The Best Ingredients to Include in A Vegan Lifestyle
These ingredients not only offer a bounty of nutrition, but they also increase flavor and give you a truly decadent meal when used correctly.
When you remove animal-based proteins from your diet, it is important to replace them with healthy versions of plant-based proteins. There are many sources of these proteins that are also full of important vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and phytonutrients. One of the most important forms of vegan protein is legumes. These are rich in not only protein but also iron and fiber. A few legumes that are powerhouses in not only protein, but also other nutrients include soy, also known as edamame, lentils, and chickpeas. These are high in fiber, folate, iron, zinc, manganese, antioxidants, and more.
Let’s look at a few forms of legumes and their protein content per cup of cooked beans:
Chickpeas = 39 grams
Pinto beans = 41 grams
Edamame = 17 grams
Lentils = 18 grams
Tofu = 20 grams
Soy milk = 8 grams
However, it is important to note that beans also contain a decent number of antinutrients. These are components found in many plants in nature, as their purpose is to ward off wild animals from consuming the plant. Thankfully, these antinutrients are not harmful. But they do result in the body not fully absorbing all the minerals you consume at the time of eating your beans.
For instance, when consuming the antinutrients from beans, it is estimated that the human body absorbs fifty percent less iron than it would from plant-based sources. It can similarly reduce your zinc absorption by thirty-five percent. Again, this is not harmful. Yet, it does mean you have to ensure you consume enough of these nutrients to make up for the antinutrients.
You can boost the absorption of these minerals by eating fermented and sprouted legumes, as this process reduces the antinutrients within the beans.
Mineral absorption will also be reduced when you eat iron and zinc paired with high levels of calcium, so try to avoid high-calcium foods when eating mineral-rich foods. On the other hand, if you consume foods high in vitamin C, you will better absorb iron.
When consuming meat substitutes, it is best to consume those that are minimally processed. This includes options such as tofu, tempeh, and seitan. While you can find many vegan faux meat options made with these substitutes at the grocery store, it is beneficial to learn how to make your own as you can boost the health benefits and cut down on the cost.
Tofu is made similarly to cheese, as after producing soy milk, it then turns into curds that are pressed. You can get tofu at a variety of textures from silken to extra-firm. Often, silken is used to replicate creamy textures such as mousse and puddings, whereas extra-firm is used to replicate meat in savory dishes. If you use regular firm tofu, you can even make a scrambled egg replacement that is quite delicious!
Tempeh is also made with soybeans, but unlike tofu, it uses the whole soybean, which is then fermented and pressed into a cake. Due to the fermentation process, it has quite a different flavor than tofu, tasting deep and nutty. This makes tempeh ideal for replacing meat in many dishes. People who dislike the texture of tofu tend to prefer tempeh, which has a much firmer and a slightly crunchy bite to it thanks to the whole beans within.
Due to the fermentation process, the number of antinutrients within tempeh is naturally reduced, meaning that you can better absorb the beneficial nutrients within.
Seitan is produced from gluten, which is a protein found within wheat and some other grains. As gluten is a protein, any seitan products are naturally high in protein, containing about twenty-five grams for only three and a half ounces. You can also get healthy amounts of selenium, iron, phosphorus, and calcium.
However, it is important to note that anyone with Celiac disease or gluten sensitivity should avoid all seitan products.
Grains and Pseudocereals
When consuming grains, try to consume whole grains as frequently as possible, as many refined grains will spike your insulin and blood sugar. On the other hand, whole grains contain a large amount of fiber, which allows for slower digestion and greatly reduces blood sugar and insulin reactions. Not only that, but due to slowing down the digestion process, your body is also able to better absorb the nutrients you are consuming. On that note, whole grains contain many more important nutrients than refined grains, which have had most of their nutrients removed.
Pseudocereals are plants and grasses that are like grains but don’t quite fit the classification. This includes foods such as quinoa, buckwheat, and amaranth. These tend to be high not only in nutrients but also in protein.
Like legumes and other plants, grains contain antinutrients. But you can easily reduce the level of antinutrients and increase your absorption of nutrients by first sprouting your grains or pseudocereals.
Nuts and Seeds
Full of vitamins, minerals, heart-healthy fats, and protein nuts and seeds should be consumed by anyone without food allergies to these ingredients. They are easily some of the healthiest foods around, though they should be eaten in moderation due to their high-calorie content.
A single ounce of nuts or seeds contains between five to twelve grams of protein, making it a great way to increase your protein intake, whether as part of a meal or for a quick snack. You can easily grab a small handful during the middle of the afternoon to give yourself an energy boost.
Along with eating them on their own, nuts can be chopped or ground to add texture to dishes or to create crispy coatings to oven and pan-fried foods. Raw nuts can even be soaked in water and then turned into nut milk or cheese substitutes. Chia and flaxseeds can be ground up and mixed with water to create vegan egg substitutes for baking with.
Flaxseeds and chia seeds are especially high in omega-3 fatty acids, which are an essential fat with few plant-based sources. You want to consume as much omega-3 as you can, whether you are getting it through seeds, seaweed, algae, or supplements.
Plant Milk and Yogurt
While you can make your own plant-based milk, there are benefits to buying them pre-made in the store. Firstly, you likely won’t save much if any money by making your own. But, more importantly, is that most of the plant milk sold have been fortified to contain increased levels of calcium, vitamin D, and sometimes even vitamin B12. This means they are an important aspect of your daily diet as a vegan.
There are many different types of plant milk available, so try experimenting with different types and brands to find your favorite. Some options include soy, coconut, almond, rice, oat, and you can even get some that are a combination. For example, Califia Farms sells a toasted coconut almond milk that is divine.
While some brands of dairy-free yogurt are on the expensive side, they are becoming more popular. Nowadays, you can find inexpensive brands sold in the most common grocery stores, making them more accessible than ever. Just like dairy-based yogurts, these dairy-free yogurts have been fermented with cultures, giving them many health benefits.
Fortified nutritional yeast is sold as a yellow powder at most grocery and nutrition stores. This is an ingredient often used to add depth and flavor to dishes, as well as create dairy-free cheese replacements.
A single ounce of nutritional yeast contains fourteen grams of protein and seven grams of fiber, along with a host of B vitamins, magnesium, zinc, manganese, and copper.
While fortified nutritional yeast contains a large amount of B12, it’s important to remember that non-fortified versions do not. Not only that, but B12 is light-sensitive, and if you purchase your nutritional yeast in a clear container, the B12 within could have degraded. Try to store your yeast in a cool and dark place away from sunlight.