So it’s super simple to meet, if not exceed your nutritional requirements on a vegan diet. There is no magical powder, pill or shake just real, ALIVE, whole foods. To understand how to achieve and maintain a healthy diet, firstly it is important to understand the role of macronutrients & micronutrients within the body. The three macronutrients we require to thrive are carbohydrates, fats and protein. Yes, we require all of them and each macronutrient is just as important as the other!
Carbohydrates are our bodies primary fuel source, they are broken down into glucose and are responsible for fuelling ALL cellular functions. Obviously, despite the bad wrap that carbohydrates get, they have an essential place in our diet. Don’t get me wrong, there are some carbohydrates that don’t elicit many health benefits other than energy. Examples of these are probably what you are already thinking! Highly processed foods like sugary cereals, cakes, packaged potato chips, sugar-sweetened drinks, refined sugars etc. This is simply speaking because these type of carbohydrates are not in their whole food form and are highly processed, therefore losing many of their nutrients and most importantly their fibre content. The good news is there are plenty of carbohydrates to include that are good fuel sources because they are whole foods, minimally processed and contain fibre. Examples are:
Whole grains: Rice, buckwheat, quinoa, spelt, sorghum, amaranth, teff, whole grain pasta and wholegrain sourdough bread.
Vegetables: No vegetable is a bad vegetable obviously! Include them all, starchy vegetables such as corn, sweet potato and white potato contain a greater carbohydrate content but have a valuable place in our coconut bowls too!
Fruits: Again, all types of fruit are great whole food sources of carbohydrates.
Next, let's talk about fat! Fat can be a very confusing topic especially among the vegan community, so let's break it down. Again, fat is required for numerous functions within the body. It assists with all fat-soluble vitamin absorption (vitamin A, D, K and E) and is required for healthy cell structure within our bodies such as hair and skin integrity. Fat provides energy, assists in hormonal balance and signalling, blood clotting and brain development. It is safe to say fat is super important, there are a few different types of fat; saturated, polyunsaturated, monounsaturated and trans.
AVOID Saturated and Trans fats. Saturated fat should be used sparingly as it can increase your bad cholesterol and therefore increase cardiovascular disease risk. Saturated fat is predominately found in animals and animal bi-products e.g meat and dairy. Good news is on a vegan diet we don’t consume these! Trans fats are not something you will come across to much if you are following a whole food plant-based diet. It is found in heavily processed foods such as margarines, chips, cookies, cakes etc. Aim to completely avoid this form of fat as there are NO nutritional benefits so keep an eye on your food labels when consuming processed foods.
INCLUDE Monounsaturated fats, these are good fats that elicit good health benefits such as lowering LDL (bad) cholesterol and increasing HDL (good) cholesterol. Healthy sources are; olives, olive oil, avocado, and all kinds of nuts and seeds. Polyunsaturated fats (Omega 3 & 6) are fats that we need to consume through our diet as our body can not make these essential fatty acids. Healthy sources are; tempeh, tofu, edamame beans, flaxseeds, walnuts, sunflower seeds, chia and my personal favourite hemp seeds.
Last but not least (Of course, because we have confirmed that all macronutrients are important) let's talk about protein. Can I start off by saying yes it is completely possible to get enough protein on a plant-based diet. In fact, all the hype around protein is pretty ridiculous, we don’t need copious amounts of protein! While yes it is still very important, if we consume too much it just gets excreted (wasted) and strains our bodies filters (kidneys). Back to its important role, its essential for many physiological activities such as transportation throughout the body, cellular structure and physiological functions, immunity and regulation processes like digestion.
There are twenty types of amino acids, which are the building blocks of protein. Nine of which we are unable to create in the body and therefore we need to consume them within our diet, these are called essential amino acids. Good news is, it's perfectly achievable to get these nine amino acids in healthy plant foods!
Healthy sources are; tempeh, tofu and edamame beans. Legumes and lentils like, black beans, broad beans, kidney beans, lentils, peas, butter beans and chickpeas. Nuts such as almonds, peanuts, pecans, brazil nuts, walnuts, cashews and macadamias. Seeds such as sesame, pumpkin seeds, buckwheat and hemp seeds. Also, Most grains contain protein and one particularly good source is quinoa. Last but not least, green leafy vegetables all contain great amounts of protein as well!
To wrap up part one of this blog, by including a variety of whole foods you are bound to be consuming all three macronutrients. Stay tuned for part two of this blog post where I will discuss, fibre, food groups, micronutrients and how to dish out your meals to be hitting all your micro and macronutrient targets!
Jacinta Sultana is an Accredited Practicing Dietitian that specialises in Vegan Nutrition. She contributed a comprehensive plant-based nutrition guide to our hardcover cookbook Vegan Bowls for Vegan Souls and developed a 5-day Vegan Meal Guide for our coco community. Follow her inspiring and educational Instagram page @jacinta_sultana.