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5 Signs You Should Eat More Plants

Plant-based eating is a hot trend these days given its many health benefits for both people and the planet. But even if you’re not interested in jumping on the bandwagon and cutting down your meat consumption, plants should play an important role in just about any diet. Fruits, veggies, nuts, seeds, legumes, and grains are chock-full of critical nutrients, and many of us don’t get enough of them. (In fact, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nine out of 10 of us don’t eat the recommended daily amounts of fruits and veggies.) 

You don’t have to eat plants exclusively to reap their benefits, but you do want to consider whether you’re getting enough of them. Here are five signs your body may be hungry for more. 

1. You Have High Cholesterol

An apple a day alone might not keep the doctor away, but adding more plants to your diet could actually reduce disease risk factors like high cholesterol. “The diet you eat has a direct impact on your cholesterol levels,” says Melissa Mitri, M.S., R.D. “Plant foods can assist with reducing bad cholesterol and raising good cholesterol in your body.” In an older study from 2005, people with moderately elevated LDL cholesterol who followed a plant-based diet for just four weeks lowered their total and LDL cholesterol significantly more than people who followed a low-fat diet.

Read More: 5 Things You Can Do Today to Support Healthy Cholesterol

To focus on the right plant foods for cholesterol, look for ones with soluble fiber. “This type of fiber has been studied for its beneficial effects on cholesterol,” Mitri says. “It can slow the absorption of cholesterol in your blood and reduce the amount produced by your liver.” Barley, peas, beans, avocados, sweet potatoes, and pears are all great options for soluble fiber.

2. You’re All Stopped Up

Yep, this sign is listed as number two for a reason. A lack of plant foods could land you in trouble when it comes to your number two’s. “Constipation can happen for many reasons, but if you’re not eating enough plant foods, that might be a good place to start,” says dietitian Sarah Pflugradt, M.S., R.D.N., C.S.C.S. “Research has shown an inverse relationship between constipation and fiber, which means that when you increase your fiber intake, constipation decreases.” High-fiber plant foods include beans and lentils, cruciferous veggies, berries, and whole grains.

That said, if your diet is currently low on fiber, it’s best not to amp up the plants all in one go. “Don’t go crazy trying to meet the recommendation tomorrow (25 grams per day for women and 38 grams per day for men),” Pflugradt says. “Increasing your fiber slowly is much more beneficial than adding a bunch all at once.” To get back to bowel regularity, she recommends drinking plenty of water and gradually increasing your fiber intake.

3. You’re Living With Chronic Pain

If you live with chronic pain, you might feel like you’d do anything to get relief. The contents of your plate could be one simple, non-pharmacological intervention. “Many pain conditions are associated with chronic inflammation inside the body,” Mitrie explains. “While some animal products are known to worsen inflammation, plant foods may actually lower it.”

Read More: 8 Foods That Are Loaded with Antioxidants

Plants’ pain-reducing potential has to do with their antioxidant content. “Antioxidants have been shown to reduce inflammation inside the body by protecting your tissues from damage,” Mitri explains. Case in point: One 2022 review of nine studies published in the Journal of Clinical Medicine found that patients with fibromyalgia who ramped up antioxidant intake had significant improvements in pain. Some of the plant foods highest in antioxidants out there include wild berries, leafy greens, garlic, dark chocolate, and artichokes.

4. Your Energy Levels Are Low

Everything from poor sleep to a stressful lifestyle to out-of-whack hormones can leave you feeling fatigued. In some cases, though, those dragging feet indicate that your diet could use some extra plant power. “The Western diet is characterized by high amounts of saturated fat, sugar, and sodium. As a result, people may experience blood sugar spikes, water retention, and impaired immune health, all of which may have them feeling a little blah,” says Pflugradt. “When you incorporate more plant foods, you naturally add more fiber, which can help regulate blood sugar and improve your gut health, which may then help your immune system.”

Read More: Feeling Fatigued? These Supplements Can Help

Plant foods can also help you stay hydrated, which is often a major factor in whether you feel energized or wiped out. One British study, for example, found that women who didn’t get enough fluid in experienced decreased alertness and higher levels of fatigue and confusion. Some of the best plants for keeping yourself well-hydrated include watermelon, cucumbers, oranges, strawberries, and tomatoes. 

5. Your Weight Is Creeping Up

Noticing a few extra pounds on your frame? You may have heard that plant-based diets are helpful for weight loss, but you don’t have to eat like a rabbit to move the number on the scale. Research suggests that simply including more plant foods (without necessarily removing animal ones) can promote weight loss. One study found an association between eating more vegetables and both weight loss and reduced waist circumference. Meanwhile, a 2019 meta-analysis concluded that higher whole grain intake was inversely associated with BMI based on observational studies.

According to Mitri, there are several reasons why plant foods are the whole package for promoting weight loss. The biggie is fiber. “Fiber is an important nutrient that goes undigested in your gastrointestinal tract, helping you feel fuller,” she says. “Research has confirmed that high-fiber diets promote weight loss.” Plant foods are also typically lower in calories and higher in volume, meaning you can eat larger portions of them without blowing your calorie budget.

How to Add More Plants to Your Diet

Okay, so maybe you’re not looking to ditch burgers, chicken, and fish but want to eat more plant foods for health benefits. Step one is to make sure you have more plants ready to go in your kitchen. “Make sure your fridge and pantry are stocked with plant-based food options,” Mitri suggests. “Examples include beans, lentils, whole grains, nuts and seeds, and fresh produce. From there, it’s simple to make substitutions throughout the week, such as swapping chicken with lentils in your soup.” 

Go at your own pace here; no need for an IV drip of spinach straight into your veins. “Habits tend to stick when you go slow,” says Pflugradt. “So try incorporating one more plant food into your diet each day. That could be adding a small salad at dinner, putting some blueberries on your morning cereal, or taking some pistachios to work for a snack.” Mitri also recommends trying to center one to two meals per week around plant-based proteins like beans or lentils. (Get started with these protein-packed plant-based meals.) 

Finally, free yourself from any feeling of obligation to force yourself to eat plant foods that you don’t enjoy. “Choose plant foods that you actually like,” says Pflugradt. “Just because beets are good for you doesn’t mean you have to eat them. Start with the ones you like first and branch out when it’s right for you.” After all, the goal is to make these healthy changes stick!

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