The move towards a “plant-based” lifestyle has never been trendier. Whether it’s for health reasons, the environment, or to promote animal advocacy, more and more people are choosing to forego meat for a more plant-based approach to eating. And with a little planning and foresight, it’s easy to go vegetarian or even vegan while meeting nutrition needs.
But what, exactly, does a day of healthy, plant-based eating look like?
It’s all about emphasizing whole foods, according to Nicole Osinga, a Courtice, Ont.-based registered dietitian who has been following the diet for years.
It’s built around loading up on fruits and vegetables to making use of lots of legumes and whole grains while steering clear of — or at least minimizing — the intake of animal products and processed foods, she said.
“I originally was drawn to plant-based [eating] because I simply liked the taste of plant-based foods, they were easier to prepare and it was a cheaper way of eating,” Osinga said, noting that she was in university when she adopted vegetarianism.
The eating style shines a light on fibre, complex carbohydrates and sources of protein that don’t include meat.
Plant-based diets also come with a handful of health benefits, such as weight management, lower cholesterol, stabilized blood pressure and blood sugar levels, and a decreased risk of diabetes and heart disease. It’s also good for the environment.
“I always plan my meals for the week ahead of time — usually on Friday for the next week. I make a list of about three to four meals and a few snacks I want to make on Sunday along with the ingredients required. I also cook one to two more dishes on Wednesday,” she explained.
Here’s what a typical day of plant-based, vegetarian eating looks like for Osinga.
When? 7 a.m.
What? Pumpkin protein oatmeal bake and Greek yogurt
Nutritional breakdown: 400 calories with 25 grams of protein
Where? At home, after my morning workout
Why? I try to always have a high protein breakfast to start my day. This helps me manage my appetite and minimize cravings.
“The baked oatmeal provides me with lots of satiety. This is also a great make-ahead option — I love make-ahead options for a busy morning. On other days I may have overnight oats, tofu scramble, or a baked egg dish, which are all other great high-protein, make-ahead options,” Osinga said.
When? 10 a.m.
What? Strawberries and almond butter
Nutritional breakdown: 200 calories and four grams of protein
Where? At work, during a quick break
Why? I enjoy having a serving of fruit with a protein in the morning for lasting energy.
“If I’m not having strawberries, I’m having another low-glycemic index fruit such as berries or kiwis. I don’t want a huge blood-sugar spike while I’m at work, which will leave me feeling tired. The protein and fat in the nuts and nut butter slows down the digestion of the carbohydrates,” Osinga explained.
Nut butters are packed with protein while the strawberries are a great source of fibre — that duo will keep you full and fuelled until lunchtime.
When? 12:30 p.m.
What? Lentil quinoa patties with a side salad
Nutritional breakdown: 425 calories and 18 grams of protein
Where? At work, during my lunch break
Why? These are easy to eat at work, portable and tasty.
“I combine quinoa with brown lentils, garlic and onion, along with anti-inflammatory turmeric and eggs to keep them together. I always try to make half of my plate veggies so that’s usually either a side salad or a veggie soup to go with this main dish at lunch,” Osinga said.
“I tend to plan my meals around plant-based protein options. As a vegetarian, it is definitely possible to meet your protein needs but it requires a bit more planning. I often turn to legumes, such as lentils, edamame, tofu or tempeh for protein. When I plan my meals, I’m always thinking of new and creative ways to have these items. The other week, for example, I made a tofu parmesan, and cooked lentils in lentil hoisin lettuce wraps,” Osinga said.
Both quinoa and lentils are easy to work with. Osinga suggests using them in salads, soups, and even hearty stews, sauces and chili.
When? 3 p.m.
What? One hardboiled egg and cherry tomatoes
Nutritional breakdown: 150 calories and eight grams of protein
Where? At work, during an afternoon break
Why? I reach for protein and fresh produce because I find having too many carbohydrates in the afternoon makes me lethargic.
“Instead of carbohydrates, I try to do another protein and veggie option, such as today’s hardboiled eggs and cherry tomatoes, or hummus and veggies or a Greek yogurt dip with veggies. The afternoon is when the ‘afternoon slump’ comes on and I find sipping on a hot tea or Kombucha also helps,” Osinga said.
Some people on a whole foods plant-based diet avoid all animal products while some eat a restricted amount — there are no strict guidelines.
“Myself, I still consume small amounts of animal products by including dairy and eggs. I simply go by the phrase ‘Eat mostly plants,’” Osinga said.
When? 6 p.m.
What? One-pan tofu with green beans and cauliflower
Nutritional breakdown: 350 calories and 22 grams of protein
Where? At home, prepared in my kitchen
Why? I try to minimize carbohydrates at my dinner meal, as I’m usually not too active after dinner.
Tofu is a great source of plant-based protein, clocking in at eight grams of protein per 100 grams. It’s also a versatile ingredient, absorbing any of the flavours used in its preparation.
“I always try to load up on non-starchy veggies and have been loving zucchini noodles with pan-fried tofu recently. Lettuce wraps with legumes work as well. I find meals like these, including tonight’s, help with weight control as well,” Osinga said.
When? 8 p.m.
What? Homemade trail mix with assorted nuts
Nutritional breakdown: 200 calories and five grams of protein
Where? At home, unwinding after a busy day
Why? I find a bit of protein and healthy fats help me sleep better at night.
“Full-fat Greek yogurt or roasted edamame also work as nice, satisfying evening snacks.”
If you’re curious about adopting a plant-based diet, seek out a registered dietitian for advice, Osinga suggests. An RD can help make sure your intake is balanced, determine your nutrition needs and get you started with meal planning.