Packed with fiber, protein, healthy fats and phytonutrients, plant-based diets can offer you a wealth of benefits, including protection from cancer, heart disease, diabetes and high blood pressure. But you may be hesitant to make the switch to this type of eating plan if you believe plant-based diets are deficient in certain nutrients. According to the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, you can have a vegetarian diet that is well balanced, with all the macronutrients, vitamins and minerals you need for a healthy body.
Getting ample protein is a concern on a plant-based diet. Unless you’ve decided to eschew animal foods completely and become a vegan, you can have protein-rich Greek yogurt for breakfast on a plant-based diet. Top it with crushed nuts and sliced fruit to boost the nutrient profile, and add a tablespoon of flaxseed for heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids. If you’re avoiding dairy, fortified cereals with soy or almond milk are also good breakfast options that provide plenty of protein. You can also try whole-grain toast topped with nut or seed butter, or scrambled tofu with chopped veggies. As with animal products, soy foods like tofu and tempeh are complete proteins.
Load up on leafy greens at lunch, topped with a form of vegetarian protein -- beans, tofu or nuts and seeds. Greens are good sources of calcium, a nutrient you may fear getting enough of if you don’t eat dairy products. Spinach is particularly high in plant-based iron, and if you have it with a source of vitamin C, like tomatoes, you boost your body’s absorption of this mineral. You can also try a hearty lentil soup served with crusty whole-grain bread, or a quinoa or brown rice salad made with almonds, bell pepper, scallions and olive oil. Hummus with cut carrots and celery and wedges of whole-wheat pita bread is another good choice.
Dinner With Plants
Swap out your meat burger for a grilled portobello mushroom for a plant-based version of this popular meal. Top it with lettuce and tomato and serve with roasted sweet potatoes on the side. Brown rice and black beans make a complete protein meal, as does three-bean chili served with cornbread. Or try a standard stir-fry -- saute your favorite veggies, like broccoli, bok choy, carrots and onions with some cashews or peanuts. Get creative with the possibilities, and you can enjoy a unique stir-fry several nights a week, using a rainbow of veggies that provide different phytonutrients.
Dealing With Deficiency
You need vitamin B-12 for healthy nerve and blood cell function, and if you don’t eat eggs or dairy on your plant-based diet, you may not be getting enough to cover your needs. You can remedy that by eating fortified cereals and soy milk, or with a daily helping of nutritional yeast. Try a tablespoon or two on your popcorn for a cheese-flavored snack. Your doctor may recommend a B-12 supplement is you are still not getting enough.
- Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine: Vegetarian Foods: Powerful for Health
- Savvy Vegetarian: Vegetarian Protein: Myths and Facts
- Vegetarian Resource Group: Calcium in the Vegan Diet
- University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign: Dietary Sources of Iron
- Office of Dietary Supplements: Vitamin B-12