Exploring Nutrition, Plant-Based Diets, and Blue Zones 

Nutritional Dishes

In a world where our daily choices impact our overall health, the importance of nutrition takes center stage. Guided by insights from our dedicated Registered Dietician, Malu Trehan, we’ll uncover the intriguing secrets of nutrition, the fascinating concept of blue zones, and the advantages associated with a plant-based diet. 

What is Nutrition?

Nutrition is an important part of our wellbeing, influencing every aspect of our physical and mental health. The food we consume serves as the fuel for our bodies, affecting our energy levels, immunity, and even our longevity. 

On a biological level, nutrition is the biochemical and physiological process of organisms using food to sustain its life, using essential nutrients, and transforming them into energy. If an organism doesn’t get enough of these vital nutrients, it can result in malnutrition. 

It’s essential to acknowledge that not everyone has the same level of access to healthy food. Disparities in food access and availability are stark reminders of the need for more comprehensive and equitable solutions in our quest for better health through nutrition.

What is a Plant-Based Diet?

Plant-based diets have surged in recognition, capturing the attention of health-conscious individuals and environmentally conscious consumers alike. A plant-based diet centers around foods primarily derived from plants, such as fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, grains, and legumes. This dietary choice places a strong emphasis on whole, unprocessed foods while minimizing or eliminating the consumption of animal meats. 

Benefits of a plant-based diet include lowering your risk of dementia or cognitive impairment, heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, and other chronic diseases, reducing your carbon footprint, improving your gut health, reducing inflammation, lowering levels of ‘bad’ cholesterol, improving athletic performance, and more. 

How to Get Protein in a Plant-Based Diet? 

Contrary to a common misconception, you can obtain adequate protein from a plant-based diet. 

“It’s a myth that we need animal protein to meet our body’s protein needs – we can get plenty of protein from plants including beans, lentils, tofu, soymilk, whole grains, nuts and seeds.” Trehan said. Believe it or not, vegetables and leafy greens have protein too! Just to give an example, 1c. of beans and ⅔ cup of brown rice with a salad would give a whopping 21g of protein. You may be wondering, what about the essential amino acids? The beans and rice complement each other and give us all the essential amino acids we need.

Additionally, the best part of eating plant-based is that you don’t get the adverse effects that you would get from animal protein, such as saturated fat and cholesterol. 

7 Ways to Eat a More Plant-Based Diet

  1. Replace butter with oil: Swap butter with a small amount of olive oil (for low temperature sauteing) or avocado oil (high temperature cooking like in a wok). Look at this page on healthy swaps.
  2. Turn to cauliflower as a substitute: Cauliflower is versatile and can replace meat in various dishes. Cauliflower can be used to lower carbohydrates and increase fiber in recipes: steam cauliflower and mash it with potatoes for a vegan take on shepherd’s pie. It can also be used as a replacement for pizza crusts, chopped into small pieces to make cauliflower “fried rice” and as a swap for chicken as “buffalo cauliflower.” Here are more examples. 
  3. Mushrooms are your friend: Mushrooms are medicinal and anti-carcinogenic. They add umami flavor and a meaty texture, so they are a great meat replacement. See this page for more. 
  4. Reduce your cheese intake: High in saturated fat and salt, excessive cheese consumption can negatively impact your cardiovascular health. 
  5. Choose non-dairy milk options: Swap cow’s milk for oat, almond, hemp, coconut (in small amounts as it does have saturated fat), organic soy, or cashew milk. 
  6. Sauté or fry your vegetables: Satisfy your cravings for fried food by preparing fried vegetables. Cook with water or broth to reduce the need for oil. 
  7. Welcome beans into your diet: Beans provide essential fiber and protein for feeling full and satisfied. Soaking beans overnight and sprouting can help reduce undesirable effects of gas. Sprouting can also boost the protein content. 

What is the Correct Portion Size for a Healthy Meal? 

