Here are our top tips for healthy plant-based eating

Thinking of Eating More Plant-Based Meals?

Food

here's been a lot of talk these days about eating more plant-based foods. What's good for the environment is good for you, right? Well, the answer lies in the ingredients list. Not all plant-based foods are equal and some are definitely more unhealthy for you than others. This is especially the case for plant-based processed foods. These include things like frozen veggie burgers (yes, the Impossible Burger included), or chicken-less chicken nuggets, or vegan pizza. So what's the key to healthy plant-based eating? There isn't one golden rule to follow, but we've rounded up some good tips to help you avoid plant-based processed foods below!

Here's what you can do…


So you can steer clear unhealthy ingredients like these...

  • High salt content: Just like most processed foods, plant-based frozen meals are also very high in salt.
  • Tertiary butylhydroquinone (a.k.a. TBHQ). TBHQ is a lab-made preservative that helps processed foods retain its flavor (1). For instance, making sure your smoky-fire roasted veggie burger tastes smoky. Unfortunately, animal studies have shown that TBHQ can cause cancer in animals, which is why the FDA limits the amount of TBHQ allowed in products (1). A safer and naturally occurring preservative alternative used by some food manufacturers is vitamin E (2).
  • Artificial food coloring. Artificial food colorings are ones like Red #3 and Yellow #6. High doses of artificial food coloring have been linked to a higher risk of cancer (3).
  • Emulsifiers. If you've ever looked on an ingredients list and saw ingredients like soy lecithin or mono and di-glycerides, these are emulsifiers. They help keep ingredients in a product mixed together and not separate, particularly if a product is made up of solids and liquids (3). However, animal studies have shown that emulsifiers can alter the microbiome of mice, cause inflammation and also increase the risk of obesity and other metabolic disorders (4).

When it comes to plant-based foods, the bottom line is that they are not perfect. Even if a product is plant-based, it doesn't automatically mean that it's healthy or safe, or even as nutritious as its meat counterpart. The best thing to do is use your best judgement (and this handy dandy article) when your plant-based craving strikes.

References
  1. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0308814609003148
  2. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1002/jsfa.7835
  3. https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/processed-foods/
  4. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25731162

We've all heard that reducing meat consumption is a great way to combat climate change, but for many people giving up meat completely is just really hard. That's why we're all for meals that reduce meat, but don't give it up completely. Just eating less meat on a consistent basis can have a big impact on carbon emissions and plant rich diets are really good for your heart health too. Adding veggies into ground beef tacos is one of our favorite ways to do that. This recipe is super kid-friendly and doesn't sacrifice on taste; it will definitely become a go-to recipe that everyone will gobble up. It's also budget friendly because it can stretch a pound of ground beef to last two meals. Sounds almost too good to be true, right?!

This recipe is also great for using up any veggies that are languishing in the fridge. Here we use onion, celery, zucchinis, and kale, but most veggies will work in this recipe. Broccoli stems, wilted leafy greens, leftover bell pepper, and even eggplant and mushrooms will work in this recipe. By using up what you have, you're reducing food waste, which is another way to combat climate change. So give this recipe a try the next time Taco Tuesday rolls around!

Ground Beef Loaded with Veggies Recipe

Ingredients

Ground beef tacos that include veggies like onion, celery, zucchinis, kale, broccoli stems, wilted leafy greens, leftover bell pepper, eggplant and mushrooms

For the Filling

  • 1 lb Ground Beef
  • ½ onion
  • 1 stalk celery
  • 3 small zucchinis (or 2 medium)
  • 1 bunch kale or other leafy green
  • 2 cloves garlic minced
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 tsp ground coriander
  • ½ tsp chili powder (or sub taco seasoning mix for all spices)
  • 1 Tbsp olive oil
  • Salt and pepper

For the Tacos

  • Flour or corn tortillas or hard taco shells
  • Garnishes like avocado, salsa, shredded cheese, sliced radishes, shredded lettuce, sour cream, pickled onions

Instructions

  1. Finely chop or food process onion, celery, zucchinis, and kale. You can use any other vegetables that you have in the refrigerator. Broccoli, swiss chard, cabbage, mushrooms all work well.
  2. Heat 1 Tbsp olive oil in a skillet and add vegetables. Cook over medium high heat, stirring frequently until the veggies have lost most of their water content. Depending on the moisture in the veggies you used, this may take anywhere from 5-15 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Remove veggies from the skillet and set aside.
  3. Add ground beef to the skillet and break up with a spatula. Add garlic, cumin, coriander, and chili powder. Feel free to change the amount of chili powder so that it's more spicy or less spicy depending on your preference. You can also substitute some taco seasoning mix if you have that on hand. Season with salt and pepper as well.
  4. When the ground beef is browned evenly, add the veggies back into the skillet and mix with your spatula until the mixture is well combined.
  5. Serve in heated tortillas with any garnishes you may have. Leftover filling is also really good in quesadillas, as a side to a big salad, or as part of a scramble.
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Sometimes the hardest part of cooking or meal prep can be figuring out what to make. It's hard to find a good balance between tasty and healthy. That's why we're sharing a tasty salad recipe that incorporates tips from our recent interview with Dr. Cynthia Li.

