At my early days of being vegan, I wanted to make sure, that I get all the vitamins and minerals that my body needs. I’ve done a lot of research, and found a few things about superfoods, and dark leafy greens, different nuts and seeds and so on. At first, I couldn’t figure out what to try first, so I tried too much at once. Maybe more than once…
I can confidently say, now I know it’s best to keep my meals simple, with only 3-5 ingredients.
Here I collected my staple foods, that I use on a daily basis to give my body the optimal nutrients it needs, and for create yummy foods really quickly. Of course, there is a lot more food that I use daily, but I wanted include my most essential ones. I also included a few recipes for inspiration.
1. Flax seeds
Flax seeds or linseeds are high in fibre so they can improve digestion, they lower cholesterol, reduce sugar cravings, balance hormones and fight with cancer. They are also the richest source of omega 3 fatty acids (ALA), which are essential for our body, also good for the skin, hair and for the nails. Flax seeds are full with vitamins and minerals as well, such as B1, B6, manganese, magnesium, phosphorus, selenium, iron, copper and zinc.
I normally buy a 250g pack, and grind a few tablespoons of it in my smoothie maker. It is best to grind just a small amount, because if it gets exposed to oxygen for too long, it’ll loose most of its nutritional benefits.
When I make porridge, I normally add one tablespoon of flax meal, or I add it to smoothies, or sprinkle it on top of a salad. Flax seed is really versatile, so it’s pretty easy to implement in your diet.
2. Nutritional yeast
Nutritional yeast is grown on whey, blackstrap molasses or wood pulp (Wood pulp is wood that has been cut up into small pieces and crushed. Wood pulp is used to make paper.). When the yeast is harvested, it is washed and then dried with heat so that it stops growing.
Nutritional yeast is a complete protein, which means it has all the 18 amino acids our body needs. It also helps to lower cholesterol, strengthen immunity (because of the vitamin B content) and fight against cancer. It also contains vitamins and minerals, such as vitamin B6, thiamine, niacin (you can also find a version which is fortified with B12 – I buy mine from Holland&Barrett, and it lasts for a really long time), iron, selenium and zinc.
First I discovered it, while I was browsing for vegan white pasta sauces, and I came through a vegan Alfredo sauce recipe. I’ve had no clue what nutritional yeast was, so I’ve bought a normal yeast, which is used in pizza and bread doughs. It was a terrible mistake. My belly had really bad cramps…
Don’t substitute nutritional yeast with normal yeast, as they are completely different.
I usually use my nutritional yeast flakes instead of cheese, as it has a Parmesan-like, nutty taste. It can be added to vegan home made cheeses, or to any dish to boost nutritional content and give a slight nutty flavour.
Vegan Alfredo Recipe
For the full recipe, check draxe.com
- 1 small head of cauliflower, chopped (about 3 heaping
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 cloves garlic, smashed and minced
- 2 teaspoons pine nuts
- 2¼ cup almond milk
- 2 teaspoons of each: salt, pepper, oregano and basil
- juice of half a lemon
- ¼ cup plus 1 tablespoon nutritional yeast
- In a medium-sized pot, cook the olive oil, garlic and pine nuts over medium heat for 3–4 minutes, or until garlic is golden brown.
- Add in the almond milk and bring to a boil.
- Reduce heat to medium and add the cauliflower and spices and cook until cauliflower is soft (about 8 minutes).
- Transfer to a high-powered blender and add in the lemon juice and nutritional yeast and blend on high until smooth.
- Add over your favorite gluten-free pasta or zoodles and top with fresh basil.
Spinach is high in niacin and zinc, as well as protein, fibre, vitamins A, C, E and K, thiamine, vitamin B6, folate, calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, copper, and manganese. Spinach contains high levels of chlorophyll and health promoting carotenoids (beta carotene, lutein and zeaxanthin). These phytochemicals have anti-inflammatory and anti-cancerous benefits. Spinach also contains high levels of oxalic acid, which in excess can inhibit the absorption of other nutrients (such as calcium). Lightly cooking spinach can reduce the oxalic acid content.
Kale is a source of folate, lutein (an anti-oxidant which helps keep the eyes healthy), vitamin A, C, K and iron.
