Acai berries, mangosteen and macqui berries — they’ve all been deemed superfoods because of their high antioxidant status. Even mainstream fruits such as blueberries have joined the superfoods club, thanks to research proving their health benefits.
But you don’t have to focus solely on high profile — and often expensive — fruits to promote optimal health.
“It’s far too easy for people intrigued by the idea of superfoods to choose these often, in lieu of other foods that can be in the same category,” says dietitian Elisa Zied, author of “Nutrition At Your Fingertips.”
In fact, many of the most nutritious, health-protective foods are quietly lurking in the bottom of your refrigerator drawer or in the back of your pantry. These unlikely superfoods can be mixed into your favorite dishes, and every extra sprinkle or handful increases the nutritional power of your diet.
So, stock up on the underappreciated foods listed here and include them in your favorite dishes every day.
Top underappreciated plant foods
Did you know that a can of tomatoes is loaded with vitamin C, fiber, potassium and iron? What makes these ruby gems even more special is their rich load of lycopene, a powerful antioxidant that becomes more bioavailable to your body when it is cooked. Lycopene has a host of benefits, including inactivating free radicals, protecting against cancer and slowing the development of atherosclerosis which leads to heart disease. Stir canned tomatoes into pasta dishes, soups, stews, curries, casseroles, Mexican dishes and side dishes for delicious, nutritious comfort.
You might relegate onions to the list of old-fashioned kitchen standbys, as you can slice and dice them into everything from home fries and soups to omelets and casseroles. But onions can lend your dishes a powerful nutritional punch in addition to their trademark flavor. These pungent bulbs are rich in fiber, minerals and vitamins C and B6. Scientists are interested in onions’ abundant polyphenol and sulfur-containing compounds, such as quercetin and allyl sulfides, that may lower the risk of some cancers and help maintain heart health and immune function, Zied said.
The sunflower gets more attention than its edible progeny, sunflower seeds. Yet, these black-striped, tear drop-shaped shells housing grayish seeds are amazing in their own right. Naturally rich in heart-healthy polyunsaturated oils, sunflower seeds are very high in the powerful antioxidant, vitamin E — a 1/4-cup serving provides over 90 percent of the Daily Value (based on 2,000 calories/day.) These nutty seeds also provide protein, B vitamins and important minerals, such as manganese, magnesium and selenium. And that’s not all; sunflower seeds are one of the best sources of phytosterols, a compound known to lower blood cholesterol levels.
The “stinking rose” — the name derives from Greek and Roman antiquity — offers far more than its characteristic flavor and aroma; garlic may help protect you against heart disease. Studies have linked this member of the onion family with lowering cholesterol levels, as well as providing anti-clotting activity and reductions in blood pressure. “Garlic contains lots of phytochemicals, such as allicin, saponin and coumaric acid,” Zied said. Such compounds are behind garlic’s anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidative effects that contribute to heart health. Consider the supply of manganese, vitamins C and B6, and selenium in garlic, and you can see why it should always have a home in your kitchen.
When you were a kid, you probably heard your mom tell you to “eat your peas.” She was right, as these jade pearls are packed with nutrition. Whatever pea you prefer — garden peas (fresh from the pod,) snow peas (flatter pods,) snap peas (plump pods,) or dried peas (from field peas that are less sweet) — know that they are plump with vitamins A,C, K and B, minerals, fiber and protein. Studies have linked diets rich in green and yellow vegetables, including green peas, with heart disease prevention. Peas also supply a significant quantity of the eye-healthy compounds beta-carotene, lutein and zeaxanthin.
One of the simplest seasonings in your spice rack reaps significant rewards. “Black pepper provides zero calories and adds a lot of punch to meals,” Zied says. But that’s not all. Considered so precious in ancient times it was used as currency, black pepper has been valued for its culinary properties, which include enhancing flavor as well as preserving freshness. And capsaicin, the substance that gives pepper its heat, has anti-cancer effects and works to reduce inflammation, a root of chronic disease.
The sustenance of diverse cultures throughout the centuries, “Beans are superstars, because not only do they contain complex carbohydrates, they’re great sources of protein,” Zied says. Beans also contain important minerals, vitamins and fiber. Eating beans has been linked with lowering blood cholesterol levels, body weight, and rates of heart disease, high blood pressure, some types of cancer and diabetes.