In our article titled 10 Science-Backed Ways to Detox With Cynthia Li, MD, Dr. Li mentions an important part of detoxing is to eat food your grandmother or great-grandmother would have recognized. Super processed food with a ton of hard-to-pronounce ingredients can have a detrimental effect on our health. There are certain foods that support detox more than others. This includes...

Foods that are good for detox such as omega-3 fatty acids, antioxidants, natural fiber, and herbs and spices

1. Foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids: wild salmon, walnuts & almonds, flax seeds freshly ground, avocado

2. Fruits and vegetables high in antioxidants: berries, kale, cabbage, tomatoes, citrus fruits, parsley, cilantro

3. Foods high in natural fiber: steel-cut oats, legumes, flaxseed meal, fruits & non-starchy vegetables

4. Herbs & spices: turmeric, fresh garlic, cumin, horseradish, ginger

It's easy to mix and match ingredients to create a ton of tasty dishes! The possibilities are endless. We created an awesome salad recipe using detox-approved ingredients. This salad is healthy, super tasty, and easy to make! You can also add protein and other seasonal fruit.

Kale, Chickpea, Avocado, and Citrus Salad

1 bunch kale, chopped into bite sized pieces

1/2 cup chickpeas (bonus points if cooked from dried beans or in a tetrapak or jar)

1 avocado, sliced

1 orange (or other citrus fruit) peeled and sliced

Creamy and Herby Walnut Dressing

1/3 cup walnuts

1 small garlic clove

1 Tbsp chopped parsley

3 Tbsp apple cider or white wine vinegar

1 Tbsp honey

1/3 cup olive oil

Salt and pepper

Instructions

Add walnuts, garlic, parsley, vinegar and honey to small food processor. Process until walnuts are in small chunks then start adding in olive oil

Massage kale with dressing then add toppings

Add dressing to taste

Enjoy!

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Alison Mountford from Ends and Stems Shares Her Meal Planning Tips

Plus, a 25% Discount for Because Health Readers!

Have you ever had an ingredient go bad because you didn't know what to cook with it? Or end up making so much pasta that your meal for one could now serve fifty? We've all been there. After spending years in the food industry, Alison Mountford saw firsthand how much perfectly good food gets thrown out during meal preparation. This lead her to create Ends and Stems, a meal planning service that curates recipes and shopping lists to make mealtime easier for you while reducing the environmental impact of food waste. Read on for a Q&A with the founder.

PS: Because Health readers can receive 25% off a monthly or annual subscription using the code Because

BH: Why is food waste an important issue for you?

AM: I've been a professional chef for 15 years. My first business was a meal delivery and catering service. As the owner of a small food establishment, it was just good business sense to use everything up and not waste edible food. I sold that business in 2015, but I wasn't sure what my next step was, honestly I was a little bit lost. Right around that time, the NRDC released it's landmark report measuring how much food is wasted in America, much of it in our own homes, and detailed the dramatic effect this waste has on the planet.

Everything clicked for me when I read this. My entire cooking career had been dedicated to helping busy people and families reduce stress around dinner time and encourage them to cook more, eat better, and shop better. And for my entire life, I have been an outdoors person. Following the health of our planet and taking action to improve it has always been a core value and it was only strengthened by the birth of my daughter, also in 2015. Reducing food waste at home is something small that we can all do everyday and it can add up to something big. Often, I feel helpless at some of the major issues our country and planet are facing, but helping busy people reduce food waste doesn't cost them time or money - it saves both - and that makes it super fun to educate about and promote.



BH: What inspired you to start a meal planning business?

AM: Once I knew that as a chef I had to talk about cooking to reduce food waste, I needed a business model. I had been in business long enough to know that creating an idea in my own head, alone at my desk was not a recipe for success. So, I took the internet and starting interviewing people. I used a free survey tool and put out a questionnaire. Within 48 hours, I had just shy of 1000 responses! I asked people if they cared about climate change (yes), food waste (also yes), and how they were struggling at dinner time. 83% of those surveyed named "Deciding what to buy and cook" as a top concern! I expected the answer would be grocery shopping or actually doing the cooking, but it turns out that the emotional labor of choosing a recipe and making sure you have the ingredients was driving people nuts.

