Eating healthy really isn’t too difficult when you stick to a whole foods approach, but it’s often getting there for most people that seems to be the hardest part. We live in a fast-paced, on-the-go world that prioritizes convenience over quality many times, which can leave our diets lacking in whole foods nutrition. So to help you get back on track, I’d like to share some simple tips about transitioning to a whole foods vegan diet in a simple to follow format. No matter if you’re new to eating whole foods or you’ve been doing it for a while now, these tips can work for you and may even help you learn to try new foods to prevent getting stuck in a food rut. Oh, and if you’re one of those folks who is constantly on the run for your job, with your kids, or because you just like to stay busy, these tips can help you out too. Now all you have to do is follow them and start eating!
This may sound silly, but stay with me here for a moment. Imagine going to the store and not having any pre-packaged options to choose from like cereals, frozen meals, or boxed dinners. No processed granola bars or foods with a long list of ingredients. If those options weren’t available to you, you’d have no choice but to choose healthier foods out there. Now don’t worry, I’m not suggesting you stay away from anything in a package or in a box. Items like whole grains, hummus, fruit and nut bars, ground flax or chia, salsa, nut butter, seaweed snacks, kale chips, frozen veggies, frozen fruits, and even non-dairy milk are all fully acceptable to buy on a whole foods diet (though not all of them are affordable.) The key is to pick foods that have five or less ingredients when choosing packaged foods. Just avoid those with added sugar and refined grains, no matter how many ingredients they have. Healthier sources of packaged foods will be the least processed and most likely, the closest to whole foods you’ll find outside of the produce section.
Next, you’ll need to be sure to load up on produce as much as possible. Even if you live on the run, foods like cucumbers, peppers, carrots, apples, oranges, bananas, grape tomatoes, and zucchini can all be eaten as a snack or on the go. Fill up your diet with mostly produce and jam-pack your meals with leafy greens, broccoli, mushrooms, berries, squash, sweet potatoes, and fresh herbs whenever possible. These foods should make up at least 75 percent of your diet at each and every meal. If you need recipe suggestions, check out the recipe section for a complete array of whole foods meals to choose from.
Nuts and seeds are some of the most nutrient-dense sources of plant-based fats and protein you can consume. They’re also loaded with omega 3 fats, iron, B vitamins, magnesium, and potassium. Be sure to consume at least half an ounce per meal and aim to get in at least three servings a day. The best forms are raw almonds and walnuts, ground cold-milled flax, chia seeds, raw hemp seeds, raw sunflower and pumpkin seeds, and tahini or sesame seeds. You can sprinkle them on oatmeal, have them as a snack, add them to a smoothie, add them to salads, or make energy bars with them.
Carbs get a bad rap, but they’re actually very healthy for you when you choose the right kinds. The best whole foods sources of carbs are not processed (aka regular) bread, processed cereals, pasta noodles, or cereal bars. Instead, they’re sweet potatoes, rolled oats, quinoa, millet, amaranth, sprouted grain bread, winter squash, and fruit. Remember, carbs give your body the energy you need but they should optimally come from a low-glycemic source, not one that’s highly processed. If you’re short on time, make up a batch of any of these ahead of time so you can easily add them to meals anytime you please.
5. Say No to Sugar
In case you haven’t noticed, sugar is in everything. It’s in almost every processed food out there, even some that are gluten-free, organic, non-GMO, etc. The best way to transition to a whole foods diet is to eliminate the sugar from your life. Why? Sugar makes your body crave sweets around the clock. It also messes with your insulin levels, which can make you stressed, tired, and leave you to choose unhealthy foods you wouldn’t normally choose. Fill your body with nutrients instead of sugar and learn to read labels like a hawk at the store so you know how to avoid it.
6. Utilize Beans and Legumes
So long as you digest them okay, beans and legumes make excellent additions to meals. Some of the best are non-GMO edamame, black beans, chickpeas (garbanzos), lentils, red kidney beans, and pinto beans. Other great options include green peas, green beans (which are technically a vegetable), white beans, and cranberry beans. These will help fill you up, prevent blood sugar spikes, and they also help keep your body leaned and toned, which processed foods most certainly do not do.
7. Plan Your Meals
The key to eating a whole foods diet is to plan how you will do so. Write out several meals that sound appealing to you, then go shopping, prepare them for the week, and have them ready at your disposal. This is the easiest way to stay on top of your whole foods diet and it prevents you from making unhealthy choices later on.
It’s easy to say you don’t have time to meal prep or go shopping for whole foods but take a look at your day. Could you spare an hour of television once a week to make up a couple meals and snacks for the week? What about taking your lunch break twice a week to stock up on healthy foods or even swinging by after work? Take a look at your day and make a sacrifice once or twice a week to take care of your body. I promise you, most everyone has time to eat healthy when they make the decision to do so.
If you’re still in doubt it’s possible to eat healthy vegan meals when you’re short on time, here are 10 vegan recipes that can be made in under five minutes that utilize whole, healthy foods. Also be sure to check out these additional 10 steps to transitioning off of processed foods, along with these 10 whole foods that make a great replacement to processed food alternatives.
How do you eat a whole foods diet? Got a tip to share? I’d love to hear it!
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