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How To Build A Balanced Plantbased Meal (by a Nutritionist)

Whether you're interested in going plantbased for the health benefits, ethical or environmental reasons, this blog post is the beginner's guide to a wholefood plantbased diet. As a Nutritionist who is primarily plantabsed herself, I am here to share the basics and empower you with the know-how to make this transition not only effortlessly, but also love the journey. In 2024, it's time to stop holding back, and just go for! This is Part 1 of my four part series and Plantbased & Loving It! series of guided support. If you not already signed up, click here. Let's get in to it!



How To Build A Balanced Plantbased Meal (by a Nutritionist) | Eat Nourish Glow
How To Build A Balanced Plantbased Meal (by a Nutritionist) | Eat Nourish Glow

When you choose to eat plantbased, there are a few simple considerations that need to be made before you start. The most important decision revolves around how you will get enough protein, an essential macro-nutrient you can only get from food you eat each day. For many, this alone can be a deterrent, but I hope I can persuade you to give plantbased a go before you let the thought deter you. There are honestly so many simple ways to get enough protein, and still enjoy deliciously satisfying meals. Let's explore the options...


What Is Important To Know?


Your typical plantbased plate is centred around wholefood foods that are sourced directly from plants – think freshly picked veggies and fruits, wholesome grains, beans, peas, lentils, nuts, and seeds. This can vary from person to person with some going all and fully vegan, and others choosing a more relaxed approach who still consume seafood, dairy and eggs.


Some people choose to be primarily plant-powered and enjoy a little animal products from time to time. While others, are steadfast about keeping it raw and real – no cooking, just fresh, uncooked plant goodness. There is no wrong or right here. It is a personal choice and each person will have their own reasons for choosing plantbased.


The core focus of the plantbased plate is always centred on ensuring a balance of four essential macros: protein, fibre, carbs and fat. Unlike a serving veggies with a slab of steak or chicken breast, when you build the plantbased plate, you need to combine foods together in order to create a complete protein. For instance, an equal serving of brown rice and green peas creates a complete protein and can be used as an easy base in which to build a plate. Add to this a serving of high-fibre vegetables, a few slices of fatty avocado and olives, finished off with a sprinkle of high protein nuts and seeds, and you've got yourself a complete meal.


The Secret To Plantbased Meals


A well-planned plantbased diet is all about drawing nutrition from a variety of sources to create a complete and well balance meal. Now, I can understand that this form of eating is a little different, but in many ways going plantbased opens a big world of cooking and meal prep in new and exciting ways. Many plantabsed meals require less cooking, are super easy to batch cook and can even end up costing you way less than the expense of meat, dairy products and eggs.


The secret to your success and longevity eating plantabsed will rest on how well you combine ingredients, and how much of a variety you eat each day, and every week. Once you get going, I promise you it is not as hard as it might sound at this moment. You'll find staples that satisfy and blend well together, while providing your body with essential nutrition. You'll be tickled to see how affordable (and incredibly tasty) plantabsed can really eb when done well. Let's take a look....


Staples Needed To Make A Complete Protein


A protein is considered ‘complete’ when it has 9 essential amino acids in somewhat equal amounts. Animal proteins are the richest food source for this, however there are many plantabsed options that are equally as good for you. When you combine foods to obtain the 9 amnio acids, you create what is called a "complimentary protein". So, as a plantbased eater, vegetarian or vegan, plantbased protein combinations involve purposely pairing different plant ingredients to ensure you get a compete protein and a balance of nutrients.


Here are some staple combinations that are easy to remember:


  1. Beans + Brown Rice: classic and versatile, combining beans (like black beans, kidney beans, or chickpeas) paired with brown rice makes a complete protein. Add an equal serving of each to your plate, then fill in the rest with a balance of veggies and a little healthy fat.

  2. Chia Seed Pudding + Almond Milk: chia seeds, when soaked in almond milk, create a deliciously filling and complete protein-rich pudding. This combo is also high in fibre.

