I've got a few friends in my space who are documentary-aholics. Lately, they have been goin' in when it comes to watching ones that have to do with why people should totally nix meat and commit to a life of veganism for the rest of their life. One of my friends, in particular, makes this formal proclamation every time she watches a vegan food doc. Then, about three months later, she has a steak. I'm so used to the pattern that I tend to tease her and say, "Girl, just say that you're the ficklest 'vegan' on the planet and go." But then there are those who are so impassioned to the world of veganism that they impress me by how much time and effort they devote to researching the topic. I'm so impressed that they actually inspired me to pen this piece.
Whether you're someone who is a new vegan convert or you're simply considering going on a plant-based diet in order to detox your system, I first recommend that you check out the really insightful article "15 Ingredients That Are NOT Vegan | Non-Vegan Ingredients To Avoid" (whey, beeswax and oleic acid are just some of the things that aren't vegan). Then, take a moment to go down the list of things you should and absolutely should not be eating while you're on your plant-based diet—or lifestyle. Because, if you're gonna do the whole meat-free thing, you might as well do it right…right?
Potatoes are plants. So, if you're someone who loves homemade sweet potato fries or white potato soup, you can indulge in either or both without too much stress. After all, potatoes are considered to be a "high healthy carb food" which means that they can provide you with the energy that you need to get through a long workday or an extensive workout.
Potatoes, in general, have lots of fiber. Also, thanks to the Vitamin B6 that's in them, they are good for your heart. Sweet potatoes, specifically, contain potassium, calcium and antioxidants. Yams (which are not the same thing as a sweet potato; you can read more about that here), contain copper and manganese, are able to ease menopause-related symptoms (which is why some menopausal women choose to apply wild yam cream) and bodily inflammation as well. So again, if you think that a plant-based diet means you have to kiss your potatoes goodbye, nothing could be further from the truth. Just watch how you prepare them; baked instead of fried is always better.
DON’T: Sugary Foods
Just because you might be foregoing meat, that doesn't mean that you should go crazy on the sugar content. Too much sugar consumption can do everything from throw off your blood sugar levels and put you at risk for diabetes and heart disease, to damage your immune system, promote tooth decay and even accelerate the aging process.
If you just read all of that and thought to yourself, "No problem. I'm not big on desserts, anyway", that's great. Just remember that juices and yogurts contain a good amount of sugar as well.
If you're curious about how much sugar you should have on a daily basis, the average woman is good if it's six teaspoons or less.
A good thing to keep in mind while you're making your morning plant-based smoothie or you're putting some sugar into your hot cup of herbal tea.
DO: Whole Grains
Whole oats. Whole wheat. Buckwheat. Millet. Spelt. Quinoa. These are some foods that are considered to be whole grains. The reason why they are great for a plant-based diet is because they're grass-like plants that are high in fiber, B vitamins, antioxidants, proteins and disease-preventing plant compounds like polyphenols, stanols, and sterols. Some other health benefits of whole grains are they're able to lower your risk of heart disease, stroke and type 2 diabetes. Whole grains are also able to reduce chronic inflammation and assist with healthy digestion. So, if you like having oatmeal for breakfast or snacking on popcorn, enjoy—both of those foods are totally good for you.
DON’T: “Fake Meat”
I grew up Seventh-Day Adventist. There are a lot of vegetarians in that denomination. It didn't mean that a lot of folks battled less with their weight, high cholesterol or high blood pressure, though. That's because a lot of the meat substitutes that they thought were so much better than real meat contained so much sodium, additives and preservatives that it still put their health at risk.
I just read that Wendy's has joined in with the un-meat burger craze. Before you head over there for lunch, you might wanna read articles like "Vegan and Vegetarian Meat Substitutes Could Pose Health Risks, Researchers Warn". The things that I just said about my religious diet experience while growing up? More and more content co-signs on it.
