Eating more fruits and vegetables has never been a better idea. Not only does it give your body the nutrients it needs to stay healthy, opting for more plant-based fare is easy on the environment.
The problem is, only about a tenth of American adults get the recommended five servings of fruits and vegetables per day!1 Fortunately, gearing your diet toward more plant-centric foods doesn’t have to involve a huge lifestyle change. Let’s check out some plant-based foods for better health.
The Health Benefits of a Plant-Based Diet
Meat has been the centerpiece of the American diet for years. But over the past couple of decades, eating trends have started to shift away from animal proteins in favor of plant-based foods. And there’s good reason: studies show that consuming a plant-based diet can reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, the need for drugs as treatment, and all-cause mortality.2 3
A large part of those health benefits comes from the antioxidants that plant-based foods contain. These powerful compounds neutralize damaging free radicals that attack your cells and increase your risk of conditions like cancer, diabetes, and heart disease. Antioxidants, especially polyphenols, have been shown to improve cardiometabolic health and brain function.4 Good sources include apples, beans, cherries, green tea, nuts, onions, spinach, and even chocolate (who says sweets can’t be good for you?).
The Environmental Impact of Your Food
Another reason to make a move toward a plant-based diet is the harm that factory farming has on the environment. Large-scale livestock operations require substantial resources, and they produce massive amounts of waste that often contaminates the air and water nearby. Worse yet, the animals raised in feedlots and other industrial livestock operations are subjected to inhumane conditions and are routinely given antibiotics, pesticides, and growth hormones—all of which get passed on to you when you eat it.
On the other hand, plant-based foods have a much smaller impact on the planet. This is especially true for regenerative agriculture or organic farming, both of which create healthier, more nutritious food. Another option? Vertical farming, which is an extremely efficient and sustainable food-production method. It uses less water and energy than traditional farming, and since it’s indoors, farmers are shielded from bad weather and pests, so they can produce food year round.
Steps to Increase Your Plant Intake
Increasing the amount of plant-based foods you eat is easier than you might think. Here are some simple ways to incorporate more fruits and veggies into your everyday meals:
Know what a serving is. It’s important to know what you’re aiming for. For fruits like apples and bananas, a whole piece is typically equal to one serving. For smaller fruits like berries and grapes, a few handfuls should do the trick. But skip the fruit juices as they are often riddled with sugar. The same basic principle can apply to vegetables: a whole sweet potato or a large tomato will suffice. Other veggies like broccoli and baby carrots get a couple handfuls. And two to three cups of leafy greens will give you a single serving.
Start Slowly. Good habits don’t form instantly. Start by incorporating a piece of fruit with your morning muffin for a week. Then add a side salad to your lunch order. From there you can work your way up to the recommended five servings of fruit and vegetables each day.
Swap out snacks. Popular snack foods like chips and ice cream are packed with sugar, salt, unhealthy fats, and preservatives that can undermine your health. In fact, consuming more than four servings per day has been linked to a 62 percent increased risk for all-cause mortality.5 So ditch the chips for a couple handfuls of nuts or trail mix. And nix the ice cream for a berry smoothie bursting with immune-supporting antioxidants.
Eat the rainbow. Although an apple a day may keep the doctor away, eating a wide variety of colorful foods will give your body the key vitamins and minerals it needs to stay healthy. Vibrantly colored fruits and veggies are loaded with beneficial phytochemicals. And a high dietary intake of phytochemicals is associated with a reduced risk for cardiovascular and other diseases.6
Try a supplement. Adding a high-quality supplement can give your body a big boost of green nutrition, particularly if you struggle to eat enough plant-based foods throughout the day. For an immediate impact, go for a powdered green drink mix like Kyo-Green Greens Blend. Loaded with superfoods like barley, wheatgrass, and chlorella, it’s a powerful source of natural nutrients necessary for optimal health in a great tasting, easy-to-use powder.
Stay hydrated. One of the main complaints some people have with plant-forward diets is that their meals just aren’t filling enough.7 But drinking plenty of water will help keep you satiated while aiding metabolism. One study showed that drinking an extra 50 ounces of water everyday worked as an appetite suppressor and even lead to weight loss in overweight women.8 Not only that, gulping down more water will keep your gut happy and your bowels functioning properly.
Animals don’t have to be the center of your food universe. Replacing meats and processed snacks with a colorful array of plant-based foods can have a beneficial effect on your health as well as the health of the planet.
- Lee SH. Adults Meeting Fruit and Vegetable Intake Recommendations — United States, 2019. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep. 2022;71:1–9.
- Najjar, RS. A defined, plant-based diet utilized in an outpatient cardiovascular clinic effectively treats hypercholesterolemia and hypertension and reduces medications. Clin Cardiol. 2018;41:307–313.
- Keaver L. Plant- and animal-based diet quality and mortality among US adults: a cohort study. Br J Nutr. 2021;28;125(12):1405–1415.
- Fraga CG. The effects of polyphenols and other bioactives on human health. Food & Function. 10:514–528.
- Rico-CampÃ A. Association between consumption of ultra-processed foods and all cause mortality: SUN prospective cohort study. BMJ. 2019;365:l1949.
- Leitzmann C. Characteristics and Health Benefits of Phytochemicals. Forsch Komplementmed. 2016;23:69-74.
- Malou FS. Barriers and facilitators towards adopting a more plant-based diet in a sample of Danish consumers. Food Quality and Preference. 2019;73:288–292.
- Vij VA. Effect of excessive water intake on body weight, body mass index, body fat, and appetite of overweight female participants. J Nat Sci Biol Med. 2014;5(2):340–4.
This article is for informational purposes only. This article is not, nor is it intended to be, a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment and should never be relied upon for specific medical advice.