  3. Chickpeas + Rice: separately, both are incomplete proteins; but when consumed together, they are considered a complementary protein. Try them as a side dish to vegetables.

  4. Chickpea Salad + Quinoa: Combining chickpeas with protein-rich quinoa in a salad or stir fry makes for a delicious and complete protein-packed meal.

  5. Hummus + Whole Grain: chickpeas in hummus, when paired with whole grain pita, form a complementary protein duo. Stuff the pita with a generous serving of fresh or sauteed veggies for a quick and easy meal.

  6. Lentils + Barley: when lentils are combined with barley or other whole grains, they create a well-balanced protein source. Try them together in salads, soups, casseroles or stir fry,

  7. Peanut Butter + Whole Grain Bread: a little raw peanut butter served on a high-fibre whole grain bread provides a complete protein. Add a dollop of my famous chia seed jam or my blackberry fruit compote, and you've got yourself a super yummy high protein breakfast.

  8. Quinoa + Black Beans: quinoa is a complete protein on its own, and when paired with black beans, it's a nutritional powerhouse. Pair this with other high-protein foods like peas, lentils, tofu, soy, nuts, and seeds plus colourful veggies for a super nourishing protein bowl.

  9. Tofu + Brown Rice: tofu, a soy product, when combined with brown rice provides a complete set of amino acids. Marinade tofu in your favourite seasonings and add in some vibrantly colourful veggies and plenty of leafy greens for a filling, and high protein lunch or dinner.


Remember, consuming complete protein doesn't mean you have to eat these combinations in the same meal; as long as you consume a variety of plantbased proteins throughout the day, your body will receive all the essential amino acids it needs. For example, you can eat a whole grain avocado toastie at breakfast and then snack on peanut butter celery sticks later that afternoon. Success on plantabsed is all about eating a wide variety, pursepuful food combining, and creating tasty staples, and go-to food combos you absolutley love.



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The Well Balanced Plate (Examples)


Switching to a plantbased diet can help you efficiently and safely lose weight for a few reasons. First off, plantbased foods are often lower in calories and saturated fats compared to their animal-based counterparts, making it easier to release those extra kilos. Secondly, the high-fibre content of fresh fruits, veggies, whole grains, and legumes is more satiating than processed foods., leaving you feeling fuller for longer, and helps to curb those mid-afternoon snack attacks. Over a short time, this can reduce your overall calorie intake contributing to a more slim waistline.



Veggie Bean Patties & Wholemeal Wrap


A key factor in eating more plantbased, is that all this plant-powered goodness tends to be nutrient-dense, supplying your body with essential vitamins and minerals without piling on excessive calories. It's a deliciously healthy way to lose weight – no counting calories, just focusing on wholesome, plant-packed meals that keep you satisfied and on track to becoming a healthier, happier you.



Vegan Plant-Powered Bowl


A key factor in eating more plantbased, is that all this plant-powered goodness tends to be nutrient-dense, supplying your body with essential vitamins and minerals without piling on excessive calories. It's a deliciously healthy way to lose weight – no counting calories, just focusing on wholesome,






Nutrient-rich Smoothies


Wholefood smoothies are an excellent way to stuff a heap of plantbased nutrients and essential macro into one tasty meal. They are quick, easy to make and simple to mix and match ingredients to ensure you are getting a full spectrum of goodness. A scoop or two of vegan protein powder to balance and power up on plantabsed nutrients with very little effort.







Compared to most other diets, going fully or evenly partially plantbased diet, its an eating style that is fairly easy to maintain. Unlike a diet, eating plantbased is more of a lifestyle choice. There is no calorie tracking, no strict restrictions, or a specific meal plan you must follow. You can do it partially, or all in, you get to choose. There's a lot of flexibility because there aren't any hard and fast rules either—you can gradually reduce your meat intake, eliminate all animal products altogether, or find a happy balance somewhere in between. You do what works for you!


