While it seems like going vegan is a silver bullet to health and weight loss, it’s easy to fall into the trap of straying away from a healthy vegan meal! There are many pitfalls that one can fall into which lead to a vegan diet being less healthy than intended. However, if health and wellness are the intended outcomes of your diet, there are a few things that you can do to make you’re on the right path. Here are my tips and recommendations based on my years of following a healthy and vegan lifestyle.
Relevant Article: Reasons to go Vegan
Here are some elements that one should include in a healthy vegan meal:
Regardless of whether you are cooking pasta or a salad, a healthy vegan meal that is satisfying and healthy will incorporate a large vegetable element.
For example, think about cooking cauliflower or broccoli to dip into that curry you’re pairing with rice. What about a butternut squash or carrot sauce for your spaghetti instead of the traditional canned tomato sauce? Or try dipping carrots into hummus instead of using the usual tortilla chips in your dip. Here's an easy pinto bean dip recipe. It’s not hard to add vegetables into your routine when you’re really aware of trying to do so.
Not only is it hard to feel totally full without any protein during the day, but adding protein is key to a healthy and balanced vegan diet. I recommend that you start to experiment with different proteins such as nuts, flax seeds, beans, tofu, chia seeds, etc. to see what works for you. If you’re making a salad, try adding different nuts each day, such as pine nuts, pumpkin seeds, almonds, cashews, or walnuts, and try incorporating what you like most in future dishes. I also love to sprinkle flax seed in everything like a seasoning to make sure I am getting the optimal protein intake. See what works best for you!
One of the best ways to make sure you get the necessary protein amount is by trying vegan meal delivery. It's delicious and you know how much protein you are getting in a meal. Check out the best vegan meal delivery. If you are looking for optimal protein or athletic I recommend Trifecta. Currently, I am into Splendid Spoon with its delicious smoothies and bowls!
Yes, fat is healthy. In particular, it’s been shown in many studies to help us process and absorb nutrients from the vegetables we consume. Fats also protect your organs, give you energy and keep your blood and cholesterol pressure under control. (Harvard Medical School) I like to make sure that I have good olive oil in addition to good salt to add to salads and pasta to elevate the flavor and provide the same level of richness with a fraction of the saturated fat you would get from meat and dairy products. Avocado is also a good hack for adding flavor and healthy fat to any dish!
A super important tip to make your food look appetizing and to keep you motivated during your new diet is to ensure you incorporate color into your diet. I like to always have each of the following colors in each dish.
The base of any veg-forward meal. I always like to keep greens like spinach and kale on hand to ad last-minute salads or soups. If green is not already the base of the dish, you can always add avocado, olives, or even herbs to add an element of green.
Easy to incorporate if you like tomatoes or red peppers, or even red onions which are traditionally used in guacamole. You can also always add an element of red to each dish with a little bit of salsa or marinara sauce. If you want to cheat, you can even add ketchup!
Brown / White
While I recommend using these colors in moderation relative to the others above, they definitely make up elements of a healthy vegan diet. Quinoa, onions, bulgur, daikon, mushrooms, and most beans and nuts fall into this category for example and can help one round out their diet and feel full.
Here are some additional colors I recommend you experiment with:
Orange / Yellow
What’s amazing about these colors is that they are healthy, carry differing nutrients, and are also traditionally associated with some sugar in vegetables and legumes that add flavor. Examples are corn, orange capsicum, pumpkin, butternut squash, carrots, and sweet potatoes. These are instances in which color adds a particular element of taste that makes food more enjoyable to eat.
Deeper elements of red and even purple can come from beets, raisins, and kalamata olives. Purple cabbage is also super nutritious and adds more color to your plate!
Here are pictures of a few delicious salads where colors have been consciously incorporated. See the difference?
(Optional) Herbs and toppings
A good salad or soup will at a restaurant usually has a last touch of nuts or herbs to give it the best flavor. Adding some parsley or cilantro, or even a mix of garlic, and lemon. Olive oil, and herbs (traditionally called gremolata) help elevate the dish and bring it to the next level.
If you have a garden or even some light in your house, herbs like cilantro, rosemary and basil are usually relatively easy to grow, and a small plant can provide you with the herbs you need to use on a day-to-day basis.
If you like spices, some limited amount of chili oil or sriracha might be up your alley. Make sure you limit the amount you use so that you have reasonable sodium content in your food. Good olive oil or flavored salt can also do the trick. With the right number of toppings, you won’t even miss meat or dairy!
What to watch out for:
1. High-processed simple carbs
Don’t believe any of the labels – simple carbs such as crackers and bread are not as healthy for you as whole food or grains. Cutting these out of your diet 100% is not necessary, but try not to include these as primary ingredients in the weekly meals you plan for the best results.
Make sure you don’t always rely on pasta with canned tomato sauce as a backup meal – keep other grain alternatives such as buckwheat soba or mixed rice around, and keep a variety of vegetables to make a broth such as kombu dashi for a soba soup or dried porcini mushrooms with the rice for a nice risotto.
If you really crave bread, I recommend making croutons in a frying pan with olive oil, rosemary, and salt and adding a small amount of these freshly made croutons to soups and salads to add a satisfying crunch.
While some traditional sweets like candies can be vegan, they usually contain processed sugar or high fructose syrup and can be highly unhealthy. Cheap chocolates can also contain heavy metals and carcinogens.
Instead of not keeping any sweets around and just trusting yourself to not want dessert (noble but not very practical!), try keeping fresh fruits like blueberries or raspberries in your fridge. If you have a strong sweet tooth, keeping vegan dark chocolate is also ok! Try melting some over strawberries.
What’s important is moderating your intake and transitioning to foods that are healthier. Don’t fault yourself for eating sweets – instead, try to transition to sweets that are healthier over time for better mental and physical health.
3. Sugary drinks
It’s easy to fall into the trap of focusing on food only and forgetting that your drinks can be high in sugar and harmful chemicals. Over time, sugary drinks can be more harmful than the food you’re eating.
Instead of buying store-bought sodas, I recommend buying a juicer to make fresh vegetable juice every day if possible. I recommend mixing bitter vegetables such as kale and celery with sweeter fruits and vegetables such as apples, beets, and carrots. Additional flavors such as ginger can be added for an extra kick if desired.
It’s totally understandable if you don’t have time or the money to buy your own blender or to make juices every day. If not, you can buy fresh carrot juice or orange juice from grocery stores such as Mariano’s, Fresh Market, Trader Joe’s, or your local corner stores. Make sure to check labels when buying store-bought juices to ensure that there are not too many preservatives or added sugar in your juices. You can also just switch to water and get your sweet kick from #2 above.