GOING PLANT-BASED: Great tips to get you started

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Have you ever considered going “plant-based”?

Despite how it may sound, going plant-based doesn’t mean you’re a sad salad muncher or that you’re hopping aboard the bandwagon of boring diets. In fact, seeing a plant-based way of eating as an approach to your food choices rather than a super strict diet is a great way to focus on the many benefits of enjoying fresher, healthier, more nutritious foods as part of your healthy lifestyle.

So, what exactly is plant-based eating? What are the health benefits of eating a plant-based diet? And what are the best foods to include on your menu to make sure you get in all those important nutrients? Discover all you need to know about following a balanced, plant-based diet below.
 


What is plant-based eating?

This simplified way of eating might look different for each person, depending on whether you consider yourself vegetarian, fully vegan, or if you simply eat a diet that is made up mainly of plant-based foods.

Wherever you fall on the plant-based spectrum, the premise of eating a plant-based diet is the same: your diet consists mostly, if not entirely, of plants. In other words, whole, unprocessed, plant-based foods form the central part of your meals. It may or may not include meat, fish or animal products depending on your preference.

In general, a plant-based diet usually includes more plant-based foods, and fewer to no animal-based foods.


Benefits of a plant-based diet

Weight loss and weight management might seem like the main benefit of eating a plant-based diet, but there are a number of personal, environmental and health benefits to following this approach to eating.

A plant-based diet has been linked to benefits like:
  • Reduced environmental impact
  • Less stress over calorie counting
  • Lowered blood pressure
  • Improved heart health
  • Reduced risk for type 2 diabetes and insulin resistance
  • Reduced risk for certain cancers
  • Improved cholesterol levels
  • Reduced risk for heart disease and stroke
  • Improved brain health
What’s more, all of these potential benefits have been linked to longer life overall. Adding some extra years to your lifespan seems like a pretty good return for making some simple lifestyle changes, right?


The best foods for a plant-based diet

Whether you opt for a plant-based, vegetarian or vegan diet, your biggest challenge with plant-based eating will be getting all your key nutrients in, particularly the ones you would have found in meat, fish and animal by-products, like iron, protein and B vitamins.

The key to following a plant-based diet consistently is planning. A plant-based menu must be well-planned if you want to get the best nutrition out of the options you have.

Where possible, your food options should be:
  • Fresh
  • Nutrient-dense
  • As whole, unprocessed and unrefined as possible
  • Fortified (foods with added nutrients that don’t occur naturally. Eg: milk with added vitamin D or fruit juice with added calcium)
  • Enriched (foods where nutrients were lost in processing, and therefore added back in. Eg: ground wheat flour enriched with iron and folic acid)

So, what should you eat that will help you get these important nutrients in? Here are five foods that will boost your nutritional intake for a healthier lifestyle:

1. Legumes:
Legumes are protein and nutrient powerhouses. Beans, lentils, chickpeas, peas and peanuts are amazing foods that keep you feeling full, and topped up with nutrient dense goodness.

Legumes are excellent sources of fibre, slowly digested carbs, iron, folates, calcium, potassium, zinc, antioxidants and more. Soaking, fermenting, and proper cooking can even increase your nutrient absorption from legumes.
They are incredibly versatile and easy to include in dishes like:
  • Lentil soups or lentil curries
  • Mixed bean salads
  • Vegetarian chilli con carne with red kidney beans
  • Homemade hummus as a dip or spread
  • Soups, stews or casseroles featuring assorted beans

Top tip: To increase absorption of iron and zinc from your legumes, don’t eat them together with calcium-rich foods. Calcium has been shown to hinder iron absorption, so rather include calcium-rich foods in a different meal, or take your calcium supplement later in the day. To increase absorption of iron, eat legumes with vitamin C-rich fruits and vegetables, like pairing a salad containing tomatoes and peppers with lentils.

Recommended amounts per day: A half-cup serving of cooked beans contains 115-125 calories and 7 to 9 grams of protein. A large handful of cooked beans over a fresh salad, or half a cup of cooked beans tossed into a soup or stew will give you plenty of protein.


2. Nuts, nut butters and seeds
We recently shared a blog on the role that nuts and seeds can play in a plant-based diet.  Nuts and seeds contain a wide variety of nutrients that can really help boost your nutritional intake when you have little to no meat on your plate.

Did you know that just 28 grams of nuts or seeds contain 5–12 grams of protein? They are excellent sources of nutrients like iron, fibre, magnesium, zinc, selenium, and vitamin E, as well as good levels of antioxidants. Almonds are high in calcium and vitamin E. Pistachios are a good source of fibre. Walnuts are known for their high levels of Omega-3 fatty acids.

Like legumes, nuts and seeds are really versatile, and can form the base of tasty sauces, desserts, and even vegan cheeses!

Top tip: Enjoy unblanched and unroasted nuts and seeds to maximise your nutrient intake. Processing, toasting and roasting can cause them to lose some nutrients. When eating nut butters, opt for homemade when you can, or choose ones free from oil, sugar and salt.

