Column: Interested in plant-based foods? Here’s what you need to know


Grace Comer

Brandi Doming’s garlic alfredo pasta mimics a creamy and cheesy sauce made using ground cashews.

Grace Comer, news staff

If you ask people what stops them from going vegan, many will say, “I just couldn’t give up my favorite food.” Others express concerns about failing to get all their necessary nutrients from a plant-based diet or worry that the food will not taste as good as those that rely on meat and dairy. 

Switching to a plant-based diet does come with several health benefits, including reducing the risk of heart disease and lowering chances of developing certain cancers. It also has a huge impact on the environment, as livestock alone are responsible for emitting 15% of global greenhouse gases. 

Despite these benefits, committing to a full vegan diet can be intimidating. Even just reducing meat and dairy intake can have significant environmental and health benefits. All it takes is a little planning and knowledge. 

It is important to know that a diet without meat can result in deficiencies in certain nutrients, since some are predominantly found in animal products. 

However, these deficiencies are easily fixed with conscious dietary choices. Beans, whole grains, leafy greens and fresh fruit all provide nutrients such as iron, essential fatty acids, calcium and zinc. If none of these sound appealing to you, there are plenty of other ways to get your vitamins and nutrients. 

Vitamin B12 is the only essential vitamin not found in plant sources but is easily substituted using a dietary supplement. 

Another common deficiency is in protein. While meat is most people’s main source of protein, plants contain plenty of protein. Lentils, chickpeas, nuts, such as peanuts or almonds, quinoa and potatoes are just some examples of protein-rich plants commonly found in vegan diets. 

Protein is not just limited to fruits and vegetables though. Some of the most common vegan protein alternatives are tofu, tempeh and seitan, all of which can mimic the texture and flavor of meat and are healthy alternatives to their real meat counterparts. 

Tofu and tempeh come from soybeans. Tofu is bean curd made from soy milk, and tempeh is fermented soy beans. Seitan is the vital gluten that comes from wheat but without the significant carbohydrate component of most wheat products. 

Beyond replacing meat, there are many ways to replace other animal products such as dairy and eggs. 

Milk can be substituted for any number of nut or oat milks, and butter can easily be replaced by margarine or vegetable shortening. 

Vegans also have some tricks for mimicking the taste and texture of cheese and creams. Many companies sell vegan cheese now, designed to taste just like the real thing. 

Creamy and cheesy sauces can be made using ground cashews, such as Brandi Doming’s garlic alfredo sauce pasta or Monique Volz’s easily-customizable mac and cheese. 

There are also vegan alternatives for baking your favorite treats. Eggs can be replaced by a “chia egg,” which is just one tablespoon of chia seeds mixed with two and a half tablespoons of water. A chia egg thickens to a similar consistency as eggs, making them perfect substitutes in most baked goods. 

Here are a few more easy beginner meals rich in protein and other essential nutrients. 

Sonja Overhiser’s chili recipe uses quinoa to mimic the texture of ground beef and a healthy dose of beans to load up on protein. She also suggests adding a simple homemade vegan sour cream, mostly made of cashews. 

Making your own seitan was trending on TikTok a few months ago, and for good reason: the most basic recipes only require kneading together flour and water. The flour is rinsed to remove most of the carbohydrates, leaving just protein-rich vital gluten. 

Sam Turnbull’s fried “chicken” recipe speeds up the process of making seitan by hand, replacing most of the flour with store-bought vital wheat gluten, making it even easier and faster to make. 

If you are looking for a vegan appetizer, Nora Taylor’s crispy buffalo cauliflower is a spicy treat for everyone to enjoy. She also includes a simple vegan ranch, made using vegan mayo, to go along with this classic dish.

It is easy to commit to making a few plant-based meals each week using simple recipes like these, and in doing so, help both your health and the planet’s health.