What Does a Vegan Dietitian Eat?

I had the pleasure of being interviewed by The Laziest Vegans in the World about my favorite convenience foods this week. This fun website is “a tribute to vegan pre-packaged food.” I’m glad that these foods exist, especially for those who are reluctant to try veganism because they think it’s too hard or that there are no options for treats. And some of these packaged foods are actually healthy.

But, I don’t eat a whole lot of convenience foods myself and my choices in the interview are for things that are occasional treats or for those days when I don’t have time to cook and the refrigerator is bare.

So what do I usually eat? It’s one of the most frequent questions I get from readers of this blog. People especially want to know if I eat according to my own food guide the Plant Plate.

I do, for the most part. I’m able to sum up my diet pretty easily because it doesn’t vary a great deal from day to day (although some of the details, like which veggies I eat at dinner, do vary). I do bulk cooking—preparing big bowls of the “basics” over the weekend so that there are always cooked beans, grains, and sauces in my fridge, ready to be pulled together into a meal.

This is a typical day’s menu for me:

Breakfast

-Tofu or tempeh with mushrooms and onions, usually topped with a little nutritional yeast or some peanut or tahini sauce. (edited to add: I usually saute the tofu in a tiny bit of coconut or olive oil)

-Sweet or white potatoes or quinoa mixed with corn

-Calcium-fortified orange juice—about ½ cup

-Black coffee (which I actually have well before breakfast and then again in mid-morning—2 cups per day)

Snack

-Raw rolled oats soaked in a mix of soy yogurt and soy milk with blueberries, banana, and a couple tablespoons of chopped nuts.

Lunch

-A very large salad with mixed greens and other raw veggies, beans (almost always chickpeas), chopped nuts, mandarin orange segments or diced apples, and a light vinaigrette (usually a mix of olive and walnut oils plus balsamic vinegar)

Snack

-A cup or so of some type of bean and veggie soup—most often, lentil or white beans with spinach and tomatoes. (edited to add: sometimes with some sliced Tofurky or Field Roast sausages or Soy Curl bacon)

Dinner

-Lots of veggies—most often collards, kale, cabbage or broccoli

-Small serving of quinoa or rice or potatoes

-Peanut or tofu-cashew sauce

OR a black bean burrito with avocado and lots of spicy salsa, atop of bed of greens. (I keep a huge stash of homemade black bean burritos in my freezer.)

-Red wine (not always, but usually)

 

Treats: Once or twice a week, I’ll have a chocolate cup cake from my food co-op (it’s the only vegan baked product they sell) or a Tofutti cutie, or a little Coconut Bliss topped with berries and walnuts.

These are the supplements I take:

-300 mg of calcium citrate. There are definitely days when I don’t need it, but I’m not into micromanaging my diet on a daily basis by tracking my nutrient intake. So I figure the 300 mg will cover my needs and if I get a little extra, that’s okay, too.

-1000 IUs of vitamin D (I live in the Pacific Northwest, and when the sun does come out, I avoid it like the plague. So I take vitamin D religiously.)

-100 ug of vitamin B12 (cyanocobalamin) daily

-300 mg of vegan DHA/EPA daily

-And I use iodized salt on my food—not much, but enough to give my iodine intake a little boost.

 

Things you might notice about my eating pattern are that I favor legumes over grains, and veggies over fruits. That’s personal preference in part, but it’s also based on my ideas about healthy eating. More about those issues in some upcoming posts.

 

 

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39 Responses to What Does a Vegan Dietitian Eat?

  1. Annie January 26, 2014 at 7:40 pm #

    Would adore a recipe or how-to post for homemade frozen burritos!

    • Ginny Messina January 27, 2014 at 10:42 am #

      I don’t really use a recipe. I just cook up a bunch of black beans and then add some onions that have been sauteed in just a tiny bit of oil. I slightly mash the beans and then wrap in warm tortillas. (Even though the burritos are going to be frozen, it’s easier to wrap them if the tortillas are warm.) I sometimes add a sprinkle of Daiya shredded cheese but not always. Then I wrap in aluminum foil and freeze. I serve them with salsa, chopped tomatoes, and avocado. Easy!

