The Best (And Worst) Foods for Your Vegan Meal-Prep
The vegan, plant-based diet is definitely one of the fastest growing lifestyles out there today, but how do you make the most of it? Oreos are vegan, french fries are vegan, and even Taco Bell has a vegan menu. So, how do you stay healthy?
Going out to restaurants as a non-meat and dairy eater is a lot easier these days: there are great meat alternatives, salads aren’t so boring anymore and people understand how to cook tofu and soy, for example, to perfection.
But this culture of vegan swapping or alternative items has left a lot of people thinking that the plant-based diet is just meat-free, and that anything “vegan” is automatically healthier for you.
Sorry to say, that’s just not true. While meatless alternatives are definitely healthier for our eco-system, processed, refined, sugar-filled, or fried products are just as bad when you’re vegan as they are for everyone else.
Our guide goes into detail about what to focus on and what to limit… from tofu to tempeh, and beans to brussels sprouts. Hint: It’s all about balance.
Focus on Plant-based
Wait, isn’t plant-based just a fancy term for vegan? Not really, although they overlap a lot. A vegan diet is an elimination diet, which means you abstain from all animal derived products, where plant-based (much like Whole 30, focuses on natural ingredients).
When you’re on a plant-based diet, you’re eating mainly natural, plant-based foods—aka all the fruit, veggies, and other wholesome goodies you want!—with very minimal to no animal products.
What to ENJOY
Whole Grains– Don’t give up on the grains. Yes, processed refined carbs like bleached white bread can have negative side effects in large quantities, whole grains are the foundation of our diet for a reason. Humans have been living and thriving on them for years. From barley, to oat, to millet, wheat, and quinoa, these whole unrefined grans still have their germ and bran which contains tons of B vitamins, as well as other essential fiber and nutrients.
Beans— Okay, okay—beans are technically a legume. But since there are so many of them, they’re worthy of their own section among our best plant-based foods. They contain an impressive amount of fiber, protein, and vitamins and minerals, including zinc, iron, and magnesium. They’re also great at keeping your heart and digestive system healthy and are loaded with antioxidants that can help fight off disease. In fact, a 2001 study published in JAMA Internal Medicine found eating beans four or more times per week was associated with a 22 percent lower risk of cardiovascular disease.
- Black beans
- Fava beans
- Kidney beans
- Navy beans
- Pinto beans
Fruit— specifically berries are full of antioxidants which are great for mental health, blood health, and skin health. And luckily, the effects are immediate. Other fruits like bananas and apples are full of natural sugar which is great for keeping you full and full of energy.
Nuts— When eaten in moderation, most nuts are a good source of heart-healthy monounsaturated fats as well as protein. But walnuts get the edge when it comes to lessening the symptoms of depression because they also are one of the richest plant-based sources of omega-3 fatty acids. “The omega-3s in walnuts support overall brain health,” says Robin H-C.
Leafy Greens and Cruciferous Veggies— No surprise here. Spinach is one of those superfoods that you just can’t ignore. Like most leafy greens, it’s packed with vitamins and minerals, but spinach is especially high in magnesium and antioxidants called flavonoids which support our brain, skin, and digestive health.
Seeds— Like nuts, seeds are a simple way to add healthy fats, protein, and plenty of fiber to your diet. According to Duke Health, they can help fight off heart disease, keep your weight down, and prevent the accumulation of LDL cholesterol. And even though they’re tiny, they’re mighty: They contain high levels of omega-3 fatty acids, vitamins, and minerals that can help better your health and well-being.
Natural Oils and Fats– It’s not just plants you can eat on a plant-based diet—it’s also plant-based oils and fats. “Plant-based fats tend to boast healthier mono- and/or polyunsaturated fats, which are heart-healthy. These healthy fats also tend to be lower in saturated fats,” Gorin says. “Avocado, for example, boasts heart-healthy fats and also offers potassium, a mineral that can counteract sodium to help control your blood pressure levels.”
