Never heard of alliums before? That’s okay! I’m sure you’re familiar with many foods found in this category.
The word allium refers to a genus of plants in the plant kingdom. There are more than 500 different species known to date. Pungent vegetables like onions, garlic, leeks, chives and scallions all belong to this genus.
Alliums are important to include in your diet on a regular basis. Compounds found in alliums are known to have a variety of benefits. To name a few, eating more alliums can prevent cancer, fight cancer, control blood sugar and fight against infections.
When I say amino acid, you should think “protein”.
Protein is made of different amino acids. When doctors and nutritionists say that vegetarians and vegans need to get a variety of protein, they really mean they need to get a variety of amino acids. Your body can build any protein it wants as long as it has access to the right combination of amino acids.
Different amino acids have different functions. That’s why we need to eat a variety of foods.
It simple to get a variety of amino acids as long as you eat enough variety and volume. See Nutrient Deficiencies and Plant-Based Diets to learn more about getting enough protein while following a vegetarian or vegan diet.
Amla is also known as dried Indian gooseberry. It’s one of the riches sources of antioxidants on the planet. To give you a better idea of how many antioxidants it contains, it has more than 200 times more antioxidants that blueberries. It trumps goji berries and açaí, too.
We’ve all heard the word antioxidants, but do you actually know what they are? It’s hard to understand the technical mumbo-jumbo nutritionists normally use. I’ll explain it in a manner that’s easier to understand.
Antioxidants are compounds found in plant foods that protect the body from free radicals. This basically means that antioxidants prevent our body from damage. Think of a rusty car. Remember how oxidation makes the car rust? In simple terms, that’s what free radicals try to do to our body. Antioxidants prevent this damage so our bodies function better, look nicer and last longer.
Commonly known antioxidants include vitamin E, vitamin C, Vitamin A (aka beta-carotene) and Selenium. However, there are many more nutrients that act as antioxidants.
Do note that eating whole plant foods is the best way to get antioxidants. Studies show no difference in risk or an increased risk for chronic conditions when antioxidants are supplemented in pills.
Aquafaba. It’s a weird word. It’s kind of a weird food, too.
Translated, aquafaba means “bean juice” or “bean water”. Aquafaba is the liquid that legumes are canned in. You can make your own aquafaba by cooking your dry beans and allowing them to cool in the cooking water.
Aquafaba can be used in many ways in healthy, low-fat, plant-based cooking. Instead of using egg whites to make meringues, macaroons, macarons and mayo, use aquafaba. Aquafaba makes a great replacement for oil in cooking and baking recipes, too.
Beans, beans the magical fruit. The more you eat the more you toot.
Yes, beans can cause flatulence in some people. But once you make beans a regular part of your diet, the flatulence will go away.
Beans and other legumes are important to incorporate into your diet. They’re full of fiber, vitamins and minerals. They’re an excellent source of protein (i.e. amino acids). They’re typically more filling than whole grains because of their increased protein content and fiber.
The main difference between a pea and a bean is that peas are grown in the cool season on vines. Beans grow in the warm season and on bushes.
You say you don’t like beans? I say you haven’t tried enough. Try black beans, pinto beans, kidney beans, lima beans or broad beans with a combination of other foods, herbs and spices.
BMI stands for Body Mass Index. It’s a common way to classify people as underweight, normal weight or overweight. Because weights are skyrocketing, we now have BMI classifications for obese, severely obese, morbidly obese and super obese.
Having a BMI of less than 18.5 is considered underweight. Normal BMI’s range from 18.5 to 24.9. Overweight individuals have a BMI between 25 to 29.9; anybody having over a BMI of 30 is obese.
Calcium. I’m sure you’ve heard about it. It’s a nutrient that’s classified as a mineral.
You’re familiar with the most important role of calcium: building and maintaining strong bones and teeth. You may not know that we also need calcium to perform basic functions on a daily basis. Our bodies also use calcium to move muscles, carry messages between our nerves, help blood vessels pump blood throughout our bodies and help release hormones.
Most people think of milk, yogurt and cheese as the best sources of calcium. However, citrus fruits (e.g. oranges, mandarins, grapefruits) and dark leafy greens (e.g. kale, spinach, bok choy) are excellent sources of calcium. In fact, 60 calories of kale have more calcium than 60 calories of whole milk.
