There has been a massive growth in veganism and plant-based diets. For good reason. Its kinder to the environment, kinder to animals and is also great for health.
However, as with all things, it must be done right. As veganism and plant-based diets have become more popular, more food companies are paying attention. Vegan fast food is a hot topic in 2019 and although we are pumped to have easy access to vegan foods, it also means people are continuing to pursue unhealthy diets.
But what actually makes up a healthy plant-based diet? It is easier than you think. Armed with knowledge and a good shopping list, you can thrive and be a happy vegan.
Eat greens. A lot of greens.
Greens are so important for health. Eating at least 3 servings a day of fresh greens is a sure way to improve your health in many ways.
For plant-based eaters, greens are a great source of iron, calcium and vitamin A. All notoriously difficult for us to obtain. But consuming greens daily you are guaranteed to get a good supply. Greens are rich in various vitamins and minerals, all of which interact and support one another for absorption and utilization. Eating a varied diet of greens ensures a variety of nutrients for optimal health.
Green leafy vegetables you can include
- Collard greens
- Mustard greens
- Beet greens
- Swiss chard
Greens are rich in various vitamins and minerals, all of which interact and support one another for absorption and utilization. Eating a varied diet of greens ensures a variety of nutrients for optimal health.
Include greens veggies into smoothies with some fruit and other veggies or add them to salads. We love making kale/ swiss chard chips in the oven for a movie snack. We use baby leafy spinach in all our salads and with our roast veggies.
Another fail-safe being on a plant-based diet is to include a good greens powder every day on top of your healthy diet. Greens powders are made from fresh greens that have been dehydrated and ground into powders. Not all greens are created equally so look for organic if possible.
If you are on a budget why not grow your own microgreens? They are so easy to grow and are a lot more cost effective. Microgreens are also fantastically packed with nutrients, a great way to maintain health on a plant-based diet.
Watch out: Eat 3 or more servings of greens a day and watch your skin become clearer and your digestion improve. One of the many benefits of a healthy green diet.
Include nuts and seeds wherever you can
The value of nuts and seeds can just not be expressed enough. They are high in minerals, good fats (omega 3 is one of the winners) and complementary amino acids. They are tasty and a treat in most meals.
Sunflower, pumpkin, help, flax, sesame and chia
Walnuts, almonds, cashews, brazil nuts, hazelnuts, pistachios, pecan, macadamia
Here are some ideas where you can add seeds:
- Salads – crushed nuts are great
- Roast veggies – cashews a yum
- Sandwiches – avocado on toast with hemp seeds are my go to
- Soups – toasted pumpkin and sunflower seeds are such a treat
- Smoothies – chia seeds are great for smoothies
- Make tahini and blend with chickpeas for a complete protein.
Beans and legumes are now your new BFF’s
Beans and legumes have throughout history been the staples of many different cultures and diets. They are a featured food in many blue zone diets and continue to prove their worth in scientific studies about longevity.
Beans and legumes are packed with vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients. Including them in your diet, as a vegan or not is a sure way to be healthy and live well.
You can buy beans and legumes in cans but I personally prefer buying them dry. Soaking (with a pinch of baking soda), washing and cooking at home has 3 main benefits for me:
- Less gas!
- Reduce the anti-nutrient content
- Better texture and flavour.
Raffinose is a kind of starch found in beans and legumes. Soaking them for 8 – 12 hours with a quarter teaspoon of baking powder helps to break this starch down which means less bloating and gas. In fact, I can’t eat canned beans and legumes because my tummy gets so bloated and angry. When I prepare them at home I don’t suffer at all.
Beans and legumes contain anti-nutrients like phytate, protease inhibitors, lectins, tannins and calcium oxalate. Soaking them denatures a lot of the antinutrients improving the nutritional value of the beans and legumes.
I don’t know about you but I am not a fan of super squishy chickpeas or beans. When I make curries or a stew I like my beans to hold some form and texture. Soaking and cooking them at home does just that. Canned beans and legumes (well all canned food in my opinion) has a strange flavour to it. I find doing the whole process at home saves me the processed flavour.
Allow for adjustment: Switching over from a meat-based diet to a plant-based diet is a new experience for your gut and digestive system. It is not uncommon for you to experience bloating, gas and some constipation when switching over. Drink plenty of water and lots of water based veggies to ease the transition. It will pass:)
The process of soaking, washing and cooking
- Rinse well
- Soak overnight or a full day in fresh clean water with quarter teaspoon baking soda
- Rinse well
- Cook until tender (you can add another quarter teaspoon baking soda for extra gas protection)
- Prepare beans and legumes in big batches and freeze what you don’t use for the next meal. You can simply throw them in frozen into curries or stews or use a steamer for a quick defrost.
Some of my favourite meals with beans and legumes
- Hummus – of course
- Bean stew
- Chickpea and pumpkin curry
- bean burgers
- Mexican beans with guacamole
- Roast veggie salad with chickpeas
- Indian dal curry
- Lentil stew and soups
Can it get any yummier?