Don’t forget the colorful impact that bell peppers — red, yellow or green — can make on your health. Virtually swimming in the powerful antioxidant vitamins C (291 percent DV per cup) and A (105 percent DV per cup), adding slices of peppers to your favorite dish is an excellent strategy for battling cell-damaging free radicals. Red peppers also contain carotenoids such as beta-carotene, lycopene and beta-cryptoxanthin, which are linked with reduced risk of certain cancers.
For more information on how to eat a healthful, plant-based diet, check out these blogs:
Around the globe, citrus fruits, such as oranges, grapefruit, kumquats, lemons, and limes, are among the most popular fruits because of their tangy flavor and potent nutrient lineup. Originating in Southeast Asia in 4,000 BC, citrus fruits soon conquered the world, as they became cultivated and incorporated into the food culture in many countries. The American Southern tradition of lemonade, along with Scottish marmalades, and North Africa’s preserved lemons are a few examples of the way people have used their prized citrus.
Powerful nutrition. Citrus fruits are most famous for their high vitamin C content—just one large orange provides 163% DV (Percent Daily Value, based on 2,000 calories per day.) Vitamin C is important for many body functions, including maintaining bones, teeth, muscles, skin, ligaments and blood vessels; acting as an antioxidant to fight damaging free radicals that can lead to disease, healing wounds, and promoting a healthy immune function. In fact, 16th century seamen figured out that if they stocked their ships with citrus fruit, they could avoid scurvy—a condition marked by lethargy and spongy gums due to vitamin C deficiency—that occurred during long periods at sea.
But vitamin C isn’t the only nutrient you’ll garner from citrus; the fruits are rich in essential vitamins and minerals, like potassium, folate, calcium, thiamin, niacin, vitamin B6, phosphorus, magnesium, copper, riboflavin, and pantothenic acid, as well as fibers like pectin and lignin, which are linked with heart protection. In addition, more than 170 different phytochemicals have been identified in citrus fruits, including monoterpenes, limonoids, lavonoids, and carotenoids, which have documented antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, immune-boosting, and anti-cancer effects.
Citrus health bonus. Eating citrus has been linked with protection from heart disease, stroke, arthritis, asthma, Alzheimer’s disease, cognitive decline, multiple sclerosis, age-related eye disease, ulcerative colitis, and diabetes, according to a review of the science on citrus fruits and health performed by Australia’s research organization, The Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research. High citrus fruit intake also is linked with a 40 to 50 percent reduction in the risk of several cancers, such as esophageal, larynx, mouth, and stomach. It looks like you just got another reason to start your day out right with citrus.
Image: blood oranges, Sharon Palmer, MSFS, RDN
For ideas on how to use citrus in your plant-powered cooking, check out some of my favorite citrus recipes:
I am crazy about mushrooms, so this completely plant-based (vegan) Mushroom Stroganoff is pure comfort food bliss to me. A creamy sauce filled with aromatic sautéed mushrooms, garlic, onions, and tofu, piled sky high on a mountain of pasta. Hmmm…does it get any better?
As a plant-based eater, mushrooms hold a special place in my heart. In fact, I mention eating these delicious fungi in both of my books, and I have created hundreds of recipes dedicated to mushrooms. These unique foods have special nutrition benefits, as well as culinary attributes. They provide umami flavor—the savory, rich sense so hard to find in the plant world. That’s why I pack them into so many of my favorite dishes.
I picked up a bag of mixed forest mushrooms—oyster, wood ear, cremini, portabella—at the farmers market this week. And I turned a pound of those lovely, earthy mushrooms into this luscious, easy, plant-based mushroom stroganoff. However, you can use virtually any type of mushrooms you like for this recipe. In this photo, I feature small brown cremini mushrooms in the Mushroom Stroganoff. I also really love shitakes in this recipe. The addition of tofu provides a dose of satisfying protein, so that the dish becomes a one-dish meal. With only 8 ingredients (not including pantry staples), you can whip up this entire meal in under 25 minutes. It’s also delicious warmed up for lunch the next day. Serve it with a crisp green salad and you are good to go!
