Not Just Vegan – Why eat “Whole Food” Vegan
Many people jump into a trendy vegan diet with the thought that as long as they aren’t eating animal products (meat, fish, dairy, etc), they will be just perfectly healthy. However, white pastas, sugary cookies (did you know that Oreos are vegan?), white flour cakes and breads or even processed ‘vegan faux meats’ does not make for a healthy vegan!
Vegans should think of themselves more as herbivores – true whole-food, plant eaters – with a focus on Whole plant foods (as opposed to veggie chips in a bag!). If it grows from the ground and it’s still intact – go for it. If it somehow ends up in a box with lots of words that need special decoding, step away from it. Just because a person has cut animal products out of their diet does not mean they are healthy. There are plenty of unhealthy ‘vegans’ roaming the health food stores indulging in processed foods, breads, fried foods and sweets beyond a healthy limit.
The transition from a more processed vegan lifestyle to a plant-based, whole-food diet can happen. Here are some ideas to get you on your way!
Perfect Plant Foods
- Go Green! In the plant kingdom, the green guys rule! Kale, broccoli, darker lettuces, spinach, chard, collard greens, mustard greens, arugula, and green beans are vegetable royalty. Eat as much of these as you can, every day, and even several times a day.
- Virtuous Veggies: Snack on the other colours in the rainbow – orange, red and yellow veggies like carrots, red bell peppers, squash, tomatoes, pumpkin and sweet potatoes, along with all kinds of mushrooms, onions, garlic, and cauliflower pump up the vitamins in you and add some kick to your meals. Enjoy them as a crunchy snack, or pile them high on salads, stir-fries and soups.
- Plant Proteins: Animal protein is not the only protein out there! Protein is actually quite easy to get on a vegan diet. How do the Gorillas, Rhinos and Hippoes get their protein?? PLANTS!! Kale has a huge amount of protein. Hemp Seeds are a PERFECT protein. Think beans – black beans, kidney beans, garbanzo beans, white beans, pinto beans, lentils, and Non-GMO soy beans like edamame, tempeh and tofu can all pack a powerful protein punch in a vegan diet. Nuts like almonds and walnuts not only provide protein but healthy omega 3s. Add seeds like flaxseeds, pumpkin seeds, chia seeds to salads or oatmeal or simply snack on them. There are so many choices!
- Flavorful Fruits: Got a sweet tooth? Reach for berries like strawberries, blueberries and raspberries and get your antioxidant fix, too! There are so many amazing healthy benefits to fruits, so dig in. Make fruit salads, choose a fruit to pair with every meal, grab one “to go” when you need a snack. Apples, oranges, grapes, mangoes, kiwi fruit, bananas, peaches, apricots, papayas, pears are the best portable, natural, and only 100 calorie snack bag around.
- Fine for You Fats: Fats are good. Really! Just go for the ones found in coconuts, nuts of all kinds, avocados, ground flaxseeds, olive and canola oil. I also take a vegan EPA-DHA supplement daily that is extracted from algae- not fish for an extra boost— to nourish the brain, my joints, and optimal heart health, among other good benefits.
- Great Grains = Whole Grains: So many people today who are trying to be healthy are afraid of grains. Grains do not simply mean processed bread. I avoid Gluten and feel much better for it. Avoid WHITE flours, and in fact most flour can be minimized altogether. If you’re going to eat bread, try flourless sprouted gluten-free grain breads. Other good choices for gluten-free grains include: quinoa (actually a seed, not a grain), brown rice, amaranth, millet, and gluten-free steel-cut oats. This really gets your FIBRE going and keeps your body ‘cleaned out’.
- Others: I do drink a glass of red wine every day. For me, I enjoy a wonderful glass of red wine and it gives me a boost of flavonoids (which are antioxidants). One of the most studied antioxidants is resveratrol and this is the one found in the red grape skins and seeds. I also love teas, especially in the morning. And lots of water (6-8 glasses a day). I also can’t forget to say that I do Green JUICES and SMOOTHIES every day. I get concentrated greens in me that way and it instantly gets into my bloodstream for my body to use all the vitamins and mineral
- Special notes for full vegans: Vegan diets need vitamin B12 supplementation. You can get this through a vegan supplement or through fortified foods like almond milk or fortified nutritional yeast. Iron (Beets), calcium (found in green veggies) and vitamin D (best from Sunlight) are other things to look out for, but it’s not hard to figure out.
“Not So Perfect Foods”
I don’t want to the bearer of bad news, but it’s true, I’m a firm believer that you ARE what you eat. Moderation, at the very least, is key for anyone trying to make the transition to a healthier body and mind. Try to keep these foods to a minimum or just not at all:
- Animal products (for health and ethical reasons) – meat, poultry, eggs, dairy
- We don’t need ‘fried foods’ – ever.
- ALL things WHITE: White flour, white rice, white potatoes.
- Trans fats of any kind (be careful with food packaging – just because it says “No Trans Fats”, does not mean it does not contain any! Look for the words “partially hydrogenated oils” in the ingredients. If those words are there, you have yourself some trans fats!)
- ALL White Refined Sugars, high-fructose corn syrup, and artificial sweeteners
- Chemicals and ingredients that aren’t food – my rule: if you can’t pronounce it, you NEED to skip it all together! Just throw it out.
A Healthy Vegan Menu
There are so many ways to put this all together into a healthy eating plan, and I’ll share what my daily menu looks like:
- Breakfast: My breakfast is a green smoothie or a green juice and/or a bowl of quinoa, fruit, and organic maple syrup and almond milk. I make my own almond milk, and on days when I can’t seem to find the time to make it, I will buy it.
- Lunch & dinner: Easy meals include cubed tempeh or black beans, cooked with garlic/onions, olive oil, diced carrots, diced tomatoes, mushrooms, and any kind of greens I can get, all stir-fried together with salt, pepper and sometimes chili powder or other spices. Other good choices: three bean chili or a big salad with greens, nuts, fruits, seeds and a balsamic vinaigrette. A great formula to follow: beans (including lentils, tempeh, tofu) + whole gluten-free grain (e.g. brown rice or millet or quinoa or sprouted grains bread) + veggies (greens and others) + a good fat like olive or coconut oil or nuts and topped with an avocado = a great, healthy vegan meal.
- Other: I snack on nuts and fruits, or veggies with hummus. As mentioned, I also drink unsweetened tea, red wine and water and tons of green juices and a variety of smoothies.
This is how my diet looks on a typical day. I’ve found over the last few years, I have been making fewer exceptions to my plant-based, whole-food lifestyle. My palette has changed and I actually CRAVE Kale. I get huge cravings for anything green. My skin and eyes are clearer and I feel younger. Since turning vegetarian 7 years ago then a ‘whole-food’ vegan a year later, I’ve been unbelievably healthy and feel stronger and better than ever. My husband, daughter and her boyfriend and I have all benefited from our vegan lifestyle – we don’t get sick!
Putting It All Together
If your diet includes more of the “Not So Perfect Foods,” try to slowly wean them out one by one. Try one week without a certain food product, the next week without another, and just keep going and eliminating those less than perfect foods. After a few weeks, you’ll realize you don’t even miss those foods. You’ll be surprised at how quickly your taste buds can change for the better.
Here are some resources to learn more about a healthful vegan diet. Learn more about its powerful benefits:
Whole: Rethinking the Science of Nutrition by T. Colin Campbel
The China Study, by T. Colin Campbell
Engine 2 Diet, by Rip Esselstyn
Hungry for Change (a great website too!)
Get the processed junk out!