Nowadays it seems as though everyone claims to be a food expert; people have very strong opinions about what you should and should not be eating, and more often than not, this advice differs from person to person. Although most diet recommendations should be taken with a grain of salt due to varying nutritional needs, it is inarguable that whole plant-based foods are extremely healthy.
Anything that comes from the earth in its purest form is going to retain its nutrition. Even if you are not a vegan, plant-based foods are great to incorporate into your diet. You do not need meat and animal products to meet your nutritional needs. According to www.forksoverknives.com, “No food is a single nutrient, and we should never think of foods in that way. Any given food has countless nutrients. What matters most is the overall nutrient profile, i.e., the whole package. Whole, plant-based foods contain all the essential nutrients (with the exception of vitamin B12), and in proportions that are more consistent with human needs than animal-based or processed foods.”
That being said, here are a few great plant-based foods that should be incorporated into your diet regularly.
It’s called a superfood for a reason! For such a small grain, quinoa packs a punch when it comes to nutrition. According to the Grains and Legumes Nutrition Council (www.glnc.org.au), “quinoa contains significant amounts of all the essential amino acids.” It is high in protein, fiber, and carbohydrates (which you need!), and it contains many essential minerals such as iron and potassium. It will help you feel satisfied and energized throughout the day, and it is also gluten free! You cook quinoa the same way you cook rice: boil ½ cup of water for every ¼ cup of uncooked quinoa and let it cook for 15 minutes until light and fluffy.
You can’t go wrong with protein-packed legumes! Any type of bean, including chickpeas, black beans, kidney beans, and lentils, are great to include within a balanced diet. According to the Grains and Legumes Nutrition Council, legumes are “an economical dietary source of good quality protein and are higher in protein than most other plant foods.” They also are generally low in fat and contain no cholesterol, and they contain fiber which will help keep you full. Beans can be bought in a can (preferably with low or no sodium) and eaten warm or cold, or you can buy them pre-cooked and cook them yourself in boiled water!
Another superfood makes the list! Avocados contain healthy plant-based fat that is good for you! The California Avocado Commission states that avocados “act as a “nutrient booster” by enabling the body to absorb more fat-soluble nutrients, such as alpha and beta-carotene and lutein, in foods that are eaten with the fruit.” Avocados also contain a lot of fiber as well. Avocados must be eaten ripe; you can tell if an avocado is ripe by pressing into the skin. If it’s slightly soft and the stem is able to be pulled out easily, it’s good to cut and eat.
Nuts are also a great source of healthy fats that help to absorb fat-soluble nutrients found in other foods that you eat. According to NutritionFacts.org, “nuts (even peanut butter) are very healthy. Surprisingly, they don’t appear to contribute to weight gain and may actually help facilitate weight loss.” They contain protein and fiber as well. Nuts can be eaten raw, roasted, or in nut butter form.
Some examples: peanuts/peanut butter, almonds/almond butter, macadamia nuts, hazelnuts, cashews, Brazil nuts, walnuts, pecans, pistachios, etc.
I know what you’re thinking, and I’m not talking about French fries. Steamed and minimally processed potatoes, especially sweet potatoes, are extremely healthy. The Idaho Potato commission states that sweet potatoes are “fat-free, cholesterol-free and a good source of Vitamin B6 and dietary fiber. They are also high in Potassium and Vitamin C.” They contain natural carbohydrates that your body needs to power you through the day!
Leafy Green Vegetables
Plants like spinach and collard greens are essential for your body, especially if you are on a plant-based diet. Leafy green vegetables contain high amounts of fiber and iron, which you lose out on if you decide to give up eating meat. Your body needs iron, and this is a great plant-based option. According to the College of Agriculture at the University of Kentucky, “dark green leafy vegetables act as antioxidants in the body. The substances in dark green leafy vegetables remove free radicals from the body before they become harmful. Some research has found the carotenoids in dark green leafy vegetables can stop the growth of certain types of breast, skin, lung, and stomach cancer.” Have them raw on a sandwich or in a salad, or cook them and enjoy!
This is a pretty broad food group but it is extremely essential to the healthy, well-rounded plant-based diet. Any fruit is good for you, especially in its raw natural state. Fruits vary in the vitamins and minerals that they contain (which means you should eat a huge variety of them, when they are in season), but in general fruits are a great source of fiber and carbohydrates in the form of natural sugars. Let your body be fueled by the earth! You can eat fruit raw, cooked, juiced, or mixed into smoothies!
Although it is a simple and common food, it is still great for you! Brown rice is the healthiest of all types of rice because it has not been stripped of its fiber and exists in its most natural form as a whole grain. It is also a slow-release sugar, meaning it’s a good source of carbohydrates. According to the Global Healing Center, “brown rice can help keep blood sugar stabilized as it releases sugars slowly and in a sustained fashion.” Brown rice contains antioxidants and is very high in fiber. Rice is eaten cooked after boiling it in water, and is extremely versatile.