Often in plant-based diets there is an assumption that not all nutrients can be found in the food we eat. As a result, we must need vegan supplements to, well, supplement our diets in order to acquire all of our nutrients for the day. While I don't disagree with using a vegan supplement as I don't think they are inherently harmful, I do like to live my own life as simply as possible. Because I strive for this simplicity, I like taking a step back often and consider the real value of the food I put into my mouth and stomach. In my mind, I view fruits and vegetables as a whole food means of supplementing my mind and body. Once you see how packed with nutritional value the staples in my plant-based diet, you may find it surprising that you hear so many discuss needing an extra boost from an additional vegan dietary supplement.
The Top 10 Nutrient Dense Plant Based Foods:
- Red Beets
- Swiss Chard
What is the nutritional value of these vegan foods and how do they serve as a natural "supplement" within my diet? This is an excellent question and I am happy to dive into more depth about each of these 10 vegetables and fruits to explore the real impact they can have on your plant-based diet.
Potatoes are considered an excellent starch (a form of carbohydrate). These are traditionally higher in calorie content when compared with other plant life such as Romaine lettuce, so will serve as an excellent main fixture in your meals as they are filling and provide a lot of energy. They are also an excellent source of fiber, B Vitamins, Iron, Calcium, and Folate. One thing to consider when eating potatoes is to not peel away the skin, as the potato skin is nutritional useful as well. Of course, a great reason why I love potatoes aside from the nutritional content is the ability to cook with them in different ways. From homemade potato fries and the classic baked potato to mashing them up, the taste is similar but different and keeps it interesting for time to come.
Cucumbers are a great and easy to grow vegetable that is incorporated into many of my meals. It is most dense in vitamin K, where a small serving of 1 cup provides nearly 20% of the required daily requirement. Many other nutrients are present including molybdenum, pantothenic acid, potassium, phosphorus, vitamin C, vitamin B1, and magnesium. In relatively recent scientific studies, cucumbers have been researched and it has shows that they contain lariciresinol, pinoresinol, and secoisolariciresinal. These are big and relatively meaningless words, even for Farmer Fred, so as a brief explanation I will tell you that these are 3 lignans (chemical compounds found in plants), and these have been shown to have a strong history of research showing a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease and cancer, such as breast, uterine, ovarian, and prostate cancer. This is valuable information to know considering a common nutritional label you will see on the food you purchase from a store like Whole Foods (or any grocery store for that matter) does not tend to include very detailed information like this.
Red beets tend to be overlooked in the modern Western diet by so many people, and I can't seem to understand why! I love beets! From such a small root vegetable, you can essentially view this as an excellent manganese, folate, and potassium supplement taking the place of a little pill with something that looks and tastes much better. I could literally spend another page or two detailing the health benefits that stem from the little beat, but as an overview I would like to address that beets are well loved as an antioxidant rich food with anti-inflammatory and detox benefits. Like has been seen in some other fruits and vegetables, some research has been done on beets indicating that the chemical makeup of this plant has an impact on your body by reducing your risk for a number of cancers such as colon, nerve, stomach, lung, breast, prostate, and testicular cancers. We are still awaiting larger studies to further this research, but it appears to be promising! If you never tried a beet before, you should probably be aware of the phenomena known as "beeturia" wherein urine can become red or pinkish in color. This is experienced by approximately 5 - 15% of adults and is not considered harmful!
Kale is a miracle of nature. It is one of my favorite plants to grow and, well, eat! Much like lettuce, it can serve as an excellent base in a number of dishes and be consumed on it's own. If you are looking for a virtually "perfect" vitamin K supplement, vitamin A supplement, or vitamin C supplement; you will find no better food choice than this. Just 1 cup of kale provides you with nearly 100% of your daily needs of vitamins A & C, and nearly 10 times your daily requirement of vitamin K! It is packed with many other nutrients including, but certainly not limited to, manganese, copper, vitamin B6, fiber, calcium, iron, and protein. The impact this fresh veggie has had on my life has been extraordinary, and it's unfortunate it is overlooked on so many dinner plates.
