People often ask me what I eat on a plant-based diet.
They wonder if I actually feel satisfied and nutritionally-fulfilled on a diet consisting
solely of meatless meals.
They worry that I may not be getting sufficient nutrients.
They are surprised that I don’t crave meat, chicken, eggs or cheese.
Well, following a plant-based diet has never been a problem for me because I eat
a wide variety of healthy and delectable fresh, raw, living and cooked whole foods–
from fruits to salads to juices and smoothies, to soups, stews and vegetable dishes of all kinds.
I usually feel happy and satisfied after most of my meals–especially a hearty, stick to your
ribs, nutritionally–balanced meal like this one which includes whole grain brown rice and
green lentils, collard greens–or other cruciferous and leafy green vegetables–sweet potatoes
and mineral-rich sea vegetables.
Sometimes I will include baked tofu or barbecued tempeh as a special treat.
I love to add other colorful veggies like carrots, daikon, parsnips–and a side of raw, organic
kimchi or sauerkraut to aid digestion.
I might precede my meal with a fresh vegetable juice or garden salad with sprouts .
Or enjoy a warm miso vegetable soup with wakame seaweed or vegan hot and sour soup.
Healthy Plant-Based Diets Are All About Planning
There are many positive reasons to incorporate more meatless meals into your lifestyle.
For example, eating too much meat has been linked to chronic diseases such as heart disease,
diabetes and other potentially life-threatening illnesses.
Not only can eating less meat lead to improved health, it can also lessen your impact on the
environment and leave more money in your wallet at the grocery store.
By including more meatless meals in your weekly diet, you may also consume fewer calories,
which can help you lose those unwanted extra pounds.
With so many perks associated with eating less meat, you may wonder if there are any
The reality is there are a few, but they can be easily minimized with a little planning.
While optimal health can be achieved while following a vegetarian diet, it’s easy to fall short
in some areas.
For example, in an effort to avoid meat or animal products, some vegetarians may consume
too many processed or pre-packaged foods, which often contain a lot of sugar, sodium and
When this occurs, the effect can be very detrimental to their health.
If you’re just beginning to jump on the bandwagon of eating meatless meals for your health,
you may be concerned about getting the proper nutrition you need.
Have no fear, it’s not complicated.
To make sure I am meeting my nutritional needs, I have found that careful menu planning is key.
Without careful planning, you could find yourself not getting enough protein, vitamins or minerals
from whatever diet you follow.
On the plus side, the nutritional benefits of preparing meals that are based on vegetables and fruits
rather than meat, are amazing.
Plus, meatless cooking is an innovative way to treat you and your family to new tastes and textures,
while addressing health, animal and environmental concerns.
Before you can prepare nutritious meatless meals, you need to decide what type of meatless lifestyle
works for you.
There are a variety of meatless diets out there.
For example, vegetarians do not eat meat at all, but may consume dairy products and eggs.
Pescetarians do not eat meat, but will eat fish.
Vegans do not eat meat or consume any animal by-products, including honey, dairy and eggs.
Once you’ve decided the boundaries of your new diet, you can start learning how to prepare
nutritious meatless meals that fit within those boundaries.
For example, if you adopt a vegan lifestyle, you’ll need to learn how to prepare meals that will
provide sufficient protein, calcium, vitamin D, B-12, omega-3’s and iron for your body to function
According to PETA’s Vegan Guide to Good Nutrition:
If you’re a vegan, everyone from your third cousin to your third-grade teacher has likely quizzed
you about where you get your nutrients.
They don’t need to worry: plant-based foods can provide for all of your nutritional needs.
Protein-Packed Plant Foods
Almost every food contains protein, so it’s nearly impossible not to get enough if you’re
consuming an adequate amount of calories.
“Plant protein can meet requirements when a variety of plant foods is consumed and
energy needs are met. Research indicates that an assortment of plant foods eaten over
the course of a day can provide all essential amino acids and ensure adequate nitrogen
retention and use in healthy adults, thus complementary proteins do not need to be
consumed at the same meal.”
