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New cookbook extols the power of plants

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NEW YORK (Reuters) - Nutrition writer and registered dietitian Sharon Palmer believes that for weight loss, optimal health and longer life, everyone should be moving towards plant-based eating.

In her new book, "The Plant-Powered Diet," the Los Angeles-based chef includes 75 meatless recipes but the meal plans, suggestions and tips are aimed at omnivores as much as at vegetarians and vegans.

"The purpose of the book is to help people find that balance in their diet," Palmer said. "I'm hoping to appeal to everybody because I think everybody can benefit from this."

Palmer spoke to Reuters about plant-based breakfasts, meatless Mondays, and how even vegetarians can be junk food junkies.

Q: Why did you write this book?

A: "I really felt that research is coming together to support plant-based eating and I felt that people could gain benefits no matter where they were at. Many people think that plant-based eating is only vegetarian or vegan but it can really take place for everybody. They can eat animals less and eat more plants to gain the health benefits."

Q: Are all the recipes vegetarian?

A: "All 75 recipes are vegan because I have a vegan, a vegetarian and a plant-based omnivore meal plan. Everybody can start with the vegan plan even if they just want to have plant-based meals once or twice a week."

Q: What is the power of plants?

A: "Plant-based eating has so many health benefits. A wide range of research supports that: heart health, lower diabetes risk, lower cancer risk, even improved cognition, which is brain function, are linked with a plant-based diet."

Q: How do you suggest an omnivore/meat-eater move incrementally to a plant-based diet?

A: "I love the idea of meatless Mondays. I think the whole thing about once a week eating a plant-based meal is really catching on because it's so easy to do.

"Other techniques include going back to the cultural history of eating, when people would take a small amount of animal and turn it into a whole meal. Meat was really precious and wasn't the center of the plate. Take a small chicken breast and turn it into a stir-fry pasta dish. Ethnic cuisine is a real inspiration for plant-based eating. Also, breakfast is an easy meal to make plant-based. It's a no-brainer."

Q: What are basic ingredients, to have always on hand, in a plant-based diet?

A: "To cook a whole plant-based diet, or to eat that way, you've got to be prepared. Shelf ingredients, such as dried beans, lentils, dried peas, whole grains, are staple items. I also recommend canned tomatoes, olive oil, nuts and seeds, tempeh, flax - all things you can keep on hand and supplement with fresh ingredients. It's not that difficult but you do have to keep a pantry."

Q: Is there any food you believe people should avoid altogether?

A: "There's so much emerging evidence on red meat, one study after another, particularly processed meat like ham, bacon, sausage and hot dogs, to the point where the American Institute for Cancer Research says just don't eat it."

Q: Is a vegetarian diet necessarily a healthy diet?

A: "Even a vegetarian can eat a junk food diet. You can eat cheese all day long. One of my pet peeves is vegetarians who don't like vegetables, which seems oxymoronic. I really feel strongly that if you're taking on a vegetarian diet, you have to make every bite count."

Beet and Pomegranate Seed Salad

Makes 4 Servings (About 9 Cups)

4 cups packed mixed baby greens

2 cups packed assorted micro-greens, which are small, young seedlings

2 cups sliced baby beets, cooked and chilled

1 cup fresh pomegranate seeds

3 tablespoons coarsely chopped walnuts

1/4 cup freshly squeezed orange juice

1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil

1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper

1 garlic clove, minced

1. Arrange the baby greens in a salad bowl or on a platter. Top with the micro-greens.

2. Arrange the beets on top of the micro-greens and sprinkle with pomegranate seeds and walnuts.

3. Whisk together the orange juice, olive oil, black pepper, and garlic in a small bowl. Drizzle the vinaigrette over the salad and serve immediately.

NOTE: If you don't have time to cook fresh beets for this recipe, use drained canned beets (preferably with no added salt) or refrigerated cooked beets, which are available in many supermarkets.

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