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Many indigenous cuisines— from Asian and Mediterranean to Latin and African—have their roots in flavorful, nutritious plant food traditions.


Inspire your clients’ plant-based eating style with meatless dishes from around the world.
Plant-based eating definitely is in vogue. In fact, it’s on track as one of this year’s biggest food trends, including New Hope Natural Media’s “Top 5 Natural Food Trends.” A consume
r survey from Mintel indicated that while only 7% of Americans identify themselves as vegetarian, 36% buy meat alternatives, and 51% of adults believe meat alternatives are healthier than real meat. Actually, 31% of grocery shoppers claim to be trying to reduce their meat consumption.
You can thank programs such as Meatless Monday, which encourages consumers to go meatless just one day per week for environmental and health benefits, as well as USDA’s 2010 Dietary Guidelines and MyPlate, which emphasize loading up at least three-quarters of your plate with plant foods, for encouraging a focus on plant-based meals no matter a person’s eating style. After all, there are documented benefits from eating a plant-based diet.
The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics’ position paper on vegetarian diets, which is based on an independent and systematic review of the research on vegetarian diets, concluded
that well-planned vegetarian diets are healthful and nutritionally adequate for people throughout all stages of life.
The position paper also reported that vegetarian diets have several health advantages, including lower blood cholesterol and blood pressure and a decreased risk of heart disease,
hypertension, and type 2 diabetes. In addition, vegetarians tend to have lower body weight and overall cancer rates, less saturated fat and cholesterol intake, and higher levels of dietary fiber, magnesium, potassium, vitamins C and E, folate, carotenoids, flavonoids, and other phytochemicals.3
“Vegetarian diets always deliver more fiber, and plant foods naturally displace unhealthful fats with more healthful choices.
Their benefits go beyond health, too, since plant-based diets are compassionate and leave a smaller carbon footprint,” says Ginny Messina, MPH, RD, who blogs at and is the author of Vegan for Life and Vegan for Her.

Cultivating a Plant-Based Eating Style
One of the most intriguing facets of plant-based diets is that they can be traced back to traditional dietary patterns from around the world. Most indigenous, nonindustrialized diets, which depend on locally grown or foraged foods and few processed ingredients, are based on plants. These traditional dietary patterns evolved over centuries and were influenced by food availability, the introduction of new foods, religion, and society. Commonalities may be seen among indigenous diets, including the presence of legumes, whole grains, regional fruits
and vegetables, nuts, spices, and herbs. In fact, these plant foods typically form the backbone of many traditional diets.
For example, if you were enjoying a traditional meal in Japan, your meal would probably include fish, tofu, rice, vegetables in a variety of forms—pickled, steamed, or fried—and
green tea. If you were dining in India, where roughly 35% of the population is vegetarian, you might feast on many flavorful vegetable dishes featuring peas, lentils, eggplant, potatoes,
peas, okra, tomatoes, rice, and dozens of herbs and spices.
And if you traveled to West Africa, the food vendors likely would offer you chili peppers, tomatoes, peanuts, corn, cassava, black-eyed peas, okra, onions, millet, and various leafy
greens—foods at the core of their regional diet.
One of the most famous plant-based eating patterns, which has been related to health benefits based on hundreds of studies, is the Mediterranean diet. The traditional eating pattern of
the countries surrounding the Mediterranean Sea was characterized as a “poor man’s diet”; foods were obtained from the environment, whether it was wild greens from the hills or
fruits and vegetables from home gardens.
An array of plant foods forms the core of the Mediterranean diet, including wheat, beans, lentils, peas, nuts, olive oil, and a huge variety of vegetables and fruits, including greens, tomatoes, onions, eggplants, peppers, artichokes, green beans, herbs,
grapes, apples, figs, persimmons, pomegranates, and citrus.
“The gold-standard Mediterranean diet is a perfect example of a plant-based diet. Although meat was eaten at celebrations or on Sunday after church, the diet is centered around plants:
fruits, vegetables, whole grains, healthful oils, nuts, peanuts, beans, and herbs and spices,” says Sara Baer-Sinnott, president of Oldways, an organization that promotes the health
benefits of traditional diet patterns. Old ways has developed many traditional diet pyramids and programs, including the Mediterranean Foods Alliance, African Heritage & Health, and
Old ways Vegetarian Network.
Plant-based cuisines from across the globe can inspire someone’s eating style with powerful nutrition and flavors.
“The nice thing about so many traditional world cuisines is that they’re authentically plant based,” Messina says.
“We don’t need to tweak them because so many of the most healthful and appealing cuisines, such as those associated with parts of Asia and the Mediterranean region, always have been built around plant foods. So when we explore that fun and very appealing ways of eating, we automatically reduce meat intake and start creating menus that are rich in vegetables, legumes, nuts, and seeds.”

