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Plant-based diets lower risks of heart disease, cancer, diabetes and hypertension

You're probably hearing more about plant-based diets, but have you stopped to wonder what they involve?

The diets are based mostly on foods such as vegetables, beans, legumes, fruits, whole grains, nuts and seeds. They can occasionally include meat, poultry, seafood, eggs and dairy products. Think of them as semi-vegetarian or flexitarian diet plans.

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By comparison, let’s look at other diets that are stricter.

  • Vegetarian: Excludes all meat, poultry and fish, and may exclude eggs, dairy products, or both.
  • Ovo-vegetarian:  Allows eggs, but excludes dairy products, fish and animal-based foods.
  • Lacto-vegetarian:  Allows dairy products, but excludes meat, poultry, fish and eggs.
  • Lacto-ovo vegetarian: Allows eggs and dairy products, but excludes meat, poultry and fish.
  • Pescatarian: Includes fish, but excludes meat, poultry, dairy and eggs.
  • Vegan: Excludes all meat, poultry, seafood, eggs and dairy products.

Why focus on plant foods? Research shows that this type of diet is associated with lower risks of chronic diseases like heart disease and cancer. People who follow a plant-based diet have lower levels of the bad cholesterol, lower blood pressure and lower rates of hypertension and type 2 diabetes. They also tend to have a lower body mass index.

Plant-based foods support our immune system so we can fight infections and serious diseases. Many vitamins, minerals and other nutrients are found only in plants. In addition, the antioxidants and phytochemicals in plants help reduce inflammation, which is linked to arthritis and cancer.

Today's vegan enchiladas are as satisfying as they are delicious. They're filled with flavorful spices and nutrient-rich tofu as well as generous amounts of spinach, black beans and peppers. They’re packed with protein and topped with a simple homemade sauce and shredded vegan cheese. Try them next time you're planning a Meatless Monday meal.

Bethany Thayer is a registered dietitian nutritionist with Henry Ford Health System. For more recipes and health information, visit and for questions about today’s recipe email

Vegan Enchiladas

Serve: 6 / Prep time:  1 hour  / Total time: 1 hour 15 minutes


Vegetable oil cooking spray

½ pound firm tofu, drained, patted dry and cut into chunks

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

1 medium jalapeño pepper, seeds and membranes removed, finely chopped

1 medium red bell pepper, diced

1 small onion, finely diced

2 cloves garlic, minced

¼ teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon ground turmeric

¼ teaspoon ground black pepper

¼ teaspoon ground cayenne pepper

¼ teaspoon cumin

4-ounce can chopped green chiles

15-ounce can black beans, rinsed and drained

10-ounce packet frozen spinach, thawed and pressed dry

12 corn tortillas (6-inch size)

2 cups vegan shredded cheese

¼ cup fresh cilantro, chopped

Enchilada Sauce

1 teaspoon olive oil

½ cup onion, minced

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 ½ tablespoons chili powder

1 tablespoon cumin

15-ounce can no-salt-added tomato sauce

½ cup water

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Spray a 9-by-13-inch casserole dish with vegetable oil cooking spray.

For the enchilada sauce: Heat olive oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion and sauté until softened, about 3-5 minutes. Stir in the garlic, chili powder, and cumin and cook for about 30 seconds. Stir in tomato sauce and water. Bring to a low simmer, reduce heat, and simmer for 5 minutes.

For the enchiladas: Place tofu in a food processor and puree for several minutes until smooth. Heat olive oil in a deep skillet over medium heat. Add the jalapeno, red pepper, onion, garlic, salt, turmeric, black pepper, cayenne pepper and cumin and sauté 5 minutes until vegetables are soft. 

Stir in the tofu and continue cooking and stirring until the tofu is heated through for another 5 minutes. (It should look similar to scrambled eggs.) Stir in the green chiles, beans and spinach. Spoon enchilada sauce into a thin layer in the prepared baking dish. Wrap tortillas in a damp paper or cloth towel and microwave for about 30 seconds to soften. Scoop about ¼ cup of the tofu mixture into each tortilla, roll tightly and place seam side down into the baking dish. Spoon remaining enchilada sauce on top. Bake for 10 minutes.  Remove from oven and sprinkle with vegan cheese and return to oven for 5 minutes. Remove from oven and top with chopped cilantro.

From Henry Ford LiveWell. 

340 calories (23% from fat), 9 grams fat (1 gram sat. fat), 52 grams carbohydrates, 15 grams protein, 300 mg sodium, 0 mg cholesterol, 248 mg calcium, 9 grams fiber. Food exchanges: 3 starch, 2 vegetables, 1 protein.

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