      • Annie January 27, 2014 at 12:12 pm #

        Wonderful! How do you recommend reheating them?

        • Ginny Messina January 28, 2014 at 8:34 am #

          I usually just microwave them since they’re already cooked. You could heat on the stove top or in the oven, too.

          • Dan January 28, 2014 at 3:27 pm #

            Hi Ginny,
            I would like some more details on the burritos. Do you use any spices in them? Also, would you recommend adding the guacamole, salsa, chopped tomatoes etc at the pre-freeze stage to the burritos, then freezing the whole thing?
            Dan

            • Ginny Messina January 29, 2014 at 1:36 pm #

              I don’t usually add any spices. The first time I ever tasted black beans–about 30 years ago–they were made for me by a friend who was from Cuba. And I remember being surprised that he cooked them in a little bit of oil with garlic and absolutely nothing else and they were *so* good!

              So, that’s how I cook them now (forgot to mention the garlic above) along with some onions. And then the rest of the flavor comes from the salsa; I like really hot salsa.

              I have never freezed them with the avocado, salsa and tomato. I guess that would be even more convenient, but probably not as good as fresh toppings.

              • Dan January 29, 2014 at 2:29 pm #

                Thank you for mentioning the garlic and the rest of the recipe. I was looking up a recipe for chipotle-bean burritos in a vegetarian cookbook today and they recommended cooking the beans in 1 tbsp of canola oil. I am going to try steam-frying them first in just water.

    • LouAnn Mallon February 12, 2014 at 12:30 pm #

      Do you have any suggestions as to the BEST tortilla wrap – nutrition-wise out there??

  2. heidi January 27, 2014 at 10:38 am #

    I’m a regular reader but this is my first time replying. Just before reading your post, I read the latest post from Dr. Michael Greger, whose video of the week covers the philosophy of a surgeon, Dr. Denis Burkitt, whose research of certain African tribes in the 1980w suggested that their diet, which was high in sorghum, beans and maize, enabled them to almost entirely avoid Western-type diet illnesses. You mention in your post above that you prefer to limit grains. I’ve cut way back on my grain intake as I’ve upped my veggie intake, but am re-thinking it now. Could you please comment on using gluten-free whole grains like sorghum, oats, etc. as an aid to good digestion/way to avoid constipation? Thanks so much for sharing your knowledge and expertise; it is truly appreciated!!

  3. Ginny Messina January 27, 2014 at 11:00 am #

    Heidi, I don’t exactly limit grains. It’s just that I’m a fan of protein-rich foods like beans, and since I can eat only so many calories, I end up eating more legumes than grains.

    I had the very great pleasure of meeting Dr. Burkitt–a very lovely man–many years ago. His observations about high fiber diets and reduced risk for diseases of the colon have been of great importance in human nutrition. However, it’s not entirely clear that the benefits he observed came from high fiber intake or were actually due to low intake of red meat. Or both.

    At any rate, my diet is indeed high in fiber from beans, nuts, seeds, veggies and fruits, and I definitely eat grains every day. I don’t eat a great deal of wheat–not for any particular reason; I just tend to eat faster-cooking grains like rice and quinoa–but I make no effort to avoid gluten. When I eat bread, it’s plain old whole wheat bread. So, as long as you are eating at least 3 servings of legumes per day to meet protein needs, I don’t think you need to limit grains or eliminate any particular type of grain. But you also don’t need to build your diet around grains in order to be healthy.

    Thanks for commenting!

    • Heidi January 27, 2014 at 6:32 pm #

      Thanks so much for your insight; your diet is very similar to what I try to follow, and now I think I can add back a serving or two of quality grains without worry! Thanks for all you do to help educate your readers…I’ve learned so much from following your site.