- Olive oil
- Sesame oil
- Flaxseed oil
- Walnut oil
What to LIMIT
These foods may be plant-based or vegan, but their nutritional profiles are seriously lacking. This doesn’t mean you can never have these foods that often are the fun part of life. Just that you limit them to special occasions, or a few meals a week. Ideally, you prioritize things that come from nature, and change your lifestyle to one that is full of fruits and veggies. Not just eating vegan hamburgers everyday with little to no nutritional value.
Added Sugar– The amount of added sugar companies sneak into products is astonishing, and it’s not doing your health any good. Infact, researchers found most U.S. adults consume 20 percent or more of their daily calories from added sugar they’re not even aware of. And those in the 25 percent or more range were more likely to die from heart disease. To put your health first, added sugar should be avoided as much as possible. Get it from natural sources like fruit instead.
Refined Carbs– While refined grains like white bleached bread certainly qualify as plant-based foods, experts don’t recommend them on the diet. Because they’re stripped of the bran and germ in production which means they’ll not only leave you hungry, but they’ll also spike your blood sugar. Whole grains, on the other hand, have all of their nutrients and fiber intact, giving you a healthy, hearty, and satisfying carb to enjoy with your meals.
Vegan Junk Food— Oreos have been a vegan snack staple for 20 years, since it was discovered that they had no animal derived ingredients. But just because they’re vegan doesn’t mean they’re a health food. Oreos are still oreos, and while they may satisfy your munchies from time to time, make sure you’re not making a habit out of unhealthy habits. Try snacking on fruit or veggies or nuts whenever possible, and save the oreos for those special moments. Again, it’s not about eliminating them forever, but making sure you’re not undoing all your other good work in front of the TV at night.
Vegan Fast Food— Same as oreos above, vegan fast food is a wonderful thing to have on late-nights or those special meals out with friends, or when you’re on a long drive and just can’t find anything else. The world of plant-based fast food has come so far and it’s only right to indulge now and then. However, the point of eating vegan is to be healthier for yourself and for the planet, and supporting fast-food isn’t good for your body or the planet, whether it’s vegan or not.
Vegan Frozen Dinners— Great in a pinch, not great to base your diet off of. There have been some huge strides forward in the vegan frozen dinner market. Although they’re not the worst, they’re just as healthy as non-vegan frozen dinners, and should be enjoyed as often as their meat-eater alternatives. When needed. They may be vegan or vegetarian but their full of processed ingredients, preservatives, and added sodium.
Eating Plant-Based with MacroPlate
At MacroPlate, we work with a team of chefs and nutritionists to craft delicious meals made with all of these facts in mind. We combine the best whole grains, beans, veggies, nuts, seeds, fresh herbs and greens with house-made sauces that are low in added sugar, and low in sodium. We recreate cravable items like burgers and fries, but all with roasted and sauteed farm-fresh ingredients that will satisfy you without all the added oil and preservatives.
Our Plant-Based Macros
Our plan follows the guidelines of a balanced diet, just tailored to a plant-based lifestyle so you never feel deprived. This plan makes sure you’re full on satisfying healthy carbs like brown rice, quinoa, potatoes, and pasta, with plenty of room for fruits, veggies, leafy greens, nuts, seeds, legumes, and healthy oils.
- 60% Carbohydrates
- 20% Protein
- 20% Fats
This plan we thin is the most liveable, with enough carbs to keep your brain and body healthy and happy, enough protein to keep your muscles building, and enough fat to make your meals tasty! Because no one wants to eat sad boring food.
Remember that energy balance (calories in vs. calories out) will still be the biggest determinant of results, meaning being over or under on one of your macros is not a big deal. You’re better off staying within your calorie goals regardless of if you’re over or under on one particular nutrient.
At the end of the day, the right ratio is the one you can stick with 80% of the time. So think about what foods you love, what foods you crave, what makes you feel light and happy, what makes you feel heavy and sad, and find a way to stick to it!