10 Best Ways to Make Your Plant-based Meals More Nutritious
One of the main concerns when it comes to plant-based diets is that you’ll end up being in deficient in nutrients, or severely lacking in vitamins. While this is a valid concern, if you plan your meals accordingly then this shouldn’t be an issue going forwards.
In this article, I’ve collected 10 of the best ways to add extra nutrients into a vegan diet- covering everything from cooking techniques to how to avoid hidden calories. If you enjoy this topic, we’ve got a number of other interesting posts on our website that cover veganism, paleo veganism and a whole lot more.
Utilize herbs and spices
To begin with, using herbs and spices in your cooking can be a great way to both boost the nutritional value and the taste of your food. Did you know that different herbs can have completely different health benefits for your body?
Take turmeric, for example. This spice is used heavily for its antioxidant properties, as it contains high levels of curcumin. This particular element is famed for reducing inflammation and easing pain, and has even been linked to helping slow down the progression of Alzheimer’s disease. Turmeric can also help reduce the chances of developing heart disease.
There’s plenty of ways to use turmeric in your cruelty-free diet, too. It works amazingly well in curries- take a look at this spiced coconut dal for inspiration. You can use it in soups and stews, and it works surprisingly well in sweet treats like smoothies. One Green Planet have a great blog post where they’ve compiled a lot of turmeric-based recipes, take a look here to read it.
Another great addition to make to your diet is cumin. Cumin is a wonderfully fragrant spice, and it’s very good for you. Cumin is naturally rich in iron, which is perfect for plant-based consumers who are looking for another way to sneak iron into their food without eating animal products. It’s also great for promoting healthy digestion, and can help with weight loss.
Cumin can be added into vegan dishes quite easily, and there’s plenty of recipes available online with tips on how to do this. I loved this vegan butternut and lentil curry with cumin- I’ll definitely be trying this one out for one of my meals this week. Cumin can also make a great addition to side dishes, like these masala potatoes.
If you’re looking for a way to sweeten your food while keeping the calories low, cinnamon could be the answer. It goes well with coffee and most baked treats, and can be great in savoury dishes too. It’s packed full of antioxidants, and can be greatly beneficial for people suffering from diabetes. Cinnamon is also thought to help protect against bacteria, and have medicinal properties too.
The most obvious recipe choice here is cinnamon rolls- these ones look amazing. You can also make tasty hot drinks with cinnamon, and it works well in breads too. You can use cinnamon to add an extra layer of flavour to biscuits, buns, cheesecakes, pancakes and chips- it’s an incredibly versatile ingredient. I really enjoyed this article from Live Kindly about it, it’s got some great tips.
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Another great way to get even more nutrients into your plant based diet is to try making products yourself. Home cooking has been proven to be more nutritious and help with people trying to lose weight, and it’s the best way to make sure you know exactly what is in your food.
There are a number of key vegan staples that you can make at home, to save money and boost your nutritional intake. Did you know you can make your own almond milk? How about making your own hummus? Whatever it is that you can think of when it comes to vegan food and snacks, there’ll be a recipe available to help you make a healthier version of it at home.
Following that point, you can also make vegan versions of your favourite junk food at home. This will help you save money and calories, and it can be quite fun turning something extravagantly bad for you into a nourishing homemade snack. Good examples of this would be these vegan dirty fries from BBC GoodFood, or this vegan Philly cheesesteak mac and cheese from One Green Planet. Speaking of One Green Planet, they have a fantastic article where they look at the health benefits of going DIY with your vegan junk food- take a look at it here.
vegan paleo Cooking techniques (bake, don’t fry)
This one really depends on what meals you’re cooking, but changing up your cooking techniques and utensils can help you create much more nourishing meals. Often, nutrients can be lost during the process of cooking, so it’s important to think about not only what you’re cooking but how you’re cooking it.
A good example of a technique that you should avoid is frying. Frying uses a lot of oil, and can severely increase the unhealthiness of a food. Baking tends to be a better option– it’s not perfect by any means, but it uses a lot less oil and fat than frying does. A great way to see this in action would be to bake fries the next time you make them, instead of frying them. This recipe from Loving It Vegan for baked oven fries with garlic looks like a great way to try this out.
Other healthy ways to cook your food include steaming, boiling, broiling and sauteeing. Using the microwave can also be surprisingly beneficial, as the short cooking times don’t strip the food of its nutrients. Out of all these methods, I’d say steaming can be the trickiest to get right, as it can often leave food tasting a little bland. There’s plenty of great recipes that utilize steaming, though- check out this article from NDTV Food for 11 tasty examples.
To take this point even further, why not try some raw vegan recipes to see if you like them? Raw veganism can be incredibly beneficial, if you prepare your meals properly. Raw vegans can enjoy benefits like weight loss, improved heart health, and a reduced risk of diabetes.
The best place to begin with for new raw vegan cooks is the basics- try this divine spicy avocado salad from One Green Planet, or this jewel-studded acai bowl from Soul In The Raw. Once you’ve got used to raw cooking, try your hand at making a raw vegan cake or two. These avocado zombie bars from Brit +Co look like a great place to start.
Fill up on fiber
Fiber is an incredibly important part of any diet, as it manages your bowel health, cholesterol levels, blood sugar and weight. Fortunately for people who live a vegan lifestyle, fiber is very easy to come by. Foods that are particularly high in fiber are whole grains, legumes, fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds.
If you are quite reliant on processed foods, try and switch out a couple of your normal snacks for a fiber-filled one instead. Instead of getting takeout for dinner, try putting together a quick lentil curry with cauliflower rice, for example. It may take more time, but it’ll be cheaper, healthier, tastier and better for you in the long run, too.
