Plant-based cooking and eating considers not only your own health, but also that of our planet. Here are some ways to cook more consciously with wholefoods.
In recent years, plant-based foods have become increasingly popular and have been linked to a wide range of health and environmental benefits. Plant-based eating is not so much a diet, but a lifestyle, and is a more flexible approach compared to its vegan and vegetarian counterparts. Plant-based eating is not necessarily vegan or vegetarian. Rather,
it’s a celebration of plant-based and wholefoods that are the “hero” on your
plate, but not necessarily the whole plate. Here are a few simple steps to have you cooking more conscious plant-based meals at home in no time.
Contrary to popular belief, it’s quite easy to get all your nutritional needs from purely plant-based food as long as your meals are nutrient-dense and focus on whole rather than unprocessed foods. This includes all the necessary proteins, fats, carbohydrates, vitamins and fibre your
body needs to function optimally. There are many misconceptions that animal products are the only sources of protein in food, but there are actually many plant-based foods high in protein and essential amino acids, such as whole grains like quinoa and freekeh, as well as lentils, beans, tofu, tempeh, seeds and nuts.
Well-balanced, plant-based meals that focus on wholefoods and skip processed foods are usually a lot lower in fat and salt than a diet high in meat and saturated fats. Recent studies have shown that consuming primarily plant-based foods helps reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, stroke and Type 2 diabetes. A plant-based diet is the only diet that has been shown to not only prevent — but to reverse — advanced-stage cardiovascular disease and Type 2 diabetes.
Take it slow
As with most lifestyle changes, going cold turkey from day one is never a good idea, especially if you’re a long-term meat eater. By taking small steps and building up plant-based cooking gradually, you’re more likely to stick to positive lifestyle changes. Try starting with one to two plant-based meals a week, and then gradually increase the number of days or meals you cook plant-based at home. A good place to start is to make breakfast and lunch plant-based meals, and then reduce your serving of meat for dinner. The key to successful meal preparation is planning ahead.
Thinking of plant-based recipes can be a little daunting at first, but when you get into the swing of it, it can allow you to really get creative in the kitchen. A good way to start is to reinvent old classics by swapping meat with plant-based proteins like lentils, beans, mushrooms and chickpeas in your favourite recipes like lasagne, shepherd’s pie and spaghetti bolognese. Are you a burger lover? Ditch the beef and substitute for a quinoa patty or try a Beyond Burger. Cut back on dairy and switch to a plant-based milk in your morning coffee or cereal and stock up on healthy plant-based snacks to sustain your energy levels throughout the day.
If you aren’t skilled in the kitchen, keep things simple and stick to easier recipes. Start by experimenting with plant-based foods you like that are familiar and easy to access, instead of using dozens of ingredients you are not familiar with. For extra inspiration, visit your local farmers’ market and speak to the producers about the best local produce and what’s in season at the moment. Or if you’re feeling extra game, try to grow your own fruit, vegetables and herbs in your backyard for the freshest produce you can find.
Be a sustainable shopper
Along with its health benefits, plant-based eating has been proven to have a positive impact on climate change by reducing your overall carbon footprint. If you can’t give up animal products entirely, that’s OK as you can just focus your energy more on local, seasonal, ethical and sustainable produce. Be a savvy shopper and research where your food comes from and how it is produced. When eating meat and other animal products, try to opt for sustainable and ethically sourced meat from your local
butcher, and try to buy organic and free-range wherever possible. Ask your local fishmonger about the most sustainable fish at the moment (look for local species, seasonality and ethical fishing methods).
Mindfulness is a powerful a tool you can embrace in plant-based cooking. Try to cook slowly and deliberately and enjoy the process of preparing the food, the glory of the produce and where it was sourced. Plant-based eating can require additional preparation time, so be patient. Take your time and enjoy the process. Cooking at home can be a form of meditation if done with awareness. Pay attention to the present moment and practise mindful conscious eating, enjoying the food slowly and all the textures and flavours that you notice. This will help you appreciate the food more and also aid in your digestion and absorption of nutrients.
Words LISA HOLMEN