Follow along with this step-by-step guide for making this recipe below.
My stash of mushrooms I picked up at the farmers market for this stroganoff.
Roll cubed tofu in flour to coat.
Sauté breaded tofu until golden brown.
Stir in onions, garlic, remaining flour left from coating, and mushrooms.
Stir in broth, mustard, seasonings, and plant-based milk.
Serve over cooked pasta. Voila!
Yields 6 servings
Mushroom Stroganoff (Vegan)
1 ½ tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 package (15 – 16 ounces) extra firm tofu, pressed and cubed
1 yellow onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 pound fresh mushrooms, sliced coarsely (may use assorted mushrooms, or one variety as desired)
1 ½ cups vegetable broth
2 tablespoons whole grain mustard, prepared
½ teaspoon thyme
½ cup soy milk, plain, unsweetened
Salt and pepper to taste (optional)
3 cups cooked pasta (long shapes are best, i.e., fettuccini, spaghetti, angel hair)
In a large sauté pan, heat olive oil over medium heat.
Place flour in a small dish and roll tofu in flour to coat. Drop into sauté pan and cook for a few minutes, turning to heat until golden.
Stir in onions, garlic, and remaining flour left from coating, and sauté for 3 minutes.
Stir in mushrooms and cook for an additional 2 minutes.
Stir in broth and mustard and cook for 5 minutes.
Stir in thyme and soy milk. Season as desired with salt and pepper. Simmer until thickened (about 2 minutes).
Serve over cooked pasta.
For other plant-based mushroom recipes, try these favorites:
My son Nicholas is a connoisseur of French onion soup, the iconic French culinary masterpiece that features lots of onions cooked in a rich (usually beef) broth topped with melted cheese over bread. He orders it every chance he gets, offering his critique on how each soup measures up. In order to come up with the most authentic plant-based version possible, I scoured old French cookbooks to discover the classic elements of these soups. It’s all in the onions—pounds and pounds of them caramelized in the pot to create the rich flavor we have grown to cherish. My son gave this recipe for Vegan Classic French Onion Soup a thumbs up!
You start with good yellow onions, sauté them in an ovenproof pot or Dutch oven, and roast them in the oven—pot and all—for about 15 minutes. This thoroughly caramelizes the onions—your whole kitchen will smell divine! Then, return the pot to the stove and cook it up with herbs, broth, and white wine. Once again, return the pot to the oven to toast the bread sprinkled with plant-based cheese. I love to serve this whole pot on the dining room table, and let people dig and refill their bowls as often as they like. I add a hearty salad to go with this meal (and a good bottle of wine!). You can also prepare this soup individually in oven-proof bowls—baking the bread on top of each bowl to crusty perfection. This recipe originally appeared in my classic book, The Plant-Powered Diet. But it is one of my dearest creations, so I’m featuring it here on my blog today. I hope it wins a place in your hearts and menus!
Yields 10 servings
Classic French Onion Soup (Vegan)
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
3 pounds yellow onions, thinly sliced
3 garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons flour
½ teaspoon ground black pepper
8 cups water
2 cubes low-sodium vegetable bouillon
2 cups white wine
1 bay leaf
1 teaspoon dried thyme
10 small slices (1 ounce each) whole wheat French bread
¾ cup shredded plant-based Swiss cheese
Heat the olive oil in a large ovenproof pot or Dutch oven. Add the onions and garlic and sauté for 15 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 400 F.
Stir in the flour and black pepper. Put the uncovered pot into the oven and bake for 15 minutes.
While the onion mixture is baking, place the bread on a baking sheet and add to the oven. Bake until crisp (5 minutes), then set aside.
Turn off the oven and transfer the pot to the stovetop. Add the water, bouillon cubes, wine, bay leaf, and thyme and bring to a boil. Cover, reduce the heat, and simmer until the onions are tender, about 35 minutes. Remove the bay leaf.
Heat the oven to 450 F. Arrange the toasted bread slices on top of the soup, either in the pot or distributed among individual oven-safe bowls. Sprinkle each slice of bread with 1 tablespoon of the shredded cheese.