  4. Dan January 27, 2014 at 11:12 am #

    Hi Ginny,

    I eat pretty much the same diet that you’ve reported here. I also minimize grains and fruit and favor legumes and vegetables. However, lately I have been cutting back on my omega-6 and SFA-rich sources, so I have cut down on my nuts, eliminated avocados, cut back on tahini, eliminated peanut butter, cut out olive oil, etc.

    My concern is that I was not getting the full benefit of a plant-based diet in terms of very low SFA and omega-6 load. As we eat more vegan, we may increase our consumption of omega-6’s, and there are some data to suggest that increasing omega-6 in the diet increases clinically relevant adverse health outcomes (e.g. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23386268 and http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24218530). We need some omega-6 but too much is harmful, and the less we eat of all types of fat (except omega-3), the lower our risks of cardiovascular disease and the lower our blood pressure and cholesterol, as well as body weight, will be. This has been documented by Ornish and Esselstyn, among others. Fat also tends to be very calorie-dense, and weight loss occurs more readily when fats are kept low.

    • Ginny Messina January 28, 2014 at 9:10 am #

      Dan, I don’t know that there is evidence that the less we eat of all types of fat, the lower our risk of cardiovascular disease. There is no evidence that lower-fat vegan diets are healthier than those that contain more moderate amounts of fat. And for some people–those with diabetes for example, or with predispositions for certain cholesterol profiles–replacing some carbs in the diet with fats may be advantageous. A low-fat diet is not necessarily a good choice for everyone. Nor is it associated with improved weight management.

      Dr. Esselstyn’s study lacked a control group which makes it impossible to determine the statistical significance of the results. And Dr. Ornish’s is a 20+ year study that has never been duplicated which means it carries a relatively small amount of weight in the body of research. It also used multiple interventions at the same time so that we can’t identify which of them were responsible for the outcome. For example, even though his diet includes nonfat dairy foods and egg whites, I’m not about to recommend that people consume either of those since I don’t think they were responsible for the benefits seen in this study.

      • Dan January 28, 2014 at 9:48 am #

        Esselstyn reports in his cohort that the patients had 49 events in the years preceding entry and only 2 events in the 12 years following entry — the patients served as their own controls, but patients who could not comply with the diet were excluded as they were not followed after about a year. He is about to publish very long term data in a peer-reviewed medical journal. The very low rate of events persists despite the fact that these patients are aging like the rest of us, despite a very severe burden of cardiac disease.

        Re: Tahamura Indians and other cultures (like the rural Chinese) — low fat in their diets could be one of many, many major and minor players in their very low rates of cardiovascular disease. We just don’t know.

        I have a double genetic whammy – I am highly predisposed to the effects of dietary fat on serum cholesterol but I am also very prone to metabolic syndrome (high trigs, low HDL). I therefore have to keep both fat and carbs quite low. This situation appears to run in my family.

        Dean Ornish’s trial is unique in that it was a poly-portfolio intervention comprising stress reduction techniques (e.g. yoga, meditation), smoking cessation counselling, group support meetings, exercise and a very low fat vegetarian diet. The whole package was successful and I wouldn’t tamper with it in my patients — the actively treated patients had a cardiac event rate 2.5-fold lower than the controls. No one has even tried to replicate this result – we can’t blame Ornish for that fact (he went on to found multisite cardiac rehabilitation lifestyle promotion programs building on the work of the Lifestyle Heart Trial, but did not do a larger RCT, probably because it would be unethical to do so). It would also be very difficult to have different arms randomizing egg whites and low-fat dairy – fairly impracticable.

        • Ginny Messina January 28, 2014 at 10:06 am #

          Okay, but if you wouldn’t tamper with the Ornish program, then it means you are advocating a lacto-ovo vegetarian diet, right? I’m not willing to do that without actual evidence that this would improve heart health. Just like I’m not willing to promote very low-fat diets without evidence that they improve heart health.

          And I’m not blaming Ornish for not duplicating his study; I’m just saying that I wouldn’t base an entire dietary philosophy on one single small study that used multiple interventions.

          Interestingly, this study apparently did not find the same kinds of benefits with use of the Ornish program. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17674638 (I’ve read only the abstract since I can’t seem to get my hands on the pdf.)

