Guest contributor: Warwick Millard (Graduate Dietitian, Personal Trainer & Meat Free Week Volunteer).
During my time as a graduate dietitian, and throughout my time studying, I have regularly been met with the comment “it’s too hard to shop healthfully” or “eating healthy is time consuming and expensive”. Now, these are natural thought processes to have when you are continually faced with the media portrayal of what ‘health’ looks like, the new weekly super foods and, five quick tips to lose those extra kilos. Hell, even as a trained professional in the area, it is confusing to decipher the accurate information from the gimmicks. Therefore, I always like to present my clients with some simple ‘tips & tricks’ to achieve a more healthful diet that they can introduce into their routine without causing too many disruptions to their lifestyle. After all, any diet and lifestyle tips need to be adaptable, as everybody lives a unique life.
Here are my simple ‘tips & tricks’ to help you make some positive health changes in your shopping trolley and your life. Better yet, they’re all meat-free.
+ Shop around the outside of your supermarket
Focussing on the outside sections of the supermarket is a great way to achieve a healthier, fresher and more balanced diet, whilst reducing the use of packaged food items. The key to this tip is to only walk down the aisles for specific ingredients such as herbs, legumes and the few items that you will use to bulk out your meals.
Following this method, you can purchase dairy products, fresh produce, frozen vegetables and bakery items to form the staples of your meals. Most supermarkets also commonly have a health food section where you can find tofu, tempeh and other meat substitutes.
A lot of people are apprehensive to purchase frozen vegetables with the perception that they are less healthy than fresh. However, frozen vegetables are commonly cut and snap frozen very promptly after being picked. Therefore, if shopping in the frozen aisle is the option that suits you best and helps easily to satisfy your vegetable intake for whatever reason, then I encourage you to choose frozen vegetables.
+ Stock up on herbs and spices
Herbs and spices are the key to success when it comes to eating an interesting vegetarian diet, well, diet in general. Having herbs and spices at your convenience when cooking is a great way to add natural flavours to your dishes, whilst keeping your meals exciting.
I don’t have a list of spices that are better than any others as this is your decision based on your own taste preferences. The main reason I suggest exploring herbs, spices and home-made sauces in your meals, is to reduce the likelihood of you adding excess salt or sauces from jars and cans that are high in sodium, fat, sugar and other preservatives.
A reduction in cooking with sauces from cans and jars is recommended to anybody to help reduce the risk of cardiovascular complications, diabetes and to achieve a greater general health status.
+ Liven it up with Quorn, tofu and tempeh
If you haven’t heard of Quorn, then this tip will be great for you. Quorn is a meat substitute that is a naturally fermented product which is high in protein and fibre whilst being low in saturated fat. Quorn is a golden ticket for any meat-eaters wanting to follow a more plant-based diet, as they have meat-substitute products such as mince, chicken and much more. Therefore, if you want a spaghetti bolognaise but fear the idea of no mince, then this is just for you.
Tempeh and tofu are great additions to a vegetarian diet as they are high in protein, iron, magnesium, phosphate and calcium for bone health. Both tempeh and tofu are made from soy beans and contain nutritional properties that are proven to aid in lowering cholesterol. Tempeh also has one additional benefit, as it is known to contain high levels of probiotics that may aid in improved digestive health.
I would encourage incorporating all of these items into your Meat Free Week shopping list and explore the cooking options. They are great in stir fries, salads or even marinated and grilled. Once again, research recipes and cooking methods online then decide the best way that these ingredients can be used in your meal routine.
+ Legumes - the real MVP
I love legumes and for so many reason. Firstly, when I say legumes, I mean beans, lentils and chickpea varieties. I personally think that they’re the most versatile ingredient to add to cooking in any diet and, are an incredibly cheap and nutritious way to bulk out all meals. Legumes are a great source of protein, virtually free of saturated fat and contain no cholesterol. They contain low Glycaemic index carbohydrates to help stabilise your blood sugars. And, are a great source of B vitamins, iron, zinc, calcium and magnesium.
Further, legumes have loads of dietary fibre and resistance starch to help with your bowel function whilst offering a protective effect against colon cancers. Along with the high dietary fibre content, legumes also contain phytonutrients to further remove free radicals from your body.
A lot of concerns people have with legumes is that they commonly come in a can. However, I have some great news! The sodium content can be almost halved if they are drained and rinsed! One more point I should mention, legumes also gluten free! You can also source bisphenol A (BPA) free canned foods.
People commonly say to me that they are unsure of how to incorporate legumes into meals. I suggest to anyone who asks, that that it really is up to their own food preferences, the options are endless.
In winter, I add at least one bean, chickpea or lentil variety to a soup I make weekly with leftover vegetables from the week that I call ‘soup Sundays’. I add them to salads during summer to create a more interesting lunch compared to colleagues’ iceberg blends. This is commonly partnered with a fresh and vibrant salad dressing I have researched online and made at home. I make a lentil bolognaise mix that is loaded with vegetables and canned lentils.
The list goes on and I am sure that if you explore your favourite recipes or, spend a few minutes checking out the recipes section on the Meat Free Week website or Googling interesting recipes that use lentils online, you will find ideas that I have never even tried. The world is your oyster with these magic ingredients.
+ Always go for wholegrain
Rice and pasta are a staple in every kitchen around Australia. However, I encourage you to always purchase wholegrain options. This can include ingredients such as quinoa, spelt, oats and several more. Whole grains comprise similar nutritional benefits mentioned as legumes and, offer many health benefits and protective effects for conditions such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease and some cancers.
Quinoa is another of my favourite ingredients because it can be a breakfast, a main, a side or the star of the show. Quinoa is very high in protein and comprises all essential amino acids. The protein is considered comparable to that of dairy products. Quinoa is high in several vitamins and minerals like that of legumes. The resistant starch in quinoa also aids in the development and regulation of health gut bacteria. Best yet, like legumes, it is gluten free!