As many of you know, I switched to a plant-based diet well over a year ago. without any vegan beginners’ guide. After doing lots of research, I decided to remove meat, eggs, milk, and cheese from my diet, giving whole-food vegan nutrition a try. And I’m thankful that I did. I’ve never felt (or looked) healthier in my entire life. Moreover, my body recovers quicker than ever before, which is important for a guy who runs 60+ mile training weeks.
But I didn’t always know what to eat. When I first started this journey, I was clueless as to what plant-based foods to buy. I started with the basics: lettuce (iceburg), broccoli, corn, green beans, potatoes, and (every so often) tofu. There wasn’t anything wrong with my original vegan grocery list but it was certainly limited. And the last thing I wanted was to feel “restricted.”
That’s why I’m sharing with you what I know now. You can get a jump start on your vegan planning. And perhaps it’ll save you some time pacing around the grocery store.
Vegan Food Groups
There are essentially six vegan food groups that I currently eat from: Vegetables, Fruits, Greens, Grains, Beans/Lentils, and Nuts/Seeds. I don’t eat a specified amount of each per day, but I do typically have all of them in a 24-hour period.
I know what you’re thinking, “What foods fit into these ‘animal-free’ food groups?” and, “What the heck are lentils?” Let me give you some examples.
Yes, potatoes, carrots, and broccoli are great. But you’ll soon learn that we have and abundance of veggies at our disposal. Here are a few of my favorites:
You can stock up on apples, bananas, and oranges all day. And they’re perfectly healthy. But I suggest switching it up with a few of these you may have not tried.
The best purchase I’ve made since going vegan is my Vitamix Blender. I use it every day to blend veggies, greens, and fruits into delicious homemade smoothies. The best part: they’re loaded with plant-based vitamins, minerals, and nutrients.
You can’t forget your greens in a vegan beginners’ guide. Dark leafy greens are an extremely important part of any vegan’s diet. And should be for omnivores, too. Full of calcium and loads of phytonutrients, greens are what help my body recover most after physical activity. Here are my top picks.
Another very important part of the vegan beginners’ guide are Beans & Lentils. They provide us with nourishing plant-based proteins and carbohydrates to keep our bodies fueled. I keep them stocked at all times.
Great Northern Beans
What are lentils?
Lentils are a small, round, lens shaped legume that come in many colors and sizes. Colors range from yellow and red to green, brown, and even black. Lentils are inexpensive, highly nutritious, and can be stored for a long time without refrigeration. One cup of cooked lentils contains more than grams of protein. – Definition courtesy: foodreference.about.com
French Green Lentils
Nuts and seeds are great for snacking, or for adding adding a nutty taste to your favorite recipes. I add them to salads, smoothies, pancakes, oatmeal cookies, and trail mixes. One of my favorite things to take with me on long runs are dates stuffed with almonds. This simple snack provides me with carbohydrates, potassium, and natural sugar, giving me a quick (and sustainable) boost.
Nuts – Pecans, Walnut, Almonds, Pistachios
Seeds – Flax, Hemp, Sunflower, Pumpkin, Chia Seeds
One thing I like to mention to new vegans is the importance of buying these ingredients in their whole form. What do I mean buy this? When purchasing your foods, be sure that they are the only ingredient on the packaging.
When I’m buying (say) black beans, I expect to only see black beans on the package. If you’re buying them canned, they may contain water; this if fine. Just be sure that they’re not loaded with salt, additives, and preservatives. When possible, I buy my foods in their freshest form (in the produce section).
Also, try to purchase your foods organic. Buying organic ensures that your food was not subjected to poisonous chemicals, and wasn’t genetically modified in any way. Here’s a list of foods that you should always buy organic.