          And since nuts have demonstrated cardioprotective benefits, I just don’t understand why anyone would eliminate them from a heart healthy diet.

  5. CuriousGirl January 27, 2014 at 12:34 pm #

    I’ve been vegan for a few years and thought I had a pretty good diet. I have several lentil recipes and tofu recipes I go to along with massive veggies daily. My question: due to a recent detox diet I did for one week (a lot of green juice), I went to a colon hydro-therapist. It was an interesting experience (colonic), but one thing she was adamant about was soy. She said it’s the “vegetarian’s Velveeta” and isn’t digested well. She saw evidence of this in my session. Since then, I’ve had 3 more sessions and she continues to tell me to only eat soy beans in their natural state (edamame) and use lentils, beans and veggies for protein but that tofu is not easily digested. She told me to put some in seltzer water for proof and that’s it’s a highly processed food. I realize I can do what I want, and I love the taste and texture, but I wonder if you’ve researched this at all.

    • Ginny Messina January 28, 2014 at 9:16 am #

      CuriousGirl, there is no such thing as a detox diet and no such health professional as a colon hydro therapist. I would avoid both!

      Actually, the more processed types of soy are more easily digested than the unprocessed forms. It doesn’t mean you should be eating more processed foods; it just means that your hydrotherapist has probably not actually read any research on soyfoods.

      It’s fine to include any kind of soy you like in your diet. I would mostly choose the types that have been consumed for centuries as part of traditional Asian diets: tofu, soymilk, tempeh and edamame. If you search “soy” on this blog, you’ll find several articles on it. I also recommend this article by Jack Norris: http://www.veganhealth.org/articles/soy_wth

      • Judy February 9, 2014 at 8:23 am #

        I am postmenopausal and have a history of thyroid nodules with elevated thyroid per oxidase antibodies but normal T3, T4 and TSH, even with prior iodine supplementation. For this reason I am not completely vegan and try to limit my soy frequency and selection to fermented soy products like tempeh and occasional tofu.

  6. Jenny January 27, 2014 at 1:19 pm #

    Great article! What brand dha supp do you like? And how do you make your tahini sauce? Any thoughts about nuts and weight loss? Thanks!!

    • Ginny Messina January 28, 2014 at 9:20 am #

      I’m using Opti-3 right now, but I’m not committed to any particular brand. Whichever is on sale!

      And I usually just thin the tahini with a little water and lemon juice–nothing fancy. Sometimes I add minced garlic and parsley.

      As for nuts and weight loss, there is some evidence that including small amounts of nuts could be advantageous. It doesn’t mean that eating lots of nuts is a weight loss plan since eating large amounts will definitely drive calorie intake up. But a serving or so of nuts per day may provide some benefits for weight management and at least won’t hurt.

      • Jenny January 28, 2014 at 9:36 am #

        Thank you so much for your reply Ginny. So helpful.
        I am struggling with 10 lbs of baby weight- my son is 2!- and I have tried it all! I am a commited vegan and eat no processed food. I tried high good carbs a la mcdougall and I just didn’t feel it was working for me. I feel better with some good fats and fewer starches. Tofu veggies and a little tahini keeps me going much longer than a potato. Just curious what you think…

        • Ginny Messina January 28, 2014 at 10:10 am #

          Yes, I think you really have to find what works for you. Some people lose weight on very high-carb, low-fat diets, but others say that they feel unsatisfied and end up overeating. Or they are just unhappy, craving foods with a little more fat and protein. So if eating foods with a little more protein and fat helps with hunger, then it’s definitely a better approach for you.

          I would just concentrate on eating healthy foods that you enjoy and getting enough exercise (I know that may not be easy with a 2-year-old!) and not worry too much about the 10 pounds.

          • Jenny January 28, 2014 at 12:41 pm #

            Thank you Ginny! :)

  7. Jenny January 28, 2014 at 1:14 pm #

    Any feelings about coconut oil Ginny?

