Ever wonder what well balanced, vegan meals look like? Most people will not question whether or not their everyday non-vegan meal is providing them with everything they need to thrive. But when contemplating a plant based diet, people become very concerned about whether or not they are consuming enough nutrients and protein in particular. Here I break down the essentials for what a full day of well balanced, plant based meals look like.
Vegetables are the most protective foods you can eat. They are the most nutrient dense and richest sources of phytochemicals. Phytochemicals are plant chemicals that contain protective, disease-preventing properties. They are present in all whole foods in varying amounts. According to experts on both sides of the food coin (vegans and non-vegans) we need 5 servings of vegetables per day. This can easily be achieved by making sure to incorporate vegetables for both lunch and dinner.
Fruits have been shown to reduce the risk of certain diseases. They are also packed with phytochemicals. Citrus fruits such as oranges, grapefruits, lemons, and limes contain vitamin C and folic acid. They also contain flavonoids for antioxidants, anticancer activity. Grapes contain resveratrol, antioxidants, anti-clotting activity, anticancer and anti-inflammatory activity. Berries contain antioxidants, inhibit LDL cholesterol oxidation, promote growth and repair of connective tissue. Blueberries in particular may neutralize free radicals, protect against urinary tract infections, may help reduce effects of aging and improve vision. US recommended daily allowance for fruit is two cups and for vegans it is four servings.
According to "Becoming Vegan" for most people, grains are not important for phytochemical intake. This is because phytochemicals are generally removed before people eat the grains. We lose about 75% of the vitamins, minerals, and 90% of the fiber during refining of grains and 95% of phytochemicals are lost. It is best to select intact grains in order to increase phytochemical intake. Great sources of whole grain foods include barely, millet, oatmeal, sprouted quinoa, brown rice, white rice, whole wheat flour, raw corn, and buckwheat.
Legumes are an essential source of protein for vegans.They are also rich in plant sources, iron, zinc, other trace minerals, and fiber. Legumes also contain phytochemicals. The USDA considers legumes a vegetable. For vegans the recommended daily allowance is two and a half servings a day. Great choices of legumes include black beans, garbanzo beans, lentils, navy beans, kidney beans, soybeans, tofu, and tempeh.
According to a Harvard Study, calcium is important but milk is not the only or best source of calcium. While calcium and dairy can lower the risk of osteoporosis and colon cancer, high intake of dairy can increase the risk of prostate cancer and possibly ovarian cancer. In addition, more than 60 percent of people are lactose intolerant, which can lead to uncomfortable symptoms like cramping, diarrhea, and bloating. Good, non-dairy sources of calcium include collards, bok choy, fortified soy milk, baked beans, and supplements that contain both calcium and vitamin D (a better choice than taking calcium alone).
Fortified Soymilk and alternatives.
Fortified soymilk is an ideal option for vegans to get their daily recommended allowance of calcium. Calcium is not naturally found in cow's milk. Milk contains calcium because of the plants the cows eat. So eating foods rich in calcium or fortified is just as beneficial without all the risks associated with consuming dairy.
The first question you get as a plant based eater is "Where do you get your protein?" The answer is "From ALL of the whole plant foods I eat". International guidelines tell us to get at least 10-15% of our calories from protein. Vegetables such as beans sprouts, broccoli and kale all contain protein. Legumes such as soy beans, lentils, and chickpeas also contain high amounts of protein. Oatmeal, barley and even white bread contain protein. And nuts, seeds and butters all have from 3.8 to 8.1 grams of protein per serving. Even some fruit such as apples, oranges and bananas contain protein. Tofu and tempeh are excellent sources of protein for those following a plant based diet.
Nuts and seeds rich in Omega-3s
There is very good reason to believe that nuts and seeds will reduce risk of cancer due to their high content of anticancer phytochemicals. Good options of nuts and seeds include almonds, nut butters, flaxseeds, and sesame tahini.
Here is an example of a day's worth of well balanced vegan meals as a guide: This is based on a 1600 calorie diet.
A few other considerations if following a 100% vegan diet:
Vitamin B12 Supplement
Vitamin D through direct sunlight or supplementation
Eat a wide variety of foods from each food group and try to eat foods in season.
Fill at least half your plate with vegetables and fruit.
Limit your intake of concentrated oils and added sugars.
While the term"plant based" does not necessarily mean you are strictly vegan, the term does imply that most of your meals are derived from plants. With this simple meal plan as a guide, it is easy to incorporate more plants into your diet and feel confident you are getting all the vitamins and nutrients your body needs to thrive.