Tomatoes are considered a fruit, did you know that? According to the Oxford Dictionary, the reason it is considered a fruit is because "true fruits are developed from the ovary in the base of the flower, and contain the seeds of the plant..." The confusion arises because of how we tend to use tomatoes in our daily lives. They typically are treated as vegetables as they are paired with salads (among other things I dare not speak of here!). Even more noticeably, the taste of a tomato is more in tune with that of what we expect from veggies because it lacks the sweetness typically associated with fruits (like an apple or grape). However you want to view the beautiful red tomato (or green, orange, purple, or yellow tomatoes!), the most important reality is how they are valuable to our daily nutritional needs. They are excellent sources of vitamin C, potassium, folate and vitamin K as well as the antioxidant lycopene which has been linked to many health benefits including reduced risk of heart disease and cancer. One other interesting fact is that tomatoes are made up of around 95% water, so will serve as a good source of water for when you don't feel like drinking out of a glass!
Apples are one of the easiest fruits to become accustomed to, and feature on another article where I address some plant life that can be used to ease into a vegan diet. They are so attractive because of their natural sweetness, something that often seems to be lacking in a plant based diet. As my friend Chocolate Vegan might say, apples are my main squeeze. While I love just eating them whole as they are, they are also great to experiment with by mashing them up or juicing. They are an excellent source of fiber and vitamin C, and benefit your cardiovascular system, your ability to regulate blood sugar, and have been seen to have anti-cancer and anti-asthma benefits as well. An apple a day keeps the doctor away, but keeps the farmer employed so he can keep apples coming your way! :)
Carrots are great. This is a simple introduction to a simple (but really rather complex!) plant that keeps me going on a daily basis. When I'm not able to grow carrots in my garden, I am able to pick up a decent sized bag for a little over a buck at a grocery store. I love using carrots as snacks throughout the day whenever I'm feeling hungry, but not quite in the mood to spend a lot of time preparing a large meal. If you need a vitamin A supplement or biotin supplement, look no further. Not to mention, beta-carotene which is a carotenoid antioxidant found in carrots and other plant forms.
Strawberries are sweet and savory, and serve as a great meal topping, snack, or smoothie ingredient. They are, in fact, a perfect vitamin C supplement as just 1 cup of fresh strawberries provide 113% of your daily nutritional need for this particular vitamin type. Of course, the nutritional benefits go beyond just the C vitamin, and include relatively high daily percentage values of manganese, fiber, iodine, folate, potassium, and more. Like many other plant based foods, the health benefits are significant as well as eating strawberries can benefit cardiovascular health, help regulate your blood sugar, and have been shown to help fight cancer before it develops. If you are a believer in "prevention, not prescriptions" as I am, you will want to get on board and eat more strawberries, if you aren't already!
Celery is made up heavily of water, and serves as an excellent vitamin K supplement. It is a unique vegetable that has a distinct flavor, and a certain attractive quality that even kids seem to enjoy! While we are not the biggest fans of peanut butter here at Plant Smart Living, a wonderful alternative for dipping celery sticks into is hummus. The benefits of celery are fairly vast for such a simple plant life, and include antioxidant qualities, anti-inflammatory support, digestive tract support, cardiovascular support, and other health benefits.
Swiss Chard is a vegetable you may have heard me refer to as "my darling" in previous Youtube videos. It is an absolute beast and can frankly serve the place of a daily multi-vitamin. 1 single cup of swiss chard provides 636% of daily vitamin K, 60% of vitamin A, 45% of vitamin C, and 40% of magnesium intake according to daily requirements, as well as relatively large numbers for many, many other nutrients such as iron, fiber, choline, protein, zinc, vitamin B1 & B3, and more. If you don't already, I swear you enjoy the health benefits my dear Swiss chard will bring as a supplement to your vegan diet.
Sometimes when I think about my plant-based diet and how it impacts my mind and body holistically, I can't help but wonder if I am like an old-time "snake oil" peddler. The reality that supplements may not be necessary in our modern world is incredible, considering how large the industry is that markets vegan supplements. The assumption that there is a need (ie: there is no other way to live) for supplements in a vegan diet is flawed. I hope Plant Smart Living is able to provide some education regarding this issue as it is so vital that we begin to take a step back and educate ourselves more and more about the foods we are consuming. If you feel you are benefiting from the content we place here, please feel free to stop by our Support page to see how you can help us expand our vision for a plant-smart world.