Happy Monday, lovelies! Welcome back to our plant-based 101 series. This week we’re focusing on “whole food” and identifying what it is. A lot of vegans don’t focus on whole food, and this is an important distinction to make.
So... what is whole food?
Whole foods are as close to the form they were in the field as possible. Obviously you don’t want to eat raw potatoes, and that’s fine. But processed potato chips have a slew of added ingredients that you wouldn’t even use if you were making crisps at home. A good alternative to potato chips, for example, would be oven fried (or air fried) sliced potatoes.
Buy your food as raw and organic as you can afford
I’m not rich by any stretch of the imagination, so I can’t always reach for the organic kale and beets. I do try to buy organic carrots and in season vegetables if there isn’t a huge price difference. One thing you’ll be very surprised by is how cheap eating whole food is. The more a food is processed, the more time and paid labor that goes into the final product. The cost markup on these processed and canned items is very noticeable.
Plan to spend more time cooking your grains and legumes, and you’ll save a lot of money in the long run.
Eat a lot, and eat a rainbow
My favorite thing to do to use up my leftover produce at the end of the week is to make a veggie soup. Odds and ends can also be used to make vegetable stock to store for later use – don’t let those nutrients go to waste. I use veggie stock to cook all of my rice and legumes.
Challenge yourself to try something new each week, or once a month.
Buy your legumes dry - cook them yourself
The easiest way to save money on a whole food diet is to buy beans, lentils and peas dry in bulk and cook them yourself. It’s not hard, and soaking them doesn’t take more than 2 minutes of active involvement. I can get a pound of beans for about a dollar at Walmart and it lasts me a month or more, depending on what meals I make. If you’re looking for budget items, these will be winners.
If you’re worried about legumes having less nutritional value that fresh veggies, do like I mentioned above and make veggie stock to cook them in. Freeze your vegetable scraps until you have enough to boil off in a pot.
Nuts, seeds, grains
Choose whole grain flours over bleached/white every time
I know for a fact you and I don’t want to grind our own flour, so I settle for whole grain flour. It hasn’t had the germ removed, so it retains most of its nutritional value. One of the biggest mistakes in the food industry, I think, was making the switch from whole grain to bleached white flour. Separating the germ immediately removes fiber.
Nuts and seeds
I love to take whole grain breads up a notch by adding seeds like pumpkin seeds or ground flax. Nuts and seeds are the best way to get omega-3 fatty acids – something that is very important and that we will discuss in a segment on nutrition.
Whole Food Plant-Based cooking isn't scary
Once you free yourself from the difficulty that is cooking meat, everything else becomes simple. Start thinking of starches and whole grain carbs as the center of your meal, and build color around that! Consider each meal a challenge to get as many colors on your plate as you can. Color is a great indication of the nutrients available in the plant kingdom.
If you choose to eat an early breakfast, and eat 3 meals a day, start with whole, fresh fruits in the form of smoothies or over minimally processed oats. I highly recommend you buy organic chia seeds and any other seed you like to go over oatmeal – it’s a great way to boost your fiber and protein intake.
I choose not to eat a typical 7 am breakfast. I break my fast daily at 11 am; if you’re interested in why I choose to do intermittent fasting, check out this post.
Juicing for breakfast
I’ve seen a lot of people recommend juicing lately, and I’m all for that; I’m looking into getting a quality juicer after the holidays and my Fiverr earnings clear. I would just caution you to not let juicing substitute any of your normal fruits and veggies. The only case in which I’d do this is if you use the pulp in your other recipes. Regardless of how well your juicer retains the nutrients in the drink, you’re losing all of the fiber.
Fiber is essential to a healthy whole food diet, and you really don’t want to be throwing away those amazing prebiotics (food that feeds your gut microbiome).
Lunch and Dinner
My approach to cooking is super simple, I think. I don’t have the energy or organizational skills to do batching, I’ll leave that to the rest of you guys. The closest I come to batching is cooking off a pound of beans at a time in veggie stock.
