So it turns out I have so many questions to answer we are turning this blog into a three-part series! I hope you are as excited as I am. Let's get straight into answering the nutritional questions you had in regards to plant-based health!

Should I supplement my protein intake with a protein powder? What protein powders do you recommend?

This again is a very individualised question as it is based on individual health circumstances and lifestyle factors but to answer broadly, you can meet all of your protein requirements without supplements. Generally, to ensure adequate protein status it is recommended to include 3-4 servings of foods such as legumes; beans, lentils, peas, tempeh, tofu, Edamame (1 serve of these foods = ½ cup). Nuts and seeds such as; almonds, peanuts, pecans, brazil nuts, walnuts, cashews, macadamia, sesame, pumpkin seeds and buckwheat (1 serve of these foods equals = 30g) and grains such as quinoa (1 serve = 1 cup).

This is not to say protein powders are useless as they can be a great addition to a smoothie or a fast-paced lifestyle, my protein powder recommendation would be hemp – the nutritional benefits go far beyond just protein as hemp has an impressive fatty acid and fibre ratio.

What are the best sources of vegan protein that aren’t soy based?

There are many sources of plant-based protein that aren’t soy based, also keep an eye out as there is now non soy-based tempeh made from legumes such as black beans, chickpeas, adzuki beans and mung beans. As we know protein is found in most whole foods, particularly dense sources of plant protein are found in grains such as; quinoa, buckwheat, teff, quinoa, wild rice, millet, couscous and oats. Nuts such as; almonds, cashews, walnuts, pistachios, brazil nuts, pecans, peanuts etc. Seeds such as; pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, flax seeds, hemp seeds, chia seeds and sesame seeds. Vegetables such as; peas, spinach, kale, broccoli, sprouts and mushrooms. Legumes such as; lentils, spilt peas, kidney beans, pinto beans, black beans, navy beans, cannellini beans.

Are acai bowls bad for you? Will they make you gain weight because of the sugar content?

Fruit is great for sure and a perfect start to your day! The misinformation in the media with regards to fruit being a "sometimes" food or the causation of weight gain because of sugar content is very misleading and in most cases incorrect. Fruit contains natural sugar, yes! However, because it is within a whole food it is digested completely differently to refined sugars - e.g raw sugar, coconut sugar, fructose corn syrup & rice malt syrup. Fibre is a game changer when it comes to sugar - which is in fruit! It slows down digestion and therefore doesn't spike your blood sugar like a refined sugar would. This is because refined sugars are removed from a whole food and no longer contain the fibre. In addition to this, because fruit is not a refined food it is not calorie dense like refined sugars. This is the main reason for sugars to contribute to weight gain, they are energy dense and stripped of fibre and nutrients. Enjoy your acai bowls because they are great for you, full of fibre, essential nutrients, fatty acids and antioxidants.

How do I manage cholesterol/ triglyceride levels?

A plant-based diet has much research behind it for being the most effective method to lower and maintain healthy cholesterol levels because it dramatically lowers saturated fat intake! So the great news is – if you're plant-based your already heading in the right direction to manage your cholesterol levels.

Some quick tips are – vegan processed foods can contain fats that are saturated so be sure to stick to a predominately whole food diet. Don’t go overboard on coconut oil – it is still a saturated fat which can contribute your LDL (bad cholesterol levels). Lastly, Be mindful of consuming refined carbohydrates in excess, overconsumption of these can result in a rise in your triglyceride levels.

How do you gain weight on a whole foods plant-based diet?

Some of my top strategies for gaining weight on a vegan diet while not compromising nutrition by adding a whole heap of energy dense but nutrient poor options are to pick energy dense whole foods and include them at each meal! So firstly it’s a good idea to ensure you are getting adequate amounts of each macronutrient. Take a look at my first blog post which covers all things plant-based macronutrients. Next step is to choose whole food energy-dense options of the macronutrients.

Carbohydrates: Starchy carbohydrates such as bananas, figs, dates, potatoes, sweet potatoes, corn, pasta, rice, quinoa, sourdough are more energy dense then other carbohydrate options such “free vegetables”. Include these options in your main meals as the bulk part and complement with some free vegetables.

Protein: Protein sources like tempeh, tofu and legumes are a great way to increase the energy of your meals, aim to have 1-2 servings in each meal! Tip – choose legume pasta, use legumes and legume flour when baking!

Fat: Increase your fat intake at main meals with seeds, nuts, nut butters and avocado. Add nuts and seeds to your smoothies, sprinkle seeds like hemp and chia on your salads/main meals. Avocado goes with everything in my opinion – and is your best friend with healthy weight gain! Snack idea – dates with peanut butter, an energy-dense snack that will probably change your life, its delicious! Stay tuned as I will be chatting more about this topic.

Next weeks blog (Pt 3) I will be covering questions on soy foods, weight loss tips, immune function, kids health and gut health!

Jacinta Sultana is an Accredited Practicing Dietitian that specialises in Vegan Nutrition. She contributed a comprehensive plant-based nutrition guide to our hardcover cookbook Vegan Bowls for Vegan Souls and developed a 5-day Vegan Meal Guide for our coco community. Follow her inspiring and educational Instagram page @jacinta_sultana.

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