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A plant-based diet can include a lot of different foods, but one food that commonly appears on the menu is beans (and legumes). While beans are incredibly healthy foods that contain a wide variety of nutrients such as calcium, magnesium, potassium, protein, iron, B vitamins, fiber, and other nutritional goodies, let’s face it- they’re no easy feat for digestion. If you’re new to a plant-based diet and packing your diet out with beans or even just eating a little, you might have some digestive problems at first. Even if you’re not new to plant-based eating, digestion may still be an issue for you, leaving beans out of the picture.
The good news is, you don’t need beans to eat healthy or even eat a plant-based diet. One common reason that soy is hard for people to digest isn’t because it’s allergenic, but because it’s also a bean. Some legumes like chickpeas, lentils, and green peas, along with chana dal, adzuki, and mung beans are all easier to digest than soy, kidney, pinto, or black beans. But still, you don’t need any of these to eat healthy (though if you tolerate them, do include them anyway).
The best way to eat a healthy diet without beans is to focus on the nutrients they include and just get those nutrients from other foods. Here are some ideas that pack out the nutrition that beans have without the digestive woes to go along with them:
1. Protein: Seeds, Greens, and Grains
If you’re looking to add more protein to your diet, then not to worry. Your best bet is to use a combination of nutrient-dense seeds such as pumpkin, hemp, and chia, which are all rich in protein and amino acids, along with protein-rich greens like spinach, kale, and the superfood spirulina (the richest source on earth). Grains like oats, wild rice, brown rice, amaranth, and quinoa are all rich in amino acids your body can also use to form proteins. Go with one or more of these at each meal.
2. Potassium: Fruits, Vegetables, Greens, Nuts, Seeds, Grains
Potassium is abundant in beans, but it’s also packed into other foods, some containing even more than beans. All fruits, veggies, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and grains all contain dense amounts of this important nutrient. Potassium lowers blood pressure, reduces bloating, and ensures healthy water balance in the body. Celery, fruits, almonds, oats, quinoa, chia, seaweed, spirulina, and wild rice are all some of the highest sources.
3. Iron: Seeds, Greens, and Grains
Once again, this triumphant trio is a great option to source your iron needs from. Beans are commonly known for their energizing nature and one reason is because they contain a large dose of dietary iron, so just opt for iron-rich seeds such as hemp, chia, pumpkin and sunflower seeds, and choose grains such as spinach, kale, collards and chard. Oats, quinoa, amaranth, and teff are all some of the best grain sources of iron you can get in a vegan diet. Pair healthy grains, seeds, and greens together for an iron-rich meal that will energize and nourish you. Cashews, raisins, figs, spirulina, mesquite, and cacao are also great sources of iron as well – don’t leave them out!
4. B Vitamins: Fruits, Vegetables, Greens, Nuts, Seeds, and Grains
Most all B vitamins except Vitamin B12 and Vitamin B17 are all found in beans and legumes, even if just in trace amounts, but other foods also have them, and many even have more than beans do. Avocados, grains of all kind, bananas, oranges, figs, chia, flax, quinoa, teff, oats, sunflower and pumpkin seeds, hemp, brown, black and wild rice, wheat, barley, rye, kamut, spelt, dates, almonds, walnuts, pecans, potatoes, squash, berries, carrots, and asparagus are all fantastic sources of various B vitamins. Spirulina, nutritional yeast, and certain sprouted grain breads or sprouted vegan protein powder also come with natural Vitamin B12 content, while apricot kernels and almonds provide the lesser known Vitamin B17. It’s advisable to take a Vitamin B12 sublingual supplement to ensure you’re getting enough of this critical nutrient, however.
5. Magnesium: Vegetables, Greens, Nuts, Seeds, Grains and Some Fruits
Like B vitamins, magnesium is found in nearly all plant-based foods, though it’s higher in greens than most vegetables and fruits. Magnesium is important for a healthy nervous system, regularity, energy, sleep quality, and overall enzyme production in the body. Squash, carrots, all leafy greens, sweet potatoes, seaweed, avocados, bananas, dates, figs, and raisins are all good options from the produce department, while almonds, chia, walnuts, cashews, hemp, pumpkin and sunflower seeds are all great nuts and seeds to enjoy. Choose any grains you enjoy, because they’re all some of the best foods to source magnesium from and they all contain large amounts. Don’t forget that cacao is the densest source of magnesium out there, so don’t deprive yourself of some raw, chocolately nutrition!
Other Nutrients to Consider
Some beans are also good sources of calcium and boron that keep your bones strong (no milk needed!). Be sure to include greens, broccoli, chia seeds, figs, and almonds in your diet for plenty of calcium. Boron is found in grains, nuts and seeds, raisins and cacao. Of course, all plant foods have fiber, so you’re never to worry about getting enough without the beans! Best of all, most of the foods mentioned here are truly seamless to digest so those tummy pains are less likely to be such a nuisance. Remember that when you switch to a plant-based diet, it may take your body some time to adjust as it cleans out those wastes from animal products and gets used to healthier foods. Fiber is also one of those things that “if you don’t use it, you lose it”, so be sure to include it, but introduce it slowly so your body can adapt.
Beans may be something you can enjoy later, but you certainly don’t have to unless you want to. They’re a great way to pack on muscle and are denser in calories than vegetables and fruits, but as you can see, they’re not the only way to meet your body’s needs on a plant-based diet.
If you don’t eat beans, how do you stay healthy on a plant-based diet?
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