This past April marked the first ever Wildwoods Nutrition workshop! We talked all things plants and nutrition and I had the absolute best time meeting and conversing with some of the most stunningly curious and insightful souls. My mission with this workshop was to help break some misconceptions about the plant-based diet in order to allow people to shift their thinking to understand how beautifully simple it is to thrive on a plant-based diet. Whether you’re driven by your own health, or the health of your loved ones, driven for environmental reasons, or driven by the desire to live more compassionately towards animals – everyone can eat plant-based.
One of the biggest concerns about going plant-based, maybe aside from giving up cheese, is that if you cut animal products from your diet, you’re risking nutritional inadequacy. This is such a common fear, and truly unnecessary. There is virtually nothing that you can get from animal products that you cannot get from the plant kingdom (aside from vitamin B12 and Vitamin D, for more information click here). After all, when you’re consuming animal products, you’re simply getting your nutrition second hand – the animals having ingested and assimilated these nutrients from their food (mostly plant foods) and then passing it along to you. This second hand consumption is not only inefficient for feeding our ever growing population, but also poses nutritional risks that come along with eating animal products, such as added hormones, antibiotics, cholesterol, bacteria, saturated fat, the list goes on, and on…
By choosing to eat a plant-based diet, you’re going to be getting next to none of those risks, and the benefits are immeasurable. To truly thrive on a plant-based diet, arguably the most important thing is consuming a variety of plant-based foods – this ensures you’ll be getting a wide scope of nutrients, making it pretty impossible to become deficient in anything. To visually inspire a healthy and mindful plant-based diet, I created a simple plant based food pyramid and my friend Audrey March brought it to life with her amazing design skills!
Starting from the bottom – i.e. the most important:
No. 1 greens:
If we’re talking nutrient density per calorie, greens are seriously leading the game. We talk calories because you’re going to be eating a certain amount of calories per day, very roughly around 2500 to 3500 depending on age, activity level, relationship with peanut butter… Anyways, we want to focus on bringing in as great of a nutritional load per calorie as we can – the best way of doing this is through greens!! These powerhouses are the healthiest foods on the planet, carrying the most nutritional bang for your caloric buck. They’re so easy to sneak into your diet in the most creative and tasty ways. You don’t have to always opt for a simple salad, think romaine hearts spread with nut butter and sliced banana, collard green wrapped salad rolls, green smoothies, and steamed spinach in your tofu or chickpea morning scramble. The opportunities are endless.
No. 2 other vegetables and whole fruits:
The second group to be mindfully including in your diet is the vast amount of other vegetables and whole fruits! Focus on bright, vibrant colours, they contain the most antioxidants. From the basics of carrots, celery, and bananas, to the potent anti-cancer cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, radishes and brussels sprouts, to the antioxidant rich beets and berries, to all the comforting root vegetables. By basing your plate around fruits or vegetables, you’re going to be bursting with energy, vibrancy, and health.
No. 3 whole, unprocessed grains / beans & legumes:
The beans, legumes and whole unprocessed grains are what are going to make you feel satisfied and satiated on your plant-based diet. Another common complaint about new plant-based eaters is they’re never full – if you’re used to dense animal products, and you switch to a plant-based diet of light and cleansing plant-foods with very little bulk, no wonder you’re starving all the time! The hearty oatmeals for breakfast, the cooked wheat berries in your butternut squash soup, the chickpeas in your glory bowl – these foods are going to not only pack in the micronutrients and fibre, but are going to fill you up and allow you to feel grounded and nourished, to carry you through to your next healthy plant-based meal.
No. 4 nuts/ seeds / herbs & spices:
Nuts and seeds, nutritional powerhouses containing healthy fats like omega 3’s, and antioxidants. Nuts and seeds are among the more grounding foods as well, helping you feel full and satiated with your plant-based diet. Think creamy ginger peanut sauce on salad rolls, ground flaxseed in your oats, sesame tahini dressing on your salad bowls, and various nuts/seeds in homemade energy balls.
Herbs and spices are not just around to amp up flavour, they’re packed with nutrients! – some so potent you can use them medicinally. My favourites that I include in my diet frequently are turmeric, ginger and black pepper in Turmeric lattes, freshly ground nutmeg in baking and warm winter drinks, and fresh green herbs like basil, mint and parsley in dressings, spreads, salads and more.
No. 5 sea vegetables:
Sea vegetables are also one of the most nutrient dense foods on the planet, containing vitamins and minerals of the sea, amino acids, and phytonutrients. Sea vegetables however, are highly absorptive, making them susceptible to absorbing environmental toxins such as heavy metals – you can avoid this by purchasing organic. How might one include vegetables of the sea in their diet? My favourite way is homemade veggie sushi wrapped in Nori, with a killer ginger sauce on top, seriously, so good.
No. 6 fermented foods / superfoods:
Without healthy gut and digestion health, our bodies are going to have a really hard time absorbing all these amazing nutrients from your diet. Enter fermented foods, containing a vast variety of probiotics to populate your gut, as well as enzymes that assist in digestion. Think pickles (home fermented or certain brands actually contain probiotics), sauerkraut, kombucha, or fermented cashew yogurt!
Super foods wrap up the food pyramid. Superfoods have become somewhat overrated in my opinion. Yes, they’re very nutrient dense and contain so many great qualities, however, I’m sensitive to the fact that they’re being marketed and sold at a high cost, and making people believe they need them to take their nutrition to the next level. I want to stress here that all plants are superfoods! – and you’ll be vibrantly existing even if you don’t put goji berries on your oatmeal every morning. I don’t like the idea of people bypassing a pint of local, fresh, organic raspberries to go purchase a package of superfood mulberries. Saying that – if it’s within your budget, superfoods are indeed packed with nutrients and are a great way to add variety and interest to your diet, acai bowls, cacao in vegan chocolate truffles, and matcha green tea lattes.
Whats not included …
Animal products, processed foods, processed grains, processed sugars & oils. These are all very calorically dense, and nutrient poor. If we’re maxing out our caloric intake with these anti-nutrients instead of nutrient dense plant foods, we’re experiencing a huge opportunity cost. Depending on your personal health/fitness goals, values, and ethics, these foods can be included in moderation in your healthy plant-based diet, and as long as you’re keeping your diet about 90% whole, unprocessed plant foods, your 10% can be whatever keeps you on track – be that not stressing about what you’re eating at friends’ homes, when you’re eating out, or your one vice that you don’t want to give up! It’s not about restriction – but my inkling tells me most people, when experiencing the benefits and taste value of the plant-based diet, will naturally start to stray away from the foods they once thought they would perish without.