I make 2 servings of a meal at once at lunch time, I then have that meal for both lunch and dinner that day. Later in the day, I cook meals for my husband at dinner time (he hasn’t switched yet). He then has leftovers for lunch the next day. Neither of us eat “breakfast”, so I don’t have to worry about that.
How I build meals
- Pick a whole grain or dense starch
- Add a serving of legumes or high protein vegetable
- Compliment with more than one colorful vegetable – at least one green – and add oily seeds whenever I can (omega-3s)
To create this filling wfpb dinner, I started with brown rice and built around that. Since I’m usually on the lookout for protein, I decided to make a chili with kidney beans and lentils. To get some color into my chili, I added bell peppers and red onions.
To compliment everything, I built a small salad of spicy greens (the more flavor, the more robust the nutritional profile) that was topped with kombucha dressing and sesame seeds.
Our bodies were designed to eat, deplete, and repeat; don’t feel like you have to snack all day. If you’re eating large portions of fruits, veggies, and whole grain, high density carbs at meal times, you shouldn’t need to snack.
If you feel like you really need snacks, choose raw fruits and veggies when possible as these will take longer to digest and help you feel fuller and more satisfied.
You’ve probably heard this a dozen times, but our bodies often confuse hunger with thirst. I always try to drink a large glass of water if I start to feel hungry between meals.
Furthermore, if you’re a dedicated snacker before you switch to whole food, you will still have habitual hunger. Try to avoid snacking for a week if you’re eating well at meals to see if you can nip the habitual hunger in the bud.
Substitution will be your friend at first
Pinterest is a great source for quick substitutions. This pin to the right outlines some vegan baking substitutes. When I say substitution, I mean flax for egg (baking) or organic soy milk for cow’s milk. If you have a quality juicer, try to make your own plant milks, too.
My recommendation is to stay away from meat substitutes altogether. Beyond burgers are delicious and easily add protein to your diet, but they aren’t minimally processed like we’re trying to achieve. Try instead to make your own bean burgers from scratch, or do an all vegetable ‘burger’ sandwich on a whole wheat roll.
Tofu or nah?
I don’t personally see tofu as a meat substitute, since it bears no resemblance whatsoever to meat, and it’s utterly tasteless (which I take as a challenge to find ways to make it amazing).
People have varying ideas about soy products, and we’ll get into some of the research on that later. I regularly keep extra firm organic tofu in my fridge because I love love love it as a crispy topping for a variety of meals.
I’ve heard so many times that we shouldn’t be consuming refined oils. I can, based on my understanding of the human body, see why that’s a common thought. I’m planning an article dedicated to the science behind why processed oils aren’t recommended a little bit later on, so hold onto that thought.
For the time being I’m going to recommend we limit refined oils as much as possible.
Our bodies are designed to seek out and crave sugar. The brain runs on glucose, so it makes sense for us to find it so difficult to break a sugar addiction. Unfortunately, modern industry and food processing has made it much easier to get refined sugar than it would have been when we were foraging nomads. Refined sugar is a source of empty calories; our bodies are designed to convert carbs to sugar, so there’s no need to believe we have a nutritional need for refined sugar.
Limit refined sugar and substitute (maple syrup, date puree, agave) as often as possible. I’m still quite addicted to sugar, and I know it’s a problem. If you’re having trouble with this, like I am, try intermittent or 24-48 hour fasts. After my most recent 48 hour fast, I actually found that foods tasted sweeter. I think fasting can change our taste reception for sugar, so I’d like to research more into this and get back to you!
Make it simple
If you’re having a hard time coming up with meals, you’re not doing it right.
Use my simple 3-step method, and make mealtime stress-free.
Shop for success
Spend 90% of your time in the produce section! Become friends with the sprout section, and try one new thing every week. If you find yourself looking at processed foods, remind yourself to pick up things that look like they did on the farm. Buy whole wheat flour and try to make bread one week! Browse through the organic nuts and seeds packaged by your grocer’s no name brand.
Above all, have fun at the supermarket. The more fun you have picking out your produce for the week, the more motivated you’ll be to get creative with it!
Until next time,