Place the large pot or ovenproof bowls, uncovered, into the oven and bake for 10 minutes, or until the cheese is golden and the soup is bubbly. If serving out of the soup pot, scoop the soup into individual bowls and top each with one slice of cheese-covered bread.
Makes 3 quarts (about 10 servings).
Variation: If you’d like to omit the plant-based cheese, drizzle each slice of bread with ½ teaspoon extra virgin olive oil before baking the soup.
Per serving (about 1 ¼ cups soup plus 1 slice of bread with plant-based cheese): 224 calories, 5 g total fat, 0 g saturated fat, 375 mg sodium, 27 g carbohydrate, 4 g fiber, 9 g protein
Star nutrients: Vitamin C (15% DV), Folate (13% DV), Selenium (14% DV )
This recipe is from Plant-Powered for Life by Sharon Palmer, MSFS, RDN
For other plant-based soup recipes, check out these:
Did you know that the simple act of gathering together around the dinner table can lead to many powerful benefits for your family? From eating a more healthful, nutritious diet to feeling more emotionally balanced and achieving better academic performance, the rewards are plenty. That’s why I’m such a huge fan of gathering your family together more often around the dinner table. However, it can be challenging to take this action, given our busy schedules, which pack in after school sports and activities, homework, shopping, and chores.
That’s why I’m excited to sit down with acclaimed health expert Dr. Julia Nordgren, pediatrician, chef, and author of The New Family Table: Cooking More, Eating Together & Staying (Relatively) Sane, to learn more about her best tips on how to maximize the benefits of family meals. She has some of the very best advice to offer on dining together as a family. Julia is answering your top questions, including why family meals are on the decline, strategies to help families gather together more often, and how you can make time for a sit-down meal. We are so lucky to have her with us to share her words of wisdom.
Dr. Julia Nordgren
How to Maximize the Benefits of Family Meals with Dr. Julia Nordgren
Sharon: What is the impact of eating family meals together?
Julia: There are several facets to the positive impact of eating together.
First, is the quality of the meal. With very rare exception, any meal made at home is going to be more nutritious than take-out or eating out at a restaurant. A simple meal at home will almost always cost less, have a better nutrient profile, and be lower in salt and preservatives – and in my view, more delicious!
Also important is the social connection that comes from sitting and eating together. Gathering around the table is one of the longest-held traditions of human civilization and happens in every country, every culture. Cultures that highly value the social connection of mealtime, like Mediterranean cultures, often have healthier, more vibrant populations.
In our day and age, it is a time to set aside our devices and task lists and check in with the people we care most about. It is a setting where children learn so much about the way their parents communicate with each other, what behaviors are accepted and not, and how to express interest in each other. Children learn so much by watching how their parents and siblings navigate the struggles – and successes – of the day. Eating together forms a critical foundation of family connection.
There are studies that show eating together as a family is protective for kids – they are at less risk for substance abuse, risky behaviors, and depression. Family meals alone won’t protect our children from these issues, but they allow us to tune in – and respond to – the changing emotional states of our growing children.
Sharon: Why is the habit of families dining together at the end of the day on the decline? What is the significance of this to health?
Julia: The factors I see impacting mealtime the most are:
Long Commute Times. If a parent, or parents, aren’t getting home until 6:30 p.m. or later, dinnertime often gets fragmented.
Extracurricular Activities. If baseball practice goes from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m., that often means families eat separately (and siblings eat at the park snack bar!).
Professional Demands. I often see parents having to work until well after dinnertime, or have to interrupt meals to take calls or answer texts. While it might be great to be able to reach anyone, anytime with a text or a call, that also means we have to be deliberate about making everything else wait while we share a meal with our families.
In terms of health, I see a general trend that families who eat more fragmented meals (and specifically, more food eaten outside the home) tend to have more issues with high cholesterol, prediabetes, and unwanted weight gain.
Sharon: What are some of the strategies that parents can employ to help gather their families together more often?
Julia: Set the expectation very early that the family eats together whenever possible. Set the habit for everyone – that NOT eating together is the exception, not the rule!
Create a media-free table where invasions and interruptions aren’t welcome. While this can be hard at first, it teaches everyone to hold that time sacred. Kids really love – and need – having our undivided attention. And we love – and need – theirs!
