Power of Plants

As we all know, deciphering, organizing and trying to understand nutrition can be very challenging. It seems dietary topics and trends are constantly revolving and changing. In a world of many “nutrition” voices including blogs, celebrities and fitness professionals, just to name a few, current healthy habits are sometimes dropped when dietary changes are made.

When women are researching or choosing a new set of dietary guidelines to try, weight loss tends to be the most popular long-term goal. The diets that I typically hear patients and friends discuss are a high protein and low/zero carbohydrate diet as well as Paleo/Primal diet. Both of these diets focus on eliminating sugar and high carbohydrate foods. Some women will go the extreme and eliminate fruit, grains, some vegetables, beans and dairy due to their carbohydrate content. When eliminating so many foods groups, and having such strong focus on protein, we not only eliminate our main sources of disease preventing phytonutrients, vitamins and minerals, but we tend to increase our animal/meat consumption.

Animal protein has been researched regarding a variety of diseases in recent years. In late 2015, the World Health Organization announced that the consumption of processed meat is carcinogenic to humans, and the consumption of red meat is probably carcinogenic to humans. Multiple studies have found that people who eat diets high in red and processed meats are at higher risk of type 2 diabetes. Most red meat is high in saturated fat and sodium, which have both been linked to cardiovascular disease. Outside the fact that animal meat is a complete protein, it is very low in nutrition. (Protein bars and shakes also tend to be high in saturated and trans fat as well as animal-based whey protein. Check back next month as we discuss this more in depth.)

I am not completely shaming animal protein as I do eat meat myself, however, I see the value in nutrition or the power in plants. Not only do plants contain the highest quantities of minerals, vitamins, fiber and phytochemicals, but plants also contain protein. I have attached a list of plant-based foods and their protein content. Plants are also low in saturated fat, calories and sodium.

Increasing the amount of plant-based foods you consume can change and improve your health. The American Heart Association actually recommends going vegetarian every once in a while to help decrease the intake of saturated and trans fat. Johns Hopkins Colorectal Center recommends a diet rich in fruits and vegetables and avoiding red meat, salt and saturated fat. Mayo Clinic recommends eating a plant-based diet rich in fruits, vegetables and whole grains, and to limit the consumption of processed meats to prevent breast cancer. Mayo Clinic also recommends increasing plant-based fiber content to those who suffer from IBS with constipation.

Most Americans, especially those of us raised in the Midwest, are probably not going to become vegetarian, however, we can always increase the amounts of plants and decrease the amount of animal protein consumed. My recommendation is to follow the feet; animals with less feet tend to be healthier. When choosing meat options, quality is extremely important. Try and limit processed meats (hotdogs, sausages, luncheon meats) and red meat to rare, special occasions. If red meat is purchased, choose organic, grass-fed beef. (Remember, what it ate, we eat. Animals need plants too.) If you prefer lean, unprocessed cuts of pork, purchase organic and pasture-raised. Poultry like chicken and turkey should be free range and organic when possible. Fish is a great lean protein. When available purchase wild-caught rather than farm-raised. Implement a variety of mushrooms, beans, lentils, quinoa, seeds and nuts into your meals like salads, tacos and stuffed peppers. Every once in a while, plan a Meatless Monday meal. If you have children who tend to avoid vegetables, consider “hiding” some minced cauliflower and broccoli in their macaroni and cheese or sauté spinach and add it to their favorite soup. Remember, vegetarian dishes do not need to be bland, using raw spices like chili powder, garlic and cumin in a vegetarian chili will closely mimic the meat-based option. Plants also maintain their benefits whether they are fresh, raw, frozen, baked or sautéed.

Protein recommendations for a healthy adult are easy to calculate (0.8-1.0g protein/2.2 pounds of body weight). It is an essential macronutrient to our health; however, the source of the protein may also influence your health positively or negatively. A diet rich in plants is recommended in preventing and reversing all diseases. When considering a change in diet or source of protein intake, please always meet with a Registered Dietitian to make sure the dietary changes are right for you and your health. The Couri Center offers quick, 30- minute appointments where all your nutritional and protein questions can be answered.


Leslie Rusch-Bayer, RD, LDN, CPT

Lentils 9 grams ½ cup
Tofu 10 grams 1 cup
Black beans 8 grams 1 cup
Quinoa 8 grams 1 cup
Green peas 8 grams 1 cup
Artichokes 4 grams ½ cup
Hemp seeds 13 grams 3 tablespoons
Oatmeal 6 grams 1 cup
Pumpkin seeds 8 grams ¼ cup
Spinach 5 grams 1 cup