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The Plant Based Diet: Healthy For You and the Environment

Posted November 18th, 2010 by mclaugke


I recently had the opportunity to meet Mark Bittman, author of Food Matters.  Mark suggested (to an audience of college and university food service operators) that if we want to practice environmental sustainability, we ought to encourage our customers to eat more plant based foods .  He explained that he wasn’t here to promote veganism or vegetarianism per se, but rather, “eat-less-meat-ism”.

According to the American Dietetic Association, appropriately planned plant based diets are healthful, nutritionally adequate, and may provide health benefits in the prevention and treatment of certain diseases.

A plant based diet is associated with lower: risk of death from heart disease, LDL (bad) cholesterol levels, blood pressure, rates of hypertension ,type 2 diabetes ,body mass index overall cancer rates. However, plant based diets can be unhealthy too if they are not based in fruits, vegetables and whole grains and if they are lacking in nutrients typically found in animal products such as protein, calcium/Vitamin D, zinc, iron, B12, and omega 3 fatty acids.

Whether vegan, vegetarian, semi vegetarian or omnivore, the texture and flavor packed in bean and legume dishes can please all palettes…. and the planet.  The indigenous Mexican diet and agriculture history has been comprised of the “Three Sisters” (corn, beans and squash) because of nutrition and environmental sustainability attributes.  Beans put nitrogen back into the soil, reducing the reliance on chemical fertilizers.

Beans and legumes have been a culinary staple for centuries for many cultures in South America, Africa, Mediterranean, Asia, and India.  For many of these regions, beans and legumes in combination with grains are the center of the plate and meat is viewed as a garnish or accent to the dish.

The Benefits of Beans and Legumes

  • High in antioxidants. Consider all of the vibrant colors found in beans: rich black, red, pink, green.   Bright colors found in produce can be are biggest “clue” in high antioxidant content.
  • Rich source of fiber.  The high fiber content helps to stabilize blood sugar and fill you up.
  • Very lean protein. ½ cup of beans contains 115 calories and 10 grams protein.  Combine with a grain such as brown rice or bulgur to make it a “complete protein”, containing all of the essential amino acids.  (Note-the grain just needs to be consumed sometime within the day—not necessarily at the same meal).
  • Great source of potassium, magnesium, phosphorus, folate, iron, zinc
  • Inexpensive!  1 ounce of bean protein costs about 6 cents!
  • Great “carrier” of flavor; Texture and flavor attributes make them “craveable” comfort food

Interested in some exciting UHDS vegetarian options?  Here’s a few highlights that feature beans as the main fare(check out links for a complete list): Arnold Bistro’s Global Fare offers daily beans and whole grain specials ranging from Ethiopian Lentils, Persian Kidney Beans and Brown Rice with Dates and Walnuts. Marketplace West’s Serrano’s grill serves up a black bean burrito stuffed with veggies and smothered with mole sauce.  Boardwalk Deli specials include Falafel (seasoned garbonzo bean patties) on fresh pita and Moroccan Vegetable Stew.

Be Well!

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