Have a weekly “family meeting.” This is a chance to discuss the schedule of the week, who is around, what activities are happening, and what time dinner should be each night to get the most people around the table. This is also a great time to meal plan and get kids’ input into what meals they want for the week.
Sharon: How can busy families make time to plan healthful, plant-based meals for their families?
Plan ahead! Use the “Family Meeting” tip to cover the planning topics of the week – meals especially. Time spent thinking ahead pays off huge dividends – it is so much harder to be creative when you are hungry and rushing home from work! It is so much to pull dinner together when the ingredients are there and prepped in advance.
Prep ahead! Even just slicing ahead the vegetables for the night.
Hit the weekly farmer’s market. Ask the vendors how they eat the foods they are selling. I always find they have great tricks on how to get the best flavor out of fresh vegetables and fruits without a lot of fuss!
Make a soup every week. This is a great way to use up the veggies you have in the fridge and make something hearty and inviting for meals and snacks.
Consider a meal-kit delivery service. The popularity of these is on the rise and can save a lot of time and many have options that suit a vegetarian, gluten-free, or vegan.
Classic Tomato Soup is an easy plant-based staple that takes no time at all when made in an Instant Pot.
Sharon: What plant-based foods should be the foundation for meals, and should be in the pantry at all times?
Any kind! Having lots of canned (or fresh) beans on hand means a hearty base for a meal is within reach. This is one of the great benefits of the popularity of pressure cookers (like the Instapot). Fresh beans don’t need hours to cook!
Farro – one of my favorite whole grains. I like to cook a big batch in advance, separate into smaller batches, and freeze.
Boxed or canned tomatoes. These can be the foundation for a quick homemade pasta sauce, a tomato soup, or a veggie chili. They are so versatile.
Frozen fruit – a must to top steel-cut oats in the morning. Raspberries and wild Maine blueberries are my favorite.
Frozen veggies – edamame beans, peas, and corn are always in my freezer.
Sharon: What are some easy, no-recipe meals that families can whip up together in 30 minutes or less?
Farro with sautéed vegetables (like onion, pepper, zucchini)
Tofu lettuce wraps with grated carrot
Whole grain quesadillas with black beans and avocado
Sharon: How can the habit of bringing families together for one healthful meal a day create impact over one’s lifetime?
Julia: I really believe in the emotional connectedness that comes from eating together regularly. We learn so much about each other by paying attention, tuning in, and meeting each other where we are in our day. It creates a safe and open space to talk – or not talk. It can be a time tell jokes or catch up on news. Or dream about the ideal vacation.
About Dr. Julia Nordgren
Julia is a pediatrician, trained chef, and author of The New Family Table: Cooking More, Eating Together & Staying (Relatively) Sane. Her years of treating patients for cholesterol disorders, prediabetes, and childhood obesity are what motivated her to enroll in the Culinary Institute of America’s Accelerated Culinary Arts Certificate Program, where she graduated with honors. Since then, Julie has helped countless families move the needle on becoming more intentional about their eating, while developing sustainable and impactful lifestyle changes. Julia maintains a vibrant pediatric weight management practice at Palo Alto Medical Foundation and leads a hands-on Culinary Medicine class at the Stanford University Teaching Kitchen. Julia received her medical degree from Dartmouth Medical School, completing her pediatrics residency at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center, where she was elected Chief Resident. She lives and practices medicine in Palo Alto, where she tests many of her recipes on her husband and two boys, who luckily have adventurous appetites and honest opinions. You can find Julia on Facebook and Instagram.
Here is one of Julia’s favorite recipes for Cauliflower Tacos.
Yields 4-6 servings
Cauliflower Tacos (Vegan)
Tacos are one of the most beloved foods around, and a staple in our family kitchen. I have yet to meet a child (or adult!) who doesn’t love them. These tacos are full of flavor and have all the veggies, whole grain, and lean protein to make a nutritious meal.
12 (6-inch) whole-grain tortillas
1 tablespoon of olive oil
1 small yellow onion, diced
3 cloves of garlic, minced
2 teaspoons chili powder
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
2 cups riced cauliflower
½ cup of water
1 can black beans, drained and rinsed
1 can diced tomatoes, with juice
½ teaspoon kosher salt
Prepare all the toppings and set on the table in individual bowls.