Globally Inspired Plant-Based Eating Tips
If you’re encouraging your clients to eat more plant-based meals, offer up the world as inspiration. Some of the most flavorful and authentic meatless dishes come from around the globe. Suggest clients try these tips to add more inspiration to their plant-based meals:
• Borrow ideas from restaurants. One of the simplest ways to introduce global plant-based flavors into the kitchen is by being adventurous while dining out. Borrow flavor and ingredient ideas from classic restaurant dishes, such as Vietnamese pho (noodle dish), Middle Eastern falafels, Ethiopian vegetable stew with injera (teff bread), and Indian dal (simmered peas) with basmati rice.
• Pay attention to core ingredients that are integral to different types of cuisines and make it easy to create delicious, healthful meals with or without recipes and with a minimum amount of work, Messina suggests. “For example, many Mediterranean dishes start with onions and garlic caramelized in good-quality olive oil. From there, you can add any vegetables and beans you like with a few shakes of seasonings to come up with an easy dish that uses whatever you have on hand,” she explains. “For an Asian influence, use condiments and
spices such as ginger, tamari, or rice vinegar to the season tofu and any type of vegetables. And you can season any vegetables or beans with curry powder for the flavors of India. Again, it’s
about using the authentic flavors of these cuisines to create easy dishes using whatever foods you enjoy.”
• Remember legendary combinations. Great food traditions are born of flavorful combinations. For example, “Think of the tomato and bread traditions of the Mediterranean;
they all feature tomatoes and bread, but they include different herbs and spices,” Baer-Sinnott says. “Paximadia in Greece with barley rusks, tomatoes, feta cheese, and oregano; bruschetta in Italy with tomatoes, bread, mozzarella, and basil; pa amb tomàquet in Catalonia with
tomatoes, garlic, and toast.”
• Don’t go easy on flavor. Being shy of flavor is one thing you can’t say about most global cuisine, where cooks often have a heavy hand when they apply herbs and spices. “Great flavor with herbs and spices is something that plant-based food traditions around the globe have in common,” Baer- Sinnott says. In fact, in its most recent Mediterranean Diet Pyramid, Oldways added herbs and spices to reflect this culinary tradition.
• Think fresh, seasonal, and local. Traditional diets really are the original locavore diets. Out of necessity, people ate what could be grown or foraged locally, and they preserved their bounty for use during the lean times. This can be applied to diets today, with a return to seasonal, traditional plant ingredients, such as sauteed greens following the traditions of Africa and pumpkin and squashes in stews a la South America.
To help clients experience the bold flavors and nutritional benefits of meatless meals from around the world, Today’s Dietitian has provided the following samples of traditional recipes
they can enjoy.

All Fitness ___ MEATLESS MEALS

Sharon Palmer, RD, is a plant-based diet expert, the author of The Plant-Powered Diet and Plant-Powered for Life, the editor of the Environmental Nutrition newsletter, and a contributing editor at Today’s Dietitian. She enjoys developing her own global culinary traditions in her home in Los Angeles.