Plant-Based Cooking: How to Prepare Delicious, Healthy Meals

There are any number of reasons why you might want to shift to a plant-based diet. Some people make the switch for ethical reasons, some for health concerns, and still others because they want to save money when preparing meals for a large family. Others make the shift to explore the world of entirely plant-based cooking.

If you’re interested in making the switch, simply read on for all you need to know about plant-based cooking, and how to get you started with some delicious, healthy recipes.

Benefits of a Plant-Based Diet

First and foremost, eating plant-based foods is much healthier for the human body. The human body’s digestive tract is very long requiring a great deal of fiber to work properly.  Animal protein is void of fiber and hence, decays inside the gut. Animal protein can only be safely tolerated in animals with a short gut length since its toxins can be quickly extracted from the body.  In humans the toxins heavily embedded in animal proteins cannot be easily extracted from the gut and hence, lead to break down of the digestive walls (a.k.a., leaky gut syndrome) and disease spreading throughout the body.

The old counter argument some have made is that humans are omnivores.  We were never meant to eat animal products with the ease, infinite availability, and gusto common in today’s Western diet. Animal proteins cause and exacerbate inflammation and hence, lead to all sorts of digestive issues.

Plants provide a much broader set of nutrients which the digestive system can easily absorb and utilize. One tip for being on a wholesome, balance diet is mixing a variety of vegetables as the centerpiece of a meal. Plants also contain phytochemicals, powerful antioxidants which help balance hormone levels, fight against bacteria, viruses, fungi, and parasites. Phytochemicals are absent from animal sources.

A plant based-diet will inevitably lead to sustained health, loss of excess weight, rebalance of hormone levels, and many other health benefits.  Economically it is also significantly cheaper to be on a plant-based diet than when consuming any form of meat, eggs, poultry, dairy products, fish, and/or honey.

General Tips for Plant-Based Cooking

When it comes to cooking with vegetables, the amount of time and heat will depend mostly on the amount of starch in a particular vegetable. Potatoes, for instance, need to be broken down, while dark leafy greens (i.e., kale) is much more fragile. Broadly speaking, you should prepare different vegetables in different ways based on their make-up.

Take a stir-fry for example. You’ll want the carrots and mushrooms to be cut much smaller than the spring onions. Some vegetables need to be cooked more thoroughly in oil, particularly those with carotenoids, like bell peppers, zucchini, and carrots. Their cell walls will be partially broken down by the cooking process, thereby increasing the bioavailability of their nutrients. When in doubt, make sure nothing ends up mushy.

Staples of Plant-Based Cooking

Cauliflower can be prepared as a substitution for potatoes and a variety of GMO grains, like rice and wheat. Cauliflower can be steamed/boiled and added to stews, pressed into a base for pizza, and many more. Your plant-based diet will come to depend on cauliflower.

Hemp seeds are especially rich in essential fatty acids, and make a great thickening agent in things like veggie burgers or mock sausages. They can be added to oats, cookies, and more. You can even sprinkle hemp seeds on top of a salad as an accent.

Mung beans, toor dal, white beans, red lentils, chickpeas, and black beans are excellent sources of fiber and protein. You can use them to round out your diet and add extra protein. It be best to use dry beans instead of canned beans for easier digestion and avoidance of toxin exposure. They need to be soaked overnight or for over 8 hours in order to be easily digested. Removed the soaked water and add fresh water to the beans for cooking.

Ancient whole grains such as millet, quinoa, amaranth, barley, buckwheat, or brown/red rice mixed with a variety of beans/legumes together make up a complex protein which help you stay full for longer. Ideally consume these heavy combination of plant-based foods for breakfast and/or lunch for sustainable energy and digestive ease.

Mushroom and tofu are great meat alternatives, adding familiar texture and plenty of minerals. I would recommend consuming more mushrooms than soy though since soy is genetically modified and heavily sprayed with pesticides.  GMO foods such as soy, wheat, corn, and tomatoes are hard to digest and hence, cannot be consumed in large quantities as is typical in the Western diet. Try to choose GMO-free soy whenever possible.

When was the last time you ate a jackfruit? Yep, good ol’ jackfruit. While this might seem a strange addition to this list.  If you’re used to a more conventional Western diet, jackfruit just might become your new favorite food. It can be prepared into a very convincing alternative to pulled pork or pulled chicken. Add your favorite sauce and you’ve got yourself an amazing sandwich.

Sample Plant-Based Recipe

Quinoa Hemp Veggie Burgers

The problem with most veggie burgers is that they lack the tooth of a more conventional burger. This recipe gets it right.

In a large bowl combine cooked quinoa (about 2 cups), black beans (cooked, and rinsed -- about 1 1/2 cups), onion (chopped), garlic cloves (minced), carrot (shaved), bell pepper (chopped), and brown rice flour (⅓ cup). Mix everything up and add ½ cup hulled hemp seeds, chili powder, cumin, and a couple of tablespoons of avocado, coconut, or hemp seed oil.

Mix well, then form into burger patties. Dust with salt and pepper.  Fry in an oil with a high smoke-point, like coconut or avocado oil. Cook at medium heat for about 7 minutes on each side. Keep an eye on the patties and lower the heat if the pan gets too intense.  You want the burgers to cook through while still keeping their softness.

Dress with your favourite burger toppings (romaine lettuce, tomato, pickle, and a cayenne hemp seed aioli, for starters) and serve.

Nutritional Consultations at Advanced Health

Nicole Bianchi, N.C.

Nicole Bianchi, N.C., is a nutritionist with a strong interest in the healing power of real food. Talk to Nicole about tailoring a plant-based diet for your particular dietary needs. Contact Advanced Health today to set up a consultation with Nicole and put yourself on the path to developing the right habits, right now.

Nicole Bianchi, N.C. Nicole Bianchi, N.C. is a certified nutritionist who helps clients strategically develop food plans for themselves and their families according to their individual needs, situations, health challenges and preferences.

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