Switching to a plant based diet? Or perhaps you’ve been vegan for a while and need a refresher on the fundamentals of a successful, healthy, plant based diet. Stocking up a vegan pantry can be a daunting task, if you’re unsure of which ingredients are best to supplement a plant based lifestyle.
A successful vegan diet takes a lot of passion, planning and commitment. For me it is a wholesome, affordable and sustainable way of life. I recognise that this is what works for me and that every individual has different needs- so whatever your requirements are, use the below list as a guide and make sure your listen to your body…
FRUITS & VEGETABLES
Essential in every diet, fresh, raw fruit and vegetables are of course a staple in a plant based diet. I eat seasonally, locally and organic as much as possible. Variety is the key- the general rule of thumb is to eat a rainbow (of plants) every day to ensure you are getting the whole spectrum of nutrients and antioxidants found in the plant kingdom, since different antioxidants give plants their unique colours.
Choosing between organic and non-organic products can help when cost is an issue. Where possible always buy organic foods listed on The Dirty Dozen list below, where as foods on The Clean 15 list may be bought conventionally, if you wish. These lists have been released by the Environmental Working group in the US- an environmental and research organisation (see links below).
The Clean 15 [one-third-first]Asparagus
The Dirty Dozen [one-half-first]Apples
Spinach[/one-half] Note- All fruit and vegetables that are not peeled (even organic) should be washed with clean water.
GRAINS & LEGUMES
Legumes: Lentils, all beans, mung beans, peas, peanuts and soy products.
Gluten containing grains: rye, oats, wheat, barley and spelt.
Gluten-free grains: Rice, Quinoa and buckwheat (both are not actually grains, though for ease ill list them here), millet amaranth, corn
Not all grains/legumes are created equal! In order to avoid mineral deficiencies and digestive upset, all grains/legumes should only be consumed if they have been prepared in certain ways. The general rule of thumb is, don’t eat it unless its been soaked, sprouted or fermented!
By soaking, sprouting and fermenting your grains and legumes you are removing phytic acid, a compound that binds to calcium, iron, zinc, magnesium and copper and cleaves it from your body. Phytic acid actually has an important role to play for grains and legumes; it is their bodyguard over the dormant months. Sprouting seeds, grains and legumes creates one of the most nutrient dense foods on the planet, while fermenting is a great preserving tool and adds essential gut and immune healthy bacteria to your diet.
Soaking Tips: Not only does soaking remove phytic acid and unlock nutrients, it radically reduces cooking time, and improves the texture and flavour of food. All grains and legumes should be soaked in water with an acidic medium (vinegar or lemon juice), then drained and thoroughly rinsed before cooking. Check out this handy chart which gives individual soaking and sprouting times for grains, legumes and seeds.
NUTS & SEEDS
The same rule of soaking applies to nuts and seeds. It is especially important for the harder, more protein packed nuts such as Almonds and hazelnuts.
Here are a few handy tips to ensure you’re getting the best nutritional benefit from your nuts and seeds
- Buy nuts and seeds in their whole, raw and unsalted state
- Locate a provider with a high turnover- this ensures freshness and avoids the issue of rancidity of the oils in nuts/seeds.
- Store whole nuts/seeds in a cool dark place- in a dark glass jar, in the pantry, away from sunlight
- If you grind your nuts only do the amount that you need for the day (to prevent eating health-damaging, rancid oils) and if you must grind more than a days use, store in the fridge (this includes almond meal)
In my pantry: Cashews, sunflower seeds, sesame seeds, pepitas/pumpkin seeds, linseeds, nut butters/natural peanut butter, almonds, and coconut.
Mineral rich dark leafy greens are especially important for vegans (all humans, really), and a daily staple in my household. They pack a nutritional punch and are a rich source of beta-carotene (pre-vitamin A), lutein (an antioxidant paramount for healthy eyes), vitamin C and, perhaps most importantly for vegans, calcium & iron.
In my pantry: Spinach, kale, swiss chard/silverbeet, beet greens, roquette & crunchy cos lettuce.
The forgotten food group! Fermented food promotes good gut health, aids digestion, boosts immunity, increases manufacture of vitamin K and the b group vitamins, and improves mood and detoxification. You would be surprised how easily fermented foods can be added into your diet and the benefits you will reap from doing so are endless.
In my pantry: Kombucha, sauerkraut, pot set/homemade yoghurts, tempeh, kefir, miso, pickled vegetables and vegetarian kim chi (Korean pickled cabbage). Check out some great tips on fermenting here.
Super foods are some of nature’s greatest work. A super food is a highly nutritious, health promoting, antioxidant-dense product of Mother Nature that offers numerous health benefits. Who needs multivitamins when you can eat super foods?! I use superfoods sparingly, usually to give an extra boost to my smoothies and raw desserts since they are more expensive. Start by choosing one, and build up your stash over time- you’ll be surprised how far they spread.
In my pantry: Goji berries, flax seeds, acai, raw cacao, spirulina, maca root, maqui, lucuma, shitake mushrooms, reishi mushrooms, camu camu and Kakadu plumb/gubinge.
SEAWEED & SEA VEGETABLES
As with fermented foods, seaweed and sea vegetables can be easily added into your diet via soups, stir fry’s, sushi and snack mixes. Here’s why you should eat seaweed, too:
- They are nutrient dense, high in antioxidants, vitamins, minerals and protein
- It is one of the only sources of vegan DHA (docosahexanoic acid), an omega 3 essential fatty acids that is important for brain, nerve and eye tissue development, cognitive function/memory and vision. Fats account for over 50% of the brain and DHA accounts for 30% of that! DHA deficiencies have been linked to mood disorders, bipolar and depression
- It is one of the few vegan sources of iodine, the top mineral for keeping our thyroid (and metabolism) in good, working condition
- It helps the body facilitate heavy metal detoxification (and we could all do with some of that!)
Note; where possible choose organic seaweed. Seaweed will absorb any properties they are grown in, like nuclear spillage in the sea, a very scary thought!
In my pantry: Nori, dulse, kelp, agar agar & wakame.
HERBS & SPICES
Having a sister who is an herbalist means I’ve gained exposure to the beauty and potency of herbs. The medicinal properties benefit many ailments, and I use them for anything from calming a cramping belly, promoting sleep and relaxation, soothing a tender throat, aiding indigestion to fighting infection. I particularly enjoy liquorice root, nettle, chamomile flowers, lemongrass and ginger, green tea and peppermint.
Culinary herbs and spices play a huge role in my kitchen- they add flavour, colour, freshness and nutrients to a dish.
In my pantry: Ginger, garlic, turmeric, chilli, fennel, cinnamon coriander, cumin, mustard, thyme, sage, basil, fennel, parsley, mint and vanilla.
I’ve always got a few natural sweeteners kicking around as I use them in cooking. They are a healthier alternative to refined sugar, but I still use them sparingly. Here’s a list of readily available natural sweeteners:
- 100% pure maple syrup
- Rice malt syrup
- Coconut sugar
- Coconut nectar