Sharon palmer shares why plant-based eating is healthier for women
Are plant-based diets healthier and contain all the nutrients women need?Yes, they are! Long gone are the days when meat was the most important food item on our plates. More and more women are turning to plant-based diets as healthier choices with beans, legumes, or tofu on their plates instead of steak or turkey. You might be wondering if they are making the right choices, or if plants are enough – if plant-based diets are healthier and contain all the nutrients, vitamins, and minerals you need for your best health.
To celebrate International Women’s Day, we spoke with Sharon Palmer, the Plant-Powered Dietician, about how plant-based diets are healthier than the standard American diet and contain an abundance of nutrients. Sharon is a registered dietician, a Food and Nutrition Influencer, a Plant-Based and Sustainability Expert, and inspires thousands with her passion for plant-based nutrition and sustainability. Her mission is to spread the message of the life-sustaining power of plants on people and the earth.
As an expert in plant-based nutrition and a leader in the plant-based movement, can you tell me what inspired you to pursue this line of work, and how you became interested in plant-based nutrition?
I grew up in Washington State, and my parents were both farmers. They had grown up on farms until they moved to the suburbs. Even though we lived there, we always had a large garden and grew a lot of our own food. My mother canned, and we made our own bread and granola. Due to religious reasons, my parents tried to raise us mostly vegetarian. I became fascinated with the power of diet to promote health. I knew that I wanted to study nutrition, so I went to school at Loma Linda University, which had a meat-free campus. Their whole program was plant-based, and later on they became known as a Blue Zone—one of the only ones in the U.S. These are places where people live the longest.
There is a lot of information these days in regard to different types of diets, so it can feel overwhelming for women looking to feed their families healthy food. There are also misconceptions about the plant-based diet, such as the belief that these diets don’t contain enough protein or fruit and vegetables are not sufficient nutrition. Why is a plant-based diet the best option and can you speak about these misconceptions?
Protein is a big misconception out there. People think they need more protein than is necessary. We eat three times as much meat as other countries around the world, and we get more protein than we need on average. By eating a healthy, whole, plant-based diet with protein-rich choices at each meal you can get all the protein you need. Eat food like tempeh, beans, lentils, tofu, nuts, and whole grains at each meal for protein. Vegetables also contain protein. So, if you eat well-balanced meals – a healthy protein source like beans or legumes, some cooked or raw vegetables, and whole grains at each meal, you can meet your protein needs. This is also true of meeting other nutrient needs, such as zinc, calcium, and iron. Make sure you get a variety of pulses, grains, leafy green veg, other veg, fruits, nuts, seeds to meet your needs. Take a B12 supplement to meet those needs. Also, limit processed foods and eat nutrient-rich foods.
A lot of people are focused on health and keeping their immune systems up. Could you list the top ways plant-based diets are healthy? And, how does a healthy plant-based diet help with mental well-being?A plant-based diet helps all of our body organs and systems. For example, it is good for your heart, blood vessels, and brain. It helps prevent cancer, obesity, heart disease, hypertension, and diabetes. Studies show people who eat more fruits and vegetables are happier, but there is still more to study needed in this area. Plants contain antioxidants and anti-inflammatory compounds which can be a big root of their health benefits. In addition, plants contain fiber and certain micronutrients. They are also good for the gut microbiome, which is linked with many health benefits. Some of these nutrients, like fiber and phytochemicals, are only found in plants.
Are frozen foods as healthy as fresh foods?Preserved foods, like freezing and canning, are still healthful. It’s more sustainable to choose preserved foodswhen they are out of season over fresh produce shipped in from far away. The nutrients are still available to your body.
What is your suggestion for women who are omnivores wanting to adopt a plant-based diet? What is the first step you suggest?Try one day a week and go from there. Start with meatless Monday for example—do one whole day of meatless eating. Then you can add other days during the week. You can also try something like vegan before 6 p.m. as a way to eat more plant-based. Start by making plant-based versions of the foods that are familiar to you. For example, if you love taco Tuesday, make those veggie tacos. If you have a mean lasagna, turn it into a veggie lasagna. Try one day a week to try a new plant-based recipe.
Any suggestions for mothers who have finicky kids or spouses who are apprehensive about eating plant-based food?Research shows exposure can help children try new foods. That means having something available and offering it to them. It doesn’t mean they have to try it the first time, but if they see you enjoying it, the foods seem more familiar and less scary to them. Try placing a variety of plant-based foods on the table to create offerings that they can try. This works for the whole family. Start with their favorite recipes. You don’t even need to say that it’s plant-based, just make delicious, colorful food and people will eat it.
Let’s talk a bit about detoxing the body. What would you suggest is a good way to start detoxing? What foods would you recommend?My personal philosophy is that the body is capable of detoxing itself. However, a lot of people feel that “detoxing” can help them reset to new healthy behaviors. If you’ve been indulging over the holidays, for example, and feel bloated a “detox” or a “quick reset” plan can help get many people on track. If you’re doing a juicing regimen, this can be a short-term way to reset, but it’s also important to meet all of your nutrient needs, and many “detox” plans are temporary as they don’t meet all of your needs.
Do you any other advice you would give women contemplating going plant-based or vegan?
You can start out small—even by cutting your meat intake in half—just going plant-based 50% of the time, for example. Imagine if everyone in the USA would reduce their meat intake by 50%? It would make a big difference in our health and environmental impact. There are so many people going plant-based these days. So this trend is here to stay. I think this time in history there is a unique opportunity to create a more sustainable society by reducing our carbon footprint by choosing a plant-based diet.
Have you tried Veestro’s food?Yes, I really love their food! I’ve had a chance to tour their kitchens and am really impressed that the foods are real, based on whole plants, and prepared in small batches. It tastes like home cooking. Plus, they are very nutritionally balanced and hearty—you don’t feel hungry like you do with some prepared meals. It’s a great way for you to move towards a more plant-based diet. Try ordering these in addition to your own choices that move toward a plant-based diet.
Sharon Palmer is the author of several books including The Plant-Powered Diet and her most recent book, California Vegan, which relays the diverse story of California veganism with recipes showcasing local produce and celebrating the cultural roots, historical legacy, and future of plant-based pioneers in the state. To learn more about Sharon, visit SharonPalmer.com.
Want to learn more about moving to a plant-based diet? Check out 10 Tips for Going Plant-Based.