There is a swirling vortex of misinformation regarding diet and health floating around in the public consciousness. Do not allow yourself to be sucked into this whirlpool. If you’re eating in an unusual way, and eating a whole food plant-based diet would be classified by many as unusual to the extreme, it is sometimes hard to buck prevailing ideas. Well-meaning friends and family, already worried about the direction your diet is taking, will seize upon any hiccup in your plans to drag you back to their idea of healthful eating. Even your own uncertainty about the wisdom of your radical change in eating habits can sabotage your resolve, especially when it seems that you stand alone in your dietary choices.
When it comes to weight loss, most people who switch to a plant-based diet are overjoyed by how easily their excess weight falls away. However, in some, the weight loss goes too far. At this point there might be a temptation to switch back to eating animal based foods. Sure, you can easily gain weight that way but what about the abundance of health benefits that you will leave behind?
First of all it is important to understand why weight loss is so easy when you eat only plants. It all has to do with calorie density. Different foods provide different calories by weight. A food high in calorie density contains a large number of calories in a small weight of food while a food low in calorie density contains much fewer calories in the same weight of food. You can see from the picture below that when you are eating plants, naturally low in calorie density, you will ingest much fewer calories than from eating the same amount of animal-based food. Because human beings are generally comfortable after eating a certain weight of food, eating less calorie dense foods leads to weight loss. (1)
Image from Forks Over Knives.com website (1)
To give you an idea of the calorie density of foods, here is a list of the number of calories per pound of various food types (1).
Green, yellow and red vegetables 60 to 195 calories per pound
Fruit 140 to 420 calories per pound
Potatoes, sweet potatoes, pasta, rice, corn, hot cereals 320 to 630 calories per pound
Beans, peas, lentils (cooked) 310 to 780 calories per pound
Breads, bagels, dried fruit 920 to 1360 calories per pound
Sugars (including honey, molasses, maple syrup) 1200 to 1800 calories per pound
Nuts, seeds 2400 to 3200 calories per pound
Oils 4000 calories per pound
With this in mind, here are my suggestions for adding calories to your plant-based diet. Try to add two or three of these ideas to your daily diet and you will soon find that your weight will not only stabilize but begin to increase.
First and foremost, be sure you are eating enough food. Most people, especially women, have spent a lifetime consciously or unconsciously restricting calories. The standard Western diet makes gaining weight almost inevitable leaving most people in a never-ending battle to keep their weight in check. However, living a plant-based lifestyle is completely different. You can eat until you are satisfied. You can even overeat sometimes with no weight consequences. If you are losing weight you do not want to lose, simply EAT MORE FOOD. Take larger portions. Have second helpings. Enjoy your food to the fullest. If you feel hungry during the day, don’t ignore it. Take pleasure in the fact that you need to snack when you’re hungry.
Don’t avoid grains. It is the fashion today to look at breads and pastas as empty calories and, even more sinister, the bearer of gluten, current villain of nutrition. The vast majority of people need have no worry about gluten and unfortunately, if they are shunning healthy grains because of that fear, they are avoiding one of the very food types that can lead to better health. Whole grains are linked to increased longevity and reduced risk of chronic diseases including coronary heart disease, cancer, diabetes and obesity (4,7). The estimated incidence of wheat insensitivity (including wheat allergy, gluten sensitivity and celiac disease) is about 2% of the total North American population. There is no evidence suggesting that following a gluten-free diet has any significant benefits in the general population. Before shunning grains, visit your doctor for investigation into your own body’s reaction to gluten. (2,3)
Make sure you eat at least one serving of beans every day. Beans are supremely healthy and satisfying and are on the more calorie dense side of the plant kingdom. (5,6)
Increase your intake of potatoes and sweet potatoes. Try our soul-warming recipe for Curry Vegetable Stew that you can find on my website blog entitled “Chilly Weather Comfort Food”.
Try out an appetizing Thai recipe with peanut sauce.
Add extra nuts and seeds to your diet. Sprinkle pumpkin seeds onto your morning granola or your evening stew. Add walnuts to your salads.
Harken back to your childhood and slather peanut butter or other nut butter on bread. Top it with banana rounds or apple slices. Be sure to check the label and buy nut butter made from only nuts and with no added fats or sugars.
Eat nuts for snacks and be sure to include snacks between each meal. Peanuts, pecans, almonds and walnuts are calorie dense but healthy snacks.
Add ground flax or chia seeds to your morning smoothie or your evening meal.
Dried fruit is also a more calorie dense food. Sprinkle it on your morning hot cereal or into salad.
Eat avocados. They are unusual in the fruit kingdom in that they are high in fat. As always, eating fat as an integral part of a fiber-rich whole fruit or vegetable is a healthy way to consume fat. You can also add avocado to your morning smoothie or add some slices to your sandwich or salad.
Enjoy hummus on whole wheat flat bread for a filling snack.
Make up some “Parmenon” (see recipe under the blog “Three Recipes To Get You Started”) and toss it on to meals such as pastas, stews and soups. It boost both the taste and the calorie density on your plate.
Relish velvety hot chocolate on a cold evening by heating up soy milk with added cocoa and a small amount of stewed dates.
Search the internet for recipes for some of the following favourite dishes that have a higher calorie density. Look for a couple of these recipes on next week’s blog.
Discover the joy of “cream” sauces made from cashews or almonds. They are often used for tasty plant-based pasta sauces. These plant-based creamy sauces are a wonderful substitute for sauces made with cows’ cream. They will add calories without adding unnecessary extra fat.
For a healthy sandwich filling, make up a recipe of “tuna-like” salad made from chickpeas and raw cashews.
Try a plant-based potato salad recipe with a soaked cashew base sauce.
Lasagna is luscious when made with tofu “ricotta” and nutritional yeast.
Make a sinfully delectable “cheese” cake using cashew cream.
2 Sapone, A., Bai, J.C., Ciacci, C., Dolinsek, J. et al. Spectrum of gluten-related disorders: Consensus on new nomenclature and classification. BMC Med 2012 10:1.
3 Gaesser, G.A., Angadi ,S.S. Gluten-free diet: Imprudent dietary advice for the general population? J Acad Nutr Diet 2012 112(9):1330 – 1333.
4 Slavin, J. Whole grains and human health. Nutr Res Rev 2004 17(1):99 – 110.
5 Darmadi-Blackberry, I. Wahlqvist, M., Kouris-Blazos, A. et al. Legumes: the most important dietary predictor of survival in older people of different ethnicities. Asia Pac J Clin Nutr. 2004;13(2):217-220.
6 Chang, W., Wahlqvist, M., Chang, H., Hsu, C. Lee, M., Wang, W., Hsiung,C. A bean-free diet increases the risk of all-cause mortality among Taiwanese women: The role of the metabolic syndrome. Public Health Nutr 2012 15(4):663 – 672.
7 Messina, V. Nutritional and health benefits of dried beans. Am J Clin Nutr July 2014; 100(Supp 1): 437S – 442S.