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A Beginner’s Guide to Plant-Based Eating

Are you wanting to go plant based but not knowing where to start? Have you already tried going plant based after hearing all the amazing energy boosting benefits a plant-based diet can give you, only to end up feeling more exhausted than before? Don’t worry, I got you! I’m here to slap you with a beginner’s guide to plant-based eating that will help boost your energy levels and have you feeling ‘JLo at the Super Bowl’ kind of amazing!


First thing’s first, if you’re cutting something out of your diet, you need to make sure that the nutrient rich elements we all need to function optimally are not going with it. I can’t count the number of times someone has asked me ‘Oh, you’re vegan… but how do you get your protein?’ Now while answering the question 654,902 times a year can get annoying, it’s definitely a valid question. We’ve always been taught that meat = protein (and iron). So, how do we cut out the meat without depriving ourselves of protein and iron? Lucky for us, the earth provides us with MANY sources of protein and iron that are not just beneficial for our bodies and mind but also taste amazing.

What’s that, you want a list of plant-based foods that are high in protein? Ask and you shall receive! According to Medical News Today,


10 of the best plant-based proteins are:

1) Tofu, tempeh & edamame (throw a little soy sauce on those bad boys and I swear edamame are the new chips)

2) Lentils

3) Chickpeas

4) Peanuts

5) Almonds (dry when eaten alone but delicious in a salad)

6) Quinoa

7) Chia Seeds

8) Hemp Seeds (pour them in your smoothie before blending and I promise you won’t even taste them but you will get to reap all the health benefits)

9) Potatoes

10) Dark colored leafy greens


 

Now, are you meeting your protein requirements but your energy levels are not quite matching JLo’s SuperBowl performance yet? According to healthline.com, a diet lacking in iron may affect our health in numerous ways causing low energy levels, shortness of breath, headaches, irritability, dizziness or anemia. So, what are some plant-based foods that will fulfill our recommended daily intake of iron and pump our energy levels into high gear faster than that pre-workout you take that has you lifting 8 times your body weight with your pinky finger? Well according to healthline.com, these are


15 plant-based foods that are great sources of iron:


1) Tofu, tempeh, natto and soybeans (yes, some plant-based foods are both high in iron and protein – take that meat eaters)

2) Lentils

3) Beans and peas

4) Nuts and seeds (pumpkin, sesame, hemp, flaxseed, cashews and pine nuts)

5) Leafy greens (spinach, kale, swiss chard, collard greens, beet greens)

6) Tomato paste

7) Potatoes

8) Mushrooms (eat away my fellow mushroom lovers!)

9) Olives

10) Oats

11) Palm hearts (hit up Pinterest for some bomb heart of palm ceviche recipes)

12) Quinoa

13) Coconut milk (next Starbucks run make sure to ask for coconut milk in your latte)

14) Dark chocolate (this one has to have been sent by God himself)

15) Prune juice (okay fine this one is a stretch because who really drinks prune juice? But if you’re into that sort of thing… this one’s for you!)


 

Cool, cool, cool you’ve upped your protein and iron intake and are starting to feel much better, but eating quinoa and tofu day in and day out isn’t the most motivating diet to stick to. If you have grown up a meat eater your whole life, your meals have likely centered around meat products. Chicken with a side of asparagus, steak with a side of mashed potatoes, fish with a side of rice. It’s easy to feel like all you’ve been left with is a bunch of sides that do not a meal make. My biggest piece of advice for newly converted vegans would be to break those old thought patterns immediately. When you keep thinking of meat as the main event in every meal, you can get stuck in the pattern of replacing the meat-based products you used to consume, with processed vegan versions of those meat products. Don’t get me wrong, Gardein chicken tenders are legit mind blowing but just as meat-based chicken tenders are not a healthy choice, nor are “plant-based” chicken tenders (I’ll get to those air quotes in just a second). Take this time to start getting creative with your meals rather than replacing what you’ve always known and consumed with another, equally unhealthy, version of that food. Spices are EVERYTHING as a vegan, so spice up your life and kitchen with new flavors that boring meat-based meals never contained. Pinterest is obviously the mother ship for recipes right at our fingertips. But you can also find great plant-based recipes on apps such as Deliciously Ella, or… get this… in cook books (so old fashioned I know but Thug Kitchen: Cook like you Give a F*** and Oh She Glows are two of my favorites).

Moving onto my air quoted “plant-based” rant. Recently, the title ‘plant based diet’ has been thrown around more than curse words in an episode of The Real Housewives. Just as ‘gluten free’ made its way onto almost every label in grocery stores across the world within the last couple of years, plant based is now the new buzzword to get people picking up their products and thinking they’re consuming plant powered goodness. But, it’s important to know that a label can be marked plant based and also be highly processed. Now whether you’re a vegan, carnivore, flexitarian, vegetarian, pescatarian or whatever other ‘tarian’ that exists out there, we all want to avoid processed foods in our diets. According to the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, a high intake of processed foods can lead to an increased risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes and obesity. So how do we know if this miracle plant-based product we’re picking up in the grocery store is more likely to lead to a heart attack or super energy powers?


The best way to know if plant based means healthy is to read the label.


I know right, the audacity I have to recommend cook books and reading labels. How boring! But reading the labels we’ll help us understand exactly what we’re putting into our bodies without blindly trusting the buzz words on the label. Spoiler alert, most food companies are seeking to make money using the cheapest ingredients that will keep their product fresh for the longest amount of time possible over looking out for you and your health. That means, it’s time to look out for #1 and read those labels. As a general rule, if there’s a word you’ve never heard of before, it is likely processed. However, Siri has got your back if you’re unsure if an ingredient is an additive or a fancy word for a vitamin so pull that iphone out (because only weirdos have androids) and look up any words you’re unfamiliar with. I don’t know about you but a lot of my grocery shopping since the pandemic has been done online, making it incredibly easy to copy and paste any question marks I have right into google. A sure way to keep our bodies healthy is to feed them with whole foods that the earth has gifted us with. The best way to get there is to start weeding out the foods that do not serve us… or serve those whole food ingredients.


 

You can officially say that you are no longer a beginner in plant-based eating!


So next time you’re at a party (hopefully those will be a thing again soon) and a friend asks you how you get your protein, be prepared to watch their jaws drop when you can list off a bunch of plant-based foods that are high in protein. Don’t forget to tell them to try your homemade plant-based black bean mushroom enchiladas that will leave them running to the table while wiping away their drool.

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