As I explained in my introduction post, the shift toward clean, plant-based eating allowed me to forge a seven-year profession as an Ironman triathlete out of average ability. As I was beginning to make that shift, I discovered that, although I knew why I wanted to transition, I wasn't sure exactly how. I very quickly found out that it is in the kitchen that you learn how to thrive. By stocking your cupboards with nutrient-dense essentials, you'll be able to build meals from whole foods that you'll love – easily and quickly.
As you stock your fridge and pantry, think about the nutrient density of the foods you are buying. Nutrient density, one of my guiding principles, refers to the ratio of the nutrition your body gets from consuming a food, relative to its calories.
Many nutrient-dense foods are also high net-gain, meaning they are easily digested. So, you use minimal energy to extract maximum nutrition in the form of micronutrients and macronutrients. Look for minimally-processed, whole, plant-based foods that are raw or cooked at a low temperature, naturally alkaline-forming and brightly colored.
1. Fibrous vegetables
The foundation of clean, plant-based eating should be fibrous vegetables – mineral-rich and nutrient-dense. Keep an abundance of leafy greens, asparagus, bok choy, broccoli, carrots, celery, cucumbers, zucchini and seaweed in your fridge at all times. Once you buy them, you'll be more likely to blend them in a smoothie, make a giant salad or whip up a stir-fry.
2. Plant-based proteins
While beans aren't the only place you'll be getting your protein from (grains and vegetables contain protein, too), they are a staple food of mine. Not only are they a sustainable crop, but legumes are high in protein, fiber, carbs and vitamins and minerals. I often soak my beans before cooking to help ease the digestive process and increase absorption of essential nutrients. Try adzuki, garbanzo, fava, kidney and navy beans as well as lentils and split peas.
I love fruit because it's easy to digest, high net-gain and a great raw snack when you're on the go. With vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, phytonutrients, and fiber, fruit is a delicious source of plant-based fuel. Look for fresh fruits that are in season, and stock up on dried fruit such as dates for pre-workout fuel.
While many people fear fat, it is essential for proper cell and hormone function. The type of fat you consume matters. Choose avocado, nuts and seeds as well as cold-pressed oils such as hemp, flaxseed, coconut or extra virgin olive oil as your main sources of healthy fats. You can grab a handful of nuts as a snack or make a salad dressing using a blend of oils with avocado.
[See: Unusual Uses for Avocados.]
5. Starches and grains
From pseudograins to squash, complex carbohydrates from starches and grains will be a part of your meal. Whole grains and starchy vegetables are high in fiber and micronutrients, so you won't feel sluggish after eating them – like you would with a big bowl of white pasta. Store teff, quinoa, millet, amaranth and brown rice in your pantry, and keep starchy vegetables like parsnips, acorn squash and sweet potatoes in a cool, dark spot, such as your fridge or basement.
Once you have these pantry essentials, you can get creative in the kitchen by using fresh herbs and spices and flavor combinations to create unique meals. For more plant-based cooking tips and recipes, check out the brand new Kitchen Edition of Thrive Forward. Guest experts Chef Susan Feniger, Chef Matthew Kenney and holistic nutritionist Peggy K join me in five video lessons that will give you the confidence to thrive in the kitchen.
Hungry for more? Write to firstname.lastname@example.org with your questions, concerns and feedback.
Brendan Brazier is a former professional Ironman triathlete and two-time Canadian 50km Ultra Marathon Champion. He is now a successful performance nutrition consultant, bestselling author of the Thrive book series, formulator of the award-winning line of plant-based Vega nutritional products and creator of Thrive Forward, an online video series designed to inspire and educate people about plant-based nutrition. For more information, please visit www.brendanbrazier.com and follow Brendan on Twitter.