For more information on which foods have “complete” proteins, see JackNorrisRd.com‘s
analysis of complete proteins.
Here are the highest sources of complete plant-based proteins from his chart:
|Edamame||3.3 – 1.8 = 1.5|
|Lentils||3.4 – 1.7 = 1.7|
|Pinto beans – refried||3.7 – 2.0 = 1.7|
|Tofu||3.8 – 1.1 = 2.7|
|Quinoa||6.1 – 3.6 = 2.5|
|Soy milk||6.2 – 3.3 = 2.9|
|Almonds||9.6 – 4.7 = 5.2|
|Corn||11.5 – 5.0 = 6.5|
|Spirulina||12.9 – 5.4 = 7.5|
Soybeans are packed with protein and essential amino acids.
Other rich sources include beans as well as chickpeas, lentils; nuts, seeds, walnuts;
quinoa, whole-wheat bread, oatmeal, and corn.
You may be surprised to learn that leafy green vegetables are excellent protein sources.
Calcium is abundant in collard greens, kale, broccoli, beans, sesame tahini, and almonds.
It can also be found in calcium-fortified almond, soy or rice milk, orange juice, and some
brands of tofu.
Omega-3 fatty acids are essential for heart, brain, skin, and joint health.
Flax seeds, walnuts, and canola oil are good vegan sources of the omega-3 ALA.
It’s also a good idea to take vegan DHA capsules, which contain omega-3s derived from algae
(where the fish get it from!).
Spinach is rich in iron, so eat it heartily to build strong muscles.
Other iron-rich foods include beans, black-eyed peas, lentils, chickpeas, oatmeal, dried fruits,
nuts, sunflower seeds, nutritional yeast, molasses, and grains such as quinoa and millet.
*Eat foods high in vitamin C at meals to significantly increase iron absorption –
citrus fruits, strawberries, green leafy vegetables (broccoli, kale, collards, swiss chard,
brussel sprouts), bell peppers (yellow, red, and green), and cauliflower.
*Do not drink coffee, or black, green or herbal tea with meals as they inhibit iron absorption.
Vitamin B12 for Vegans
It may be helpful to take a multivitamin or supplement to get ample amounts of vitamin B12.
B-12 is also found in fortified nutritional yeast, some supermarket cereals, and fortified soy and
rice milks as well as in some vegan meat substitutes.
Sunshine is one of the best sources of Vitamin D.
During warmer months, your skin should manufacture enough of the vitamin if your face and
forearms are exposed without sunscreen to midday sunlight for 15 to 20 minutes per day.
Many brands of nondairy milks contain some calcium and vitamin D, as do some brands of fortified
Some health professionals recommend taking a vitamin D supplement of at least 1,000 IU on the days
that you aren’t getting sufficient sunlight.
Good sources of zinc include legumes, nuts, seeds, oatmeal, bread, tempeh, miso, multivitamin or
For further help planning nutritionally-balanced plant-based meals, check out Daily Recommendations
from VeganLife.org for a comprehensive table of vegan
Putting It All Together
Once you identify plant-based sources for key nutrients you need, start searching for recipes
featuring those ingredients.
While you are at it, research different cooking methods and try new herbs and spices in a few
plant-based recipes that look good to you.
You don’t have to be a gourmet cook to put together appealing flavor combinations.
It may take a little trial and error, but before long you’ll be creating delicious and nutritious
meatless meals for you and your family.
“Preparing nutritious meatless
meals is not difficult.”
The key is to decide what foods you are comfortable consuming, and then becoming educated
about what nutritional value those foods provide.
If you are confused about your nutritional requirements or are unsure where to start, talk
to a medical professional, plant-based dietitian or nutritionist to ensure your transition to
meatless meal planning gets off to a great start.
Find lots of plant-based recipes to prepare and enjoy here.
What are your tips for planning healthy, balanced plant-based meals?
What are some of your favorite vegan meals?
Share your thoughts, suggestions and comments with us.