Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve had several people asking about plant-based diets or about particular foods. Maybe it’s because 2018 is supposed to be the year of plant-based diets. Maybe it’s that January has been Veganuary (a campaign to encourage people to try out a plant-based lifestyle for a month). Maybe there is no correlation at all.
Here’s the thing, I definitely don’t think vegan diets are for everyone but everyone can benefit from eating more plants.
As a dietitian, I counsel people on intuitive eating (honoring your hunger, ditching the diets, etc) but also plant-based lifestyles. I have been eating vegan for almost 10 years now (holy smokes!) and I seriously LOVE helping people improve their well-being. When I start to work with people who follow a plant-based diet, my concern is always that people aren’t eating enough (previous diet/limitation/labeling food mentality) and they aren’t getting enough nutrients. When we cut out particular foods and food groups (for any reason), it’s important to dive a little deeper to make sure our needs (nutrition and satisfaction) are being met.
This straightforward list helps with all of that. I’ve done the research (and live it), now let me help you. The foods listed are likely found in your grocery store because a plant-based diet is a lifestyle that can easily be incorporated into your world. I can assure you that I shop at all the same stores you shop at. I rely mostly on whole food goodness instead of a lot of specialty faux meat/cheese products and that’s what you’ll find here. Also know that this list is not comprehensive, it’s a starting place or a check-in.
Soy milk, specifically fortified soy milk has a similar protein content (seven to eight grams per cup) compared to dairy milk. The fortified varieties offer calcium, vitamin D, and vitamin B 12 (only available in fortified products and nutritional yeast for vegans). I find soy milk to be creamier and the perfect base in a smoothie, stirred into mashed potatoes/creamy vegan soup, or as a creamer in coffee. That’s not to say other plant based milks don’t have a place as I tend to prefer almond milk with cereal and oat milk with pancakes. I always choose the unsweetened varieties these days but I started out with a bigger sweet tooth and enjoyed the vanilla flavor. The beauty of a vegan diet is the variety, so you can choose more than one kind of milk.
Nuts and seeds of all kinds are an important aspect of any lifestyle, but particularly a vegan diet. They offer heart healthy fats that other vegan foods do not generally offer plus they provide a solid protein and nutrient source. Two tablespoons of chia seeds provides six grams of protein (about the same as an egg), a whopping sixteen percent of the calcium and twelve percent of the iron needs for most healthy adults. I tend to recommend chia seeds more often than ground flax seed because they can be stored longer without going rancid and actually have twice the amount of omega-3 fatty acids as flax seeds. Good things come in small packages with these little gems!
Quinoa is gluten free friendly that is also naturally protein rich because it’s a seed, not a grain – although we eat it like a grain. Very confusing, I know! Quinoa cooks and plays well with others (meaning it goes with everything!). I would be happy to help you navigate where to start adding quinoa into your day if you aren’t familiar with it. Quinoa has the plant-based protein, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidant power that other foods should be jealous of. 😉
Broccoli is another nutrition powerhouse that actually has more vitamin C than an orange which means that it’s going to help absorb plant-based sources of iron. A half cup cooked, chopped broccoli contains 130% of the Vitamin C daily value compared to 85% in a small orange. Of course, an orange may be more convenient depending on how you’re eating it and both are great choices. Broccoli is also is a part of the cancer fighting cruciferous vegetable family that we can all benefit from eating more of.
Nutritional yeast may not be the first food on your radar when starting to eat more plant-based, but I strongly believe it should be. First of all, I find that most people miss cheese and cheese related products the most if transitioning to a vegan diet and nutritional yeast is a powder that can be sprinkled or mixed into practically anything that you want to add a savory, slight cheesy flavor too. This is not a cheese substitute, so do not expect it to taste the same as cheese! I’ve really come to love the flavor sprinkled in a quinoa+black bean bowl, on pizza, on a piece of whole grain toast, or peppered onto a potato. (For more recipe ideas using nutritional yeast, check out this previous post). Nutritionally, this gem is packed with B vitamins (like too many to name) including vitamin B12, the most important for us plant eaters. There’s also a hefty dose of protein and a dabble of fiber. I usually buy mine at Trader Joe’s because I go there often but you can find it online, in health food stores, and in a growing number of grocery stores usually near the flours and flaxseed.
Plant-based proteins are on deck for another upcoming blog post, but remember to have a source of protein at each meal. For vegans the most common sources are beans + lentils, nuts + seeds (and nut butters), and tofu + tempeh, or faux meat products.
I hope this helped bring “digestible” insight into your plant-based journey whether you’re just beginning, been on the train for a while, or just curious. As mentioned, this list is not complete by any means and working with a dietitian to take things one step further can be helpful if you want a bit more guidance. If you’re not there yet and you still want a little more, I’ve created a simple grocery list of 10 plant-based must haves – produce and pantry goods that focus on some key nutrients in THE most straightforward way. Check it out and get shopping. 🙂 [convertkit form=5140589]
I’m so happy and honored you’ve allowed me to be a part of the ride.
Happy and Healthy Eating,