Pro Tip: Want to change up some meaty meals for plant-based versions? Pinterest is my absolute number one go-to for recipe ideas. Type in whatever you are looking for and there will be a number of ideas to choose from!
The hardest lesson I had to overcome when I transitioned from vegetarian to vegan was snacking. Even though more vegan snacks are coming onto the market I don’t really want to reach for calorie dense nutrient void foods.
So what happened was that I would avoid eating until my main meal times. But over time this started to affect me. I was eating huge meals 2 to 3 times a day and it left me feeling bloated, tired and unhappy. Plant-based meals or not, your digestive system does not respond well to over-eating, a hard lesson a learned and it took a long time for me to change the habit.
Snacking on healthy foods is also a great opportunity to get more nutrients into your diet as a vegan. So making smart choices about those snacks is a hack for your overall diet.
So I am going to depart my experience so you can skip my trials and tribulations:
Plan and prepare: before you head out somewhere, be it shopping, work, school or a beach day out. Grab snacks and put them in a bag or the car or easy access. You may not even eat them but if you feel hungry they are available so you don’t get into hangry mode and overeat at the next meal.
What are some healthy snacks?
- Nuts and seeds – the absolute easiest and so healthy.
- Hummus and veggies.
- Leftovers – I am not shy to have a bowl with last nights leftovers in my bag wherever I go.
- Guacamole and veggies.
- Baked sweet potatoes – 100% my favourite. When I make things in the oven, in goes a few sweet potatoes and I keep them in a Tupperware in the fridge to grab when I am peckish.
Snacking is great because it reduces the chances of overeating and grabbing unhealthy fast food, provides extra nutrients for health and also maintains healthy blood sugar levels. This is coming to light as one of the most essential factors in health and longevity.
Eat a variety of foods
Variety does not mean eating 25 different vegetables in one sitting, it means overall you eat foods from different food groups.
This is so important when eating a plant-based diet. It means you will be eating a variety of amino acids. It’s now known and accepted that one does not need to eat all amino acids in one sitting. Meat was the be all and end all because all essential amino acids were found in one place. But we know now that just consuming a variety of complementing foods regularly will allow your body to be the super system it is. It will pool the amino acids together to what it needs to do.
Eating variety is also essential for health because nutrients do not function in isolation. They interact and support one another to complete all the processes in the body. For example, vitamin C is one of the most functional vitamins out there. It aids the absorption of iron and calcium. It also supports collagen production, keeping skin and joints healthy.
Eat healthy 80% of the time
People assume that being healthy means being obsessive and never enjoying life. Unless you are a bodybuilder or competitive athlete, this is simply not true.
Vegan fast food is on the rise and while I don’t advocate eating this food as your go-to, do enjoy it at times. Eating socially is a big part of human culture.
Being successful at something requires flexibility. Life doesn’t always go as planned so if you become to rigid and unforgiving, your plant-based lifestyle will not be enjoyable. Allow for unhealthy binge days but get back to healthy whole foods following those days.
A birds-eye view of a plant-based diet.
- Eat lots of green vegetables
- Eat a variety of vegetables in a week
- Include beans and legumes most meals during a week
- Snack on nuts and seeds
- Snack to increase nutrients and prevent overeating at meals
- Include good sources of plant-based protein (quinoa, amaranth and tofu are all complete proteins)
- Whole grain brown rice
- Enjoy the ease of fortified foods.
- Drink plenty of water
- Eat fruit in moderation
A note on protein: There is so much hoo-haa around protein that really doesn’t need to be. I have been vegetarian for 8 years and vegan for almost 5 years and never really given protein much airtime. I eat a balanced diet and feel great. The only time I would say you would need to be more conscientious about protein would be if you have an intense workout regime, looking to add on muscle. There are great vegan protein shakes that offer up to 25g of protein per servings and are also clean, free of any allergens and sugar.
Should you supplement?
This is another hot topic. I try to be objective in all areas of life and being vegan is one of them. If you choose a strict plant-based diet you are sure to be healthy but let’s not deny the fact that yes, you will have to supplement.
But so should everyone else. Stress, sleep deprivation, intense exercise plans, sugar, alcohol, improper absorption of nutrients and caffeine are all present in most people. These are all factors that contribute to less than the required nutrients available.
So whether you are plant-based or not, go and get yourself a good multivitamin that includes good amounts of all the B-vitamins and a good selection of minerals. This way, you are covered.
For strict plant-based eaters, I also suggest a good omega 3 supplements stand alongside your nuts and seeds intake. Omega 3 is critical for healthy brain function and to prevent inflammation due to high levels of omega 6 which is high in the west.
So now you know, being healthy is only a matter of eating a variety of foods, planning and preparing and taking a good multivitamin with omega 3.