Learn more about calcium in Nutrient Deficiencies and Plant-Based Diets.
Caloric density = calories/volume
Caloric density is the concentration of calories in food.
Foods with low caloric density have a lot of volume without a lot of calories. The foods that are least calorically dense are leafy greens. Kale, spinach, bok choy and iceberg lettuce don’t have many calories per cup. Kale has just 33 calories per cup.
Foods with high caloric density pack a lot of calories into a small amount of space. Foods that are essentially 100% fat (oil, lard, shortening, mayo, etc.) have the highest caloric density. For example, coconut oil has 1,879 calories per cup(!).
Foods that are low in caloric density tend to have high nutrient density. Foods that have high caloric density tend to have low nutrient density.
I suggest to eat foods that have low to medium caloric density for weight loss and weight maintenance. Fruits, vegetables, beans and whole grains all help you feel full without packing in the calories.
Culinary vegetables (fruit)
Tomato: is it a fruit or a vegetable?
Technically, a tomato is a fruit. That’s because a tomato develops from a flower of a plant. Vegetables, on the other hand, are other plant parts such as roots, leaves and stems. Carrots, celery and spinach are all vegetables that are real vegetables.
Why is a tomato a culinary vegetable when it’s a fruit? It comes down to how it’s used in the culinary world: the kitchen. Tomatoes are usually used as vegetables. They aren’t nearly as sweet as typical fruits like strawberries, bananas or dates. Culinary vegetables are better used in savory dishes rather than sweet dishes.
So even though zucchini, cucumbers, pumpkins, avocados and tomatoes are actually fruit, they’re also culinary vegetables.
Dairy is a classification of products made from the milk of mammals. The milk is usually extracted from bovids. Goat and cow milk is common in the west. Milk from water buffaloes, sheep, yaks, horses and camels are common in other parts of the world.
The most common types of dairy products are:
- Ice cream/gelato
Dairy is linked to many health conditions. Most importantly, dairy can increases your risk for certain cancers, diabetes, Parkinson’s and heart disease. It can contribute to allergies, acne and accelerated aging. Find out more about the dangers of dairy here.
Fiber is a miraculous type of carbohydrate. It does an array of duties to keep our bodies healthy and happy.
One role fiber plays is slow down digestion. Fiber adds bulk to food to prevent it from being digested too quickly. Carbohydrates that are digested too quickly can cause rapid spikes in blood sugar. This can lead to many problems, such as reduced insulin response, diabetes and obesity.
There are two types of fiber: soluble and insoluble. Soluble fiber is most known for feeding the beneficial bacteria in our digestive systems, absorbing liquid and lowering cholesterol levels. Insoluble fiber is “natures broom”. It bulks up our stool to help us remove waste and toxins from our system.
The USDA and American Heart Association recommend that individuals consume at least 25 grams of fiber per day. Unfortunately, 97% of Americans don’t even meet the minimum requirement. Eat more whole grains, legumes, nuts, seeds, fruits and vegetables to increase your fiber intake. Meat, eggs and dairy contain no fiber.
I’ll shed some light on gluten. Gluten is a protein made of two simpler proteins: glutelin and gliadin. It provides structure to many breads while still allowing them to rise to the fluffy bread we know today.
Grains is the only food group that contains gluten. However, not all grains have the protein either. In fact, only a few grains have gluten: barley, rye, most wheat and triticale.
The following grains are gluten-free:
- Sorghum (a type of wheat)
- Wild rice
- Job’s tears
All pseudo grains (e.g. quinoa, amaranth, buckwheat) are gluten free, too.
Celiacs need to avoid gluten because their bodies can’t digest it properly. Less than 1% of the population has this disease. For the other 99% of people, gluten is health-promoting.
Grains are, by definition, dry seed-like fruit produced by cereal grasses. In fact, grains are actually seeds.
You know the most common grains: wheat, oats, rice and barley. You may not have heard of others like rye, wild rice, Job’s tears, triticale, millet and teff. Most people think of corn as a grain when it’s actually a grain! In addition, wild rice is a totally different species of plant. It’s not closely related to brown, red or black rice.
