Plant-based diets have grown in popularity, and dairy still fits in, according to the St. Louis Dairy Council.
What does ‘plant-based’ mean?
The term “plant-based diet” has recently garnered increased attention and headlines, the St. Louis Dairy Council recently noted. While this year has been marked by events beyond human control, choosing foods to bolster health is one thing humans can do. So what exactly is a “plant-based diet,” and does it have health benefits?
“Plant-based diets” have no official definition. For some, it means choosing plant foods first, including fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, legumes and whole grains, before adding foods from animal sources, such as cheese, yogurt, chicken or beef. For others it means only choosing plant foods, omitting the other food groups, and potentially the nutrients they provide.
“The term ‘plant-based’ can allow for flexibility in personal food preferences,” said registered dietitian Erin McGraw, with the St. Louis Dairy Council, “while aiming to increase daily plant food consumption.”
What are the health benefits?
Benefits plant foods offer include fruits and vegetables that provide a variety of vitamins and minerals, such as antioxidants with many health benefits. Whole grains, nuts, seeds and legumes offer protein and a variety of vitamins and minerals. All plant foods offer fiber, important for satiety, digestion and cardiovascular health, McGraw said.
Recognizing these plant-food benefits in overall health and disease prevention, it doesn’t mean choosing only plant foods is best.
“Eating from a variety of food groups is the best way to meet your nutrient needs, and allows for the flexibility that is important for successful lifestyle changes,” McGraw said.
The St. Louis District Dairy Council shares recipes
• Veggie Tostada Towers
A fun, interactive recipe, that the whole family can help assemble. Tostada towers are packed with delicious dairy, and can be customized to your favorite vegetables.
Adapted from “Undeniably dairy”
12 (6-inch) corn tortillas
1 ½ teaspoon olive oil
2 medium zucchinis, chopped
2 plum tomatoes, chopped
1 medium red onion, chopped
1 each green and red bell pepper, chopped
2 jalapeno peppers, with seeds, mince
1 cup frozen corn kernels, thawed
4 scallions, green and white parts, minced
¼ cup chopped cilantro (plus 4 sprigs for garnish)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 ½ cups grated pepper jack cheese
¼ cup fat-free sour cream
Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Place corn tortillas on baking sheets. Bake for 10 minutes or until crisp.
While tortillas are in the oven, heat a large, nonstick pan over medium-high heat. Add oil. Once hot, sauté zucchini, tomatoes, onion, peppers, corn and scallion for 4 minutes.
Drain excess liquids through a mesh strainer. Return vegetables to pan. Stir in cilantro and salt.
Onto each of 4 baked tortillas, sprinkle 3 tablespoons of the cheese and 1/8 of vegetable mixture. Top each with another baked tortilla. Sprinkle with the remaining cheese and vegetable mixture. Top with remaining baked tortillas.
Serve each “tower” with 1 tablespoon sour cream, and if desired, fresh cilantro.
Nutrition facts: 460 Calories, 18 grams fat, 60 grams carbohydrate, 18 grams protein, 29% DV calcium
• Orange Dark Chocolate Yogurt Parfait Bowl
This four-ingredient recipe is a quick and delicious breakfast or snack option, and the combination of orange and dark chocolate adds a level of decadence. It can easily be customized with your favorite fruits and nuts.
Adapted from “Modern Honey“
1 cup vanilla Greek yogurt
1 fresh orange, chopped
¼ cup pistachios, shelled
1 tablespoon dark chocolate chunks
Add yogurt to bowl, top with remaining ingredients.
Nutrition facts: 406 Calories, 14 grams fat, 57 grams carbohydrate, 19 grams protein, 22% DV calcium
How do dairy and plants work together?
According to the St. Louis Dairy Council, decades of research have shown that plant and dairy foods can help reduce the risk for various diseases and provide important nutrients. For example, calcium, vitamin D, potassium and fiber. Milk is the leading food source for calcium, vitamin D and potassium, while plant foods provide fiber. Together, they are a perfect team to cover all of these nutrients, McGraw said.
Additionally, “probiotics,” the healthy bacteria found in fermented dairy foods, like, yogurt and kefir, offer a variety of health and digestive benefits. Plant foods also function as “prebiotics,” helping to feed the healthy bacteria that is present in the digestive tract. Together, dairy foods and plant foods can help maximize these individual health benefits, she continued.
There are many different nutrients humans need every day to be as healthy as possible. Specific nutrients, such as vitamin B12, are important components of a healthy diet that plants cannot supply, McGraw noted. Complete proteins, which are proteins with all the necessary building blocks, also are more difficult to get from consuming only plant-based foods. By incorporating dairy with plant sources, it ensure nutrients such as vitamin B12 and complete quality protein are consumed, McGraw explained.
To learn more visit stldairycouncil.org.