A Nutritionist’s Guide to Plant Based Eating

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In a world brimming with diverse dietary choices, adopting a plant based lifestyle has gained remarkable traction, driven by a deep desire to nourish our bodies, protect the planet we call home, and uphold a sense of compassion for all living beings.

A plant based diet is focused on eating mainly fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds. It emphasises filling your plate with these nutrient-dense plant foods while limiting or avoiding animal products like meat, dairy, eggs and seafood. Although it may sound synonymous, a vegan diet totally eliminates all animal products, even honey! Plant based diets are sustainable, and ethical and have been shown to prevent and even reverse many chronic diseases.

Studies have shown that a plant based diet can significantly lower the risk of obesity, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and high blood pressure. When we choose plants over animal products, we open ourselves up to a wealth of vitality and well-being. Packed with essential nutrients, fibre, antioxidants, and phytonutrients, plant based foods fuel our bodies and support our overall health. But the benefits of plant based eating extend far beyond our well-being. Our dietary choices hold the power to shape the world around us. By embracing a plant based lifestyle, we become active participants in creating a sustainable planet. By reducing our reliance on animal products, we lighten the strain on precious natural resources, minimize our carbon footprint, and work towards a future that is environmentally balanced and resilient.

Yet, there is another profound aspect to plant based eating—a sense of ethical responsibility and compassion. By choosing plant based options, we consciously opt out of systems that perpetuate animal suffering and exploitation. With each plant based meal, we contribute to a more humane world. 

The Plate Method

As you embark on your plant based journey, ensuring that your diet is well-balanced and meets your nutritional needs is essential. The plate method is a wonderful and effective technique that helps us visualise how to organise those food groups. Building a plate with the right proportions of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, and nuts/seeds is key to achieving a well-rounded and satisfying plant based meal.

> Start by filling half of your plate with colourful fruits and veggies. These provide essential vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants for your overall health. Aim for variety, including leafy greens, bright vegetables, and delicious fruits.

> Next, allocate a quarter of your plate to whole grains like brown rice, quinoa, or whole wheat bread. These give you sustained energy and important nutrients. Choose minimally processed options for maximum benefits.

> Another quarter of your plate should be dedicated to protein-rich legumes like beans, lentils, or tofu. They provide plant based protein, fibre, and essential minerals. Don’t be afraid to try different varieties to add excitement to your meals.

> Lastly, include some nuts or seeds for healthy fats and additional nutrients. Sprinkle some crushed nuts or seeds over your dishes or enjoy them as a snack. They add a satisfying crunch and provide important nutrients.

Enhance your plant based meals with herbs, spices, and healthy condiments. Fresh herbs like basil, cilantro, and parsley add flavour and antioxidants. Spices like turmeric, cumin, and cinnamon offer taste and potential health benefits. Use healthy condiments like tahini, hummus, or salsa for creaminess and tanginess. Enjoy the delicious and nutritious flavours they bring to your dishes!

Ensuring an adequate protein intake is essential, and plant based options offer a diverse range of nutritious choices:

Seitan: Boasting an impressive 75g of protein per 100g, seitan is ideal for crafting cold cuts or forming sausages.

Lentils: Varied lentil varieties provide up to 25g of protein per 100g, establishing these pulses as a nutrient powerhouse.

Tofu: Versatile tofu, with approximately 16g of protein per 100g, readily absorbs marinades and spice mixes, offering a low-calorie source enriched with iron and calcium.

Beans: Most bean types contribute around 15g of protein per cooked cup (170g), promoting benefits such as cholesterol reduction, blood sugar management, lowered blood pressure, and belly fat reduction.

Green Peas: Nearly 9g of protein per cooked cup (160g) makes green peas a protein-rich alternative, slightly surpassing the protein content of a cup of dairy milk.

Oats and Oatmeal: A 100g serving of oats provides approximately 12.5g of protein, making them a wholesome choice for a protein boost.

Nuts, Nut Butter, and Seeds: A one-ounce (28g) serving contains 5–7g of protein, varying by variety. Almonds, for instance, offer 6g of protein, contributing to a well-rounded plant based protein intake.

Ensuring a well-rounded intake of essential nutrients is crucial for those following a plant based diet.

Iron Sources:

Red Lentils: 3.3mg iron per 100g serving

Dark Chocolate (high-cocoa): 11.9mg iron per 100g

Kidney Beans (cooked): 2.9mg iron per 100g

Tofu (firm): 3mg iron per 100g

Spinach (cooked): 3.6mg iron per 100g

Tip: Boost iron absorption by pairing with vitamin C-rich fruits or vegetables.

Calcium Sources:

Tofu (calcium-set): Up to 400mg calcium per 100g

Almond Milk: Around 120mg calcium per 100ml

Leafy Greens (kale, spinach, chard, cabbage): Nearly 300mg calcium per 100g

White Beans: 62mg calcium per serving

Broccoli: 47mg calcium per 100g

Tip: Enhance calcium absorption by pairing with vitamin D-rich foods.

