Either you have restrictions, or you've met someone who does, which means you've heard or uttered some variation of: "So what do you eat now?" or "What’s left to eat?" Hey, I get it! It wasn't too long ago that I was shoveling processed food, meat, and dairy products like they were going out of style. Don't get me wrong, I've always loved healthy food (...dating back to the time my little sister and I used to fight over who got the last of the steamed spinach at dinner), but it didn’t seem like any other way of eating was possible.
Without those grains and animal products we've been persuaded are such foundational parts of each meal, how are you supposed to stay full, get adequate vitamins/nutrients, and get all the protein you need? First, consider this: sneaky, and well promoted advertising are certainly at play in these mindsets. Take the "Got Milk?" campaign for example. In just a few years, that slogan has led nearly every American to believe that cow's milk is the best and only way to get your calcium for strong bones. I'll admit, that's clever marketing, but completely inaccurate. Just goes to show, you need to be extremely wary of the source of information and who might be profiting from you going along with it.
If you’re used to bread, pasta, chips, cereal, pizza, and fast food, plant-based foods probably aren’t even on your radar. So this question, in addition to being the most common, makes the most sense to address. To start things off, here are 25 of the most common foods that fill my diet, in no particular order:
1. Leafy greens (spinach, kale, collard)
2. Other “greens” (mustard greens, turnip, swiss chard, pea shoots)
3. High water vegetables (celery, cucumber, radish, lettuce varieties)
4. Beans, legumes (black, kidney, chickpeas)
5. Bean sprouts
6. Gluten-free grains (brown rice, quinoa, amaranth, millet)
7. Nuts (almonds, cashews)
8. Seeds (pumpkin, chia, flax, sesame)
9. Root vegetables (carrot, beet, jicama, rutabaga, etc.)
10. Peppers (bell, serrano, chili, jalapeño, etc.)
11. Sweet potato (NOT white potato)
12. Cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower, brussel sprouts, cabbage)
13. Onion varieties
15. Summer Squash (zucchini, yellow squash)
16. Winter Squash (pumpkin, butternut, spaghetti, acorn)
17. Low-sugar citrus (lemon, lime, grapefruit)
18. Low-sugar fruit (most berries, nectarines, watermelon, papaya, some melons)
19. Tomato varieties
20. Avocado (fun fact: Cinnamon and Bay Leaf are also in avocado’s single-seed fruit family…yes, avocado is a fruit.)
22. Mushroom varieties
23. Healthy oils/fats (olive, coconut, grapeseed)
24. Spices (pepper, garlic, ginger, turmeric, etc.)
25. Healthy Sweeteners in extreme moderation (Honey –not agave, Stevia; never artificial sweeteners like aspartame, sucralose, high fructose corn syrup)
Now, chances are, there are a few things on that list that you’ve never heard of...or maybe more than a few. If you were talking to the Brittany from 3 years ago (before I went gluten-free and vegan), I honestly didn’t know what most of those things were, which meant they definitely weren't the primary source of food in my diet. Seems crazy to think now, but I couldn't have told you what quinoa, kale, or hummus were. Today, however, all the plant-based foods I never knew existed now make up 98% of my diet, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Maybe this hasn't yet answered your question. What DO you really eat though? That was a long list of vegetables my mom used to try to make me eat at dinner, but asparagus and spinach does not a dinner make. True! And if I had to eat raw veggies or salads for every meal, I'd probably go bananas! This is where the phrase "practice makes perfect" comes into play. It takes a little while to understand the nutritional value of each food, what type of foods are low glycemic, and how to create balanced meals. Pinterest, Google, and credible health information/resources (like here, here, and here) are going to be your best friend. Again, know the source of information and what they might be trying to gain by telling you such information. Knowledge is certainly power, so I recommend educating yourself...slowly. Baby steps, baby bites.
To understand how a plant-based diet can keep you full and satisfied with a happy pallet, you'll want to check back for the answers to "How do you get enough protein?" and "Aren’t you vitamin/nutrient deficient eating that way?" in my next article "Navigating food Restrictions: Protein, Vitamins, and Calories."
Now, all the negative side effects caused by unhealthy foods (migraines, digestive issues, fatigue, etc.), are just fuel to create and seek out healthy alternatives. A classic example are my Black Bean Burgers. This recipe was one of my first creations in 2014 and has since made appearances at 4th of July BBQs, family dinners, and even one of the weeks I catered the Coplex office. Sometimes it takes a little bit of coaxing for people to try new things, but I’ve gotten the same response almost every time: “There’s no meat in this? Really? They taste so good!” Exactly! Eating healthy shouldn’t mean giving up on all the delicious foods you love for tasteless, empty, boring ones. Healthy food should taste amazing and make you feel even more so.
An interesting thing to note: the more you eat clean, wholesome, unprocessed foods, the more refined your palette becomes and can appreciate depth of flavor you've never experienced. Before these changes, I had no problem devouring a few desserts in one sitting. Now, I'm so sensitive to sugar, they aren't enjoyable at all. Even certain fruits taste extremely sweet. This tends to happen over time when your taste buds are desensitized by the primary methods for flavor in most processed food (excessive salt, oil/butter, MSG, and artificial sweeteners.)
There are a few tricks up my sleeve to combat the plant-based foods that are less flavorful (or less desirable in flavor). Let's not forget the magical world of spices and seasonings! Garlic, Himalayan sea salt, turmeric, ginger, lemon/lime, vinegars, paprika, oregano, cumin, basil, cinnamon, nutmeg, cayenne, cilantro, rosemary, olive oil, tahini, mint, mustard, cacao, molasses, vanilla, coconut oil, allspice, curry, cardamom, dill, tamari, horseradish, citrus zest, onion, parsley, sage….stop me at any time. Spices are just completely amazing!! I guarantee you can make even your least favorite vegetable or food taste heavenly with the right spices.
It only takes a little bit of practice and of course the help of a little Brittany baker (that's me!) If you have a food challenge for me, I'd love to hear it. Brussel sprouts? Green beans? Kale? If there's a food you think you could never eat, tell me what that is and I'll work some magic in a recipe that will change your mind.
On that note, I’d really love to hear where you are with your healthy lifestyle. Did you recognize every food and spice I talked about? Or is pizza the main source of vegetables in your diet? No wrong answers here. Next week I’ll be addressing the top follow-up questions to this article. Comment below, or message me here.