DO: Plant-Based Oils
Some people think that if they decide to go on a plant-based diet, they need to not cook with oil anymore. That's not true. The key is to go with an oil that is plant-based because they contain mono and/or polyunsaturated fats that can help to keep your heart in good condition. And just what qualifies as a plant-based oil? Olive oil. Sesame oil. Avocado oil. Almond oil. Coconut oil. Flaxseed oil. Walnut oil. Pumpkin seed oil. Peanut oil. Cocoa butter—that's just a few of 'em. All of these are oils that you can prepare your meals with. The key is to make sure to buy the kinds that are virgin or extra-virgin cold-pressed. Oil that is in that state is less refined which means you're able to get more nutrients from it which is always beneficial.
DON’T: Vegan Dairy
Some say that dairy is the devil. I mean, if you make the time to do your own research on it, it's hard to find credible enough information to debate them. Dairy contains hormones, microorganisms and pesticides. The main protein in milk known as casein can increase your cancer risk. And, while most of us were raised to believe that dairy is good for our bones and teeth, there's research that indicates that it can actually put our bones at risk too.
So, what about vegan dairy substitutes like vegan eggs and vegan cheese? While they certainly can help you to bypass all of the dairy drama, most of them still fall under the category of "processed foods" which is oftentimes loaded with fat.
Still, if there is no way on this earth that you are totally going to go without a slice of pizza or some mac 'n cheese, opt to make it yourself. Also, make sure to use one of the healthier kinds of vegan cheeses. You can check out a list of some of them here.
DO: Fresh Fruits
One of the best things about going on a plant-based diet is all of the fresh fruit that you can consume. Fruits are full of water and antioxidants and are oftentimes low in calories too. If you're wondering which fruits make "the healthiest list", some of those include—grapefruit, blueberries, mangoes, pomegranates, watermelon, oranges, pineapples, bing cherries and bananas. Oh, and due to all of the Vitamin E that's in them, olives are on the list too (yep, olives are a fruit!). Just make sure to get most out of any fruit you choose by consuming them while they are actually in season.
DON’T: Anything Soy-Based
When I'm not coaching couples or sitting in front of my laptop, sometimes I'm helping someone to birth a baby. As a doula, whenever a woman tells me that she would prefer to not breastfeed (if you're currently pregnant and you're on the fence, check out "101 Reasons to Breastfeed Your Child"), I make sure to say, "Then please make sure to avoid formula that contains soy."
Soy is a phytoestrogen which means that it's a plant-based kind of estrogen. Eating estrogen all of the time isn't good for children (especially male children) because it can cause their bodies to mature faster. High levels of soy can prove to be toxic in adults as well.
So yeah, please don't be out here thinking that, just because you are drinking soy milk or having a soy burger, you're dodging potential health issues up the road. This includes when it comes to soy sauce (to get a list of some healthy soy sauce substitutes, click here).
DO: Fresh Veggies
It would sound real crazy for someone to say that they are going on a plant-based diet, but they had no intention of eating any veggies. Vegetables are low in fat and calories while being high in vitamins and minerals like fiber, folate, potassium and vitamins A and C. As far as the vegetables that will do your body the most good, some of those include—spinach, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, carrots, cauliflower, peas, red cabbage, bell peppers, garlic and collard greens. Veggies have peak seasons too. Refer to that link in the "fresh fruits" section to see which ones you should get right now.
DON’T: Anything “White”
Here's the thing—foods like white pasta and white rice definitely qualify as being a refined grain; this, in turn, makes them a plant-based food. But the reason why "white grains" get an aggressive thumbs down on the plant-based diet tip is because the production of them strips the grains of the nutrients and fiber that your body needs. As a result, they tend to fill you up less, resulting in you eating more—eating more calories and more empty carbs as well. That's why white bread, white flour or even white tortillas aren't a good look. No processed food really is.
If you're someone who likes to snack throughout the day, seeds are a good option. Pumpkin seeds and sunflower seeds are great because they are full of protein and fiber. Or, if you like to cook with seeds, add some hemp, sesame or chia seeds to your meals.
I don't care what kind of diet or lifestyle change that you are on, food would suck if you didn't season it well. As far as plant-based spices go, the ones you should definitely have on your rack include onion powder, garlic powder, Italian seasoning, cayenne pepper, cumin, paprika, turmeric and pure vanilla. All delicious, all healthy and all a big "do" when it comes to plant-based cooking. Enjoy!
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