If you’ve ever heard of sorghum, spelt or durum and wondered what they are, they’re different varieties of wheat. Other varieties of wheat include farro, freekeh, einkorn and kamut.
The best grains are whole grains. They have more vitamins, minerals and fiber. Avoid refined grains at all costs. To ensure you get whole grains, look for one of these phrases in ingredients list:
- Whole wheat (common in US)
- Whole meal (common in Australia/UK)
- Whole grain (common in Australia/UK)
- Stone ground
Iron. It’s a nutrient that’s classified as a mineral.
Iron is most important for making two proteins in our blood. These two proteins carry oxygen to all parts of our bodies, including our muscles. Iron is also used for making hormones and certain tissues in our body.
There are two types of iron: heme and non-heme iron. Animal foods (like meat, eggs and cheese) have about 50% heme iron and 50% non-heme iron. Plants contain tiny traces of heme iron and the rest of non-heme iron.
Overall, heme iron is better because your body can choose whether or not to absorb it based upon your needs. It’s difficult to get too much non-heme iron. On the other hand, it’s easier to overdose on iron if you eat a lot of heme iron.
Whole plants high in iron tend to be dark leafy greens, nuts, seeds and legumes. You can increase your absorption of iron by eating iron-rich foods with good sources of vitamin C, like citrus fruits. Or you can increase your absorption by soaking and sprouting your legumes, nuts and seeds. Eating calcium-rich foods and animal protein with sources of iron decreases absorption.
Read more about iron in Nutrient Deficiencies and Plant-Based Diets.
Macronutrients make up the majority of what we eat. The main macronutrients are carbohydrates, fat and protein. Alcohol is another macronutrient. We get all of our calories from macronutrients.
Fat has the most calories per gram at 9 calories. Alcohol falls in the middle with 7 calories per gram. Carbohydrates and protein tie in last for the least amount of calories per gram. They both have just 4 calories per gram.
Carbohydrates are the main energy source for our brains and body. Protein is important to grow, keep our immune systems healthy, repair tissue and create chemicals in our bodies. Fat is most important for absorbing fat-soluble nutrients and maintaining our bodies. Alcohol is a nonessential macronutrient.
Learn more about each macronutrient by reading Macronutrients: Everything You Need to Know (and More).
Nutrient density = nutrients/calories
Nutrient density is the concentration of nutrients in food.
Foods with low nutrient density have very few nutrients per calorie. The least nutrient dense foods tend to be 100% fat, like oil, lard, shortening and mayo. Coconut oil has 1,879 calories per cup(!). And yet those calories come with next to no nutrition. It has trace amounts of 3 nutrients.
- 1% of your Daily Value for Vitamin E
- 1% of your Daily Value for Vitamin K
- >1% of your Daily Value for Iron
Foods with high nutrient density have lots of nutrients per calorie. The most nutrient-dense foods are dark leafy greens. Kale has just 33 calories per cup. And yet it provides tons of nutrition, like:
- 684% of your Daily Value for Vitamin K
- 206% of your Daily Value of Vitamin A
- 134% of your Daily Value for Vitamin C
- 26% of your Daily Value for Manganese
- 10% of your Daily Value for Copper
Kale also contains lesser amounts of almost every other vitamin and mineral.
Foods that are low in nutrient density tend to have high caloric density. Foods that have high nutrient density tend to have low caloric density.
I suggest to eat foods that have high to medium nutrient density for optimal health. Fruits, vegetables, beans and whole grains all provide lots of nutrients without packing in the calories.
Peanuts, while often thought of to be nuts, are actually legumes! They’re closer to bean, lentils and chickpeas than almonds, sunflower seeds and cashews.
Unlike many legumes, peanuts are quite high in fat and low in carbohydrates and protein. In addition, most of the fats come in the form of omega-6 fatty acids rather than omega-3. When you eat a lot of peanut butter, it’s best to balance out your omega ratio by eating some flax or chia seeds.
On the other hand, peanuts still have many of the benefits of typical legumes. They’re packed with fiber and nutrition. They’re a healthy source of fat, protein, flavor in a plant-based diet.