A plant-based diet isn’t about becoming a vegetarian or following the latest diet craze, but is simply about choosing more food options from plants — including vegetables, fruit, whole grains, nuts, and seeds. “This is not a fad. It’s part of a healthy lifestyle, and how we should always be eating,” says Gina Sunderland, a Registered Dietitian and Becel® margarine spokesperson.

While a plant-based diet is not new, Sunderland admits that many people don’t fully understand what it entails. You don’t have to give up meat, but a healthy diet rich in a variety of vegetables and fruit, may help reduce the risk of heart disease, while emphasizing whole grains and legumes (such as dried peas, beans, and lentils) can be a great part of a heart-healthy lifestyle. This is because plant-based foods typically contain little to no saturated or trans fats and a healthy diet low in saturated and trans fats may reduce the risk of heart disease.

The superstars of the food world

According to Sunderland, a number of plant-based foods can be nutritional superstars, delivering fibre, vitamins, and minerals. Many are also low in sodium and contain potassium, and a healthy diet containing foods high in potassium and low in sodium may reduce the risk of high blood pressure, a risk factor for stroke and heart disease. They also typically have fewer calories than other foods. Sunderland also suggests using certain plant-based oils, such as canola or sunflower, and non-hydrogenated margarine made from these oils more often instead of butter, an animal-based product. These plant-based oils may contain healthy fats, such as omega-3 and omega-6, that can help
to lower cholesterol and improve heart health when they replace saturated and trans fats in our diets.

While it may seem overwhelming to eat plant-based, it’s actually quite easy. “There are so many simple recipes that will help you eat healthier,” says Sunderland. “I tell people to start by committing to cook one meatless dinner a week. It’s easy when you have the right ingredients stocked in your fridge or pantry. Make a quinoa salad, use whole wheat or brown rice pasta, or make a veggie-filled stir-fry with a meat alternative such as tofu.”

And it doesn’t have to taste bland. Tofu, for example, takes on the flavouring of whatever you cook with. Sunderland recommends thinking about creating a colourful plate — for example: green broccoli, orange carrots, and red bell peppers. Another tip is to not leave home without a healthy snack: some fruit in your bag, perhaps, or a small container of unsalted, dry roasted nuts or seeds.

What’s good for us is good for the environment

The benefits may even go beyond our own health. Plant-based diets can be better for our planet too. These foods typically use less energy, water, and land to produce than foods from animal sources.

Heart disease is the second biggest killer of Canadians, and our diet may actually contribute to this statistic. “When we choose a plant-based diet, we may help reduce the risk of heart disease, lead healthier lives, and we might live longer. That’s what we all want for ourselves and for our families,” says Sunderland. “We are so lucky to have an abundance of plant-based foods in Canada. We need to embrace what we have, and eat more of these healthier foods every day.”  


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