A Word On Supplementing


One common concern that nearly all the people I coach ask me as Nutritionist, is will they need to supplement while eating plantbased --and the truthful answer is, well, that depends. Nutritional gaps hinge on how you approach this dietary eating style, and what pre-existing health conditions or nutritional absorptions issue you may have before you start. The most common nutrients that can be affected by going plantbased tend to be vitamin B12, Vitamin D, calcium, iron, omega-3 fatty acids, zinc, and protein. In most cases, issues with nutrient absorption was pre-exiting in the person, and in such a case, supplementation can be highly beneficial if done with the guidance of a naturopath or an GP who is fully trained in nutrition (most are not). The risk is particularly elevated for vegans due to the stricter nature of their dietary restrictions.


Avoiding vitamin deficiencies while eating plantbased is all about strategic eating. Focus on a well-balanced diet with a large variety of high-fibre fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds is the secret to success. Add in good quality, fortified foods or consider adding in a few superfoods and supplements for nutrients that may be challenging for you to obtain solely from plants, such as vitamin B12, vitamin D, and omega-3 fatty acids.


As you'll learn from reading more on going plantbased here on the Blog, its all about food combining and being strategic with nutrient, fibre, healthy fats, and protein sources, to meet your protein needs. Diversifying your food choices not only enhances flavour but also safeguards against nutritional gaps, making the plantbased experience an easy, nourishing lifestyle choice.




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What Do I Eat On A Plantbased Diet?

What Do I Eat On A Plantbased Diet? | Eat Nourish Glow
What Do I Eat On A Plantbased Diet? | Eat Nourish Glow

To begin eating plantbased, you simply need to shift your focus to consuming a wide array of high-fibre fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds. Choose minimally processed and nutrient-dense plant sourced food ingredients to make up your plate at each meal or snack time.


Plantbased Food List & Nutritional Guide

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Fresh Fruits & Vegetables

Fresh fruit and vegetables are the staple of a well-balanced plantbased diet and can be used from freshly picked or frozen sources. In fact, being on budget has held you back form going plantbased, you might be super pleased to learn that frozen foods are a great choice.


In most cases, frozen produce is picked and packed the same day, meaning its flash frozen literally hours after harvest. This means frozen foods have not spent much time oxidising after picking, when nutrients begin to slowly decline. A punnet of blueberries for example, that has been picked, transported and sits on the grocery shop shelf, has less antioxidants than its frozen counterparts. Freezing locks in the nutrients in many cases, so raid those frozen fruit and veggie section of the freezer aisle to make plantbased work on a budget.


  • Apples, Artichoke, Asparagus, Avocado

  • Bananas, Beetroot, Berries (all types), Citrus (all types)

  • Cabbage, Capsicums, Carrots, Cauliflower, Cucumber

  • Dried fruit (apples, apricots, banana slices, etc.)

  • Grapefruit, Grapes, Kiwifruit, Kumquats

  • Leafy greens (kale, spinach, romaine, etc.)

  • Mangoes, Mushrooms, Onions (red/yellow)

  • Pears, Pineapple, Brown Potatoes, Tomatoes

  • Squash, Sweet Potatoes, Zucchini


What To Shop For: typically you'll find fresh produce on the outer edges of the grocery store, but don't overlook the freezer sections for freshly frozen, cheaper options. Look for organically grown if you can afford it, and choose a variety of brightly colourful fruits and vegetables. Literally think of eating a rainbow to get as many nutrients as possible. Farmer's markets are a fantastic source of ethically and organically grown produce, or try growing your own!


Plantbased Meat Alternatives

The most common concern is where you'll get your protein from while plantabsed. Unlike a Keto diet where you'll eat protein in high quantities from a big slab of meat, plantbased is all about combining protein sources to make up the intake your body needs. Try the following sources:


  • Brown Rice & Peas: combine a 50/50 serving together to create a complete protein

  • Chia Seeds: beyond being high in omega-3 fatty acids, chia seeds are a protein boost

  • Edamame: young soybeans are not only delicious but also high in protein

  • Green Peas: peas are an excellent plant protein source and also high in fibre

  • Legumes: beans, lentils, and chickpeas are very good sources of protein

  • Lentils: red, green, or brown, lentils are protein and dietary fibre powerhouses

