Mini Guide for Those Wanting to Approach a Plant-Based Diet

Mini Guide for Those Wanting to Approach a Plant-Based Diet

In recent years, there has been a significant increase in the number of people approaching and choosing to follow a vegetarian diet, both for ethical and health reasons. The choice is wise; many scientific studies have demonstrated numerous health benefits. I fully endorse this choice and have partially adopted it myself, eliminating meat and its derivatives long ago, and now it is completely natural to set everything else on the table.

There are numerous ways to approach a plant-based diet: if you are thinking of transitioning to this lifestyle, it is not necessary to fit into a specific category (vegetarian, vegan, lacto-ovo vegetarian, etc.). In my opinion, the important thing is to put the right foods on the table and maintain a balanced diet that meets the nutritional needs of your body.

The first step is to keep in mind what should never be missing on a daily basis and establish quantities and weekly frequencies for each food group.

Since a portion of protein-rich foods (those of animal origin) is missing, it becomes necessary to consume plant-based proteins daily:

1 serving of LEGUMES (beans, chickpeas, lentils, broad beans, peas, soybeans); legumes can also be used for preparations such as hummus, falafel, or veggie burgers by adding vegetables, herbs, and spices to taste;

1 serving of GRAINS (spelt, barley, millet, quinoa, buckwheat, oats, rye, and others) or a mix of grains and legumes;

These can be prepared as hot or cold dishes by composing salads, soups, or stews in combination with vegetables.

At meals or snacks, it is good to include small amounts of UNSALTED DRIED FRUITS (cashews, peanuts, almonds, hazelnuts, walnuts, Brazil nuts, pecans, pine nuts, pistachios) and SEEDS such as sunflower, sesame, pumpkin, chia, and flax (the latter consumed raw, preferably after grinding them at the moment).

These can be added to salads or soups but also to yogurt (for vegetarians) or fruit smoothies.

Additionally, for those following a vegetarian diet, it is necessary to vary the choices and consume the following daily:

at least 2 servings of SEASONAL VEGETABLES, cooked or raw;

2-3 servings of FRESH FRUIT throughout the day.

The daily dressing for dishes remains extra virgin olive oil, as in a healthy Mediterranean diet. It is advisable to add 1-2 teaspoons of flaxseed oil raw (kept in the refrigerator and in the dark) to compensate for the lack of omega-3 (only for those who do not eat fish).

Eggs are an excellent source of protein, so they can be consumed 2-4 times a week (in the absence of pathologies).

Other protein-rich foods, such as milk, yogurt, kefir, can be consumed daily for breakfast or snacks.

In general, the risk of a vegetarian diet is to introduce an excess of carbohydrates and simple sugars, as well as cheeses and dairy products.

Let's see what the most common mistakes are and how they can be avoided:

By preferably consuming whole foods (bread, rice, pasta, rusks), the calorie intake is reduced, fiber is increased, and therefore the feeling of satiety. It also keeps the glycemic load under control during meals.

Strongly limit the consumption of potatoes, corn, and refined carbohydrates.

Pizzas and leavened products should be consumed sparingly.

Do not overdo it with sweets: it is better to consume pies and sweets prepared at home with wholemeal flours and fruit.

Limit the consumption of cheeses and dairy products to 1-2 times a week, preferring those with a low fat content (ricotta, goat cheeses).

For those who are transitioning to a vegetarian diet, the advice is to take small steps, perhaps by reducing the frequency of fresh meat and cold cuts (and eventually, fish) before eliminating them altogether. The approach is very different in the case of a vegan choice, which is more extreme. To avoid gross mistakes and suffer nutritional deficiencies, it is advisable to consult appropriate sources or, better yet, rely on experts in the field of nutrition and dietetics.

On the contrary, for everyone and at all ages, it is highly desirable to reduce the frequency of meats and cold cuts, which are still too often present in our daily menu.

Dr. Concetta Mauriello

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