After being vegetarian for 6 or 7 years, I decided to scrap the dairy part altogether and follow a vegan diet. Unfortunately, I did it in a way that caused me to develop food sensitivities. I indeed eliminated all dairy and eggs, but simply increased my intake of breads, potatoes and soy products. So I developed sensitivities to, you guessed it, breads (wheat, oat, yeast), potatoes, and soy products.
I believe there are some simple staples in our diet that will lead to a healthy, balanced vegan body, including:
GO HEAVY ON THE VEGETABLES AND DARK LEAFY GREENS
The most vital foods are dark, leafy greens, to be sure. Add multi-coloured vegetables, root vegetables, and antioxidant-rich berries and fruit, plus hearty whole grains and energy-packed beans and lentils, and you'll do excellently!
EASY ON THE BREADY FOODS
It's too easy to make breads a staple in any diet, but especially a vegan diet (how many times has my dinner been sliced bread with almond butter and bananas!). By not relying on breads, muffins, etc, you'll make room for more whole foods with more complex carbohydrates and nutrients.
White rice and pasta may feel like comfort food but these tend to be very refined. Opt for brown rice, non-wheat pasta (kamut, spelt, etc), and take the time to experiment with the many varieties of grains. Try quinoa (very high protein), millet, buckwheat, barley and others, often!
Beans are packed with protein, and there's lots available besides chickpeas and tofu. Adzuki beans have the highest protein of all and are easily digested and taste wonderful. Mung beans are delicious, nutritious and versatile... and of course there are all the great lentils! My favourites are French lentils and red lentils, plus chickpeas. I also want to include in this category seeds and nuts, which contain healthy fats and also lots of protein. Try avoiding peanuts, though, as they're are fungal, but go crazy with seeds like pumpkin seeds, sesame (high calcium!), flax and hemp seed (both high in Omegas!).
DON'T RELY ON OR IMMITATION MEAT & DAIRY
If we're used to a diet of cheese and bread and burgers and meat 'n' potatoes, then trying to simply replicate that within the vegan confines will lead to a mono-diet full of soy, fat and gluten. Rather than make a pizza using "ground beef" tofu and soy cheese, skip these and opt for grilled veggies, olives and walnuts on a whole grain homemade crust. Forget macaroni and "cheese", try kamut rotini with fresh pesto and a sprinkle of nutritional yeast.
Anything not already mentioned will of course not fall under the whole foods umbrella of healthy eating. That includes sugar, salt, coffee, tea, booze, oils, margarine -- if you can't clearly see what the plant looks like that this stuff came from, it's been refined and therefore should be really limited in our food repertoire. Also, opt for quick-frying or baking instead of deep-frying foods, and pressure-cooking is the best way to preserve vitamins and flavour in stews and soups. Include lots of fresh (raw) foods, which will have different nutrients than their cooked versions.
A NOTE ON PROTEIN
There's been much debate about whether you need to combine rice and beans for a "complete protein", but my understanding (with much help from my naturopath) is that veg diets tend to be severely deficient in protein. The best source is soy (vary it up with edamame beans, soy powder in baking and smoothies, tofu desserts and baked tofu, instead of immitation meats), followed closely by hemp hearts!
You need 5 grams of protein for every 10 pounds you weigh (ie. 75 g if you weigh 150 lbs). If you're trying to gain or lose weight, calculate based on your target weight. You get 15 grams of protein in: 1 cup of cooked beans, lentils or split peas; 5 Tbsp hemp hearts; 1/2 cup of peanuts;
3/4 cup walnuts or almonds; 1/2 cup soy beans and 1/2 block of tofu.
We need a lot of protein, so get it at every meal and every snack!
Although we may miss our starchy, fatty comfort food, switching to a whole foods vegan diet will simply feel better in our bodies and our spirits. It's an opportunity to embrace the incredible variety of nature's bounty, and to try recipes by cultures from around the world!