How to Make a Plant-Based Meal (Savory)

How to Make a Plant-Based Meal (Savory)

Here is a general framework I use to make a simple, balanced and delicious savory whole food plant-based meal:


1. Choose Non-Starchy Vegetables

Examples include: broccoli, cabbage (cruciferous veggies) bell pepper, zucchini, spinach (green leafy veggies).These foods are lowest in calories, made up mostly of water, fiber, protein and many micronutrients and vitamin precursor molecules.

2. Choose Protein: Legumes

Examples include: Legumes (beans, lentils, peas) are the most protein-dense plant-based whole food and include many minerals, soluble fiber that feeds gut bacteria and brings benefits to digestive health and antioxidants.

3. Add Starchy Vegetable and/or Whole Grains

Examples include: potatoes, carrots, beets (roots/tubers), oats, wheat, barley (whole grains).
Whole grains and certain vegetables contain more complex carbohydrates (referred to as starch) though also contain some fat and protein. Whole grains and starchy foods are more often recommended since they retain more nutrients, are more satiating and are not associated with the glycemic effects of more refined foods. Some refined foods may still be included if wanted though and can be useful for active individuals needing more calories. 

4. Add Fat (Nuts, Seeds, Other) + Toppings/Condiments

Examples include: almonds, hemp seeds, avocado + salt, spices, nutritional yeast and other toppings. It’s important food higher in fat to plant-based meals, because many other foods like veggies and legumes are low in fat. In addition to adding more flavor to the meal, fat can help to absorb fat-soluble vitamins and pro-vitamin molecules from veggies. Toppings and condiments can compliment the meal with additional nutrients, for example iodine in iodized salt or B vitamins in fortified nutritional yeast. Some oils may be included too, but I prefer more whole fat sources, because you get more nutrients.

Non-Diet Approach to Plant Based Eating: All Foods Fit

Non-Diet Approach to Plant Based Eating: All Foods Fit

Plant-based diets or ways of eating made up mostly of food derived from plants, may sometimes be muddled up with “diets” or a certain set of foods to which one restricts oneself, either to lose weight or for medical reasons. The intentions behind plant-based eating can include reasons beyond the priority of health, such as personal ethics and values towards the effects of food choices on animal welfare and environment, which allows for all food needs and preferences and differentiates it from “diets”.


Someone can choose a more plant-based way of eating, such as vegetarian or vegan, which avoids certain or all animal products, because of personal ethical values towards that food. Avoiding these foods for those reasons is not considered a restriction, which is not possible, because that person does not consider those foods as food or as part of his or her “food environment”, as Taylor Wolfram, MS, RDN, LDN calls it in this blog post on how to balance ethics and intuitive eating.  

We each are able to choose which foods are a part of our personal food environment. Accessibility, budget, culture, needs, preferences and values towards food are some factors that can affect our chosen food environments and can change over time. Culture often has the greatest influence on our food choices, but it’s okay to deviate from what is considered the traditional way of eating to accommodate the values within your food environment. As an example of differing values and viewpoints, think of how some cultures include traditions of eating cows and not dogs, while others include traditions of eating dogs and not cows. An American will likely oppose the eating of dogs, because they are brought up in a culture of seeing dogs as pets and not an option as food likely due to their ethical values. Such personal values change. Think about being brought up in a culture with a tradition of eating dogs and developing values, which you have now, that cause you to avoid doing so. 

The key is that foods are not avoided due to unnecessary values involved in “dieting”, such as eating for weight loss or covering for an eating disorder. It is not wrong to have a goal to lose weight and adapt your way of eating to accommodate that goal. The issue with “diets” though is that they tend to be a one-size-fits-all way without a focus on individual differences. They are more prone to causing feelings of restriction and negative self wellness and promoting one “healthiest” way of eating for everyone when there is no such thing. Plant-based eating can encompass a broad range of different customizable ways, even within vegetarian and vegan eating, to meet personal needs and preferences as well as values and other factors within one’s food environment if applicable.  

