Eat Right

The power of adding more plants to your diet

Who runs the world? Well, plants, TBH. Packed full of protein, vitamins, minerals, ber and tons of good-for- you nutrients (like antioxidants and anti-inflammatory compounds), these superfoods are real superheroes for your growing body and mind. 

But, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, teens are sadly lacking veggies in their diets. In fact, only 1 in 10 teens are getting the recommended amount of fruit and vegetables per day (that's 2 cups of fruit and 3 cups of veggies). And as more and more studies show that people who eat mostly veggies live longer, healthier lives, it seems like we all could use more green on our plates. Here's a plant-based primer to help you achieve just that. 


Just can't live without your weekly trip to Five Guys? Don't fret. Going plant- based doesn't strictly mean eliminating meat altogether. It's more about a shift in perspective. 

Defined, "plant-based" means focusing on whole, unrefined or minimally processed plant foods, such as vegetables, fruits, legumes (like beans, lentils and peas), whole grains (like oats, brown rice and quinoa) and nuts and seeds. 

So you can still have your burger-and eat it, too-but you may also opt to think outside the box for most of your meals. Craving takeout? Go for the salad pizza (cheese + fresh greens = yum) and skip the meat lover's supreme, which is full
of not-so-nice stuff like excess saturated fat, processed meat and toxins that can wreak havoc on your body and hormones. 

"When I cut back on meat, my acne went from severe to moderate," says Andrea R., 17. Aside from clearer skin, studies show that eating "clean"-that is, more veggies and fewer processed foods-can lead to better sleep, increased energy, improved mental focus and a lower risk of obesity. 


So what to pile on your plate? It's not just about adding broccoli to your Bolognese-although that's a good start. You'll want to branch out, try new foods and incorporate as many colors as possible. Think: red onions, mandarin oranges, yellow peppers, green beans, blueberries and purple carrots-yep, you're literally gobbling ROYGBIV. 

If you're still scratching your head and wondering, "But what will I EAT?" we hear you. It's scary to make major moves-which is why it's smart to start small. Once a week, try a Meatless Mon- day, where you'll turn your meals totally plant-centric. And once you've mastered that, progress to one meatless meal per day (breakfast is often the easiest), and then transition to having meat at just one meal per day. 

"Try to swap things out one at a time and don't give anything up until you've found a healthy replacement you love," suggests Riley C., 18. The goal is to think of these changes as exciting challenges, not as sacerfices. Seek out new ingredients you've never tried before, like chia seeds or tahini, and have fun with it. 

"Learn to cook! You'll appreciate seasonings and spices so much more," says Ashlin B., 17, who went plant-based around the age of 13. Cooking allows you to experiment with new foods, and you'll have a much more open mind about all the new options available. Try a green smoothie for breakfast with banana, spin- ach, coconut milk, turmeric, vanilla and
a little honey, or make a balanced snack out of almond butter, cinnamon, raisins and hemp seeds on celery sticks. 

The secret to loving the veggie lifestyle? Solid prep. Start by stocking your shelves with an arsenal of new recipes and a fridge full of good-for-you food. Loop in
a parent to help you with meal planning on a weekend afternoon-that means making a grocery list, going shopping and cooking a couple dishes that you can portion out to get you through a busy week. 

But it doesn't have to take hours or endless amounts of brain space. It might mean making your family favorites a little more veg-heavy, like adding spinach and zucchini to Dad's lasagna, swapping tofu for chicken in fried rice or finding a veggie burger you love (try Beyond Meat Burgers or Hilary's Veggie Burgers) and roasting up some sweet potato fries. 

"The rest week is always the hardest," says Andrea, "which is why planning it out and having your fridge ready is essential. You can always start with switching to fake meat, but be sure to have purely veggie meals to depend on, too. My personal favorite is spinach with marinara sauce and zucchini fries." 

Or try this: Prep one grain (quinoa or brown rice), a couple proteins (roasted chickpeas and tofu) and do a tray bake
of roasted veggies (try sweet potatoes, onions, broccoli and Brussels sprouts, all on a sheet pan and roasted with oil, salt and pepper for 20 to 30 minutes at 400o). Add an herby yogurt sauce or some good salsa and some leafy greens, and you've got endless options on your hands. 

We know-you're busy. Wondering if your new diet can keep you fueled on even the most grueling of days? Just take a look at any of the famous plant-based athletes kicking butt out there: Venus Williams, Tom Brady, world-class rock climber Steph Davis or pro surfer Tia Blanco-all proud members of #teamveggie. 

Andrea is no pro player, but feels the same buzz: "I'm able to work hard and enjoy a busy social life at the same time. My diet has given me a lot of energy." 

So how do you score your own in flux of energy? As you're still growing and building bones daily, every meal should have a combination of the major macronutrients: protein, fats and complex carbs (i.e., carbs that are minimally processed and take longer to digest, like oats or rice). Stricter vegetarians and vegans may require some supplementation, as certain nutrients can only be found in animal proteins in adequate amounts (like vitamin B12 and vitamin D)-but check with your doctor before starting any supplements. 

The most important thing to remember about going plant-based is to be mindful. That means being conscious of your choices wherever you can, making smart swaps and employing a little creativity and planning to ensure you're getting the nutrition you need. 

And be flexible! If you're out at a restaurant with a big group or dining at
a friend's house and your veg options are limited, go with something that sounds good, no matter what it's made of. Being super strict about what you can or can't consume is too stressful-and, after all, food is supposed to be enjoyable. Slowly incorporate healthier, veggie-forward options into your everyday, and you'll soak up those benefits one bite at a time 

Plant-powered plate 
What would an ideal plant-powered plate look like? Make sure you've got the fab four at every meal... 

PROTEIN Beans, peas, lentils, quinoa, nuts and seeds are full of it 
HEALTHY FAT A drizzle of olive
oil, a scoop of avocado, coconut flakes or nut butters 
FIBER Complex carbs like
beets, sweet potatoes, corn and rice 
VEGGIES Peppers, broccoli, tomatoes, cucumbers, cabbage 

Want to revamp your recipes? Here are five easy, mini meal makeovers...

DITCH: Your go-to bacon, egg and cheese biscuit.
TRY: Egg and avocado on multigrain toast.

DITCH: A turkey sammie with chip and an appl.
TRY: Chickpea falafel in a whole-wheat pita with cucumber an Greek yogurt. 

After school snack: 
DITCH: Mini pepperoni pizza bagels.
TRY: Almond butter energy balls. Yum! 

Ditch: Spaghetti with meatball.
Try: Spaghetti with lentil tomato sauce and an argula salad.

Ditch: A bowlful of Cherry Garcia.
Try: Coconut milk chia pudding with raspberries.

A version of this story appeared in the June/July 2018 issue of Girls' Life magazine.


by Jessica D'Argenio Waller, CNS | 7/19/2018