Wrap the stack of tortillas in foil and put in the oven to warm while preparing the filling.
Heat a sauté pan over medium heat. Add oil. When oil is shimmering, add onion and sauté until translucent, about 5 minutes. Add garlic and sauté a minute more. Add chili powder and smoked paprika. Stir until fragrant, 1 to 2 minutes.
Add cauliflower and water. Cook, stirring occasionally, until water evaporates and cauliflower softens, about 5 minutes. Add beans, tomatoes, salt, and pepper Stir and cook for 15 minutes, until liquid from the tomatoes evaporates and the mixture is heated through. Taste and add more salt and pepper if needed.
Serve the spiced beans and cauliflower mixture in warm tortillas, and allow everyone to dress them at the table.
Check out some of Sharon’s favorite blogs on family cooking:
There’s nothing quite like a well-done skillet meal. It solves all of your problems of getting dinner on the table in minutes. One of the beauties of skillet meals is that they combine all of the major food groups—protein, grains, veggies, healthy fats—into one, easy meal, with very few dishes to clean up in the end. Plus, they can be just so downright flavorful and delicious, when done right. You can make your skillet meal honor a variety of ethnic food profiles, including Thai, Italian, Mediterranean, and Japanese. The sky is the limit! That’s why I asked some of my favorite plant-based food bloggers to share their top plant-based (vegan) skillet meals to create this fabulous roundup of 20 Plant-Based Skillet Meal Recipes. Plus, I included my favorite recipe here too. Give each one a try!
I love a green smoothie, don’t you? This vegan Green Pistachio Smoothie owes its gorgeous green shade to pistachios, kale, and avocados, providing a good kick of protein, healthy fats, slow-digesting carbs, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidant compounds. With only 5 ingredients, you can whip up this smoothie in no time. Plus, it’s free of added sugars—getting some natural sweetness from 100% orange juice and bananas. These ingredients tame the bite of kale, so that even the youngest and pickiest people in your family will love it.
This smoothie is simply packed with nutrition and flavor, making it the ideal option for snacks, light meals, and post workout fuel. Try swapping out the kale for another leafy green, such as spinach, mustard greens, or arugula. You can also use frozen spinach when fresh veggies are not available. And you can switch up the banana with another light-colored fruit, such as pineapple, mangos, or peaches. Make a double batch to serve two. You can also use this smoothie as a base for a smoothie bowl—just pour it in a bowl and top it with your favorite additions, such as muesli, berries, coconut, cocoa nibs, almonds, and hemp seeds.
You can see how I make this smoothie step by step in my Pistachio Hacks video.
Yields 1 serving
Green Pistachio Smoothie (Vegan, Gluten-Free)
1 cup kale
¾ cup orange juice
¼ cup pistachios
Place all ingredients into the container of a blender and process.
Are you considering a vegan lifestyle? Not so long ago, “going vegan” was a difficult path, filled with challenges and, to a certain extent, isolation. Today, being vegan is “cool,” thanks to celebrities like Alicia Silverstone, who wrote a bestselling book on the vegan diet called “The Kind Diet,” and Oprah Winfrey, who took a one-week vegan challenge on her television show earlier this year. An estimated 1.4 percent of Americans count themselves vegans, defined as eating a diet that excludes meat, poultry, fish and seafood, dairy products, and eggs. By many accounts it’s a growing trend.
In support of plants. It doesn’t hurt that health experts are coming forward with scientific evidence promoting the benefits of diets that are based on plants, rather than animals. At the American Dietetic Association Food & Nutrition Conference & Expo, held on November 9, 2010 in Boston, Karmeen Kulkarni, M.S., R.D., Director of Scientific Affairs at Abbott Diabetes Care, presented the latest research on plant-based diets. “Results of an evidence-based review showed that plant-based diets reduced the risk of ischemia, hypertension and type 2 diabetes; lowered LDL and blood pressure, reduced body mass, and reduced overall cancer rate. Risk of chronic disease reduced due to decreased intake of saturated fat and cholesterol, and increased intake of vegetables with more fiber and phytochemicals, nuts and soy proteins,” said Kulkarni. Vegetarian diets even got a plug in the 2010 Dietary Guidelines (U.S. Department of Agriculture), which stated that vegetarian eating patterns, including vegan diets, may contribute to positive health outcomes such as lower levels of obesity, reduced risk of cardiovascular disease and lower total mortality.
