What can I eat on a plant-based diet?
According to the British Dietetic Association, "A plant-based diet is based on foods derived from plants, including vegetables, wholegrains, legumes, nuts, seeds and fruits, with few or no animal products."1 There are a variety of tasty and nutritious foods you can eat whilst following a plant-based diet, including:
2. Brown rice
Read on to find out more about the health benefits of these foods, and get some tips on how to incorporate these, and other plant-based foods, into your diet.
Tomatoes are not only sweet and delicious, they are also very versatile and can be enjoyed in many dishes such as salads, pastas, stews and curries. You may be unaware, however, that tomatoes are highly nutritious and provide a whole host of health benefits!
Tomatoes provide a source of carbohydrate and some fibre; however, they are best known for their vitamin content. Tomatoes contain beta-carotene, vitamins C and E, some B vitamins and vitamin K. They also provide some minerals, including calcium and magnesium, and 100g contains around 6% of the recommended daily intake of potassium for adults.
Vitamin C helps to protect cells and keep them healthy, and vitamin E provides similar benefits, helping to maintain healthy skin and eyes, and strengthen the body's immune system.
B vitamins provide numerous health benefits including helping to break down and release energy from foods, and keeping the nervous system healthy. Vitamin K is needed for blood clotting, which means it helps wounds to heal properly, and there is also some evidence to suggest vitamin K helps to keep bones healthy.2
Calcium has several important functions including helping build strong bones and teeth, and regulating muscle contractions, including your heartbeat. Magnesium helps to turn the food we eat into energy, and is involved in the regulation of hormones important for bone health.
Because there is evidence to suggest that higher dietary potassium intake is associated with a lower risk of stroke and heart disease, tomatoes may be a beneficial food to include in your plant-based diet to keep your heart healthy.3
In addition to this, tomatoes contain a compound called lycopene, and there is growing research that this compound may have the potential to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease and cancer.4
Lycopene is part of a group of compounds called carotenoids, also including lutein and beta-carotene. These compounds are essential for maintaining eye health, and may protect against eye diseases such as age-related macular degeneration.5
One study by the Nutrition Journal also found that tomato juice may help alleviate some menopausal symptoms! They found that increased intake of this tomato-based product decreased anxiety, and lowered levels of triglycerides.6
As cooking or processing tomatoes causes a loss of water, this increases the lycopene concentration. Therefore, if you're thinking of adding more tomatoes to your diet, you may wish to enjoy them cooked or in a tomato sauce to reap the benefits of lycopene!
Try these healthy meal ideas which incorporate tomatoes:
2. Brown rice
Brown rice is a highly nutritious food. It is a wholegrain, which means it contains all three parts of the grain kernel; the innermost germ, the endosperm that surrounds the germ, and the bran which envelopes both. This means the rice is packed with fibre and nutrients, and has not been stripped of any parts in processing, which occurs during the production of white rice.
Brown rice is relatively low in calories, gluten-free, contains only trace amounts of fat and sodium, and can be added to a variety of dishes such as salads, soups, casseroles and even veggie burgers! When choosing your brown rice, make sure to opt for short grain as this is easy to eat, and even better for the bowel than long grain, as it holds more moisture.
The fibre in brown rice is thought to help lower cholesterol levels, aid the movement of waste through the digestive tract and promote fullness. It is considered to be a low glycaemic index (GI) food, which means that it causes your blood sugar levels to rise and fall slowly after eating it, which can help you feel fuller for longer. This can also help control your appetite and may be useful if you're trying to lose weight.7
In contrast, eating white rice causes a swift rise in blood sugar, which doesn't aid digestion, and is quite likely to increase the risk of problems associated with high blood sugar levels, including diabetes, and damage to parts of the body including the eyes and kidneys.
Wholegrains, in general, are very healthy and provide many benefits to the body. When eaten as part of a healthy, balanced diet, they may help reduce the risk of heart disease, stroke, obesity and type-2 diabetes. Also, some of the phytochemicals and minerals found in wholegrains may be associated with lower risk of certain cancers.
