As The Plant-Powered Dietitian ™ it’s no surprise that I’m an advocate for a diet that is high in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, plant-based protein and calcium, and features healthy nuts, seeds, herbs, and spices. That’s because hundreds of studies indicate that by eating whole, minimally processed plant foods, humans gain protection against everyday illness, diabetes, obesity, depression, mental decline, heart disease and cancer. When I speak to individuals about making the shift towards a more plant-based way of eating, embracing ethnic cuisines is one of my very best tips. Take Indian, Thai, Vietnamese, and Mexican cuisines, for example – all offer a variety of delicious meals highlighting plant-based foods. Here are 5 reasons why ethnic cuisines can help provide plant-powered benefits such as lowering blood pressure, improving cholesterol levels, and even helping you lose weight.
- They embrace plants. Many cultures simply know how to do vegetarian meals right. Rather than emphasizing animal foods high in saturated fat and cholesterol, they emphasize plant-based foods packed with vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals and fiber. Mexican dishes are known for their abundance of legumes, including pinto and black beans; the Mediterranean diet highlights unsaturated and hearth healthy plant-fats such as nuts and olive oil; the traditional Japanese diet embraces whole soy foods such as edamame, tofu and miso.
- They shift the plate. While the general American population still has the mentality of preparing meals with meat as “the center of the plate,” many cultures simply use meat as a flavoring rather than the main event. This eating style is the basis of many ethnic dishes, such as curries, stir-fries, stews and pasta dishes that are flavored with a small portion of beef, chicken or fish and a pile of vegetables in order to serve a family-size meal.
- They practice tradition. Many parts of the world such as Copper Canyon, Mexico and Cameroon, Africa are cut off from modern society. As a result, the people there still follow the food traditions from the past relying on local grains, locally cultivated and foraged fruits and vegetables, and some amounts of local animal foods. In these locations – that hardly rely on the packaged products that line our supermarket shelves – chronic disease and obesity are almost nonexistent.
- They enhance taste just right. Since the beginning of time, people have cherished plants – in particular herbs and spices – not only for their flavor, but also for their health benefits. In many popular ethnic dishes, herbs and spices play a starring role. Tumeric, popular in Indian cooking may protect against cancer, diabetes, heart disease, arthritis, gastrointestinal problems, and Alzheimer’s disease; garlic and oregano used in Italian dishes boast generous levels of anti-inflammatory properties; hot pepper used in a variety of ethnic-inspired dishes is well known for its pain-relieving effects.
- They don’t diet. In America, the word “diet” is typically associated with something you are “on” or “off.” In actuality, a diet is simply a style of eating you should choose to eat for life, based on personal and cultural values. A diet isn’t ridden with restriction and guilt; the food you eat is meant to be enjoyed and is meant to be a reflection of you. And a plant-powered diet is one where you come to the table with friends and family and celebrate delicious food.
Sharon Palmer is a registered dietitian, writer and author of The Plant-Powered Diet. Over 750 of her articles have been published in national publications, including Prevention, Better Homes and Gardens and Today’s Dietitian. She is also the editor of the award-winning publication Environmental Nutrition and writes for her blog, The Plant-Powered Dietitian. Sharon makes her home with her husband and two sons in the chaparral hills overlooking Los Angeles.