From there, I refined the idea to include impact reporting and tested ways to change the convention of recipe writing so that the meals are faster, easier, and use everything up.



BH: Is food waste an issue that you see other professional chefs embracing? Can you tell us more about food waste in the food service industry?

AM: Yes, I feel very excited about the role of chefs in food waste and the greater movement to combat climate change.

In my experience, chefs are the least likely group of people to let food go to waste. In the breakdown of where food is wasted, restaurants rank high, but do you know more specifically where the food is wasted? On the consumer side. Any thriving restaurant manages food cost tightly, meaning there's not that much food wasted in preparation. Diners however, are conditioned to look for large portions, free bread/chips, we over order, and we don't follow through to take home and eat leftovers.

Chefs also have the advantage of knowing how to use a product in multiple ways and can minimize waste and reinvent leftovers.

I was recently at a conference with some of the best chefs in the world and the focus of the entire day was how chefs can use our position and influence to reduce food waste and act on multiple other initiatives to combat climate change - reduce plastic waste, support bee habits, reject monocropping, buy from farms doing carbon capture, reduce portion sizes, educate diners, and so many others.


BH: What are your top 3 tips for people who want to start meal planning but have never done it before?

AM: 1) Get in the habit of writing ideas down when they pop in your head. Thinking of dinner ideas on demand feels akin to writers block. I know I had some ideas...why can't I remember them? For me, this means keeping a running list on my phone or emailing recipes to myself when I see them. When it comes time to choosing a few recipes for the week, I have some help getting the ideas flowing.

2) Ask family members for input. This helps kids especially, buy into meal time and complain less. My 4 year old will ask for a specific fruit or vegetable, burritos, or noodles. I can factor these into the plan and she feels accounted for.

3) Be realistic about your week and willingness to commit. When I polled those thousand families, most were willing to cook just 2-3 times per week. Don't write a meal plan for 5 nights on your first attempt. Start small with just 2 recipes. Perhaps, choose one meal that you know will make excellent leftovers and double it. On super busy nights, plan for takeout or leftovers! My family always orders in on Wednesdays because my husband works later and brings the kids home later. We simply aren't starting from scratch that night of the week.



BH: What are some ways that people can make cooking fun?

AM: I think the single most important thing to do is cook when you have more time. That means, if you arrive home from work close to dinner time, prep your meals the day before or do most of it on Sundays. As a personal chef, I have prepared hundreds of thousands of meals 3-4 days before anyone will eat them. There's almost nothing that can't be stored overnight or longer and then reheated for dinner time. When you cook hangry (or with a hangry family nearby), it's never going to be fun.

My second tip to make cooking more fun is to rid yourself of any guilt stemming from a lack of variety. I see so many people, parents especially, lamenting that they don't cook enough variety and it's coming from comparing their own lives to an influencers feed on instagram. The real truth is that variety in foods is healthy, but you don't need to reinvent the wheel every night or week. Add variety when it truly feels fun but for busy weeknights, a simple home cooked meal is already a huge win, it does not have to be Pinterest worthy.

Did you see that thing about there being lead and arsenic in baby food pouches and packaged snacks? What about the one where there's RoundUp (or glyphosate) on cereals and oatmeal? It takes long enough to get your kids strapped in their highchair, so you probably don't have time to do tons of research on which brands and products are safe. Not sure about you, but that's definitely not happening in my house. Don't worry! That's why we sat down with Dr. Julia Getzelman, MD, integrative pediatrician and founder of GetzWell Personalized Pediatrics in San Francisco, to get her advice on what to feed your kids. She gave us some of her best tips and even a couple of recipes, and we are going to share them with you.

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Food

Food Waste Feast’s 2 Favorite Recipes to Make with Beans

Plus tips from a chef on how to cook with dried beans and ditch the cans

We all know having a can of beans on hand means whipping up dinner can happen pretty quickly. While we love a quick and easy dinner, we aren't as thrilled by a meal that might introduce us to some unnecessary chemicals. Why would whipping up some rice and beans do that? The quick answer is that cans are often lined with BPA, a substance often used to line aluminum cans to keep the food inside from reacting with the metal. So, we talked to a chef Mei Li, co-founder of restaurant Mei Mei in Boston, MA, forthcoming cookbook author, and co-founder of Food Waste Feast, to figure out what's up with dried beans.

Guess what we learned - dried beans aren't that scary.

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