The foods that someone may not considered as options, such as meat, dairy, eggs and/or other animal products, are not necessarily “unhealthy” and it’s okay to include them if they fit within your food environment. I grew up including those foods for 20 years and then have not included them for the past 4 years and equally have been in good personal health. I choose foods that I enjoy and that fuel me, but that fit my personal values as far as is practical. I used to enjoy the taste of chicken and salmon and the sight or smell of it can bring back memories of enjoyment, but my values towards my personal food choices prevent me from considering it as food and wanting to eat it again. It’s not a result of discipline, but rather what Fraser Bayley of Evolving Alpha calls a paradigm shift in which your viewpoint changes. If my values were to shift and I wanted to eat these foods again then I would.   

No, plant-based is not synonymous with “healthy” (which can mean something different to everyone) as refined foods, such as donuts, can be be plant-based, yet are not as health promoting as less processed foods. In any way of eating though, I’d consider it more “unhealthy” to completely restrict a food that they wants to eat. I encourage more whole food based ways of eating, but that does not mean more processed foods can’t be included. The point of plant-based eating should not be about completely avoiding foods that you want to it, but diet culture considers as “good” or “bad” for you from a health perspective.

To sum up, the intentions behind plant-based eating should not be about excluding the food and forms of food that you enjoy, but rather about avoiding the things that they are made of that you don’t consider as food due to your personal ethical values and replacing them with alternatives and introduced foods made with plant-based ingredients that you do consider as food.



Our current world is not the perfect environment for vegans, vegetarians and other predominantly plant-based eaters. However, it’s not about being perfect, which is not possible, but about carrying out your values to the greatest extent that is possible and practical to you. It’s not possible to contribute to zero animal deaths, zero food waste and other effects of food choices. It’s okay if you mistakenly or even purposefully eat certain animal-based products that you want or don’t want to eat. Everyone is on their own health journey and it is best to do what feels right for you right now, because you know your body best. It’s your personal choices and values based on your own experiences, knowledge, considerations and beliefs, not based on others. I talk about some of the challenges you may face eating more plant-based and ways to adapt and overcome them in this blog post.

While confidently embracing many parts of a vegan lifestyle as far as is possible and practical for me, I choose to not force personal values onto others, want to help with all ways of more plant-based eating and most often do not label my own lifestyle or way of eating except in cases where it helps to distinguish from what is traditional. Others who are new to a plant-based lifestyle may find it helpful to not include labels as they let go of restrictive rules that can be a part of “diets” and find what flexibly works best for them right now, which accommodates a wide range of options, from those who want to include one meatless meal a week to those who want to transition to eating fully plant-based. 

Intuitive eating is a response to “dieting” that embraces inclusiveness with all personal food choices and positive body images. It essentially encourages you to choose foods that fit your food environment and to become more in tune with what your body wants and needs as an individual rather than make certain food choices out of fear or guilt. Regardless of food choices, I think the non-diet message of intuitive eating can be important especially for athletes and active individuals in which nutrition and body images can be involved in their performance and young adults who begin to choose their independent food environments and values.

To sum up, intuitive eating practices can be applied within plant-based eating to encourage flexibility and practicality in accommodating individual wants and needs and to take the focus of food choices away from just weight and body image and more towards their broader effects that contribute to one’s personal values and should be the main reason for choosing more plant-based eating. 


Omega 3 Fatty Acids: Plant Based Alternatives To Fish

Omega 3 Fatty Acids: Plant Based Alternatives To Fish

Omega sounds like part of college Greek life, right? We’re talking here about Omega 3 fatty acids, which are essential to get as our bodies can’t make them. The most common ways we are advised to do so is through eating fish or supplementing with fish oil. The current dietary recommendation is to include one to two servings of fatty fish each week. Fishing is suggested to be unsustainable and environmentally damaging and along with other reasons that some people have for not consuming seafood or other animal-based sources, alternatives need to be addressed. Plant-based omega 3 fat sources are a solution, but are they as efficient in supplying what we need?

NOTE: This post is not intended to give dietary advice. Contact a registered dietitian if that is what you are seeking. Statements are my own or referenced from researched sources to share information helping people interested in plant-based alternatives to seafood. This post is not intended to disapprove of seafood businesses and organizations or one’s personal choice to consume seafood.