Finding the right balance in your meal can significantly impact your overall health and well-being. Discover how to create a balanced, nourishing meal using the Bastyr University Plate, consisting of:

  • 1/3 non-starchy vegetables: colorful, non-starchy veggies like leafy greens, broccoli, and bell peppers. 
  • 1/4 protein: a quarter of your plate is designated for protein sources, which can include lean meats, poultry, fish, tofu, legumes, or plant-based alternatives. 
  • 1/4 carbohydrates: another quarter of the plate is dedicated to carbohydrates, which can be sourced from whole grains like brown rice, quinoa, or whole-grain pasta. 
  • 1/4 healthy fats: the remaining quarter of your plate is for incorporating healthier fat options such as avocados, nuts, and seeds. These fats support overall health, including heart health and brain function. 

While portion sizes are important to consider, Trehan emphasizes that it’s equally important to listen to your body. “I’d really like people to start getting more attuned to their body and the food signals. When are you hungry? When are you full? And just eat until that point, not more and not waiting too long to eat,” she said. 

Smart Eating Tips for a Busy Lifestyle, as Advised by Malu Trehan

In the whirlwind of our daily lives, finding the time to maintain a healthy diet can feel like a daunting task. Luckily, Trehan offers invaluable advice on making nutritious choices accessible, even amid a jam-packed schedule. 

Her guidance begins with a morning ritual – the green smoothie. As she suggests, “A green smoothie is something  most of us can do. You can prepare it the night before in your blender cup. That would be something you can very easily get first thing in the morning.” A green smoothie can have berries, other fresh fruit, 1/2 banana, a fist full of leafy greens and water. It’s not a meal replacement, but a big dose of fiber and phytonutrients. This will feed your gut microbiome which is where our good bacteria make b vitamins, vitamin k, and stimulate 90% of serotonin production. Serotonin is a “feel-good” neurotransmitter important for brain health.

For a delightful, fiber-rich breakfast, Trehan recommends overnight oats. She encourages opting for whole, rolled oats and assembling them in a jar the night before with your choice of plant milk. To elevate the flavor and nutrition, she recommends, “you could put chia seeds, flax, vanilla essence, a chopped up date for sweetness or a few pieces of dried fruit. In the morning, it turns into this wonderful, almost pudding-like texture.” 

To maintain a steady supply of fresh and nutritious options, Trehan advises keeping a stock of pre-washed greens in your fridge so you can always put a salad together quickly. 

Lastly, Trehan underscores the importance of meal planning. “Breakfast is usually pretty easy for most people to put together but in my experience, people find dinner to be the most challenging,” she said. “We are at the end of our energy and if we are fatigued, we may not make the best choices. That’s why if we can plan dinner in advance and make an extra portion for your lunch the next day, we can make things much easier.”

Blue Zones: Why do People in These Areas Have Better Longevity? 

Imagine a place where, collectively, people are living longer than 100 years old. It may sound like a utopian dream, but such places do exist. Known as the Blue Zones, there are five regions in the world where people remarkably defy the odds of aging and enjoy healthier lives compared to the global average. The Blue Zones include Ikaria, Greece, Okinawa, Japan, Ogliastra Region, Sardinia (Italy), Loma Linda, California and Nicoya Peninsula, Costa Rica. 

All inhabitants of these five places have low rates of chronic disease and the highest life expectancy in the world. Malu Trehan recalled a time where she met a centenarian during her graduation for a Master of Public Health (MPH) from Loma Linda University. “She started hiking at age 70 and even put rocks in her backpack to make it harder,” she said. “She proceeded to climb Mt. Fuji at 90 years old!”  

The unique longevity of blue zone inhabitants can be attributed to a combination of factors. It’s no surprise that the main factor is their plant-centered diets. Strong social connections, stress management, moderate alcohol consumption, and a deep sense of purpose also drive the remarkable longevity in these areas.

Recognizing the benefits of embracing a plant-based diet resonate as a powerful testament to the transformational potential of our dietary choices. Together, by prioritizing nutrition, we can empower ourselves to create a healthier and more harmonious future for ourselves and generations to come. 

Share this article:

Related Posts

April is Head and Neck Cancer Awareness Month, a cancer that accounts for 4% of all cancers in the United
World Health Day 2024 is a call to action for global solidarity and action. Be empowered and impact your community

Comments are closed.

Recent Posts