The Basics of Plant-Based Nutrition:
Protein: The average American consumes 70-100 g of protein a day. The Recommended daily allowance (RDA) is 50-60g, and some say even this is too high. Vegans can get plenty of protein in their diet by consuming a variety of beans, seeds, nuts, whole grains, and vegetables. We can get all the nutrients we need from plants without the toxic byproducts that come from animal products.
Fiber and Complex Carbs: Fiber is essential to good health. It binds to toxins in the body and helps eliminate them. It keeps digestion moving. Without it, we are susceptible to the constipation based diseases such as colo-rectal cancer and large bowel cancer. High fiber consumption reduces the risk of these and other cancers, reduces blood cholesterol, and is associated with healthy weight.
Dietary fiber is ONLY found in plants, not in animal based foods. Complex carbs, i.e., whole grains, are high in fiber and other nutrients. These are the good carbs. Refined or processed carbs such as white flour, processed breads and sweets are the “empty calories” which lead to weight gain and exacerbate diseases like Diabetes. Not all carbs are created equally!
Anti-Oxidants: Anti-oxidants prevent oxidation and damage of free radicals at the cellular level. They protect us from cancer, boost immunity, and prevent the destruction of cells. Plants are full of them. All the pigments we see in plants are visual cues to the anti-oxidants they contain. Animals do not have anti-oxidants, so we must eat plants to get them.
All of the nutrients that we can get from animals, we can get from plants without the toxic compounds found in animal based products, or the antibiotics/steroids/hormones found in most animal products.
General Nutritional Recommendations:
Build your daily meals around a modified version of the USDA new food pyramid, or what is now called My Plate. On your Plate, you would have foods from the following food groups: whole grains, plant-based protein sources, fruit and vegetables.
The whole grains group occupies the base of the pyramid, with a recommended intake of six to eleven servings per day. Examples of foods in the whole grains group include:
Whole grain bread
Unprocessed cereals (oats, cream of wheat muesli)
*It's important to note that the grains should be unprocessed and whole.
Legumes, Nuts, Soy, and Other Protein Sources
The next food group in the pyramid includes sources of protein and calcium, with the recommended daily consumption of five to eight servings. These foods include:
Cooked peas, beans, or lentils
Nuts or nut butters
Soy products such as tofu, tempeh, soy milk, soy yogurt
Fortified nut milks
Meat analogs (vegan meat substitute, such as meatless burger patties)
Hummus or tahini
The vegetable group includes fresh, canned, or frozen veggies. You should eat at least four servings of vegetables each day. Some highly nutritious suggestions for vegetable choices are:
Two or more servings of fruit are recommended each day. There are a number of easy ways to get your fruit servings in, including:
Fresh fruits (apples, oranges, berries, etc.)
Canned or frozen fruit
Fruit juice or smoothies (but avoid the smoothies filled with syrups, ice cream and milk, and stick with homemade smoothies made with fresh or frozen fruit, juice, nut milks, baby spinach leaves, ground flax…)
Fats and Oils
Although you do want to avoid saturated fats (such as those coming from animal products), and other added fats in foods, many naturally occurring fats are beneficial to your health. Two servings of these good plant-based fats are recommended daily. Good fats and oils can be found in:
Olive or canola oils
Nuts and nut butters
Green or black olives
Flax seeds and flax seed oil