With a brand new year right around the corner, it’s the perfect opportunity to introduce healthy, positive changes into your life and help reduce your risk for obesity. Eating plant-based foods as often as possible is one of the best things you can do, not only to help prevent obesity, but also for your health and well-being in general. Here are some helpful guidelines to assist you in creating well-balanced, plant-based meals.
In a typical day, try having:
- 5 to 6 ounces of whole grains
- 2½ to 3 cups vegetables
- 2 cups fruits - fresh is best
- 5 to 6 ounces of plant-based protein
Helpful guide on grains and proteins:
1 ounce of whole grains = 1 slice of bread, ½ cup cooked rice or pasta, or cooked cereal. Sources of grains include: quinoa, brown rice, soba noodles, oatmeal, whole grain noodles, millet, buckwheat, sprouted whole-grain bread. 1 ounce of protein = ¼ cup beans, ¼ cup tofu, 2 Tablespoons hummus (garbanzo bean dip), 1 Tablespoon nut butter or ½ ounce of nuts. Sources of plant proteins include: beans, lentils, tofu/tempeh and other soy products, nuts and seeds or nut butters. To increase your protein intake, you can also add vegetarian and vegan protein supplements to shakes and smoothies, also available at Down To Earth. In fact, higher protein intake is recommended by dietitians to help facilitate weight loss.2
Other helpful tips:
- As recommended by USDA MyPlate: Make half of your plate vegetables and fruits, a quarter protein, and make the remaining quarter whole grains.
- Low-fat or non-fat dairy products such as Greek yogurt can also assist in weight loss, as it is high in protein and contains beneficial bacteria.
- Portion control is important. Eat smaller meals every 3-4 hours so you don’t get too hungry and overeat at your next meal. A great tip is to buy child-size plates, no bigger than 7 inches. Psychologically, we think we have more food if our plate looks full—we will consume smaller portions, but our brains will think differently.
- For snacks, have a protein and carbohydrate together, as it will keep you full longer and maintains your blood sugar levels (i.e. apple with peanut butter or almond butter, or carrot sticks with yogurt dip).
Breakfast: Protein shake: 1 cup of fresh or frozen fruit, 1 to 2 scoops of protein powder, 1 cup unsweetened almond milk or water, 2 teaspoons raw honey, handful of fresh spinach or kale. (Endless combinations: try dates to make it sweeter, alternate your greens, try different fruits, or even add ½ of a fresh avocado for a mild creamy texture. Some protein powders are sweetened with stevia or xylitol so it will already add plenty of sweetness to your shake) Oatmeal: whole grain oatmeal topped with ½ cup of your favorite fresh fruit, such as berries. Lightly toast sunflower seeds and almonds to go along with it for some added protein. Lunch: Bean burrito: made with black or pinto beans, fresh tomatoes, olives, lettuce, and salsa in a whole-grain tortilla. Hummus or avocado sandwich/wrap along with added mushrooms, onion, carrots, zucchini, or bell pepper in a whole-grain tortilla. Dinner: Okinawan sweet potato and sautéed tofu with stir-fry vegetables. Lentil stew with lentils, onions, garlic, brown rice, tomatoes, carrots, spinach, and spices. Quinoa salad: prepare quinoa and toss into a salad, including bell pepper, cucumber, parsley or cilantro, tomatoes, carrots and green onions. Add seasoned tofu or tempeh and sprinkle toasted pumpkin seeds on top along with some fresh lemon juice and olive oil.
Along with changes to your diet, increasing physical activity is also essential to reduce the risk of obesity. Hiking, swimming, surfing, walking, playing sports, etc., are all great options. Weight lifting or strength training exercises are also important. Strength training exercises will help build muscle mass. Muscle burns more calories that fat does and so muscle mass is a key factor in weight loss.1 Your metabolism will increase and you will burn more calories even while you sleep. The key to staying active is doing what you enjoy; don't make it unbearable. Be realistic, work within your limits and try to be consistent. Even just increasing your physical activity to 20 minutes a day, three times a week will have huge benefits. Make time for exercise. Work it into your weekly schedule, just like an appointment. Rearrange your daily or weekly schedule, if needed, to accommodate time for physical activity. This is one of the key successes to staying active.
It's okay to have "off" days.
Don't be discouraged; keep at it, even if it’s just a little at a time. Get your friends and family involved, find a workout buddy! Encourage them to exercise with you, try new recipes, and eat together. Remember, this is a lifestyle change that will require a life-long commitment to a healthier you. So make it realistic, set reasonable goals, hold yourself accountable, and know that there is a lot of support out there to help you stay on track. It’s true that making lifestyle change requires effort, but the payoff is priceless and it gets easier to maintain as you replace old habits with healthy new ones. Disclaimer: Always consult with your physician or qualified healthcare provider before starting a new diet, treatment, or fitness program.