The trend towards plant-based eating is showing no signs of waning. Over the past five years, the volume of searches for vegan recipes on Google has roughly doubled in Australia. But are these processed meat alternatives really necessary when going vegan?
Manufactured "fake meats" can often be low in nutrients and high in sodium, sugar, additives and saturated fats. If you're eating mainly processed foods, then you're getting lots of empty calories, calories that come with few or no nutrients. The result? Overeating and weight gain as your body remains hungry, demanding the nutrients it desperately needs.
On the other hand, a healthy diet filled with unprocessed, plant-based wholefoods is rich in fibre, vitamins and minerals and has been linked to health benefits such as reduced risk of heart disease, cancer, obesity and diabetes. By consuming a variety of vegetables, fruits, legumes and grains and supplementing with B12, you can experience more energy, better sleep and brighter skin – as well as getting all the nutrients and vitamins your body needs to thrive.
The simplest rule is to aim for five cups of vegetables a day – three cups 'above the ground' such as green leafy vegetables and two cups 'below the ground' such as root vegetables. It's important to eat a healthy fat source with every meal, such as avocado, nut butter, olive oil or tahini dressing to ensure you are absorbing the vitamins A, D, E and K in your meal – fat-soluble vitamins which, as the name highlights, need fat for absorption.
Finish your meal with a protein source – ideally combining legumes and grains to ensure you obtain all the essential amino acids – that is, adding lentils and rice, beans and seeds or tempeh with quinoa. The following food groups are naturally vegan:
Vegetables should make up the majority of our diets as they are rich in antioxidants, vitamins and minerals, high in fibre and are also the least energy dense. By eating more plants you can naturally consume less calories, which is beneficial to those who are looking to maintain a healthy weight. Vegetables can also be a great source of pre- and probiotics. Adding garlic, leeks and onions to winter stews enhances its prebiotic effects, whilst fermenting vegetables such as cabbage and carrot will provide gut-healthy probiotics.
Legumes are an important source of fibre, protein, carbohydrates and B vitamins for plant-based diets. They can also be a good source of iron, copper, magnesium, manganese, zinc, and phosphorous. For proper digestion, legumes tend to need rinsing and soaking overnight to deactivate anti-nutrients such as phytates and tannins, which reduce nutrient availability.
Nuts & Seeds
Nuts and seeds are a great source of protein, healthy fats, vitamins and minerals such as magnesium and zinc. It's important to include these in most plant-based meals so your body can digest fat-soluble vitamins in your food, which help nourish your cells and skin, balance your hormones and reduce inflammation. Flaxseed, chia seeds and walnuts are an especially good choice for plant-based diets as they are rich in essential omega 3 fatty acids, which are anti-inflammatory fats your body can't produce and therefore you need to obtain them from dietary sources.
Whole pieces of fruit are high in fibre and rich in a variety of antioxidants, vitamins and minerals, but stay clear of processed fruit juices or calorie-laden fruit smoothies as they tend to deliver a huge hit of sugar without the fibre.
Jackfruit is particularly useful as a natural low-fat, fibre-rich vegan food without the heavy processing of other meat alternatives. While you can eat it fresh, ready-to-cook jackfruit flesh is usually sold in packets or cans. Amazonia Tender Jack has a very subtle taste when plain, making it perfect to add as a plant-based alternative into your favourite savoury dishes and cooking with a variety of herbs, spices and sauces.