Zinc Sources:

Pumpkin Seeds: 2-4 mg zinc per 1/4 cup

Baked Beans (cooked): 2-4 mg zinc per 3/4 cup

Tempeh (cooked): 2-4mg zinc per 3/4 cup

Plant Based Yogurt: 1-2mg zinc per 3/4 cup

Plant Based Milk: 1-2mg zinc per 1 cup

Bran Cereal: 1-2mg zinc per 3/4 cup

Wild Rice (cooked): 1-2mg zinc per 1/2 cup

Nuts (peanuts, cashews, almonds): 1-2mg zinc per 1/4 cup

Lentils (cooked): 1-2mg zinc per 3/4 cup

Chickpeas, Black-Eyed Beans, Split Beans (cooked): 1-2mg zinc per 3/4 cup

Sunflower Seeds: 1-2mg zinc per 1/4 cup

Cashew Butter: 1-2mg zinc per 2 tbsp

Tahini: 1-2mg zinc per 2 tbsp

Soy Nuts: 1-2mg zinc per 1/4 cup

Tip: Enhance zinc absorption through soaking, sprouting, fermenting, or blending plant foods.*

With its reliance on vegetables, legumes, grains, herbs and spices, Indian cuisine offers a diverse array of dishes and flavours perfect for plant based eating. Many traditional Indian recipes and meals are already vegan or can be easily adapted. Staples like dal, vegetable curries, pulao, raita and chutneys form a nutritious vegan base. Protein-packed legumes feature prominently – think lentils, chickpeas, and black grams. Spices like turmeric, cumin and coriander boost flavour and nutrition. Minimally processed whole grains like rice, millet and wheat lend fibre. Produce ranges from potato, peas and pumpkin to coconut, banana and mango. With menus spanning hearty dals and curries, aromatic biryanis and wholesome dosas, Indian cooking makes savouring and nourishing plant based meals an utterly delicious endeavour.

Sample 1-Day Meal plan Meal CategoryFood ItemsBreakfast– 2 Ragi dosas with coconut chutney– 1 cup soy milk– 1 small bananaMorning Snack– 1 cup melon cubes– 10 raw almondsLunch– Brown rice vegetable pulao with peas, carrots, beans– Chana masala (chickpea curry)– Tofu raita– 1 multigrain chapatiEvening Snack– Baked samosa with tamarind date chutneyDinner– Dal makhani (black lentils and kidney beans in tomato sauce)– Baingan bharta (roasted eggplant mash)– Jeera rice– Roti– Salad (cucumber, tomato, carrot)Dessert– 1 cup coconut milk kheer

Conclusion

Adopting a plant based diet centred around fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds provides tremendous benefits for our health, the environment and animals. Ensuring nutritional needs are met simply requires a bit of know-how. This article has covered plant based protein options, key nutrients to focus on, and techniques like the plate method for balanced meals. Indian cuisine already embraces many nutritious and delicious vegan dishes as well. With a little planning to eat a diverse mix of plant foods, going plant based can be simple and rewarding. The world of plant based eating offers an abundance of nutrients to nourish ourselves in body, mind and spirit. Our food choices support sustainable food systems in harmony with the planet. And each plant-powered meal lets us live out a sense of compassion. A plant based diet truly allows us all to eat well and do good. Would you give “veganuary” a chance?

References

Turner-McGrievy, G., Mandes, T., & Crimarco, A. (2017). A plant-based diet for overweight and obesity prevention and treatment. Journal of geriatric cardiology: JGC, 14(5), 369.

Kahleova, H., Levin, S., & Barnard, N. D. (2018). Vegetarian dietary patterns and cardiovascular disease. Progress in cardiovascular diseases, 61(1), 54-61.

Poore, J., & Nemecek, T. (2018). Reducing food’s environmental impacts through producers and consumers. Science, 360(6392), 987-992.

Craig, W. J., & Mangels, A. R. (2009). Position of the American Dietetic Association: vegetarian diets. Journal of the American Dietetic Association, 109(7), 1266-1282.

Singer, P. (2009). Animal Liberation: The Definitive Classic of the Animal Movement. Harper Perennial Modern Classics.

Melina, V., Craig, W., & Levin, S. (2016). Position of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: vegetarian diets. Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, 116(12), 1970-1980.

Mariotti, F., & Gardner, C. D. (2019). Dietary protein and amino acids in vegetarian diets—A review. Nutrients, 11(11), 2661.

The Vegan Eatwell Guide. The Vegan Society. Accessed on 9 Dec. 2021.

Melina, V., Craig, W. and Levin, S., 2016. Position of the academy of nutrition and dietetics: vegetarian diets. Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, 116(12), pp.1970-1980.

USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference

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