While there is no standard definition for a “plant-based diet”, plant-based eating limits animal products, and focuses on vegetables, fruits, legumes, nuts, seeds and whole grains to make up most of the diet. This way of eating has gained popularity as a health-promoting and disease-reducing way to eat. Our SHIFT Dietitians discuss the possible health benefits, concerns, and considerations of plant-based eating. We also share with you a Vegetarian Chili Recipe that’s perfect for Fall!

Possible Health Benefits

A growing body of evidence has linked plant-based diets to positive health outcomes. Research has shown that vegetarian-style eating patterns are associated with:

  • Lower levels of obesity
  • Lower risk of cardiovascular disease
  • Lower blood pressure
  • Lower rates of type 2 diabetes
  • Lower levels of cancer
  • Lower total mortality

Vegetarian diets tend  to be lower in saturated fats, and higher in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, soy products, fiber, and phytochemicals. These characteristics are associated with reduced risk of chronic diseases whether fully practicing vegetarianism or not. However, a vegetarian diet could  also consist of highly processed foods, refined grains, and low-quality proteins, which would arguably increase the risk of chronic disease. Any diet can be healthy or harmful depending on its makeup, balance, and sustainability.

Nutrients of Concern for Plant-Based Eating

While plant-based diets tend to be rich in nutrients like fiber, Vitamin A, Vitamin C, and several B vitamins, there are some nutritional concerns with this way of eating:

  • Protein – individuals that consume dairy, eggs, and/or fish might find it easier to meet protein needs
  • Vitamins D and B12 – supplementation might be needed if intake and/or sun exposure is not adequate
  • Omega-3 Fats – especially of concern if eggs and seafood are avoided; other sources include flax, chia, walnuts, and soy
  • Calcium, Iron, and Zinc are the main minerals of concern when animal foods like dairy, lean meats, poultry, and seafood are limited or cut out from the diet

Considerations for Implementing a Plant-Based Diet

The same fundamental SHIFT nutrition principles apply to a plant-based diet: prioritize nutrient-dense foods, aim for balance, fuel regularly and consistently, and above all, use Eating Intuition to help you achieve a healthy relationship with food.

If adopting a plant-based style of eating, SHIFT recommends using the Balanced Plate:

  • Fill the plate with fruits, vegetables, fiber-rich whole grains, legumes, nuts, seeds, soy, and eggs, dairy, and seafood (if desired).
  • Minimize intake of highly processed foods, refined grains, and foods high in added sugar, sodium, saturated fat, and trans fat.
  • Ensure you are getting quality sources of Vitamin B12 (via food) and Vitamin D (via sunlight) or consult your SHIFT physician or dietitian to discuss supplementation options.

With cooler weather approaching, it is the perfect time to start adding soups, stews, and chili’s back into the weekly rotation. This Vegetarian Chili is perfect for individuals who want to shift towards more plant-based eating without sacrificing nutrients, flavor, or ease in the kitchen. It is also great for weekly food prep if wanting to plan ahead.

Loaded with satiating beans and nutrient-packed, non-starchy vegetables, this is a plant-forward meal everyone in the family will love. Beans provide protein, fiber, iron, zinc, and many other nutrients, so they can be a staple in a vegetarian or plant-based eating pattern. See below for the recipe and Nutrition Facts for this easy take on Vegetarian Chili.

______________________________________________________________________________________________________

Vegetarian Chili*

Makes 8 (1 cup) servings

Ingredients

  • 1 ½ T. olive oil
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 2 bell peppers, diced
  • 1 T. garlic, minced
  • 2 T. chili powder
  • ½ tsp. paprika
  • 1 tsp. cumin
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • ½ tsp. pepper
  • ¼ c. tomato paste
  • 2 c. chicken (or vegetable) stock
  • 1 (28 oz.) can crushed tomatoes
  • 2 (16 oz.) can kidney beans, drained and rinsed
  • (Optional) 2 c. plain Greek yogurt

Directions

  1. Heat oil in a large Dutch oven or pot over medium heat. Add onion, bell pepper, and garlic, stirring while cooking for 3-4 minutes.
  2. Once onion becomes translucent, add spices and tomato paste. Cook, stirring constantly for 1-2 minutes.
  3. Add stock, crushed tomatoes, and beans.
  4. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to low, and simmer at least 30 minutes.
  5. Before serving, taste and season, as needed.
  6. Optional: Serve each 1 cup of chili with ¼ c. plain Greek yogurt for added protein.

*If wanting to add animal protein, add 1 lb. lean ground turkey (or chicken or beef) after step 1 and omit 1 can of beans.

Nutrient Breakdown

Nutrient Amount per serving 

(1 cup or 1/8th of recipe)**

 

Energy 230 calories
Total Fat 2.7 grams
     (Saturated Fat)  0.4 grams
Total Carbohydrates 33 grams
     (Dietary Fiber) 9 grams
     (Sugar) 9 grams
Protein 9 grams

 

**If adding ¼ c. of plain (0%) Greek yogurt to each bowl, would increase each serving by 30 calories and 6 grams of protein.