Plant Based Nutrition

  • May 18, 2020
  • by Default Admin
Dr. Geni Abraham

Many people are moving toward a whole-foods plant-based diet for a variety of reasons which include improving their health, their budget or the health of the environment. Some people would like to add just one or two plant-based meals per week while others would like to completely transition to a plant-based diet.

The basic principle of healthy eating starts with choosing high-quality foods and getting a variety of whole, plant-based foods to improve health and hinder the development of disease. If you choose to incorporate some animal products and seafood in your diet be sure to choose clean, natural sources. Choose grass-fed beef, wild-caught fish and meat and eggs from free-range poultry when possible. Avoid processed meats like most luncheon and deli meats and choose meats raised without the use of hormones or antibiotics.

What is a whole-foods plant-based diet? Generally, this is a pattern of eating that emphasizes real, whole foods which are natural, unrefined, minimally processed, and come from plants. These foods include vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes and nuts and seeds.

If you are interested in adopting a more plant-based diet, it is important to make sure you are getting the right balance of macronutrients (proteins, carbohydrates and fats). Protein supplies the building blocks for our body and carbohydrates and fats are for energy production. We also need to be eating a variety of foods to provide adequate micronutrients (vitamins and minerals). Here are some simple tips for supporting your health with plant-based meals and snacks:

Dr. Geni Abraham
Dr. Geni Abraham
Eat a variety of protein sources every day.
When we eat food that contains protein our digestive system breaks it down into amino acids which will be absorbed and used for many bodily processes. There are certain amino acids that our body cannot manufacture, and we must obtain from food. These are called essential amino acids. Animal proteins (eggs, dairy, meat and poultry) contain all of the essential amino acids and are called complete proteins. Plant sources for complete proteins include soy, amaranth, quinoa, hempseed and chia. Other plant proteins have a different amino acid profile and do not contain all of the essential amino acids. When plant foods are your primary source of protein it is important to combine them throughout the day to get ample amounts of each amino acid. When grains and legumes are combined, they provide all the essential amino acids. Nuts and seeds are also combined with legumes to offer a complete protein. You can also incorporate plant protein powder to increase your protein intake.
Choose Complex Carbohydrates.
Dietary carbohydrates provide the body’s primary energy source. It is critical for health to choose natural, unprocessed carbohydrates to ensure you are receiving enough vitamins, minerals, fiber and phytochemicals. Focus on nutrient rich whole grains, legumes, vegetables, fruits and dairy/dairy alternatives. Highly processed carbohydrates such as white rice, white bread and refined grain pastas are lacking many healthy nutrients and have a high glycemic index which can affect blood sugar levels and increase hunger and cravings. It is also important to eat whole fruit rather than drink fruit juice which can lack fiber and vitamins. Avoid refined grains and the added sugars in processed foods and sugary beverages.
Include balanced quality fats.
A healthy diet does not mean cutting out all fat, just focusing on healthier varieties. Healthy sources of fat include avocados, almonds, walnuts, olives and extra virgin olive oil. Vary your intake of nuts and seeds daily and include chia seeds, flax seeds or hemp seeds. Extra virgin coconut oil is a healthy form of saturated fat that may especially benefit brain health. It is important to minimize the use of bad fats – trans-fats – which are found in many margarines and shortening, and processed foods such as French fries, pastries, cookies, corn chips, etc.
Eat a rainbow of phytonutrients every day.
We need about 9-13 servings of whole plant foods per day if we want to prevent chronic disease. Phytonutrient rich sources are limitless with the many varieties and colors of these foods. Include any and all plant foods: fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts, seeds and even herbs and spices. Think of colorful salads and stir-fries. Make it a goal to get seven colors per day. Make substitutions with foods you commonly eat. You can substitute mashed potatoes with mashed purple potatoes or sweet potatoes. Aim to fill half your plate with vegetables at lunch and dinner.
Ensure you are receiving all required nutrients.
People following a strict vegetarian diet may not be getting the necessary amount of vitamin B12. This vitamin is not found in plant foods and is only found naturally in foods from animal sources. It may be necessary to include a B12 supplement. Speak to your doctor regarding your personal dietary needs.
Simple plant-based diet swaps.
Some people choose to follow a strictly vegan diet which includes no animal foods. Others may need to avoid dairy or eggs for health reasons or allergies. These foods listed below can substitute commonly used animal foods:
Dairy : Yogurt made with soy, nuts, and coconut. Common plant-based milks include almond milk, soy milk, and rice milk. Plant milks can also be made from a variety of other nuts, seeds, grains and legumes. There are many plant-based cheeses to choose from including those made from cashews or tofu. Ice cream can be made from almond milk, soy milk or coconut milk. Avocado can be used to make creamy puddings and smoothies. Coconut oil or olive oil can be used in place of butter.
Egg substitutes for baking : Tofu, chia or flaxseeds, olive oil, vegetable purees, applesauce, plant yogurt, or items such as Bob’s Red Mill Gluten Free Vegan Egg Replacer. Be careful to read all ingredients before choosing an egg replacement. The cornerstone of good health is always choosing natural ingredients. This also applies to veggie burgers or faux meat burgers. It is always better to make your own with natural ingredients.
Meat : Legumes : soy foods, lentils, beans, peas, hummus or other bean dips, veggie burger (non-GMO). Nuts and seeds: choose a variety including nut butters – unsweetened and unsalted. Plant protein powders: hemp, pea, rice, soy. For a vegan, it is important to include some grains for the essential amino acid methionine, which is missing from legumes.
Design your meal plan for plant-based foods.
Select vegetarian cookbooks or search the internet for tasty vegetarian recipes. Ask vegetarian friends for their favorite dishes. There are also many vegan and vegetarian recipe apps such as Food Monster. Simple plant protein meals:

Breakfast:

  • Oatmeal with flaxseed and almond butter
  • Smoothie with 2 scoops pea/rice protein powder, 1 Tbsp. nut butter, ½ cup berries, 4 oz. plant milk, 4 oz. water, ice
  • Tofu scramble with avocado

Lunch:

  • Hummus with pita bread and salad
  • Homemade veggie burger with a slice of whole grain bread
  • Nut butter sandwich on whole grain bread, vegetable side dish

Dinner:

  • Vegetarian chili over brown rice or bulgur with a spinach salad
  • Lentil soup or Lentil burger or Lentil meatballs with kale salad and brown rice.
  • Quinoa pilaf and creamy broccoli soup

Snacks:

  • Apple and walnuts
  • Celery and peanut butter
  • Guacamole with homemade taro chips or carrot and celery sticks

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