Eat More Like an Ellie

On my recent trip to Africa I got to see first-hand the types of things I thought I’d only experience through National Geographic or The Discovery Channel. Watching the elephants, giraffes, and zebras graze peaked my interest in learning more about plant based diets.

I spoke with my colleague Toni Bloom, RD, about it; and she agreed to let me pick her brain. Here is what I learned:

Ellen: Does a plant based diet mean you have to be 100% vegan (no animal products)?

Toni: No, not necessarily. Selecting most of your foods from plants has many advantages.  A plant-based diet is far superior to the average American diet nutritionally. Plants are high in fiber. The average American consumes just 15 grams or so per day–10 grams short of the recommended 25 grams per day. A high fiber diet helps with weight loss and is linked to the prevention of heart disease, high blood pressure, and some cancers.

Ellen: That’s a lot of benefits! Are there other reasons to eat this way?

Toni: Definitely!  Another nutritional advantage of a plant-based diet is its lack of saturated fat. Saturated fat comes mostly from animal foods, and Americans consume more than twice the recommended amount. Switching to a more plant-based diet lowers your saturated fat intake which in turn lowers your risk of chronic diseases such as heart disease, diabetes, and certain cancers like breast, colon, and rectal cancer.

Ellen: What can you tell us about phytonutrients? I’ve heard that these plant nutrients are very healthy for us.

Toni: Yes, the phytonutrients are natural components of plant foods.  Research shows they are health protective. These benefits are in addition to those we get from vitamins or minerals (which are also found in fruits, vegetables, grains and legumes).

Ellen: What basic guidelines can you give us to begin eating in a more plant-friendly diet way?

Toni: 1) Begin by covering 2/3 of your plate with vegetables, fruits, whole grains and beans so that fish, lean poultry or dairy foods only cover 1/3 of the plate.  Over time increase the amount of plant-based items on your plate so the animal-based foods are reduced even more or eliminated altogether.

2) Don’t worry too much about protein; Americans eat two times the amount they need, and these plant foods are good sources of protein: legumes and lentils (peas and beans, such as kidney, great northern, pinto, and black beans), nuts and seeds, and foods from soy, such as soy milk, tofu, tempeh, and edamame(soy beans).

3) Eat at least 6 servings per day of fruits and vegetables and vary them from day to day to help increase the types of phytonutrients, or plant nutrients, you consume.

4) Experiment with whole grains and legumes you haven’t tried and invest in a vegetarian cookbook (or smart phone cookbook app) to look for cooking and
recipe ideas.

5) Choose minimally processed foods so that the plants you eat look like the original plant. If you can’t recognize it, it’s too processed!

Ellen: One last question, Toni. People always say you should eat a lot of colorful foods. Can you give us healthy examples of each color?

Toni: Yes. Below is a list of phytonutrients, by color, with examples of foods that contain them.

Tomatoes and tomato products, pink grapefruit, and watermelon
Phytochemical: lycopene

Grapes, grape juice, prunes, cranberries, blackberries, strawberries, red apples, and red wine
Phytochemical: anthrocyanins

Carrots, mangos, apricots, cantaloupe, pumpkin, acorn squash, winter squash,
and sweet potatoes
Phytochemical: carotenoids

Orange juice, oranges, tangerines, peaches, papaya, and nectarines
Phytochemical: beta cryptothanxin

Spinach, kale, collard, turnip, and mustard greens; yellow corn, green peas,
avocados, and honeydew melon, green cabbage, broccoli, Brussels sprouts
Phytochemicals: luetin, zeaxanthin, indoles and sulforaphanes

Leeks, onions, garlic, chives, white grape juice, and white wine
Phytochemicals: allicin, quercetin, and flavinoids.

Ellen: Thank you Toni. This has been a very helpful overview of how to start a plant based diet and how it can benefit everyone.

So, if we could talk to our vegetarian animal friends, they’d likely tell us to start eating more like them.


Ellen Resnick is a psychotherapist in private practice in San Francisco and Redwood City, California. She specializes in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and incorporates the use of mindfulness into the treatment of depression, anxiety, and emotional overeating. She runs a holistic weight loss program called Center for Thoughtful Weight Loss, You can email Ellen at and follow her on Twitter at @thoughtfullellen. You can also follow Ellen’s weight loss board on Pinterest at

Toni Bloom, MS, RD Registered Dietician
Toni has been a registered dietitian in private practice for 18 years. Her specialty is helping people improve their eating habits and views of food so that they accomplish their nutrition and health goals. Toni’s typical clients are lowering their weight, blood pressure, cholesterol or glucose levels. In addition to coaching clients, Toni is a sports nutrition instructor at San Jose State. In her spare time, Toni enjoys playing with her three young sons and golfing with her husband.

Copyright © 2012 Ellen N. Resnick, LCSW

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