The Five Food Groups of a Plant-based Diet
Well...what can even you eat?
A question I'm sure most vegans and plant based eaters are VERY familiar with. It seems as though, when you take meat, dairy, eggs and fish out of your diet, all that's left is lettuce! When in reality, a plant based diet opens whole new doors when it comes to eating an abundance of different delicious foods for most people!
Just like any other way of eating, on a plant based diet it's important to take a balanced approach towards food and include foods from a variety of different sources and food groups in order to get all of the vitamins, minerals and other nutrients our bodies need to feel and function their best. It's not hard to get everything you need on a plant based diet, but incorporating a range of different foods and enough of them is key!
I've been there, done that when it comes to limiting certain food groups, eating only from one or two of them and not eating enough of any of them. It doesn't work. And it's the main reason I believe a number of people think a vegan diet 'doesn't work' for them.
Physiologically, humans were built for eating plants. We are all the same species and a wealth of studies and other evidence shows that plant based diets are not only nutritionally adequate, but capable of preventing, treating and reversing almost all major chronic diseases and health conditions, see here, here and here for just some of those studies. Plant foods promote optimal energy levels, skin, hair and nail health, healthy weight maintenance without restriction, healthy bones, hormonal balance, the list goes on!
How much of each of these food groups you need to feel and function your best will vary depending on a whole range of factors, including your age, gender, activity level, goals, height and more. But here is a guide of the five plant-based food groups that make up a healthy, wholesome and balanced diet:
No doubt we all know how amazing vegetables are for us! Packed with a whole range of different vitamins, minerals, phytochemical such as antioxidants (these are only found in plants and protect us from disease and cell damage!), fibre and more. Aim to fill your plate with as many different colours as possible, as usually different colours signify different nutrients and health benefits found in these veggies!
The majority of vegetables are low in energy, despite being very nutrient-dense, so they are great to bulk up your meals and keep you full, but it's also important to make sure you aren't just eating veggies and getting enough energy too.
Some of my favourite vegetables include: carrots, broccoli, cauliflower, capsicum, cucumber, purple cabbage, beetroot, kale, bok choy, spinach, tomato, eggplant, sweet potato, pumpkin, corn and potato.
Despite what most people seem to believe, fruit is not just sugar. Sure, fruit does contain sugar but it also contains an abundance of phytochemicals, vitamins, minerals and fibre (just like vegetables!) which allow for a slow and sustained release of glucose into the bloodstream and provide us with energy and plenty of amazing health benefits. In fact, studies show that even eating up to 20 servings of fruit per day was only associated with positives!
Being naturally sweet and packed with flavour, fruit makes the perfect snack and the perfect natural sweetener for breakfasts, baking, desserts, smoothies and more. Fruit always tastes and digests it's best when it's in season and ripe!
My favourites include: banana, mango, berries of all types, peaches, nectarines, passion fruit, persimmons, melons, kiwi fruit, apples, oranges, lime and papaya.
3. Whole grains
Grains are a fantastic source of energy in the form of slow digesting complex carbohydrates, which keep your blood sugar and energy levels stable. Going for the whole grain is always best, as you'll also be getting much more fibre, minerals, vitamins, protein and essential fatty acids than their refined counterparts! Whole grains make a great base to main meals when cooked whole or they can be ground up into flour for baking!
Grains I love include: oats, wheat, spelt, barley, rice, rye, millet, buckwheat and quinoa (the last three are technically seeds or 'pseudo-grains', but they have the same properties as grains so we'll include them in this section!).
If it's one group of foods that are hugely neglected in our society, then it's legumes! Beans, lentils and other legumes are amazing sources of plant protein, fibre, vitamins and minerals, and have shown incredible health benefits in preventing and treating chronic disease, regulating blood sugar levels, promoting healthy gut bacteria and more! They are hearty, versatile, satisfying, delicious and also incredibly cheap. Plant power!
I love making legumes into dips like hummus and refried beans, or cooking up bean chilli, Dahl, curries and lentil bolognese. They are also great to throw into salads or even make into sweet treats like black beans brownies, blondies or cookies! Tempeh, tofu and other soy products are also legumes that are slightly more processed but still incredibly good for you!
My favourites are: chickpeas, black beans, lentils, split peas, green peas, kidney beans, butter beans, tempeh and mung beans.
5. Nuts and Seeds
Nuts and seeds are nutrient and energy power-houses, packed with vitamins, minerals, fibre, protein and essential fatty acids. Omega 3 fatty acids found in many nuts and seeds are anti-inflammatory and especially important for brain and skin health, hair and hormone production. Nuts and seeds also make meals much more interesting and satisfying, they make great snacks and are incredibly versatile for making into different things, such as nut milks and cheeses, raw cheesecakes, nut and seed butters and more!
Some of my favourites include: chia seeds, flax seeds, hemp seeds, walnuts, almonds, cashews, Brazil nuts, pumpkin and sunflower seeds, peanuts and sesame seeds.
I hope you've found this post helpful in knowing what is needed for a balanced and wholesome plant based diet, and feel free to ask any questions you may have! xx