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Fueling Up On Plant Foods


Learn how adopting components of a vegetarian lifestyle can enhance your health.

Lesson Objectives:

  • Understand vegetarianism and motivations as a culture
  • Explore the environmental benefits of this lifestyle
  • Discuss the health benefits of a plant-based eating
  • Observe ways to introduce and enjoy new foods

Lesson Summary:
Plant based diets such as vegetarianism and veganism have been popular styles of eating around the world for centuries. Their popularity stems in part from the positive impact they have been shown to have on the body. In this lesson, we will review the health benefits of plant based diets, taste nutritious recipe concepts and learn strategies to incorporate aspects of this lifestyle into your everyday life.

Vegetarian Basics

The word vegetarian is derived from the Latin “Vigitore” meaning “giving strength and health.”

Benefits of Plant Based

Restricting animal protein in diet reduces risk of heart disease, first and foremost. In fact, most studies show that vegetarians are 25% less likely to die of heart disease. A diet rich in fruits and vegetables has also shown to be a great defense against cancers of all kinds, primarily those relating to the digestive system as well as reducing the risk for Type 2 diabetes.

Only 1 in 10 Americans are eating the recommended amount of fruits and veggies. We know we’re not getting enough of the foods we should eat. And we are bombarded with quick and easy meals constantly that, more often than not, lack the colorful produce we need. So why is plant based eating a good option for Americans? Health care professionals, like doctors and dietitians, believe in the benefits of eating more plants. Eating less animal products proves to have a positive impact on the environment. Following a plant-based lifestyle will provide you with the fuel to live a healthy life

Global Vegetarianism

Historically, cultures adhered to vegetarian diets for religious reasons. Now the scene is shifting into more vegetarians doing so for either environmental or health reasons. Not surprisingly, America doesn’t fall in the top countries of following a plant-based or vegetarian diet. In the United States, approximately 3.7 million adults are vegan and 4.3 million are vegetarian. This may sound like a lot, but this only boils down to about 3.3% of the total population being vegetarian and 1.5% of the population being vegan. However, Adventists in the US adhere to a strict vegetarian diet, as well as abstaining from alcohol. They are the subject of one of the most comprehensive studies done on the correlation between a vegetarian diet and prolonged life expectancy, with many subjects showing an increased life expectancy of up to 6 years.

Environmental Effects

Food production contributes to global warming. Agriculture and forestry contribute about 25% of total greenhouse gas emissions. In particular, livestock farming contributes to global warming with not only methane emissions, but also deforestation for more pasture land. Scientists and officials state that more people could be fed using less land if individuals cut down on eating meat.

Myth Busting

People who are opposed to a vegetarian lifestyle typically refer to nutrient deficiencies associated with a vegetarian diet. “Where do you get your protein? Where will you get your B vitamins?” These are valid concerns, but with well planned, intentional choices, a vegetarian diet can provide optimal nutrient intake. Plant based foods are not just “rabbit food”, they include a wide range of foods. Vegetarians are finding more and more options these days with the popularization of plant based meats. While teaching the potential benefits of plant based diets, it is important to note that it is possible to be vegetarian and still make unhealthy food choices, such as cookies or chips, which are in fact vegan.

If you are still skeptical, think about gorillas, some of nature’s most notorious plant eaters. They can become up to 10 times stronger than humans, all just by eating plants!


It is important to include a variety of wholesome, nutritious foods into your lifestyle. If you are truly concerned about inadequate nutrients, fortified foods and supplements are a great option to bulk up your nutrient intake. It may seem like a struggle at first when deciding what to include instead of meat. But practice makes permanence and you’ll be whipping out plant based dishes like a pro in no time!

Protein Power

Protein is made up of amino acids. These amino acids are found in protein-rich foods. Humans need 20 amino acids to build a variety of proteins within the body. 9 of those amino acids can only come from our food, making them essential. Food sources such as meat, tofu, tempeh, and seitan contain all 9 of those amino acids. But many plant based sources need to be combined to provide all 9 essential amino acids, such as rice and beans or bread and peanut butter.

Use the formula for Protein RDA to calculate your daily protein needs!

Protein is found in all sorts of plant foods. Whole grains, legumes, and nuts are major sources. Protein can also be found in more meat-like forms, like tofu, tempeh, seitan, veggie burgers, and meat substitutes like Beyond or Impossible burgers. These swap outs have more of that chewy, meaty texture you might be craving. Never had tofu? Check out Chef Ryan’s Teriyaki Baked Tofu Recipe below!

Teriyaki Baked Tofu

Looks tasty right? Now try incorporating it into a Buddha Bowl!

Buddha Bowls

Now that we have discussed the benefits of plant based fuel, how can we incorporate them into meals?  One quick, easy way to do this is through Buddha Bowls. You can use any variation or combination to create this nutrient-dense and delicious meal.  Have leftover quinoa or tofu from last night? Toss it in! Ingredients can be prepped for later on in the week for a quick and healthy meal.

Your turn: Use the Teriyaki Baked Tofu recipe and incorporate it into a Buddha Bowl. Or make your own tasty combo using the blueprint!