Adequate nutrition. If you’ve decided to take on a vegan lifestyle, whether for health or philosophical reasons, it’s important to put a little thought and planning into your new strategy for eating. While it’s getting easier to find vegan products on supermarket shelves, it’s important to ensure that you get a balanced diet that meets all of your nutritional needs. Check out EN’s Nine Vegan Diet Rules to make sure you make the most of your plant-based diet.
Nine Vegan Diet Rules
If you’ve chosen to go vegan, follow our top rules to make sure your diet is complete.
1. Protein perspective. It’s a common misperception that it’s impossible to get adequate protein on a vegan diet. Keep in mind that nearly all foods contain some protein, except for alcohol, sugar and fat. If you eat a balanced diet with many plant foods and grains, you’re already getting good sources of protein. To ensure that you’re meeting your protein needs, shoot for two servings of nuts and seeds like walnuts, peanuts, and sunflower seeds, and three servings of legumes and soy such as beans, lentils, peas and tofu, every day.
2. Vitamin D-fense. It’s a challenge for vegans to get adequate levels of the important nutrient vitamin D. That’s why you should try to get 10 minutes of sunlight a day, consume vitamin-D fortified foods such as soy or rice milk, breakfast cereal, or orange juice; or take a vitamin D supplement.
3. Calcium counts. Even if you forfeit meat and dairy products, your body still needs calcium. Focus on calcium-fortified products like juices and soy milk, and calcium-rich foods like dark green vegetables, almonds, and broccoli; and consider taking a calcium supplement.
4. Vitamin B12 boost. This important vitamin is found in animal products, so you need to either consume vitamin B12-fortified foods or take a supplement to meet your needs.
5. Pump iron. You don’t need animal products to get iron. Make sure you include plant iron sources like spinach, kidney beans, lentils and whole wheat bread in your diet, and add a vitamin C source to increase your absorption of iron.
6. Find zinc. You can easily meet your zinc needs, as long as you include whole grains, legumes, green vegetables, and nuts in your diet.
7. Omega-3 bonus. If you’re skipping out on fish, you may not be reaping the nutritional rewards of omega-3 fatty acids. So, get your omega-3s by eating about two servings a day of foods rich in plant omega-3s, such as walnuts, canola oil, soy products, and hemp.
8. Make your calories count. When you’re eating vegan, you need to make sure your food choices really count so that you meet all of your protein, vitamin and mineral needs. Instead of falling for vegan “junk foods,” available in grocery stores that supply mostly refined grains and sugars, keep your diet primarily whole foods. Seek a variety of natural plant foods such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts and seeds. And don’t forget to change it up; by varying the types of plant foods you eat every day you will ensure a diverse supply of important nutrients.
9. The Vegetarian Food Pyramid. Make planning easier by downloading The Vegetarian Food Pyramid at www.vegetariannutrition.org and posting it on your refrigerator—it will make planning a cinch.
Written by Sharon Palmer, RD, appeared in Environmental Nutrition, June 2011.
If you’re fueling your kid’s diet with plants, you probably have lots of questions on how to appropriately plan your young child’s meals in order to meet all of their nutrient needs for healthy growth and development. And you are not alone! More and more parents are living the plant-based lifestyle at home with their families, so naturally they have a range of questions on how to make the most of this healthy eating style. That’s why I’m answering some of the most common questions I receive on how to plan a healthy, balanced plant-based diet for young children.
1. What Does a Plant-Based Diet Mean? Technically, a plant-based diet means a diet that focuses primarily on plants. To some, this means a small amount of animal foods, including meat, poultry, fish, eggs, and dairy products in the diet, with the majority of the diet based on plants, such as beans, soy foods, whole grains, vegetables, fruits, nuts, and seeds. However, today many people define a plant-based diet as 100% plant-based—essentially, vegan. The choice is yours on how plant-based you would like your family’s diet to be. No matter what, it’s important to focus on eating more plants, and fewer animal foods.
