Bringing the Power of Plant-Based Eating to the Table
- Plant foods are rich in vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients, and peanuts also contain protein, mostly good fats and fiber.
- Plant-based eating includes food plans like the Mediterranean Diet, DASH Eating Plan, and vegetarianism. These plans are included as examples in the Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2010.
Choosing a healthy eating plan can be a challenge, because there are so many fad diets out there claiming to have the answer to losing weight, living longer and looking great. The problem is that so many of those diets are hard to follow and, even if they work in the short term, are hard to make part of a healthy lifestyle. While there are some things that remain controversial, health experts agree that a plant-based eating plan is a great way to eat a more nutritious diet every day.
Whether it’s called “The Mediterranean Diet,” “Asian Eating,” “Flexitarian” or “The New American Plate,” plant-based eating patterns are being recommended by health advocacy groups and health professionals from coast to coast (American Institute for Cancer Research, 2007). The latest Dietary Guidelines for Americans highlighted three recommended eating patterns that focus on eating more plants: the Mediterranean Diet, DASH Eating Plan, and vegetarianism (Dietary Guidelines, 2010). Plant-based diets have been touted as a way to help Americans reduce overweight and obesity, one strategy to help keep certain types of cancer at bay and reduce the risk of heart disease and diabetes.
Experts attribute the health benefits of eating a plant-based diet to a combination of nutrients, including plant protein, unsaturated fats, antioxidant vitamins, and fiber. Studies show that this eating pattern does not have to be low in fat but should emphasize that unsaturated fats are the primary source of fat (Hu, 2003). It’s safe to say that we should all be eating more fruits and vegetables, whole grains, nuts and seeds, including peanuts and peanut butter, as a part of this nutritious eating pattern.
Since the definitions of “plant-based” are as varied as the choices in the produce department, there is no “one size fits all” way of eating this type of diet. The good news is that you have lots of flexibility in choice and taste to design plant-based meals to meet your preferences.
It’s not just rabbit food
When first considering a plant-based diet, people may think of vegetarian or “meat-free” eating—actually, this isn’t the case. In fact, the American Institute for Cancer Research includes small portions of meat in its recommendations for the New American Plate. Whether meat-free or meat-reduced, animal sources of protein like beef, chicken, pork and fish are served as a garnish or side-dish in a plant-based diet. At the center of the plate is an abundance of vegetables, fruits, whole grains and nuts. The USDA MyPlate recommends using the visual of half the plate as fruits and vegetables, up to one quarter as grains and the remaining as protein (USDA, 2011). By emphasizing nutrient-dense plant foods you are able to eat larger, more filling meals while cutting calories.
Peanuts are protein +
In the traditional American diet, daily protein needs are met by eating animal products. As whole grains and vegetables start to take a starring role on your plate, it is important to consider protein-rich plant foods to ensure your needs are being met. Nuts, legumes and seeds, including peanuts and peanut butter are good sources of protein. A one-ounce serving of dry roasted peanuts contains seven grams of protein and a two tablespoon serving of peanut butter contains eight grams of protein. Key recommendations in the Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2010 include balancing calories to maintain a healthy weight and eating nutrient-dense foods. The Mediterranean Diet, DASH Eating Plan, and Vegetarianism are all included as examples that can achieve this goal. For example, the DASH Eating Plan recommends four to five servings per week of nuts, seeds and legumes including peanuts and peanut butter. This table from the Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2010 is a good depiction of how nuts, including peanuts, can fit into a nutritious eating pattern (Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2010):
- United States Department of Agriculture (2011). Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2010. http://www.cnpp.usda.gov/DGAs2010-PolicyDocument.htm.
- The American Dietetic Association (2002). The Glycemic Index: What Is it? www.eatright.org.
- American Institute for Cancer Research. (2007). The New American Plate: Meals for a health weight and a healthy life. Washington DC: American Institue for Cancer Research.
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- Hu, F. (2003). Plant-based foods and prevention of cardiovascular disease: an overview. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 78, 544S-51S.
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- United States Department of Agriculture, Nutrient Database Laboratory. Oxygen Radical Absorption Capacity (ORAC) of Selected Foods 2007, 2007.
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