As gardeners, one of the many actions we can do at home to mitigate climate change is to grow and eat some of our own fresh produce. Meat and dairy products account for an estimated 14-16% of global greenhouse gas emissions, according to the UN’s Food and Agricultural Organization. Having a home or community garden gives you access to nutritious foods that can be part of a more plant-based diet — one that’s healthy for you, and the planet! Today’s guest post on this topic is from University of Maryland Extension Family & Consumer Sciences Agent Beverly A. Jackey.
Following a plant-based diet is very trendy these days. Whether it’s an environmental reason (reduce your carbon footprint) or a health goal (decrease the risk of some chronic diseases), many people, including myself are consciously reducing their consumption of animal products.
What does it mean to follow a plant-based diet? That really depends. Some interpret it as being a vegan or vegetarian. Others view a plant-based diet as being broader, including more plant foods, such as fruits, vegetables, and grains, and also fewer animal foods, like meat, fish, and dairy. It’s not necessary to give up all the animal foods you enjoy; however, you can consider decreasing the portion sizes so these foods are no longer the main attraction on your plate.
Ever since attending a 2019 nutrition conference, I’ve been inspired to consume more plant-based foods. It’s unlikely I will give up my glass of cold, fat-free milk in the evening (with one cookie); however, I do consume at least three meatless meals per week, eat smaller portions of chicken, fish, and lean beef and pork, and I load up half of my plate with vegetables (see my grilled vegetable recipe). This summer, my deck garden provided enough delicious red tomatoes to enjoy almost every day on salads. Since making these changes, I’ve maintained a healthy weight and blood pressure and feel good about doing something for Mother Earth.
Are you ready to ‘dig in’ and adopt a more plant-based diet? Here are some tips that helped me get started.
- Go meatless one day a week. Beans, lentils, and nuts are great sources of plant proteins and add fiber to your diet, which makes you feel full. Instead of adding meat to my pasta, I toss it with grilled vegetables. If you like chili, peruse recipe websites for a bean-based chili that appeals to your taste buds.
- Combine vegetable proteins. Quinoa is a perfect protein, meaning it contains the 9 essential amino acids your body needs daily. You can also combine other plant foods to get that perfect protein. Some of my favorite combos are black beans and rice, chickpeas and pasta, and whole wheat bread and peanut butter (with some jelly).
- Re-think your meat portions. You can still have meat at your meals, but in smaller amounts, like 3 cooked ounces (the size and thickness of a deck of cards). Many meals like soups (winter) and salads (summer) are full of vegetables and whole grains, but I add a small piece of protein, like a leftover grilled and shredded chicken breast or a few slices of pork tenderloin.
Try this recipe for Easy Grilled Vegetables!
Selection of vegetables:
- Red, yellow, or green peppers – cut in half and seeded
- Yellow and green squash – sliced length-wise, about ½ inch thick
- Eggplant – sliced width-wise, about ½ inch thick
- Mushrooms – whole cleaned
- Onion – sliced width-wise, about ½ inch thick
- 1/2 cup olive oil
- Salt and pepper
- 4 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
- 2 teaspoons, minced garlic
- Fresh chopped or dried herb (parsley, thyme, basil, etc.) for garnish
1. Mix oil, salt, pepper, vinegar, and garlic together.
2. Arrange vegetables on the grill or in a grill pan (medium heat). Note: depending on the size of your pan you may need to work in batches.
3. Grill vegetables for 6-8 minutes, brushing with oil, and vinegar mixture.
4. Remove vegetables from the grill or grill pan and place them on a platter. Drizzle the remaining oil and vinegar mixture on the vegetables. Sprinkle herbs over vegetables and serve.
By Beverly A. Jackey MS, RDN, LDN, Agent, Family & Consumer Sciences, University of Maryland Extension (UME). This article was published originally on the UME Breathing Room blog, which covers topics on health, wellness, nutrition, and financial management.