I always make sure to buy organic from both spinach and kale, to avoid the pesticides, which they use in conventional farming. (Read about the “Dirty dozen” here. On this website you can also find why it is recommended to buy organic as much as you can.)
I eat either or both of them every single day. Sometimes I add a handful of spinach to my smoothie, or just add a handful as a side salad, or put it into different dishes as a nutrient booster. I use kale kind of the same way, except the smoothie part. Although huge green smoothies are really beneficial in the morning, so I’ll try to incorporate one every now and then. Also, I always add the juice of half a lemon, because the vitamin C in it can help with the iron absorption.
Bananas can be used widely. They lower blood pressure, they help to regulate the optimal moving of the nutrients in our blood, and the waste products out of our cells, because of the potassium content. They also have a variety of B vitamins, magnesium, folate, iron, vitamin A, C also contain a lot if dietary fibre and protein.
I usually use bananas as the base of my morning smoothies, or use them mashed in cookies, pancakes or in my porridge. They are a good snack when I’m on the go, or good as toppings on smoothie bowls or any kind of porridge.
- 2 flax eggs
- 4 medium ripe bananas (don’t worry about measurements – it’s forgiving)
- heaping 1/2 cup brown sugar, packed
- 1/4 cup vegan butter (such as Earth Balance) or coconut oil, melted
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 2 tsp baking soda
- 1/2 tsp sea salt
- 1.5 cups whole-wheat pastry flour (or unbleached all-purpose)
- 1/2 cup rolled oats
- optional: 1/4 cup walnuts, chopped
- 1/4 cup raw sugar
- 5 Tbsp unbleached all-purpose flour
- 2 Tbsp vegan butter (such as Earth Balance)
- Preheat oven to 375 degrees F (190 C) and lightly grease a standard size muffin tin (will make 10-11 muffins)
- Prepare flax egg in a large mixing bowl. Let set for 5 minutes.
- Add banana and mash, leaving just a bit of texture.
- Add brown sugar, baking soda, salt and whisk for one minute.
- Stir in vanilla, melted butter and mix.
- Add flour and oats and stir with a spoon or spatula until just combined. Lastly, fold in walnuts (optional).
- Divide batter evenly among 10-11 muffin tins, filling a generous 3/4 full (I fill mine practically full for aesthetic effect).
- Quickly wipe your mixing bowl and add crumble ingredients. Prepare crumble top by mashing ingredients together with a fork until crumbly like wet sand. Generously top muffins with streusel. You should have leftovers.
- Bake for 17-22 minutes or until tops are golden brown and a toothpick or knife comes out clean. Let cool for a few minutes, remove from muffin tin and serve warm. Once completely cooled, store in a covered container at room temp for several days. Freeze for longer term storage.
Oats are one of the healthiest grains on earth. They are a good source of carbs and soluble fibre, and they also contain more protein and fat than other grains. A lot of antioxidants (in the whole version), vitamins, minerals can be found in them, such as manganese, phosphorus, magnesium, copper, iron, zinc, folate, B1, B5 and small amounts of B6, B3, calcium and potassium. As you see, oats are quite nutrient dense grains, this is why I like them. “Oats may lower the risk of heart disease by reducing both total and LDL cholesterol and protecting LDL cholesterol from oxidation.” (Resource: http://www.healthline.com)
I use them in my morning smoothie bowls, or as porridge, but I prefer the over night version these days, when you just pour some water or almond milk on a cup of oats, then leave it in the fridge for the following morning.
At winter time, I like my cooked porridge served warm straight away. I also like to grind oats and use it as flour for muffins, for banana bread and for pancakes.
Dark Chocolate Cherry Overnight Oats
1/2 cup old-fashioned steel cut oats (no instant will NOT
10 ripe cherries
1 Tbsp maple syrup
1 cup unsweetened almond milk
Wash, halve and pit cherries.
Add oats, chocolate chunks, cherries, maple syrup and almond milk into a sealable glass jar.
Give it a quick stir or close the lid and shake a couple of times.
Refrigerate 4-6 hours, preferably overnight.
Enjoy cold right out of the jar.
My Top 11 Vegan Food Essentials will continue in part 2…