If you’re really struggling to get a good amount of fiber into your food, there’s no shame at all in seeing your doctor and researching supplements or vitamins. Everyone’s body reacts differently to different foods, so make sure you’re doing the right thing for you.
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Pack in the protein
Protein is equally as important when it comes to diet, and this is an area that some plant based diets can be particularly lacking in, if you’re not careful. Protein is an important part of every cell in the human body, and is crucial when it comes to tissue repair. It also affects the production of enzymes and hormones, so this is not a nutrient that you can afford to miss out of your diet.
So how can you boost your protein intake as a vegan? After all, it stereotypically comes from meat and fish. To start with, try switching out some of your dinners to include things like tofu, seitan, tempeh and soy protein. These are all great sources of protein, and can be cooked in a variety of ways so you won’t get bored. Seitan, for example, can be turned into an amazing pulled pork-style meat to have in sandwiches or wraps. It can also be chopped up in fajita bowls, layered into curries or served as a tasty steak. It’s incredibly versatile, tasty and healthy; what’s not to love?
Other good sources of protein for vegans include things like legumes, chickpeas and seeds. Oatmeal can also be a great source of protein- why not try making overnight oats with enriched soya milk to get a protein-fuelled start to the day? Chia seeds and hemp seeds are also brilliant for protein, so I’d recommend crafting your own hemp milk and chia pudding to make the most of these tasty ingredients. You can also sprinkle them on salads or into smoothies.
Of course, protein can be found in fruits and vegetables too, just not as much as the other sources. Vegetables that contain a lot of protein include broccoli, spinach, potatoes, sweet potatoes and asparagus. Fruit is a little more limited, but includes berries, nectarines and bananas. It should be easy to find a plethora of recipes using these delicious fruits and veggies, so I’d recommend trying to get them into your diet where possible.
As with the previous point, don’t hesitate to seek advice on your diet, if you’re worried about not getting enough protein. There’s proteins, supplements and enriched foods available to help support you with your cruelty-free lifestyle.
Remember what you’re drinking
I think that one of the main things that catches people out when they’re trying to be healthy is drinks. It’s really easy to forget how many calories and how much sugar one drink can contain, and this is especially true for things like premade smoothies and juices which are sold under the pretense of being healthy. Sugar-free sodas are just as bad, and you should always read the labels before buying them.
One of the main tips I have here, and this is one that I need to follow more, is to replace more of your drinks with water and tea. It doesn’t have to just be plain water, I’d recommend investing in one of the fruit infuser bottles if you can. Then, you can try out all sorts of delectable flavours with fresh fruits and herbs. Lemon water is commonly recommended for weight loss, but why not try creating your own infused water recipes? This article from the Wellness Mama has some great suggestions- I particularly like the sound of the watermelon and basil water, and the strawberry and lemon.
If you’re not big on drinking water, tea could be a good solution for replacing your unhealthy drinks. The benefits of green tea are immensely positive, but if you’re not keen on the taste then I’d recommend using a dash of agave syrup to sweeten it.
There are countless other teas that you could try out, and they all have their own unique health benefits. Chamomile tea is popular for its calming effects, and is also said to have anti inflammatory and antibacterial effects too. Hibiscus tea is antiviral, and has a positive effect on high blood pressure. Sage tea is said to be medicinal, and improves brain health. Overall, there will be a tea out there for everyone- you just need to try a few out. I’d personally recommend rose tea or jasmine tea, as I adore the floral notes in them.
Sauces and dips
In a similar vein to the previous point, people can often overlook how unhealthy sauces and dips can make their dishes. Ketchup, for example, contains a lot of salt but it often goes unnoticed in meals in terms of nutrition. Marinades, salad dressing and oils can all be equally as dangerous in this category, and my suggestion is that you try making your own.
We’ve already seen the benefits of making your own products versus buying them from the store. The recipes that I found to make your own condiments don’t seem to take many ingredients or much time to do, either. This tomato ketchup recipe takes only 2 minutes, and this lemon vinaigrette takes only a little longer. If you are looking to cut calories, save money and make your meals healthier, then I’d definitely recommend trying this out.
Sneaking in more veggies
The final point stems from something I read years ago about trying to get fussy toddlers to eat vegetables. The clever mother who wrote the blog would sneak vegetables into everything– brownies, smoothies, cakes and pizza. The child would happily gulp these down, not realising that they’d been tricked into eating their 5 a day. This got me thinking- surely this would work if you’re an adult who’s not getting enough veggies too?
The first recipe that I thought of when researching this bit was these delectable sweet potato brownies.I fell down a bit of a rabbit hole while reading about these, and discovered recipes for cakes, muffins, biscuits, bars, pasta, tacos and more. Take a look at this brilliant article from PETA for 11 delicious vegan recipes with extra vegetables snuck in.
Another way to do this that’s arguably more simple is to simply make smoothies. If you’re worried you don’t get enough fiber,or know that you simply don’t like vegetables, making smoothies could be the answer. Here’s some tasty vegan smoothie inspiration from Healthful Pursuit. For an extra healthy kick, add in some flax seeds or chia seeds.
Overall, plant-based diets are as successful and as healthy as you want them to by. By that, I mean that if you go into a vegan diet with the attitude of ‘oh this is unhealthy, I miss cheese’ then you won’t have much fun at all. But if you plan your recipes and keep an open mind, I guarantee that your plant-based lifestyle will be rich and fulfilling.