Wholegrains are abundant in nutrients, including:
- B vitamins
If you're looking for a way to add flavour to your favourite brown rice dishes, you may want to try out Herbamare seasoning salt! It is made from sea salt and 12 fresh, organically grown vegetables, and can be a delicious way to season your meals.
Chickpeas are a type of legume, which have a buttery flavour and creamy texture. Both canned and dried chickpeas have a low GI, like wholegrains. In addition to this, they contain a type of starch called amylose, which digests slowly. Both of these things ensure that your blood sugar does not go up too fast, which is beneficial for people with diabetes, or those at risk of diabetes.
They are also high in dietary fibre, containing around 9 to 12 grams per cup. Chickpeas contain a soluble fibre called raffinose which is broken down and digested slowly in the body. This can help to make bowel movements easier and more regular.
Similar to wholegrains, chickpeas may help lower your total cholesterol and LDL ("bad") cholesterol, which can reduce your risk of heart disease. They may also be effective in lowering cancer risk.
When you eat chickpeas, your body makes a short-chain fatty acid called butyrate. Research has found that butyrate plays an important role in maintaining intestinal health, and can also inhibit inflammation in the intestine, both of which may contribute to a reduced risk of colorectal cancer.8 Chickpeas also contain other cancer-fighting compounds, such as lycopene and saponins.
If these health benefits aren't enough, chickpeas also contain iron, calcium, folic acid and phosphorus, all essential for maintaining good health! Chickpeas can be a delicious addition to many dishes, including:
- Houmous - chickpeas are the main ingredient in houmous, a tasty dip which can be enjoyed as a snack with wholegrain crackers or carrot sticks, or on the side of a main meal such as a baked potato or pasta dish.
- Soups, salads and stews
- As a snack – try roasting chickpeas in the oven until they're golden and crunchy, add your favourite seasonings and eat as a healthy snack!
Tofu is a popular meat substitute derived from soya. It is a good source of protein, a valuable plant source of iron and contains all nine essential amino acids, which is why it is a great alternative to meat. It provides similar nutritional value to meat, but is lower in calories, saturated fat, and is not linked with health problems such as bowel cancer (eating a lot of red and processed meat may increase your risk of bowel (colorectal) cancer).9
In addition to the above, tofu also contains:
- Vitamin B1.
Similar to wholegrains and chickpeas, soya protein, from which tofu is derived, is thought to lower levels of LDL cholesterol.10 Tofu also contains isoflavones, a group of chemicals found in plant foods. These soya isoflavones offer a broad range of health benefits, however, they must be consumed in the fermented form for these benefits to occur.
Unfermented tofu and other soya products contain large molecules that the body struggles to break down. Fermentation of soy breaks down these large isoflavone complexes, releasing free molecules that are more readily absorbed by the body. Therefore, if you wish the reap the health benefits of soya products, make sure you are consuming fermented versions.
Isoflavones have a similar structure to the female hormone oestrogen and, therefore, naturally bind to oestrogen receptors in human cells in the body, including breast cells. Because of this action, it is thought that tofu may have the potential to reduce the risk of breast cancer.11
Because of the oestrogen-like chemicals in soya, many women decide to introduce soya-rich foods, like tofu, into their diet when they begin the menopause. During the menopause, the body's natural production of oestrogen significantly reduces, and this can be accompanied by unwanted symptoms. Soya-rich foods may help to relieve symptoms of menopause, such as hot flushes, by raising levels of oestrogen slightly.
If you have recently decided to try a plant-based diet, or if you are looking for inspiration to shake up your usual meals, these dish ideas may help you get going!
What you said!
We recently ran a poll to find out which plant-based food is your favourite. We've crunched the numbers and here are the results.
Results: Which plant-based food is your favourite?
44% of you said that your favourite plant-based food is tomatoes. Great choice! Tomatoes are not only sweet and delicious, they are highly nutritious and provide a whole host of health benefits.