  • Protein Powder: choose hemp, soy, or a brown rice/pea combination for protein

  • Nuts & Seeds: almonds, peanuts, chia seeds, and hemp seeds are protein-rich choices

  • Quinoa: a complete protein grain, rich in essential amino acids and dietary fibre

  • Seitan: made from wheat gluten, seitan is a concentrated vegan protein source

  • Tofu & Tempeh: non-GMO soy products are vegan, versatile and protein-packed

  • Veggie Burgers or Loaves: made with high protein ingredients like beans and lentils


What To Shop For: these plant-based meat alternatives are typically lower in saturated fat compared to animal proteins, especially red meat. They're also an easy way to get a large dose of protein on a budget compared to meat products. Look for fresh, canned or dry protein options, and avoid those product that claim high protein. More often than not, these vegan products are filled with hidden sugars, additives and flavour enhancers. You're better off making your own veggie patties, nut loaves and protein-based food items.



Legumes

Cue the Beano! Actually don't, you won't really need it. To reduce the natural gas caused by eating lots of beans and lentils, soak canned beans or lentils before eating them, and give them a thorough rinse a few times. When cooking dried beans, be sure to add a quarter cupful of apple cider vinegar to a bowl of water, add the legumes, and soak them in overnight. Rinse them thoroughly before cooking.


  • Beans: black beans, kidney, pinto, white beans, cannellini, chickpeas, adzuki, or lime beans

  • Lentils: green lentils, black, brown, green, or red lentils

  • Peas: green peas, split peas, yellow peas

  • Soybeans and Soy Products: non-GMO soybeans, edamame, tofu, tempeh, or Miso

  • Others: fava bean, lack-eyed peas, mung beans or bean


Legumes are not only rich in protein but also provide essential nutrients like fibre, vitamins, and minerals. Including a variety of legumes in your diet is an great way to balance your plate with wholefood plant protein.


What To Shop For: most beans and peas are found canned and dry form, with the except of sprouts, fresh peas and green beans. Look for beans and peas that are "low in sodium" or have "no salt added", so be sure to read those nutrition labels. Whether you buy canned or dry are both, remember to soak or rinse them well.



Plantbased Milk Products & Egg Alternatives

Edamame is often found in the frozen section and hummus is refrigerated. When shopping for peanut butter, look for options with just peanuts and salt (optional). Avoid products with added sugar or palm oil.


  • Almond Milk: Made from almonds, it has a slightly nutty flavor

  • Soy Milk: A versatile option with a similar protein content to cow's milk

  • Oat Milk: Creamy and naturally sweet, it's made from oats

  • Coconut Milk: Rich and indulgent, with a distinct coconut flavor

  • Rice Milk: Made from brown rice, it has a mild taste


Plant-Based Egg Substitutes:

  • Flaxseed or Chia Seed Eggs: mix one tablespoon of ground flaxseeds or chia seeds with three tablespoons of water to create a thick, egg-like consistency

  • Applesauce: acts as a binder in recipes, providing moisture

  • Banana: mashed ripe banana works well in sweet baked goods as substitute butter or eggs

  • Silken Tofu: blended silken tofu creates a creamy texture, suitable for many recipes

  • Egg Replacers: store-bought egg replacers work well in most recipes


Experimenting with these substitutes can help you discover which ones suit your taste preferences and the specific needs of your recipes. Keep in mind that different substitutes may work better in different types of dishes, so it's often about finding the right match for the culinary task at hand.


Plantbased Healthy Whole-Grains


Whole grains are an essential staple in a well-balanced plant-based diet, providing dietary fibre, core nutrients, and a satisfying base for various dishes. Here's a list of plantbased whole grains to experiment with for your meals. If you are gluten-free, look for the GF if its safe for you.


