A very brief whole foods, plant-based primer

So what is this whole foods plant-based diet I’m speaking of, anyway?

First of all, it isn’t a diet, as in weight loss diet. It is a permanent way of eating that promotes health, addresses environmental concerns and is cruelty free.

It is a diet that consists of mostly unprocessed vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes, seeds and nuts. You can eat these foods raw or cooked, prepared however you like. Many fruits and vegetables are available frozen at a reasonable price. Frozen produce is an excellent choice, especially for out of season foods, as it is transported in the frozen state and does not suffer the loss of nutrients that can happen with so-called fresh produce that has a long time between harvest and the store shelf. Certain processed foods are permissible, generally those with very few ingredients and no added sugars or oils. Tofu, tempeh, plant milks, vinegars, nut and seed butters, nutritional yeast and low sodium vegetable broth are all examples.

A photo by Monstruo Estudio. unsplash.com/photos/lQy6mHZ7fYk

Photo Credit: Unsplash

Unless you’ve already done some research into vegan nutrition, you may be wondering how to ensure you get enough protein. The answer is simple: if you get enough calories, you will get enough protein. All plant foods, with the exception of pure oils (fat) and pure sugar (carbohydrate) contain a combination of fat, protein and carbohydrate. By eliminating those foods which are either pure fat or sugar, or worse – a processed concoction of refined fat and sugar, you ensure your protein requirements will be met.

If you have any concerns about the nutrient breakdown of your food, plug a few days worth of meals into CRON-O-Meter and set your mind at ease.

No animal products are consumed, contributing both to your health and theirs.

No oils of any kind (nope, not even olive oil or coconut oil) are used. Oils are 100 percent fat – high in calories and low in nutrients. Finding substitutes for oil in cooking and baking seems like it might be difficult, but fear not, this work has been done and the techniques are easy. For salad dressings I use nuts, avocado or tofu for a creamy consistency.

Search google for “no oil” or fat-free vegan recipes, and you will find lots to choose from. Check out this article at Straight Up Food for information on how to cook without oil.

Refined sugars and white flours are very limited. Sugar, like fat, is also high in calories and low in nutrition. Some “natural” sugars such as agave syrup or maple syrup may be used to sweeten treat foods, but they must be used in moderation as they do not have a high nutrient : calorie ratio either. The taste buds become accustomed to eating less sweet things and you soon start to really appreciate the complex flavours of whole foods.

Salt is used sparingly. Eliminating processed and junk foods from the diet eliminates a large amount of sodium in the diet. Eventually you find that you don’t need as much salt to make food palatable as you did previously.

How does this translate into real life? Practically speaking it means that you will have to become very deliberate about what and how you eat. You will need to plan meals, especially away from home, and prepare most of your food yourself.

One very helpful resource for meal planning is Lighter. It’s a service that allows you to select meals from recommendations by various vegan and whole food, plant-based gurus and even create shopping lists.

Meals at home need not pose more difficulty than any other way of eating. Once you have cleared the house of processed and animal foods, and stocked your pantry, fridge and freezer with whole plant foods, you will find that coming up with a simple meal is, well, simple. Pick up a few different wfpb recipe books to get a sense of the broad range of meals that you can easily make.

Unless I have a specific recipe I want to make, dinner is usually a grain cooked in the rice cooker or potatoes prepared in one of many ways, some beans or tempeh cooked simply and a bunch of steamed, stir fried, or roasted vegetables. I’ll often make a nut or tahini based sauce to drizzle over the whole plate to add some flavour and creaminess. The dinner formula allows for a large variety depending on what vegetables are available and what sort of grain or legume I’ve chosen. Lunch is leftovers and maybe a green smoothie and breakfast is usually overnight oats or oatmeal with berries. I snack on fruit, nuts and popcorn.

Eating out can be more challenging. I find that I do not eat in restaurants nearly as often as before but I have a few strategies. I can’t bear the thought of going to a restaurant and ordering a plain baked potato and steamed vegetables, or a salad without dressing, so I will eat anything as long as it is vegan. I am finding that many restaurant meals feel very greasy and salty to me, even if they are vegan. I suppose that plain potato and steamed veggies might soon become more appealing after all. Most restaurants have their menus posted online so I normally have a good idea of what I might eat before I arrive. Locally, I know all the vegan-friendly restaurants, and when we travel, I do some research online before we leave. Pub style restaurants nearly always have a veggie burger available, but there is a lot of pleasure in finding a vegan restaurant where nothing on the menu is off-limits.

I make sure to carry a bag of nuts and dates in my purse whenever we are travelling. That way I know I can always eat something even if I find myself at Ribfest or Ice Cream Palooza.

If we are invited to dinner by someone who does not normally eat wfpb, I offer to bring a dish I know I can eat and that will be enjoyable by anyone. I make a spinach lasagne that fits the bill perfectly.

You will have to decide for yourself how you will cope with situations outside of home and your normal routine. I don’t stress about occasional restaurant meals cooked with oil, or a piece of birthday cake at an elderly relative’s party. I don’t let myself be derailed by these events, but I also make an effort to minimize them.

Perfection is the enemy of the good, as the saying goes, but it is a worthy goal. Don’t beat yourself up if you slip, but don’t give yourself permission to make the same mistake again. Keep refining your personal set of rules for handling situations in your life. I had allowed myself to eat french fries in restaurants because they’re vegan and my rule for eating out is I can eat anything vegan. The problem with giving yourself permission to eat fries once, is that the next time the discussion with yourself is a bit shorter before arriving at the same conclusion and the time after that it is automatic. I had to have a little chat with myself and we decided that if there is a healthier option, like salad, I will choose that from now on.

featured image photo credit: unsplash


6 thoughts on “A very brief whole foods, plant-based primer

  1. Arun Mukherjee says:

    I always read your blog and love it. The photo with this one has a glass of wine. What do you think of wine consumption. How much is permissible?


  2. Bev says:

    When I started out in this way of eating, I continued to drink a glass of wine on most days with dinner, but I’ve since read enough to convince me that alcohol is best reserved for special occasions due to its association with cancer. I believe it was Dr. Esselstyn who led me to believe that moderate alcohol consumption was ok, and since I was concerned with heart disease at first, I went with that.


  3. Arun Mukherjee says:

    I asked because I have also been drinking a glass of red wine with dinner, but have decided to give it up for health reasons. My family think that moderate drinking is health promoting and I should not give up. That is why I decided to ask you about it.


  4. Bev says:

    My feeling is that the benefits of red wine consumption are the same as those found from eating a healthy plant-based diet, that is, it isn’t the alcohol, but the antioxidants that are health promoting. There is an association between increased rates of breast cancer and even modest amounts of alcohol, but it is dose dependant. So I’m very comfortable having an occasional glass, but I think the daily glass isn’t necessary for my health given the rest of my diet, and may even be harmful.


  5. Arun Mukherjee says:

    Thank you for such a quick reply. I am giving up wine because I think that it is harming my eyesight. After going on the plant based diet, I had not needed an injection in my eye for almost 4 years. but last month I did. So I figured that the only harmful thing in my diet is the daily glass of red wine. Time will tell if my eye was being damaged by my imbibing of alcohol.


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