Plant Power: Steps to Maximize the Nutrients in Plant-Based Meals

Research shows that vegan and vegetarian diets can play a role in improving cholesterol and blood pressure, managing weight, and reducing risk of cardiovascular disease, among other benefits. However, just the act of removing meat isn’t a health guarantee. Choosing to follow a plant-based diet still requires some thought and planning to ensure you are getting adequate nutrients, balancing your calorie intake, and limiting artificial ingredients. Get the most out of your plant-based meals with these six strategies.

  1. Know the power of plant proteins. While most Americans consume plenty of protein, it is an important component of the meal when it comes to keeping you satisfied. When you skip the meat, don’t forget to add some beans, lentils, tofu, tempeh, or other plant-based protein. Bonus: Many of these plant-proteins are also a good source of fiber — a double whammy to keep you full. Active people that follow a completely plant-based diet should pay extra attention to including protein at meals.
  2. Skip analogue meats. The health benefits of vegetarian diets come from both reducing saturated fat intake from meat and adding in nutrient-rich plant foods. Swapping beef for a processed alternative doesn’t provide much benefit in the latter half of that equation, and may even introduce excess salt or artificial ingredients that you’d be better off not consuming.
  3. Choose whole foods. Vegan and vegetarian diets aren’t a guaranteed ticket to health if you fill your plate with processed foods. Similar to skipping the fake meats, don’t reach for processed snacks and grains just because they are meat-free. Choose unprocessed, whole foods like fruits, vegetables, beans, nuts, seeds, and whole grains to get the benefit of a nutrient-rich diet.
  4. Stay balanced. It’s easy for plant-based diets to become very carb-heavy. While whole grains and starchy vegetables are a good source of many nutrients, remember to balance your plate with an abundance of non-starchy vegetables, plant sources of fat, and some plant-based protein.Go light on the potatoes and reach for an extra serving of broccolini.
  5. Calories still count. To maintain a healthy weight, balancing your calories is still a key factor. Eating unprocessed plant foods that offer fiber, protein, and a little fat can make it easier to keep calories in check. However, it’s still possible to overeat foods like nuts, seeds, avocado, and even whole grains. Moderate your portions of these foods and fill your plate with an abundance  of non-starchy vegetables.
  6. Learn what nutrients you may be missing. Plant-based diets can be deficient in certain nutrients like vitamin B12, vitamin D, and zinc.