Health

What to Eat for a Balanced Plant-Based Diet

What to Eat for a Balanced Plant-Based Diet

What to Eat for a Balanced Plant-Based Diet People who switch to a plant-based diet may need extra help with nutrition. A registered dietitian can help design a healthy meal plan.

A balanced plant-based diet can include meat and eggs if desired, dairy and fish (pescatarian), vegetables, whole grains, beans, legumes, nuts and seeds. Nutrients such as protein, iron, folate, vitamin B12, and omega-3 fatty acids can be found in many plant-based foods.

Vegetables

Plant-based diets are rich in vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. The right balance can help meet nutritional needs without dairy, meat and eggs, while also reducing saturated fats and sugar.

A well-balanced diet consists of a variety of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes and nuts, with or without added protein. These foods contain important nutrients, including fiber, potassium and folic acid.

Try to fill half your plate with vegetables, especially dark greens, vibrant berries and orange carrots. These produce nutrients like vitamin E and K, riboflavin, niacin, folate, calcium, iron and zinc.

Fruits

A plant-based diet can be a healthy choice for most adults. In fact, research links a diet high in plants to lower rates of early death, and a plant-based diet can provide all the nutrients you need.

Getting started is as easy as incorporating more vegetables and whole grains into your meals. Try experimenting with different recipes and meal prep to see what works for you. You can also make a plant-based food shopping list to help you stock up on beans, whole grains and produce to start cooking more healthful meals.

Legumes

A staple in many cuisines around the world, legumes are a high-protein plant food that is a great alternative to meat. They’re also lower in fat and contain fiber, B vitamins, iron, potassium, zinc and phosphorus.

Legumes have a low environmental footprint and can grow in a variety of climates and soil types. Research shows that a legume-based diet can help prevent obesity, lower total and LDL cholesterol, and lower blood pressure.

Whether you prefer black beans, lentils or chickpeas, add them to meals and snacks to boost your protein. If you’re new to legumes, try them in small amounts and gradually increase your intake.

Soy Products

Soybeans and soy products are high in protein, fibre, iron and nutrients. Choose whole and minimally processed soy foods, like edamame (steamed soybeans), soy milk, tempeh and miso. Avoid processed soy protein isolate, which is found in many processed foods, from veggie burgers to protein bars.

Soymilk is a versatile plant-based dairy alternative that contains all nine essential amino acids. Add soy milk to hot or cold drinks and use it in recipes instead of dairy milk. Toss cubed, grilled or fried tempeh in your favourite crockpot stew or chili.

Oils

The type of cooking oil you use can have a big impact on the flavor and health benefits of a meal. Learn how to select oils based on smoke point, nutritional profile, and more.

In addition to providing energy and satiety, healthy fats are necessary for hormone regulation, and they can help reduce cholesterol levels. Oils such as olive, canola, safflower, sunflower and corn provide heart-healthy monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats.

Animal foods like meat, fish and dairy can be included in a plant-based diet, but they should take a back seat to vegetables, fruits, whole grains, nuts and seeds. Also consider choosing nutrient-dense, low-calorie foods and paying attention to hunger and fullness cues.

Nuts

A plant-based diet is an eating plan that excludes or limits animal products like meat, dairy, and honey. It includes vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds.

Nuts are high in heart-healthy unsaturated fats and a good source of protein. They also provide copper, magnesium, manganese, phosphorous, iron, and zinc.

Nuts are a tasty snack and can be used in salads, desserts, or as a topping on fruit. They contain a high amount of potassium, which helps maintain normal blood pressure and support bone health. However, some types of nuts may inhibit the absorption of minerals.

Seeds

Adding seeds to a plant-based diet helps provide healthy fats, protein and fiber. Choose unsalted and raw options like flaxseeds, hemp seeds, chia seeds and pumpkin seeds or nut butters (choose unsweetened).

A plant-based diet should also contain good sources of iron to prevent anemia, especially for women of reproductive age who may need extra help with this nutrient. Foods rich in iron include beans, lentils and Great Northern beans as well as whole grains.

Eating a plant-based diet can be a challenging transition for some, but meal planning, shopping, and preparing foods in advance can help make it easier to stick with. Remember to focus on whole fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds and whole grains and use fortified plant-based milks and condiments.

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