8 Plant-Based Foods RDs Say You Should Be Eating More Of
Why yes, there are potatoes on the list.
Every year, I make an effort to do an end-of-January check-in with myself re: my beginning-of-January resolutions. Accountability is everything, and it helps me discover which of my undertakings were actionable and achievable and which ended up being illusory.
No matter how laid-back or lofty, it’s no surprise that health-focused goals consistently top the charts for New Year’s resolutions. And for those looking to revamp their diet in the long term, plant-based eating is one of the most practical solutions for starting healthier eating habits. Not only is it better for your body—it’s better for the planet, too.
Here are the eight key plant foods to keep on your shopping list to turn resolutions into reality, according to Natalie Rizzo, MS, RD, a New York City-based registered dietitian.
Walnuts are the only nut that that provide a significant amount of the essential plant-based omega-3 fatty acid ALA (2.5 grams per 1-ounce serving), and also contain protein (4 grams) and fiber (2 grams). A systematic review from Harvard also found that a diet supplemented with anywhere from 5 percent to 24 percent of calories from walnuts resulted in a significantly greater decrease in total cholesterol (including both 'bad' LDL cholesterol and triglycerides). We love walnuts in everything from energy bars and breakfast bowls to soups, salads, and pasta.
Spuds are anything but the enemy. Both white and sweet potato are packed with potassium, an electrolyte that is necessary for hydration. And potatoes are a resistant starch, so they actually aid in digestion and reduce your hunger levels. Potatoes are also affordable, easy to cook, and are great fuel for active people.
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It's no surprise that most people think of tofu when they think of plant-based eating: 3 ounces has a whopping 9 grams of protein. Soy is a complete protein, meaning that it contains all of the essential amino acids that are not commonly found in many plant proteins. But tofu is also a good source of calcium, which is great for anyone avoiding dairy. Tofu can be added to practically any dish, from stir fries to salads to smoothies (use silken tofu for a deliciously creamy texture).
The Dietary Guidelines recommend filling half your plate with fruits and vegetables, and all veggies are important in plant-based diets. “Broccoli is one of my go-tos because it’s packed with nutrients,” says Rizzo. A cup of raw broccoli has about 3 grams of protein, 30 calories, and 10 percent of your daily fiber (2.5 grams). It also has potassium, Vitamin K, Vitamin C, and calcium. “I love to roast up broccoli in the oven with a little bit of olive oil and salt, and you can also add raw or steamed broccoli to salads,” she says.
Good news: Brussels sprouts are in season in the winter. Choosing produce by season offers variety in color, flavor, and texture—and in-season produce is often the cheapest way to go, too. Just 1 cup of Brussels sprouts has 100 percent of your daily Vitamin C, 4 grams of protein, and 4 grams of fiber. And research shows that phytochemical (plant compounds) found in Brussels sprouts are associated with a reduced risk of cancer development.
Tempeh is a fermented soybean cake that is packed with plant-based protein. Not only does 3 ounces of tempeh have 16 grams of protein, but the fermentation process used to make tempeh creates good for the gut probiotics. Plus, tempeh has a nice texture that can hold up in sandwiches or veggie burgers.
Brown rice is a whole grain that contains a significant amount of protein and fiber, two nutrients that help slow down the digestion process. In other words, brown rice keeps you full for a long time. Batch cook grains on Sunday to use them throughout the week or buy pre-cooked frozen packages for an even simpler option.
You'll get plenty of satisfying protein (9 grams per half cup) and fiber (8 gramps per half cup) from lentils, both of which help to promote a healthy digestive system. They're full of iron and folate, too. You can easily swap lentils for the meat in many recipes, like tacos, burgers, and Bolognese sauce. Pro tip: pair lentils with other plant-based proteins like whole grains and walnuts to form a “complete” protein. One cup cooked has 18 grams of protein.