Twice-monthly health columns are by a practicing cardiologist, clinical professor at Wayne State University School of Medicine and founder of the Kahn Center for Cardiac Longevity in Bingham Farms. He’s an author and has appeared on national TV, including “Dr. Oz” and “The Doctors Show.”
By Dr. Joel Kahn
Eating lots of plants is universal advice for smart, healthful diets. The federal Agriculture Department’s MyPlate advice and a better version from Harvard’s School of Public Health have at least half of every meal coming from vegetables and fruits.
To head off obesity, Type 2 diabetes, heart disease, hypertension and dementia, it’s useful to know practical ways to get more plant-based meals and snacks into our routines. Here are 18 strategies:
1. Make salad a main dish: Use dark, leafy greens, edamame, chickpeas, cannellini beans and seeds. Add anything else that makes your diet satisfying.
2. Keep vegetables and fruits handy: Keep them in the freezer (buying organic, if possible) to use for side dishes, main dishes, smoothies and stir-fry.
3. Snack on fruit: Frozen grapes and bananas are delicious, and mixed berries make a great dessert. Make banana ice cream in a blender or a dedicated kitchen appliance.
4. Grab a potato: The potato has been maligned but has propelled several stunning examples of weight loss and disease reversal. A baked potato topped with beans, salsa or greens is a fun family meal.
5. Enjoy breakfast with fruit: No bowl of cereal or oatmeal should be without berries, dates, bananas or raisins. Although dried fruits should be kept in moderation, children often prefer them over whole fruits.
6. Get a fun fruit bowl: Put brightly colored fruits on the counter and suddenly they will take the place of cookies and crackers. Visit a produce market to keep the bowl refilled.
7. Create a salad color wheel: Although even limp iceberg lettuce tops french fries, a properly designed salad with orange peppers, mandarin orange slices, grape tomatoes, blueberries and cauliflower florets will resemble a prism of colors and provide a healthful meal.
8. Use pizza as a decoy: The base of a pizza is just an excuse for arugula, garlic, pine nuts, sun-dried tomatoes, avocado slices, peppers, mushrooms, and eggplant. Make your pie a pizza salad.
9. Take advantage of smoothies: With enough blueberries or strawberries, even sizable handfuls of spinach or baby kale can be hidden from a child’s view.
10. Try a veggie wrap: Need a fast meal? Take a steamed collard green or a whole wheat tortilla and pack it with hummus, vegetables and salsa. I even add mustard. Kids love the collards and they hold up well.
11. Snack on vegetables: Planning for lunches, trips and school events with handy vegetables and fruits is key. A bag of grapes, carrot sticks, celery and broccoli florets can be winners.
12. Have fun with kabobs: Grilled vegetables kabobs are colorful and offer tremendous variety to introduce new foods like mushrooms.
13. Ask for lettuce instead: In most Middle Eastern cafes, you can pass on the pita and ask for Romaine lettuce to dip into eggplant or chickpea dips like hummus.
14. Grill fruit: While grilled meat is unhealthful, grilled pineapple, peaches, bananas and even apples hold up well and open a new door to more servings of plants.
15. Grate your veggies: You can take any dish like lasagna or meatloaf and grate spinach, carrots and squash into the prep to add the fiber and nutrients found only in plants.
16. Make soup: Preparing a big pot of homemade vegetable or bean soup on a Sunday can power the whole week as a main course, lunch and snack. Add dark greens to get all the health benefits.
17. Add veggies to each sandwich: No sandwich should be without a fruit or vegetable. Even a PB&J can have banana slices. A burger with a big lettuce leaf and tomato slice is better than just a burger.
18. Don’t forget juice: It is easy to find cold-pressed vegetable juices in many stores and markets that are entirely or mainly vegetable. Some bottles have a few months of shelf time, thanks to high-pressure processing. Beware of brands that are pasteurized and mainly fruit — they’re sugar bombs. Juice your vegetables and eat your fruit whole.
Eating five or more servings of fruits and vegetables a day is the best insurance against falling prey to the illnesses and obesity that rob us of our wellness. Not only can diseases, including heart attacks, be prevented by eating more produce, but lifespan itself is predicted by the number of servings a day we eat from the garden.
Any meal is made better when you add a plant.