A Vegan’s Complete Guide to Eating a Well-Balanced Diet
In today’s world of always-evolving diet trends, medical reports and product alternatives, healthy eating is at the top of most people’s minds. It seems as though everyone is following some type of special eating plan that is designed to benefit the mind and body based on their specific health goals and dietary needs.
One popular type of diet that is followed by more than seven million American adults today is veganism, and it promises numerous health benefits by encouraging the avoidance of most animal products. The advantages to abiding by a vegan diet are so profound that nearly one million of the estimated seven million U.S. vegans actually consume no animal products at all, according to Vegetarian Times online.
After learning these astounding statistics, you might wonder if veganism is for you. While there are a number of factors to consider, one of the most important components to understand when following a vegan diet is to ensure your meal plan is well balanced so you continue to feed your body with everything it needs to function at optimal levels. We’re here to help educate you by providing you with this complete guide to eating a well-balanced vegan diet.
Bring on the Beans
Beans are one of the least expensive and most nutrient-dense sources of protein, but also offer an abundance of complex carbohydrates (the healthy kind) and fiber. Additionally, beans contain a dynamic collection of essential nutrients, including folate, iron, magnesium, potassium, and zinc, among others. According to the Huffington Post, beans are one of the best meat-alternative sources of protein, as they are free of cholesterol and contain very little fat. Furthermore, consuming beans regularly can actually help to lower high cholesterol levels. The Kitchn’s Kelli Foster recommends lentils, which cook quickly and serve as delicious additions to soups, pilafs and salads; as well as chickpeas, which pair well with pasta dishes and vegetable stews.
Get Your Grains
Certain whole grains are highly nutritious and provide the body with adequate amounts of dietary fiber, antioxidants and the amino acid, lysine, as well as vitamin B6, vitamin E, and selenium. VegHealthyGuide.com recommends that you consume five servings of whole grains per day, including such well-balanced options as barley, buckwheat, quinoa, brown rice, and rye. For those who have a sensitivity or intolerance to gluten, buckwheat, corn, millet, and quinoa are your best options. The most important factor to remember when choosing your whole grains is to stick with those that are labeled as such, and avoid any “refined” grains, including white flour or white rice. The white grains that are not enriched or labeled as whole grains will cause your sugar levels to spike and may even cause weight gain. Whole grains are important for vegans to incorporate into their diets, because they are good sources of complex carbohydrates that are low in fat, but high in fiber, protein, vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients, antioxidants, and other critical nutrients.
Although they’re often avoided because of their higher fat content, nuts are excellent sources of protein, especially for vegans who avoid all meat products. In addition, certain types of seeds have profound nutritional benefits due to their abundance of vitamins, minerals and fiber. Depending on which types and how you consume them, nuts and seeds can help you feel satiated and stabilize your blood sugar levels so you maintain healthy body weight and energy levels. This attribute also keeps nut and seed eaters from over-indulging on other high-calorie, high-fat foods, while still providing you with the essential amino acids and healthy fats that your body needs. Some of the most nutrient-dense nuts and seeds include almonds, cashews, peanuts, walnuts, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, and flax seeds. OneGreenPlanet.org offers a selection of 30 vegan recipes using cashews that will keep your menu varied each day of the month!
Spice it up
Many vegan staples, such as tofu, vegetable broth or greens can taste bland if not properly prepared. That’s why it’s so important for vegans to incorporate a tasty and exciting blend of herbs and spices into their diets. Certain herbs and spices not only help to improve the taste and texture of many dishes, but also serve a variety of health benefits. Peta.org recommends seasoning with cumin to add a smoky flavor to chili and Mexican dishes, cinnamon to sweeten treats and cayenne to give your dishes a little kick. Another popular spice called turmeric even has anti-inflammatory, antidepressant and cholesterol-lowering properties.
Regardless of whether you avoid all animal products or just certain types, incorporating these fundamental nutrients into your meals is essential for maintaining a well-balanced vegan diet. The best part is that you can have fun with your dishes by experimenting with different varieties of seasonings and protein sources. Maintaining a healthy vegan diet that is enriched with the necessary vitamins, minerals and antioxidants your body needs will help you live happy and animal product-free for many years to come.
Add a Shake
One of my all-time favorite ways to get more protein into my diet consistently is to drink a power-packed protein smoothie first thing in the morning. There are many protein powders that are vegan-friendly yet still effective and very delicious. You can add a scoop of protein to a glass of orange juice or an easy-to-make shake of almond milk, bananas and peanut butter (my personal favorite). Be sure to check reputable review sites such as Protein Daily and Labdoor to find the protein powder that will be the best fit for your dietary needs.
Sara Jane Adkins is a writer, food-lover and mother. Founder of Natural Healthy Living, she inspires people to become more nutritionally conscious while still enjoying the foods that they love to eat. Her articles have appeared on Calorie Count, Share Care, Healthy Fit Natural, Huffington Post and the Chicago Tribune.