By Brianna Steinhilber
For meat-lovers, “vegan” may be a dirty five-letter-word – but we all have to admit that those following a vegan diet tend to have a smart approach to eating, filling their carts with fresh produce and possessing a strong awareness of what they’re putting on their plates. While the diet may be too extreme for many, there are some sensible, healthy vegan habits that we all should be copying – carnivores included. Leave the meat on your plate, but take these six other veg-friendly tips to heart.
Since vegans steer clear of meat and cheese, they rely on tons of fresh, flavorful veggies to bulk up meals, from sandwiches and salads to tacos and pizza. Regardless if there is turkey on that sandwich or not, Jenné Claiborne, a board certified health coach, vegan personal chef, and author of the blog Sweet Potato Soul, recommends everyone pile on greens and other non-starchy veggies. “They supply your body with protein, essential vitamins and minerals, antioxidants, and fiber that you cannot get in animal products,” she says. So vow to add at least two veggies to every dish – like tomato and lettuce to sandwiches, shredded carrots and cucumber to burritos, and roasted carrots and asparagus to rice and pasta dishes.
When it comes to condiments, mayo – which is made with egg yolks – is off limits. Think this means settling for a dry sandwich? Think again! Vegans get creative with their spreads, ditching high-calorie mayo in favor of lighter, healthier options. “I love to mash up ripe avocado and use that in place of mayo on sandwiches,” says Claiborne. “Homemade hummus with lots of tahini is also a fantastically satisfying vegan-friendly spread.” Fresh pesto, mustard, and balsamic vinegar are more flavor-packed options that will add some zing to your sandwich without loading on the calories.
Fermented foods are becoming more mainstream, but vegans have been enjoying their zesty flavor and health benefits for years. “Fermented foods have been around for ages. It began as a way to preserve food before we had access to refrigeration and freezers,” says Claiborne. “These foods (like tempeh, miso, kimchi, sauerkraut, kombucha, pickled carrots, and kefir) can easily be incorporated into anyone’s diet and are full of nutrients, probiotics, and flavor.” Claiborne recommends adding kimchi and sauerkraut to salad, sandwiches, and noodle bowls, sipping on kombucha tea, and marinating tempeh and adding it to tacos, sandwiches, salads, and nori rolls.
When you can’t rely on butter and cheese to flavor dishes, the spice rack becomes your best friend. And vegan or not, herbs and spices are the ideal way to add flavor to dishes for no additional fat and calories. “Herbs and spices are critical when making any food taste delicious, be it animal products or plants. They add lots of flavor and greater nutrition to your meals,” Claiborne insists. “I could eat the same steamed broccoli, lentils, and brown rice for dinner five days straight, but by varying the spices each time, I’ll have five delicious and unique dishes.” Always on standby in her kitchen: Fennel seeds (which are great for digestion), cayenne pepper, berbere, fresh ginger (which boast anti-inflammatory properties), and fresh cilantro.
“Vegans in general are more aware of what they eat, whether it’s to avoid animal products or to guarantee the wholesomeness of their food,” says Claiborne. “Animal products are in so many processed foods, so I tend to avoid them and save myself the stress of having to check labels.” In other words, vegans often spend more time in the kitchen cooking homemade meals with ingredients they can trust. Regardless if your dish is built around chicken or tofu, opting to make your own food from scratch is a smart habit that helps cut back on the unnecessary fat and calories you find in restaurant meals and avoids the processed ingredients in packaged foods.
You don’t have to give up meat to make room in your diet for plant-based proteins. “Legumes are linked to longevity and reduced risk of disease,” says Claiborne. “Beans are often touted for their fiber and protein content, but they’re also great sources of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants that support a healthy body.” Opt to go meat-free a few meals a week and build a dish around beans or lentils instead for a dose of fiber with a major health boost.