Research consistently shows that plant-based diets are linked with a lower risk of obesity, hypertension, heart disease, type 2 diabetes and cancer," said Sharon Palmer, a registered dietitian and author of "Plant-Powered for Life."
"Even going meatless one day a week can make a difference, as you increase all of those whole plant foods -- beans, lentils, whole grains, nuts, seeds, vegetables, fruits -- and decrease more animal foods, in particular red and processed meat. High intakes of these foods have been linked with increased disease risk," Palmer said.
Eating more plant-based foods increases your intake of fiber, vitamins, minerals, healthy fats and phytochemicals -- plant compounds with antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, according to Palmer.
Stocking your pantry and fridge with a variety of beans, whole grains, seasonal veggies, fruits, spices, herbs, healthy oils, nuts and seeds is the secret to eating more plant-based meals, she said.
Palmer also recommends "plantifying" your favorite dishes. "Just make your favorite entrees or meals plant-based, with a few swaps. If you have a mean lasagna recipe, skip the meat and add layers of greens, broccoli and peppers and perhaps some pine nuts and cashew cheese instead of the meat and cheese. If you love taco Tuesday, make your tacos veggie by skipping the meat and serving black beans or a vegetarian mushroom tofu filling. If you love Indian food, skip the chicken masala and have chickpea masala instead. These will be foods you already love and are familiar with," she said.
Experimenting with new meals and creating a collection of new recipes can be fun, too. "There are so many gorgeous plant-based recipes on sites, in books and in magazines these days. I like to try a brand-new recipe one day a week to keep things interesting. If you love it, make it again," Palmer said.
For a simple meatless recipe, Palmer recommends her spicy hummus veggie tacos
How to measure it:
Picking one day of the week to go plant-based and marking it on the calendar is a good way to stick to your plant-eating plan. "I love the Meatless Monday idea, because people often start their best behaviors at the beginning of the week. ... However, there may be a better day of the week for you, so just plan it," Palmer said.