Kid-friendly Berry Oat Tahini Bars are 100% plant-based and include Sprout Organic Mixed Berry Oatmeal Pouches.
2. If My Child Eats a Plant-Based Diet Are There Benefits? Yes! Studies show that kids who eat plant-based diets gain more health-protective nutrients in their diet, such as fiber, certain and minerals, and phytochemicals (plant compounds with antioxidant and anti-inflammatory action). It’s no wonder that plant-based kids tend to have lower risks of obesity and chronic diseases later in life. Plus, studies show that by eating a plant-based diet you can seriously reduce your environmental footprint over your entire lifetime. That’s because it’s more much efficient to grow plants and eat them, rather than to grow plants, feed them to animals, then eat the animals.
3. Are There Any Development Issues for Kids Related to Eating a Plant-Based Diet? While the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics acknowledges that a well-planned, plant-based diet (vegetarian and vegan) can be nutritionally appropriate for people of all ages—including children—the emphasis is on “well-planned”. This essentially means that it’s possible to meet your nutrient needs via a plant-based diet, but it’s important to do the planning to ensure your child has a good supply of all of the nutrients needed to promote healthy development. This includes adequate intakes of essential protein, carbohydrate, fats, vitamins, and minerals in the diet. Sprout Organic Foods can help, as it is the only brand offering plant-based options across all stages of the baby’s journey.
4. How Do You Plan a Well-Balanced, Plant-Based Diet for Children? It’s important to get good supplies of all of the major food groups in your young child’s diet as he or she moves from solely breast or infant formula to solid foods. They need to get the following foods in their diets to meet their needs (the texture and types of foods differ depending on age; check out this helpful guide for more information):
Protein: Plant protein sources include tofu, soymilk, beans, lentils, peanut butter, and almond butter.
Grains: Grains, such as wheat, rice, quinoa, barley, and oats, provide important sources of energy (carbohydrates), fiber, vitamins (B6, E, niacin, pantothenic acid, riboflavin, thiamin, and folate), minerals (calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, zinc, copper, manganese, selenium, and potassium), and even some protein and phytochemicals.
Vegetables: A variety of vegetables, such as carrots, tomatoes, greens, beets, squash, and peas provide healthy carbs, fiber, vitamins (A, B6, C, K, folate, thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, and pantothenic acid), minerals (iron, potassium, manganese, magnesium, phosphorus, calcium, zinc, copper, and selenium), a bevy of phytochemicals, and even some protein.
Fruits: A bounty of fruits , such as berries, peaches, bananas, and pears, offer natural sweetness, plus healthy carbs, fiber, vitamins (A, B6, C, E, K, riboflavin, thiamin, niacin, and pantothenic acid), minerals (calcium, potassium, manganese, and copper), and a cache of phytochemicals.
Healthy Fats: Make sure that healthy fats, like nuts, seeds, olives, avocado, and plant oils, are part of the diet in order to meet needs for essential fatty acids.
Supplements: It’s important to ensure an adequate supply of vitamin B12—available only in animal foods—in the diet through supplements. Other nutrients that may need supplementation include vitamin D and long-chain omega-3 fatty acids. Speak to your health care provider about options.
5. How Do I Get Enough Plant Protein in My Child’s Diet? Believe it or not, you can get enough protein in your child’s diet with plants. Younger palates (6-8 months of age) can include soymilk, well-cooked, pureed tofu, beans, or lentils. Try Sprout’s Stage 2 purees, which are developed for babies 6 months and older, with complex flavor combinations like Butternut Blueberry Apple with Beans and Sweet Potato Apple Spinach, which help give babies greater exposure to a variety of wholesome foods. At 8-12 months, kids can start increasing textures of foods to include mashed tofu and beans, as well as nut butters. Start trying Stage 3 Sprout Organic Pouches at 8 months of age to satisfy the baby’s growing appetite. When children are 1-3, they can start enjoying a variety of legumes (beans, lentils, peas), tofu, tempeh, and grains, including Sprout Organic Toddler Puree Pouches which are excellent options during this period.
Keep your plant-powered child nourished with Sprout Organic baby and toddler pouches, which are based on real, whole, organic plant foods, such as vegetables, fruits, legumes, and grains.