by Desirée Reed
At an incredible 600% increase over the last 4 years in the United States, the plant-based lifestyle is on the rise in staggering numbers. Thankfully, this dramatic culture shift in health management makes way for clearer research to present a balanced case for the numerous benefits of a vegan/vegetarian diet. Weight management, lower cholesterol, increased energy, and blood sugar control are just a few on an abundant list. However, the transition can be challenging. As with any new discipline, learning the basics will provide a firm foundation on which to build a more holistic approach to healthier nutrition choices.
Tofu, derived of the soy bean, is one of the few complete proteins containing all pertinent amino acids, not to mention iron, manganese, B vitamins, and omega-3s. One of the more diverse ingredients boasting star appearances in favorite dishes from savory lasagna to decadent coconut cream pie, it is certainly worth the culinary adventure.
Rich with invaluable fiber, beans deliver high-impact nutrients useful in boosting colon and digestive health, reducing bad cholesterol, and increasing satiety. Affordable essentials for every pantry, beans can be used in stir-fry, Mexican dishes, simple rice ensembles, chili, and sauces.
Research is surfacing that boosts nuts as a preferable protein alternative to animal sources. Attention to “bad” or LDL cholesterol levels as it pertains to heart and cardiovascular health is spreading, and nuts are an excellent help. Walnuts, almonds, and pistachios are also a tasty, heart-healthy start.
The path to digestive health does not need to include dairy products. Loaded with antioxidants to fight free radicals and plenty of soluble fiber to feed good bacteria, chia seeds prove to be valuable at the table. More ways to pack a protein punch include pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds and flax.
Also high in protein and fiber, packing essential amino acids, B vitamins, magnesium, iron and cancer-fighting antioxidants, quinoa is a smart staple to have in reach. It’s also gluten-free for those with sensitivities.
For those with celiac disease, gluten-free products are imperative. Try brown rice pasta, a tasty alternative that’s easier on the digestive system.
As the palate adjusts to a transition from processed sugary foods, dried fruit satisfies the ‘sweet tooth’ while offering fiber and phenolic antioxidants, key for digestive health and reducing the oxidative process. Apricots, dates, raisins and dried coconut add flavorful dimension to oatmeal or cereal, and are great to have on standby for baking.
Oils, Sauces & Bases
Packed with minerals and vitamin C, vegetable broth is key for crockpot creations, casseroles, bakes, and stews.
Made from ground sesame seeds, tahini delivers antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, anti-bacterial properties, and packs a variety of vitamins and minerals. The key ingredient in hummus, this robust sauce is also delicious as a vegetable dip or salad dressing.
Occasionally cooking oil is necessary, but it should be used in moderation because of its fat content. Some studies link extra virgin olive oil to the improvement of good cholesterol (HDL), while canola oil is known for the lowest saturated fat content and high levels of coveted omega-3s. We recommend that you reach for organic, non-GMO varieties.
Moving away from processed and refined foods to a whole foods, plant-based diet will bring benefits beyond imagination. To make a comfortable transition, introduce just a few mentioned ingredients at a time while exploring more vegan recipes and tips. We have faith you will not regret it!
For more research, here are a few solid resources to check out:
Foods That Harm Foods That Heal by Editors at Readers Digest
The China Study by T. Colin Campbell
Becoming Vegan by Davis Melina
Give Them Something Better by Sarah Frain & Stephanie Howard