If you’re looking for a wonderful way to kick of 2019, may I suggest Veganuary? I started my journey of not eating any animals or animal products as part of a 30 day vegan challenge myself and it was one of the best choices I have made. Going vegan for even a month is a great way to reduce animal suffering, improve the health of the planet, and improve your personal health.
And if you’re specifically focused on your personal health, I suggest making your 31 days of vegan eating be 31 days of whole food vegan eating – also called whole food, plant-based (WFPB).
It’s easy to be a “junk-food vegan” since there are so many processed foods that are vegan. Things like chips, white bread and pasta, pretzels, vegan cakes, cookies, faux meats and cheeses, soda, energy drinks, etc. This is where I see vegans go back to eating meat because they are just eating junk so they don’t feel well but blame it on the vegan diet. If you really want to make a positive impact on your health eat a whole foods, plant-based diet.
You’re going to feel much better eating whole foods vs vegan junk food. Junk food is still junk, vegan or not. Plus, opting for whole foods is much more cost effective than buying processed foods, especially vegan mock meats and cheeses which can be pricey!
I want to help set you on the right foot to be successful in your whole foods based Veganuary adventure! Here is a list of pantry staples to have on hand to set you up for success on a WFPB lifestyle.
- Fruits and Veggies
This includes fruits and vegetables of all kinds. Apples, grapes, bananas, berries, cherries, oranges, lemons, limes, broccoli, carrots, brussels sprouts, kale, collard greens, spinach, beets, swiss chard, onions, garlic, etc. Also, don’t forget to include starchy carbs that will help fill you up like potatoes (all kinds) and squash. And it’s totally okay to buy frozen of these foods. I generally buy mostly fresh with a few frozen items such as berries, broccoli, and green beans. Health benefits: fruits and veggies have some of the highest mineral, vitamin, and fiber content of all foods. Because of this a diet rich in fruits and veggies can help boost immunity, support healthy blood pressure, reduce cholesterol, promote healthy digestion, prevent disease, promote glowing, clear skin and strong healthy hair.
- Dried or canned beans and lentils
You know I love my beans. They are nutrient powerhouses from their fiber content to their protein to all the vitamins and minerals. These are a must eat for everyone but especially those on an animal-free diet. There are endless possibilities when it comes to beans and lentils. For starters, you can make some delicious burrito bowls, lentil curry, veggie patties, lentil loaf, or hummus! Dried beans and lentils are going to be the cheapest (and produce the least amount of waste) but I always keep a few cans on hand to use when needed. Do what works best for you. Health benefits: rich in protein, lack of cholesterol promotes a healthy cardiovascular system, helps stabilize blood sugar levels, rich in b-vitamins and iron, helps support healthy digestions and helps satisfy our appetite.
- Whole grains
Whole grains are so satisfying to eat. They help fill us up and are versatile. A bowl of brown rice with some stir-fried veggies, tofu or beans with a delicious sauce makes a perfect plant-powered meal. Buy a few grains you know you like, such as oats, brown rice, and maybe quinoa. And then maybe get one or two you haven’t tried such as farro, millet, or teff. It’s fun to switch up the grains in a meal sometimes to keep things interesting. I love starting my day off with a big bowl of oats. They are super filling and the toppings can be sweet or savory to fit my mood. Health benefits: can help reduce cholesterol, the fiber promotes healthy digestion, and the B-vitamins and carbohydrates promote energy production.
- Ground Flaxseed or Chia seed
Ground flaxseed can make an excellent egg substitute in vegan baking. (1 TB ground flaxseed + 3 TB water = 1 egg). I use it often as a binder when I make veggie patties or beanballs. Chia can also be used in a similar way and makes a great pudding. Health benefits: Flax and chia both are rich in omega-3s which is important to get in our diet if you do not consume fish. Flaxseed is also rich in lignans which have been shown to reduce the risk of cancer. Chia seeds deliver lots of nutrients for very little calories. Chia seeds were a valued food for Aztecs and Mayans. They were prized for their ability to provide sustained energy and strength. Just 2 TB of chia seeds provides nearly 20 percent of the RDA for calcium and 30 percent of the RDA for magnesium among other nutrients.
- Nutritional Yeast
Nutritional yeast makes a great flavor enhancer for things like veggies, whole grain dishes, and sauces. It’s often used to get that cheesy flavor in vegan sauces for example vegan mac and cheese. It also makes a yummy topping for butter-free popcorn. Health benefits: Nutritional yeast contains all nine essential amino acids making it a complete protein. It’s generally fortified with B-vitamins including B-12. B-12 plays a huge role in our nervous system so getting enough B-12 on a vegan diet is very important. I recommend a supplement for this since nutritional yeast can have varying amounts of the vitamin in it but it can help to ensure your bases are covered.
This goes for every kitchen, plant-based or not. Keeping a variety of spices on hand will keep your meals interesting and tasty. I especially love spices often found in Indian dishes such as ginger, turmeric, cumin, and cardamom, but anything goes here. Health benefits: Many spices and herbs have been shown to have some great health-promoting properties. Ginger is excellent for settling an upset stomach and can promote good digestion. Turmeric can help reduce systemic inflammation in the body and cinnamon can help control blood sugar levels.
Miso is a fermented soybean paste. I know that may not sound super appetizing but hear me out. Miso lends a salty, umami flavor to dishes without the use of meat. It is whole food based and can better for you than soy sauces that contain an excess of sodium. I use it in sauces a lot and stir-frys. When choosing soy products such as miso, always opt for organic to avoid GMOs. Health benefits: Miso is high in zinc, protein, copper, vitamin K, and manganese. Because it’s fermented it contains enzymes and probiotics which help promote a healthy gut and a healthy immune system.
- Tomato paste:
I love keeping a few jars or cans of tomato paste on hand. Like miso, it can lend a depth of flavor to a soup, sauce, or veggie patty without the use of lots of salt or meat. I also like to make my own no sugar added ketchup using tomato paste by simply mixing apple cider vinegar (or vinegar of choice), tomato paste, and water together until I reach my desired consistency. Sometimes I add a little garlic or onion powder as well. Health benefits: Tomatoes are a good source of lycopene and cooking tomatoes makes that lycopene even more bioavailable to our body. So tomato paste which is quite concentrated is a great source of lycopene. Lycopene acts as an anti-oxidant in our bodies which helps reduce inflammation and prevent cancer.
I hope this list gives you a good place to start. It’s a pretty basic list which is what I love about a WFPB diet. It’s simple and doable for anyone. Stick with whole fruits, veggies, beans, and whole grains and you’re golden.