Veganism has taken off in a big way. Ever since Donald Watson coined the term in 1944, the number of people that identify as vegans has swelled to 75 million worldwide, with 10 million in the US alone. That is a 3000 percent jump in the last 15 years!
Whether for health, the environment, or to protect animals, so many are adopting plant-based diets that the growing trend is impossible to ignore. So what makes up a plant-based diet? Here are some of the healthiest foods that vegans and vegetarians partake in.
A rich source of fiber and vitamins, fruits are an essential part of the diet of most vegans. Credited with lowering blood pressure, boosting immune systems, fighting cancer and diabetes, and improve overall health, fruits are the “everyday food” of vegans and carnivores alike.
Among the healthiest fruits are:
Lemons and Limes - A major source of Vitamin C and other antioxidants, lemons are also a source of folic acid and potassium.
Strawberries, Blackberries, and Blueberries - A source of calcium, magnesium, vitamin C, and potassium, berries also contain anthocyanins that are responsible for heart health.
Oranges - A citrus fruit, a single orange pretty much contains the recommended daily intake of vitamin C, which is essential for the immune system. In addition, oranges contain pectin, a fiber necessary to gut health.
Grapefruit - This citrus fruit has been credited with preventing obesity, cancers, and inflammation. They are a rich source of calcium, fiber, potassium, and vitamins.
Apples - An apple a day keeps the doctor away! Apples also have high levels of quercetin, a compound that is known to have anti-cancer properties.
Pomegranate - Considered one of the “superfoods”, pomegranates have high levels of polyphenols and antioxidants. In addition, they are also a source of vitamin K, the essential vitamin that helps with blood clots and weight loss.
Most legumes are superfoods. These little guys pack a huge punch in the nutrient content. Rich in fiber, carbohydrates, and protein, they are classified into both the vegetable and protein food groups.
Beans are the seeds of the Fabaceae family of plants. There are over 20,000 species of Fabaceae plants yet we only plant a few hundred varieties for our consumption.
Legumes are the powerhouse food that has been credited with:
- Lowering the risk of heart disease by reducing blood pressure and inflammation
- Help with weight control by making you feel fuller for longer
- Having a low Glycemic Index (GI) that can reduce the risk of diabetes
- Delivering antioxidants which in turns reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease, stroke, and cancer
Dietary fibers cannot be digested by our colon. They move down from our small intestines to our large intestines, where they meet with 100 trillion of our healthy gut bacteria called probiotics. The main function of probiotics is to maintain balance in your gut. They also help your immune system and protect the cells in your gut from invading bad bacteria.
Prebiotics are what you feel these good guys. They are high in fiber content and are commonly found in:
- Beans and legumes
- Vegetables like onions and leeks
- Whole grains
In addition to the high fiber content, legumes are also an essential source of protein.
Per caloric content, beans and peas have a higher protein content than meat and poultry. In addition, they are rich in:
- B vitamins
Not only are legumes one of the key sources of protein for vegans and vegetarians, but they are also good for the environment.
Legume plants are unique in their symbiotic relationship with a bacteria in the soil in which they grow called rhizobacteria. Rhizobacteria release nitrogen into the soil while being fed by the legume plant. This enriches the soil and allows for a greater harvest of rotating crops.
Here is a list of the best legumes according to nutritional value:
- Chickpeas or garbanzo beans
- Navy beans
- Pinto beans
- Peanuts (Yes! A peanut is technically not a nut, but a legume)
- Kidney beans
- Black or turtle beans
Nuts are not just rich in fiber and protein, they are also jam-packed with nutrients like iron, magnesium, zinc, selenium, and vitamin E.
They are also prebiotic and feed the good guys protecting your gut. They help with bowel movements and are an excellent source of healthy fat.
Here are the most nutritious nuts:
Hemp, flax, and chia seeds have been known to reduce heart disease, fight inflammation and help with skin conditions.
In addition, they are a rich source of Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids. These acids are necessary for optimal health and are usually found in fish.
Tofu, Tempeh and Meat Substitutes
Proteins contain over 20 different amino acids, but only 9 are essential. Both tofu and tempeh are rich protein sources and are made from soybeans. Soybeans are the only legume that contains all 9 essential amino acids.
Every other legume is lacking in one or two amino acids so eating a variety of legumes are vital to maintaining health.
Plant-Based Milk and Yogurts
A multitude of plant-based alternatives to dairy milk are available these days. Common plant-based milk include:
Most of these kinds of milk are also fortified with calcium and vitamin B12 to supplement the diets of vegans.