Fishing Is Suggested to be Unsustainable and Environment Damaging

Fish is commercially supplied for us to eat, for making fish oil supplements and for fish feed in aqua farming. The demand for fish and fish oil has risen to a point that it may threaten fish populations and the environments they live in. Waste from boats and pollution from land into the water can contribute and also threaten the quality and safety of seafood for consumers. While we don’t know yet to what degree the risk if any it poses to our health, fish are known to ingest or absorb plastic particles, chemicals and others contaminants in the water. Mercury is one concern, but there are many other residues that can become concentrated in their organs and flesh and pass up the food chain to accumulate in humans. That may not influence consumer decisions as much compared to concerns for animal welfare and a desire for sustainable sources.

Seafood suppliers and organizations have suggested more sustainable fishing practices. They encourage consumers to choose fish lower in the food chain more often and sustainable options described as fish with minimal environmental impact. However, the form of fishing described with the lowest environmental impact is hand caught or line fishing, which would be inefficient in supplying everyone with such fish. Sustainable seafood would rely on aqua farming for a higher yield, which is connected with the concerns people have that cause them to choose sustainable seafood in the first place. Not everyone has access to a local supply of fish either and this seafood would come at a higher price. Sustainable like traditional seafood policy also allows suppliers and menus to label fish simply as “fish” rather than the specific species.

Minimizing ocean damage from fishing to an extent that keeps the seafood industry thriving simply slows the damage rather than offer as solution to eliminate the cause of it. Understandably, some people enjoy fish and are allowed to eat what they want. Those interested in following a way of eating that does not include fish or animal sources of omega 3 fats based on environmental and health reasons or additional personal circumstances need alternatives to get omega 3s. Before addressing them, it’s important to first introduce the forms of omega 3 fatty acids, their roles and sources.

Different Forms of Omega-3 Fats Each with a Different Roles

Our bodies can naturally make some of the fats we need, except for omega-3 (and omega-6) fats, which must be obtain from food and are therefore called essential fats.

There are three main forms of omega-3 fats found in our food supply that we know of and each have different important roles in our bodies. Simply explained:

  • Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) are long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids synthesized from short-chain fatty acids. They are found mostly in oily fish and in smaller amounts in other animal-based sources. Like omega-6 fats, their roles are to either make energy through oxidation or to integrate as phospholipids into cell membranes. They are precursors to molecules involved in the inflammation process and have a role in brain health.
  • Alpha-linoleic acid (ALA) are short-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids that can be converted to the long-chain fatty acids. They are known to be found mostly in nuts and seeds, with the highest amounts being in flax, chia and hemp seeds, walnuts, vegetable oils, green leafy vegetables and certain fatty animal products that are grass-fed or omega-3 supplemented. They are involved in the inflammation process too and have a role in cardiovascular health.

Due to their different roles and benefits in the body, both EPA, DHA and ALA sources of food are recommended to be consumed.

The Conversion of ALA to EPA and DHA is Suggested to be Inefficient

ALA can be converted to EPA and DHA through a series of reactions involving enzymes and intermediates. This process has been suggested to be inefficient. What can make it inefficient?

One explanation is that there are rate limiting reactions that are the slowest and determine the overall rate or time, and therefore the efficiency, of the conversion pathway in forming products. The result is not all of the original reactant appears to get converted into the product and is used in other purposes. One such rate limiting step is the conversion of ALA to a higher intermediate that is catalyzed by the enzyme delta-6-desaturase.

Conversion can vary from person to person based on other factors, including gender and age as well as overall diet. Omega 6 fatty acids are known to compete with omega 3 fatty acids for some of the same enzymes, which can affect conversion rates too. Most studies have shown that adequate high doses of ALA can convert more efficiently to EPA, but conversion to DHA does not occur.

However, inefficient conversion from ALA is based on earlier studies performed using humans who consume fish or other direct sources of preformed EPA and DHA. Some have even suggested that the vegan and vegetarian diets observed tend to be low in ALA food sources. More studies have yet to be performed on vegans or people who do not intake direct sources of DHA from seafood, algae or other animal products and fortified foods and who intake enough ALA food sources (and adjust for the other factors addressed like individual differences and omega 6 intake). Only one such study has been performed so far and offers an insight into the Omega 3 conversion process and optimizing it through what we eat.

