No matter what type of “diet” or eating pattern you follow, it is important to be mindful of what your daily food intake is composed of. No matter how you eat – Paleo, vegan, or anything in between – it is possible for your diet to be healthy or unhealthy. For example, you could be “plant-based” or vegan (there is a difference, FYI) but only be eating French fries, Oreos, and other processed, packaged foods. On the other hand, a diet that includes meat can still be generally healthy if it is balanced with other healthful, nutrient-dense foods.
I was inspired to create this post by another fellow nutrition blogger, Sadia from Pick Up Limes. If you haven’t heard of her, she has a fantastic blog and Youtube channel where she shares beautiful plant-based recipes and tips to living a minimalist, healthful lifestyle. She featured a blog post/video highlighting the foods she includes in her diet on a regular basis, and I thought, why am I not being more mindful of this too?!
I’ll be the first to admit that I am not perfect, and my diet is not flawless – and honestly probably never will be. But I think it is important to be mindful of creating balance, and I want to ensure my body is getting what it needs. Below are 5 key nutrients I try to get in my body everyday; although all of our needs are very individual, I hope that this can act as a guide for you in creating more mindfulness and encouraging more informed decisions about your eating.
Healthy Fats (especially omega 3’s)
When I was repairing my stress-induced digestive damage in my early university years (read the full story here), eating too much fat really distressed my GI tract. I would experience terrible acid reflux, burping, and cramping. Therefore, I ate pretty high-carbohydrate foods, as it was easier on my digestive system. Since my digestive tract has repaired, I find that I actually thrive on including more healthy fats and keeping my carbohydrate intake more moderate.
I now try to include healthy fats at every meal/snack; I regularly consume foods such as peanut butter, chia seeds, ground flax, coconut, and avocado. If I’m cooking something on the stovetop, like a stirfry, an egg, or pan-seared tofu, I use a small amount of coconut oil – and yes I said coconut oil! (read my thoughts here). I don’t eat a ton of nuts and seeds, since I tend to overindulge (oops); however, I do make homemade cashew-based salad dressings and pasta sauces for my boyfriend and I probably once a week. I also like to sprinkle sunflower seeds on my oatmeal or on salads if I feel I need an extra punch of healthy fats for the day.
Regarding the types of fats to aim for in your diet, you should generally follow:
unsaturated fats more often than saturated fat, and
omega-3 fats more often than omega-6 fats.
Omega-6 fats are generally pro-inflammatory, stimulating certain pathways in your body that produce inflammation, which could be linked to the development of chronic diseases. Omega-3 fats on the other hand are anti-inflammatory in the body; focusing on consuming most of your fat in the form of omega-3 and minimizing your omega-6 intake promotes more omega-3 activity in the body, and therefore more anti-inflammatory properties. For more info about omega-3 vs. omega-6, read this, this, this and this.
I don’t care who you are, we could all use some more greens in our lives, myself included. It never hurts to buy an extra-big bag of greens, whether it is spring mix, spinach, or kale. Add a small starter salad to dinner every night, stuff some greens in your smoothies, or sautee them into a savory dish. If your greens are starting to go bad, simply throw them in a sealed bag or container in the freezer! That way, you reduce your food waste and you can use them at a later time, straight from the freezer, in a smoothie, casserole, stirfry, or pasta dish.
And no, you don’t need to eat kale 5 times a day… When I talk greens, I also mean cruciferous veg like broccoli and brussel sprouts, or vegetables like peas and green beans. Eat these babies raw, steamed, stirfried, or roasted – whatever will get them in your bod.
Surprise, surprise – you don’t need dairy to get the calcium your body needs! Many vegetables and plant-based proteins are high in calcium; for example, many of the cruciferous vegetables mentioned above are good sources of calcium (making it easy to cover all your bases!). Plant proteins such as beans and tofu are also fantastic sources; and of course, don’t forget about your fortified plant milks. Drinking a cup of milk (such as cashew, soy, almond, etc.) in a smoothie or in your morning caffeinated drink of choice is an easy way to get 30-50% of your daily calcium needs (Silk Unsweetened Cashew Milk, my personal favorite, has 45% of your daily needs in 1 cup!). Find a full list, complete with each foods’ calcium content, here.
Despite common misconceptions, Western diets may not be consuming too much sodium, but rather they may be too low in potassium! (Learn more here, here, and here.) Because a typical diet includes high proportions of processed foods (high in sodium) and low proportions of fruits and vegetables (high in potassium), our electrolyte ratios are out of wack! Of course, decreasing your intake of processed foods (AKA sodium bombs) is a great start, but increasing your potassium intake may have more significant effects on your health, such as managing your blood pressure. Although bananas are the most well-known source of potassium, there are other foods with even higher amounts!
Iron is an important nutrient to keep track of moving away from meat, since many vegetarians and vegans don’t make conscious efforts to replace meat with other iron-rich foods. And if you are at a triple-threat risk for deficiency like me – a reproductive-age female, who exercises intensely, and doesn’t eat meat – then you definitely need to pay attention to your iron levels. Not surprisingly, all the usual healthy suspects in a plant-based diet are great sources of iron – whole grains, beans and lentils (including soy), nuts and seeds, and green vegetables.
If you want to really optimize your iron absorption (since plant-based iron may be less bio-available than meat-based iron), try including a vitamin C-rich food in your meals to boost your iron absorption. Caffeine and tannins found in coffee and tea can also inhibit iron absorption quite significantly. If you can, try to consume your hot beverage an hour before eating, or a few hours after eating. Find a list of plant-based iron-rich foods here, and a more comprehensive list here.
Of course,there are so many wonderful, healthy foods worth including in your regular diet – check out the 6 Daily 3’s from Julieanna Hever, AKA the Plant-Based Dietitian, for another version of this post. I hope my post, plus the links to Julieanna and Sadia’s posts, give you some inspiration to think about your diet and create your own food framework. If you would like some assistance in doing this, please don’t hesitate to contact me; we can work together to set some goals based on your concerns and lifestyle.
Talk soon friends!