4 Types of Plant-Based Foods Every Healthy Diet Needs

4 Types of Plant-Based Foods Every Healthy Diet Needs

Plant-based eating is hot—and for good reason: Research suggests a whole-food, plant-based diet can help reduce chronic disease risk, support weight loss, and more. Thing is, there's more to a healthy, plant-based diet than cutting back on meat. Here, I'll break down four types of plant-based foods to incorporate if you're striving to eat a healthier, more plant-centric diet.

1. Nuts & Seeds

plant-based foods nuts and seeds

Go-to's: pistachios, walnuts, macadamia nuts, almonds, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, chia seeds, hemp hearts

Nuts and seeds are all great sources of satiating healthy fats, specifically monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, which have been shown to promote heart health. Plus, nuts and seeds also contain a variety of vitamins and minerals, all of which help promote a number of body functions. One superstar vitamin these plant-based foods provide: the antioxidant vitamin E, which helps fight free radicals that can cause cell damage.

Related: How To Eat A Plant-Based Diet The Right Way

Eat 'em: Snack on nuts and seeds on their own, or use them to add texture and nutrition to yogurt, oatmeal, or salads. You can also incorporate nut butters into all sorts of recipes, like smoothies. Here's one of my favorites:

Creamy Peach Smoothie

*makes 1 serving

Ingredients

  • ½ cup Greek yogurt (vanilla or plain)
  • 2 Tbsp nut butter of your choice
  • 1 peach, pitted
  • ½ frozen banana
  • 1 cup water or milk

Directions

  1. Place all ingredients in a blender and blend for 60 seconds.
  2. Enjoy fresh!

2. Legumes

plant-based foods legumes

Go-to's: beans, peas, lentils

Two key nutrients you'll find in legumes: fiber and iron. While the fiber in legumes promotes satiety and gut health, the iron supports healthy red blood cell production. 

Not to mentions, legumes are a solid source of plant-based protein. (Half a cup of lentils provides nine grams.) The sustaining combo of fiber and protein makes them a great way to fill out any veggie dish.

Eat 'em: Serve legumes cold on top of salads, mash them with avocado for hearty dips and spreads, or add them to soups and stews instead of meat. Here's a creamy way to snack on them: 

White Bean Avocado Dip

*makes 12-16 servings

Ingredients

  • 2 ripe avocados, pitted and peeled
  • ½ cup canned cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 tsp lime juice
  • ¼ cup fresh cilantro, chopped
  • salt and pepper, to taste

Directions

  1. In a medium bowl, mash beans until they begin to form a paste but still retain some chunkiness.
  2. Add avocado and mash together with beans.
  3. Add remaining ingredients and fold until mixed well.
  4. Refrigerate for one hour to chill and allow flavors to meld.
  5. Serve with whole-grain crackers and veggies, or use as a sandwich spread.

3. Whole Grains

plant-based foods whole grains

Go-to's: quinoa, oats, brown rice, wheat berries

In their whole form, grains provide fiber and other key nutrients, such as magnesium, manganese, and phosphorus, that we need for overall health. The minerals they provide, in particular, help our body regulate our blood pressure and blood sugar, and support muscle function, protein formation, enzyme production, carbohydrate metabolism, and energy production.

I love quinoa, in particular, because it contains all of the essential amino acids (protein building blocks) our bodies need. For this reason, it's considered a 'complete protein,' a title few plant-based foods can claim.

Eat 'em: Serve whole grains warm as a side dish or toss them into salads, like my famous Quinoa Tabbouleh, which can work as either a side dish or a main course.

Quinoa Tabbouleh

*makes 4-6 servings

Ingredients

  • 2 cups cooked quinoa, cooled
  • 4 plum tomatoes, diced
  • 1 cucumber, diced
  • 3 green onions, diced
  • 1 cup fresh parsley, chopped
  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • ½ tsp salt
  • ¼ tsp pepper
  • ¼ cup lemon juice

Directions

  1. Prepare quinoa according to package directions. Once ready, set aside to cool.
  2. While the quinoa cools, chop the veggies (tomatoes, cucumber, and green onions), and add to a large bowl.
  3. Add remaining ingredients (parsley, olive oil, salt, pepper, and lemon juice), and stir to combine.
  4. Finally, add quinoa and mix gently until well-combined.
  5. Serve and enjoy!

Recipe note: To make the Tabbouleh more satiating, consider adding other plant-based foods, like chopped green pepper, Kalamata olives, chopped spinach, and sesame seeds to the mix.

4. Vegetables

plant-based foods vegetables

Go-to's: broccoli, spinach, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, and so many more

Obvious but crucial: Any healthy diet should put veggies at the front and center. Not only do vegetables provide a slew of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, but they also pack fiber—and even some protein.

Related: 6 Signs You're Not Getting Enough Protein

Eat 'em: Enjoy your favorite veggies raw, steamed, roasted, or sautéed. Different cooking methods offer different textures and flavor profiles, so a vegetable that's crunchy raw can completely transform with a little heat and oil. Need a go-to veggie side? Simply roasting broccoli brings out all sorts of flavor, and easily adds more plant-based foods to any meal.

Simple Roasted Broccoli

*makes 4 servings

Ingredients

  • 4 cups broccoli florets
  • 3 Tbsp olive oil
  • salt and pepper, to taste

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees and line a baking sheet with aluminum foil.
  2. In a large bowl, toss broccoli and olive oil until broccoli is evenly coated. (Use extra olive oil as needed, but know that overdoing it will yield soggy broccoli.)
  3. Spread broccoli on baking sheet in an even layer.
  4. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.
  5. Roast broccoli for 20 to 25 minutes, or until heads of broccoli florets start to brown slightly.
  6. Serve hot.

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