    • Ginny Messina January 29, 2014 at 1:25 pm #

      I don’t have strong feelings about coconut oil in general–except that I love it from a culinary standpoint! But I don’t think it’s a miracle food and I also don’t think it’s dangerous if you use it the way I do–which is in small amounts. I think if you’re eating mostly whole plant foods and using added fats with a light hand, it’s fine to use some coconut oil.

      Your question reminded me that I do use it–often to saute tofu for breakfast) so I made an edit to my article to indicate that.

  8. Linda January 28, 2014 at 5:12 pm #

    This is a very practical window into a health-sustaining vegan diet. I really appreciate it. I’ll admit that I would benefit by making veggies my mainstay for lunch and dinner, as you do. I’m curious about when you travel. I’m sure there’s a book tour in your near future. How do you ‘keep it healthy’ on the road?

    • Ginny Messina January 29, 2014 at 1:33 pm #

      It’s definitely a struggle to keep it healthy on the road. I eat a lot of hummus when I’m traveling!

      I usually take black bean soup cups with me which I have for breakfast since it’s often hard to find vegan breakfasts. And I take peanut butter and whole grain crackers, too.

      Most of what I find to eat at the airport or in restaurants is less healthy than what I’m eating at home but I figure it’s still way better than what most other people are eating. And I’m definitely committed to eating healthfully *most* of the time and then going with the flow a little bit when I have to.

  9. Jenny January 30, 2014 at 2:25 pm #

    Thank you! :)

  10. Jen February 3, 2014 at 5:11 am #

    Hello! Curious to know where you get your tortillas or what brand/type you use. The only tortillas I can find without oils are from Trader Joe’s and they are tiny and do not fold well at all. Thank you!

    • Ginny Messina February 12, 2014 at 10:04 am #

      Jen, I use all different brands. Whatever is on sale and is vegan! I don’t avoid oils so that’s not a concern for me.

      • Jen February 12, 2014 at 10:06 am #

        OK, thank you for taking the time to reply. :)

  11. elizabeth February 4, 2014 at 5:41 am #

    What does a vegan feed their dog? I’m mostly vegan and feed my dogs a lot of vegetables from my garden, but I also feed them lamb and rice kibble.

  12. Dan February 9, 2014 at 12:49 pm #

    Hi Ginny,
    I just wanted to thank you for the vegan burrito idea. So convenient! I have now made these a part of my day, so really a heartfelt thanks! I’ve modified your recipe a little bit, including a second type of bean and cooking with water rather than oil; also, adding the salsa directly to the mix at the end. But basically it’s the same thing. Delicious and convenient and animal-friendly (vegan).
    Dan

  13. BK February 21, 2014 at 5:51 am #

    Hi Ginny

    Could you share:
    (1) what type of Calcium-fortified orange juice do you drink? Are this in packets? If so, what brand?
    (2) how do you prepare your grains and beans ie do you soak them? If so, how do you do it?

    Tks!

    • Ginny Messina February 24, 2014 at 9:33 am #

      BK, I use frozen orange juice–I think it’s Minute Maid–which is fortified with calcium but not vitamin D. (I do take a vitamin D supplement, though.)

      And no, I don’t soak my grains before cooking them. I just cook them right from the dry state until they are tender.

  14. Karla February 23, 2014 at 8:28 pm #

    Hello! Thank you so much for sharing! So i have a question about quantity, I am having oats for breakfast every morning, but i used to have cereal and i felt with so much more energy with cereal than i have with oats now. How much oats is the proper amount for a balanced diet? And also, is there a limit about the veggies we should eat in a day? Because I am eating A LOT! haha.
    Thank you!!
    Love

  15. sandy March 8, 2014 at 9:18 am #

    what to do about gas from beans??

  16. Cory December 7, 2014 at 11:13 am #

    I am new to being vegan and constantly over eat nuts. I am bad at setting aside a controlled portion and when I do I still eat more. I HATE gaining weight and am kind of obsessed. So this has been upsetting. What do you suggest?

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