December 4th, 2018

Recommendations for Healthful Plant-based Eating

Plant-based food options are sprouting up nearly everywhere these days. A 2017 Nielsen Homescan survey found that 39% of Americans are actively trying to incorporate more plant-based foods into their daily diets, while 19.5% of food and beverage dollars spent in 2017 came from plant-based food products. Even almond milk has posted a three-year combined annual growth rate of more than 8%.

Recommendations for Healthful Plant-based Eating

But a sustainable vegan diet requires more than just swapping out animal products for plant-based alternatives. Registered Holistic Nutritionist Melissa Ieraci helps her clients navigate the challenges of shifting to a plant-based diet, and she notes that there are three key things to remember to keep things healthy:

  1. Rely on whole foods; avoid pre-packaged food products, faux meats, and refined grains
  2. Balance your macronutrients
  3. Prevent micronutrient deficiencies

There are lots of protein-rich foods that don’t come from animal sources – that is, foods that may have fat or carbohydrates too, but are most abundant in protein. Soy products are a common go-to for many plant-based eaters, but Ieraci cautions against relying too heavily on soy and soy-based products. “Soy is often genetically modified and mimics estrogen in the body,” she says. “It’s best to avoid soy, or choose fermented soy products, like tempeh, and consume them no more than 1-2 times per week.” Soy alternatives include hemp hearts, beans or lentils, plant-based protein powder, and spirulina.

When it comes to fat, Ieraci says, “Saturated fats are lacking in a plant-based diet and are necessary for optimal health of your cells, hormones, and brain.” She recommends coconut oil and other coconut products. “Raw, unsalted nuts and seed or nut butter, avocado or avocado oil, and olive oil are also good, plant-based sources of healthy saturated fats.”

“Plant-based diets tend to favor carbohydrates and are lower in protein,” says Ieraci. To make sure you’re not overloading on the carbs, she recommends choosing whole food carbohydrates and adding plenty of green vegetables, which are packed with nutrients and low in carbs. She also offers some tips to help increase veggie consumption:

  • Blend onion, garlic, celery, carrots, bell peppers, mushrooms and/or zucchini into tomato sauce, chili, soups, and stews
  • Serve tomato sauce, chili, soups, and stews with zucchini, beet, or spaghetti squash noodles
  • Use butternut squash (with nutritional yeast) as a base for homemade mac and cheese sauce
  • Mash peas into guacamole
  • Add mashed cauliflower into mashed potatoes or blend it and use in place of rice
  • Shred zucchini or carrot into baked goods (like muffins and breads) to keep them moist
  • Add kale, spinach, avocado, and/or cauliflower to smoothies

For many plant-based eaters, supplementation is an important part of getting the required micronutrients. Ieraci recommends supplements for vitamins A, D, B12, and B complex. While many vegetables contain vitamin A, “it isn’t in the active form that the body can use,” she explains. She recommends finding a vitamin D supplement that also has vitamin K, as this assists with absorption. B complex is required for the proper absorption of B12, which should be supplemented in its active form, methylcobalamin. Packed with B12, nutritional yeast is an excellent supplement alternative. In terms of omega-3, Ieraci advises clients to eat plenty of chia, flax, and hemp, which are all high in omega-3 fatty acids.

Switching to a more plant-based diet can be a challenge, but using these tips as a guide gives you the flexibility to find the right plant-based diet for you – without neglecting important macro and micronutrients.

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