass-fed, organic, wild caught) animal protein. “I think for older people, it can be more beneficial to have small amounts of fish, an egg or meat, so you know you are getting enough protein,” she advises. “I don’t think it should be all plant-based.” Russo recommends consuming root vegetables such as sweet potatoes, whole grains like oats, buckwheat and rye, along with seeds and nut butters. Fresh herbs such as oregano, sage and rosemary, and condiments like lemon, mustard and apple cider vinegar can liven up meals. She also suggests replacing cow’s milk with plant-based milk such as oat milk.
If you’re new to plant-based eating, start gradually, advises Russo. “It can be hard for people who are not used to it.” She cites a possible lower risk of cognitive decline and inflammation as two very good reasons to pursue this type of diet.
Russo recommends a breakfast of oatmeal with coconut milk and berries, topped with a few raw nuts. Or try a nut-based yogurt (made with almonds or cashews) with strawberries and pumpkin seeds. For lunch, meatless chili with lots of vegetables or a large salad with avocado, chickpeas and pumpkin seeds are two delicious options. Dinner might be eggplant lasagna with salad, or maybe a black bean burger topped with tomato, onion and avocado, along with steamed broccoli.
For Levine, a plant-based diet means avoiding all animal products, noting that it’s still possible to get plenty of protein. The advantage of completely eliminating animal products from your diet is that you won’t be eating any trans fats or cholesterol, which can contribute to heart disease. Moreover, says Levine, all those fruits and vegetables are rich in fiber, vitamins, and antioxidants. She reminds us, “The brighter the color of the fruits and vegetables, the more antioxidants they contain.”
Excluding highly processed foods and those with added oils is important, too. Her meal suggestions include oatmeal with berries and a tablespoon of flaxseed and sliced almonds for breakfast, and lasagna made with tofu (in lieu of cheese) for lunch. Whole grain bread with hummus and avocado is another option. She believes in the occasional dessert treat, provided it’s made healthfully. For instance, chocolate truffles made with date sugar, dried dates, and a little flaxseed mixed with water (as a substitute for eggs) is one sweet she recommends.
While Wald believes a plant-based diet should not include any animal products, he maintains a plant-based diet with small quantities of animal protein is still beneficial. For those unwilling to give up animal protein entirely, he suggests a 75/25 rule: three quarters of the plate is plant-based, the remaining quarter contains animal protein, preferably fish rich in omega-3 fatty acids (salmon, tuna or mackerel).
Though he does caution, as non-plant-based foods are added to a diet, the health benefits lessen dramatically. “When you eat lower down on the food chain, it’s healthier,” he says. “The higher up the food chain you go by eating meat, the more the health benefits diminish. Focus on plant-based foods, which are lower down to the ground.”
These experts agree that following a plant-based diet can help you feel energized and improve your health. Best of all, it’s not that difficult. “If you try it out and it takes time, don’t be afraid if you’re not there right away,’’ encourages Russo. “The key is knowing you will get there gradually.”
__ Connect with Janet Levine via her website at EatToBeHealthy.com or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Her office is in Tarrytown.
__ Agela Russo has offices in Tarrytown and Fishkill. Find her at NutritionKey.com or call her at 914-888-6785.
__ Dr. Michael Wald’s website is DrMichaelWald.com. The number for his Chappaqua office is 914-873-4416.