Recommended amounts per day: Nuts and seeds are high in vegetable oils, containing about nine calories per gram. Just a handful of nuts and seeds contains between 160-190 calories and between 3 to 7 grams of protein. A handful over your cereal, oats or salad or a tablespoon of nut butter on a slice of toast is a good guide when it comes to your daily portioning.


3. Hemp, flax and chia seeds
These extra special seeds deserve their own section, as they contain more protein and ALA (alpha-linolenic acid, an essential omega-3 fatty acid) than other regular seeds. 

Hemp, flax and chia seeds are excellent sources of plant-based protein, fiber, healthy fatty acids and a variety of minerals. The high levels of ALA have been known to improve brain function and boost the immune system. Here are some of the major nutrients each of these Superseeds offer:
  • Hemp seeds: high in potassium, magnesium and iron
  • Flaxseeds: high in antioxidants, Omega-3’s, phosphorus and magnesium
  • Chia seeds: high in fibre, Omega-3’s, calcium and magnesium

Not only are they versatile and healthy, but flaxseeds and chia seeds make great substitutes for eggs, especially in baking. When soaked in a liquid, chia seeds form a gel which can be used to thicken overnight oats or add to homemade jams.

Top tip: Eat flaxseed ground up so that you can absorb all their nutrients. Make a seed blend to keep on hand as a sprinkle for cereals, salads, soups, or even cake batter.

Recommended amounts per day: Because seeds are so nutrient and calorie-dense, you don’t need to eat them in large portions to reap their nutritional rewards. 2-3 tablespoons per day is plenty.


4. Whole grains and cereals
Whole grains are rich in a number of minerals and nutrients, including protein, fibre, B vitamins, antioxidants, and also trace minerals such as iron, zinc, copper, and magnesium.

Whole grains also keep you fuller for longer, and release energy slowly throughout the day to help you avoid those energy dips. Not to mention the fantastic benefits they have for your gut health and digestion.

Your best choices for whole grains include:
  • Brown rice
  • Quinoa
  • Bulgur
  • Barley
  • Oats and oatmeal
  • Brown rice pasta
  • Popcorn
  • Whole rye
  • 100% whole wheat flour

Top tip: Make your own muesli using whole rolled oats, nuts and seeds. Avoid highly processed ‘white’ grains, breads and cereals as they hide a lot of additives and lose much of their original nutrients in processing.  

Recommended amounts per day: According to the American Dietetic Association, you should eat at least three servings of whole-grain foods daily. Eg: One slice of bread counts as one serving; 1/2 cup of cooked cereal, rice, or pasta counts as one serving.


5. Fruit and vegetables
Good news: no fruit or veg is off limits in a plant-based diet! So be sure to serve up liberal amounts of a variety of fruit and veg at mealtimes.

The nutritional profile of each fruit and vegetable differs, though they are generally great sources of fibre, vitamin C, folates and potassium. They’re also low in calories and fat, so you’re not as restricted in terms of portions compared to other more calorie-dense foods. Fruit and vegetables are delicious and can be enjoyed in a variety of ways, fresh or cooked.

Top tip: Stash portions of seasonal berries in the freezer and add them to your blitzed morning smoothie. Eat the Rainbow: when roasting vegetables, use as many different colours in your roasting pan for maximum nutrient intake (red peppers, butternut, patty pans, red onion, zucchini, etc.)

Recommended amounts per day: The more the better, however Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend at least 2½ cups of vegetables and two cups of fruit daily, which amounts to about nine servings per day.


Ways to incorporate dried fruit, nuts and seeds into your diet

Including nuts, seeds and dried fruit into your day-to-day diet is easy, healthy and of course, delicious. They can be worked into every meal of the day, snacks included.

Here are a few ideas to get you started:
  • Sprinkled over porridge or oats
  • Mixed into homemade granola or muesli
  • Thrown into homemade trail mix
  • Chopped and sprinkled over summer salads
  • Enjoyed as a yoghurt topping
  • Ground into a powder for smoothies
  • Tossed into your favourite stir fry
  • Blended into nut and seed butters


Vegan-friendly snacks to support a plant-based diet

Following a plant-based, vegetarian or vegan diet is so much easier when you have access to the right foods. Here are just some of the fantastic snack products we offer that will make following a plant-based diet healthy, convenient and fuss-free!
  • Dried fruit, nuts and seeds: available in raw, blanched, roasted and flavoured varieties
  • Gelatine-free snacks: our Fruity Bears, Fruit Cubes, Fruit Flakes and other innovative products are 100% vegan-friendly and make great snacks for plant-based eaters
  • Chocolate-coated snacks: our brand new range of chocolate-coated almonds, peanuts and raisins is 100% vegan-friendly and made using sugar free dark chocolate from ethically sourced cacao beans

Shop all your favourites at your local Montagu branded store or online, for convenient delivery straight to your door.

*Always consult your doctor before making significant dietary changes, especially if you have any chronic conditions or health issues.
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