  • Quinoa (GF): a complete protein, rich in fiber and versatile for various dishes

  • Brown Rice (GF):  staple that works well as a side or base for bowls and stir-fries

  • Oats: great for breakfast as oatmeal or incorporated into baking

  • Barley:  chewy grain that adds texture to soups and salads

  • Buckwheat (GF): despite its name, it's gluten-free; use for pancakes, noodles, or side dish

  • Farro:  nutty and chewy grain often used in salads and stews

  • Millet (GF): small grains with a mild flavour, suitable for porridge or as a side dish

  • Bulgur : precooked and quick to prepare, ideal for salads and pilafs

  • Freekeh: roasted green wheat, offering a smoky flavor for various dishes

  • Wild Rice (GF): nutty and aromatic, perfect in pilafs or mixed with other grains


What Shop For: most whole-grains are found in the cereal aisle or bakery/bread aisle. You may find a few options in the snack aisle and freezer section, or the health food sections of the grocery store. Many lifestyle and health food shops stock a wide variety or grains you can also browse.



Nuts & Seeds

Nuts and seeds are nutrient-dense additions to a plant-based diet, providing essential fats, protein, fiber, vitamins, and minerals. Here's a list of commonly consumed nuts and seeds:


Nuts:

  • Almonds: a rich in vitamin E, magnesium, and healthy fats, excellent as a snack

  • Walnuts: high in omega-3 fatty acids and antioxidants, great for topping desserts

  • Cashews: deliciously creamy nuts that add a buttery texture to dishes

  • Pecans: sweet and crunchy, good fibre source and great in salads and desserts

  • Brazil Nuts: a great source of selenium, an essential mineral; eat in moderation

  • Hazelnuts: nutty and versatile, often used in desserts and spreads

  • Pistachios: lower in calories and high in protein, add to salads, oatmeal and desserts

  • Macadamia Nuts: butter-like nuts with a smooth texture, eat in moderation


Seeds:

  1. Chia Seeds: packed with omega-3 fatty acids, fiber, and protein (see recipes)

  2. Flaxseeds: high in fibre and omega-3s, often ground for better absorption

  3. Sunflower Seeds: nutrient-rich seeds with a mild flavour

  4. Pumpkin Seeds (Pepitas): a good source of iron, magnesium, and zinc.

  5. Sesame Seeds: tiny seeds rich in calcium and healthy fats

  6. Hemp Seeds: excellent source of plantbased protein and omega-3s

  7. Poppy Seeds: tiny seeds used in baking and cooking

  8. Sesame Seeds: small seeds with a rich, nutty flavour


Adding a variety of nuts and seeds into your plantbased meals adds texture, flavour, and a nutritional boost to salads, snacks, smoothies, and many main meals.


What To Shop For: When buying whole nuts, choose raw with the skin on or roasted. Avoid those that have been processed in any way to remove the skin, salted or enhanced with flavourings. When choosing a nut butter, be sure to look for simple ingredients —just the nut or seed and salt (optional). Avoid any and all nut or seed butters that contain added sugar, thickeners or palm oil.


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One Last Things, Before You Go...


Enjoy the idea of going more plantbased? Browse for more nutrition and healthy eating guides on the Lifestyle Blog or come join my Plantbased & Loving It! Challenge for only $67. You'll receive weekly emails with vegetarian recipe cards, helpful printables, and group Zoom calls from a Nutritionist sharing everything you need to know to ease into a more plantabsed lifestyle, whether you want to go all in or just eat more plants to be healthier. Come join us today, click here.


Emma Lisa, Women's Nutritionist

Emma Lisa, Nutritionist & Personal Trainer
Emma Lisa is a Nutritionist & Women's Health Practitioner with over 12+ years experience in wholefood nutrition, meal planning and health coaching. She is a published cookbook author, passionate food recipe creator and lifestyle blogger, and an advocate for women's health and anti-diet culture. When she's not in clinic, Emma is mum to five kids, in her test kitchen and a wellness digital creator. She lives in Sydney, Australia.
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Healthy + happiness,

Emma Lisa xx

HEALTH & NUTRITION PRACTITIONER
Executive Member of IICT



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