Conversion Is Likely More Efficient Without DHA Source

The EPIC-Norfolk Cohort Study on dietary intake and status of omega 3 fatty acids in fish-eating and non-fish-eating groups of people found that the reactant (ALA) to product (DHA) ratio was higher, suggesting higher conversion, among non-fish-eater vegans and vegetarians compared to fish-eaters.

These results can be explained by other studies that also look into the process at the cell and molecular level, including one suggesting ALA intake can adequately meet brain DHA requirements. Preformed DHA is suggested to cause the gene that expresses for the production of the enzyme elongase involved in the conversion process to turn off. Only in people who do not intake preformed DHA is the gene that produces the enzyme able to stay on and convert more ALA up through to DHA. It may be the body’s mechanism of signaling when it has enough DHA and doesn’t need to convert more ALA to DHA.

Understanding how we may be able to optimize the omega 3 pathway for better conversion to EPA and DHA in this way would be a huge breakthrough in dietary recommendations for plant-based non-fish eaters. Current recommendations include taking an algae-based omega 3 supplement, which contains DHA, though this may cause a similar inefficient conversion from ALA due to the direct DHA source. Another possible way to increase conversion would be to bypass one of the rate-limiting enzymes by including a food source that contains one the intermediates between ALA and EPA. In the next post, I will share this and other food sources of plant based omega 3 fatty acids.

Thanks for reading!



Plant-Based Snack Bars When On The Run

Plant-Based Snack Bars When On The Run

We are encouraged to make our own meals and snacks at home, but let’s face the truth: sometimes we get really busy. In a pinch, snack bars are a quick way to satisfy hunger between meals or as part of a meal. They are convenient when traveling, after workouts or when lacking enough time or forgetting to prep food in advance.

Not all bars are alike, as some may not taste good or contain processed ingredients and little nutritional value and it can be hard to navigate the snack bar aisle to find one that works for each of us. I am sharing with you some plant fueled snack bars that I have tried and recommend if you are looking for some snack bars to try. 

Square Organics

I have tried and enjoy the crisp protein bars and the chocolate coated bars. There are a variety of flavors and each bar contains organic ingredients with 10 to 13g of minimally processed sprouted plant protein, low glycemic sweeteners and coconut oil. Square Organics has very frequent discounts on their website with part of sales going towards Not For Sale, an anti-human trafficking non-profit.

Where To Buy

Lara Bar

I have only tried the original Larabar from which there are many different flavors to choose from and each one is made from about 3 to 10 mostly whole food and identifiable ingredients. They are also one of the easiest bars to find in many stores, including gas station stores when you are traveling. Larabar is passionate about living healthy in mind, body and spirit through eating food that tastes best in its least processed form.

Where To Buy

Planet Protein

This is a relatively new company currently with 2 flavors of bars. Each bar is delicious and has 20g of complete plant based protein, which is great for after a workout,with organic and mostly unrefined ingredients, with no sugar alcohols or palm-oil. Planet Protein designs bars that fit its mission of promoting consciousness of what is in the food we choose to consume and its impact on our health and the health of the environment and other animals. Wrappers can be sent back to be recycled and used to build playground equipment.

Where To Buy

Go Macro


These bars have many different flavors with fun names and varieties, including protein bars (10g per bar) and energy bars with a good balance of macro and micro nutrients. Their bars are based on the macrobiotic diet, a healthy and sustainable whole food centered lifestyle focused on balance within ourselves and nature, with ingredients sourced from local farmers and donations made to macrobiotic education and animal sanctuaries.

Where To Buy

Others I’ve tried and honorably mention: Shanti Bar, KIND, Rise Bar.

Did I leave off one of your favorite plant-based snack bars? If so, mention it in the comments section below so I can try and share it!

NOTE: I am not affiliated with or sponsored by any of the brands and links mentioned in this post. All photos in this post are of my taking. You are allowed to share this post using one of the social share buttons at the top.