kale, shiso, turnips and tomatoes in a white bowl

One of the most common questions I get from those looking to eat more plants is how to create healthy meals that fill them up. So I’ve asked my associate, Jess Pirnak, to give you the low-down on filling, healthy plant-based foods!

Eating a well-planned plant-based diet can help you stay healthy for life! After decades of being that a plant-based diet is somehow lacking, the evidence is solid: a plant-based diet is packed with benefits.

The Benefits – and Pitfalls – of a Plant-based Diet

The key here is taking some time to actually plan out what you’ll eat. A mostly whole foods, plant-based diet tends to be higher in fibre, fruits and vegetables, anti-inflammatory phytochemicals and some minerals while being lower in added sugars and saturated fat from animal foods.

However, in a world full of convenient processed carbohydrate foods it is easy to be a junk-food vegan by skipping the protein and over-relying on refined carbohydrates like starchy, sugary snacks. Eating this way results in blood sugar spikes and crashes that leave us hangry all while promoting inflammation, and leaving us deprived of critical nutrients.

So, how can we feel full on a plant-based diet?

  1. You guessed it! Skip the convenient processed carbohydrates foods.

The very act of milling grains makes them easier to digest, and generally less filling. However, refined grains are even faster fuel because they have had their nutrient-dense bran and germ layers removed. Without that dietary fibre, their energy speeds through to our bloodstream and gives us a ride on the blood sugar roller coaster – making us a hungry monster in search of more quick energy (AKA more sugary, processed carbohydrate foods). Wonder why you crave carbs so hard? This might be part of it.

Shopping Tip: Check out the bulk section of your local grocery store to experiment with a small amount of a new whole grain. For inspiration, swap in some barley the next time you are making a pot of rice. Not sure how to cook the different whole grains? Click here for a complete list.  

  1. Add a concentrated source of protein at each meal.

Yes, most foods have a bit of protein…but you need to eat more than a bit to enjoy the filling, blood sugar stabilizing benefits protein can offer. How much you need depends on your size and activity level, so check that out first.

Once you know roughly how much you need, simply divide that amount to see what to aim for at each meal. It’s really not hard to eat enough protein on a plant-based diet; however, what tends to happen, especially for plant-based newbies, is we forget to replace our usual animal foods with a protein-rich vegan alternative. The result? Ravenous hunger that causes you to wolf down three plates of pasta.

Another slip up is over-reliance on protein-poor meat substitutes. Jackfruit is a fun and delicious alternative to pulled pork but it contains zero protein. So, you need to add some other protein source, like black beans or hemp seeds to help fill you up!

Want to know which plant foods have the most protein? We’ve got a list!

  1. Eat fat!

Just like fibre, fat is broken down slowly in the body, keeping us feeling full and energized into the evening. If you’ve ever been starving post-smoothie, even if it has protein, you might want to add a bit of almond butter.

If you’re on a 100% plant-based diet, consider eating more whole plant fats like avocado, olives and nuts in place of starchy foods to feel full. This advice might feel a little hard to digest after living in a low-fat, no-fat world for the last few decades. But rest assured, it is not the amount of fat you eat but the type and the overall balance of nutrients. If you eat a ton of starches and a ton of fats, that may lead to weight gain. However, choosing fats over starches keeps this in check.

Choose whole food sources of healthy fat such as nuts, seeds, olives, coconut and avocados and choose moderate amounts of healthy oils such as extra-virgin olive oil, avocado oil and camelina oil. And skip altogether the omega 6-rich cooking oils such as soy, corn, safflower and grapeseed oils.

Cooking tip: For medium-high cooking, extra virgin olive oil is your best choice, but for high-heat cooking reach for avocado oil.        

  1. Last but not least, eat mindfully.

Occasional mindless eating is inevitable in our modern, multi-tasking world. Unfortunately, many of us are rarely present for the eating experience. So, the next time you are about to eat lunch at your desk or turn on the TV during dinner, remember to slow down and really enjoy that meal. Digestion requires attention and if we’re not digesting well, we may be missing out on the full nutritive value of some of the food we are consuming…which can lead to stomach bloating.

Here are a few tricks to help slow us down: If your next dish requires utensils, try using your less dominant hand to eat. Or make sure you are at least putting down those utensils between each bite. You can also try to get 30 chews out of each bite, the extra chews will allow you to enjoy the flavors and textures of the food before you swallow.

A List of Plant-based Foods that Fill You Up

Here is a list of them most filling plant-based foods…however, you can’t eat them in isolation. A plain bowl of oatmeal isn’t going to hold you for long!

If you’re looking to craft a meal that will keep you going for hours, you’ve got to get the balance right. Fill half your plate with vegetables and fruit, leaving a quarter of your plate for protein and the last quarter for healthy starches. And don’t forget to add some fat!

Healthy, filling starches (gluten containing)

Wheat berries

Farro

Barley

Steel-cut oats

Healthy, filling starches (gluten free)

Quinoa

Millet

Amaranth

Buckwheat Groats (Kasha)

Sweet Potatoes and Waxy Baby Potatoes, with skin

Filling, Protein-rich Foods

Beans and legumes (eat 1/2 – 3/4 cup at a meal)

Tofu and Tempeh

Almonds, Pistachios and Pumpkin Seeds

Plant-based, High Protein Sausages like Beyond Sausage and Field Roast (Gluten containing)

Chickpea Flour + Chickpea-based Pasta

Healthy, Filling Fats

Nut and Seed Butters (use 1-2 tablespoons)

Avocado

Olives

Macadamia Nuts and Cashews

Ground flax, Chia seeds

Filling, High Fibre Fruits and Veggies

Apples

Artichokes

Beets

Blackberries

Broccoli

Brussels Sprouts

Carrots

Cooked Greens

Jicama

Parsnips

Pears

Peas

Raspberries

Squash (Hubbard, Acorn)

Whew! Hope you’re brain AND tummy are feeling full!

And, if you need help figuring out how to turn all of these amazing plant-foods into healthy, filling, anti-inflammatory meals…you can now preorder my new cookbook, Eat More Plants!

Photo Credit: Melissa Quantz