I've been vegan on and off for years, but at the end of last year, I decided to lock into the plant-based life for good. My reasons were mostly ethical and environmental, but I soon realized that there were a multitude of fitness and health benefits that came along with this lifestyle. I went down a dress and pant size this year, I gained a few pounds of muscle (as well as some nice curves!), and I feel clearer and happier than ever.
But I won't lie — transitioning to a completely plant-based diet can be tough at first, especially if you're used to eating out a lot or consuming a lot of animal products. Once you get over the hump, though, you'll likely be on your way to a healthier version of yourself. If you need some inspiration, whether or not you're vegan, these are the must-have kitchen staples that helped me lose weight and feel my very best.
Plant-Based Protein Powder
Many dietitians say that the number one issue they see with rookie vegetarians or vegans is that they don't get enough protein in their diets. That's why I always have a stash of Vega Sport Protein in my cabinet (my favorite flavor is mocha); one serving has 30 grams of protein, 160 calories, and only six grams of carbs. It tastes delicious and creamy — never grainy or chalky. I don't have to worry about getting my fill of protein when I have this as my morning shake.
Tofu and Tempeh
Soy products are another reliable source of protein. I always have Trader Joe's high protein super firm organic tofu in my fridge, and each serving has 14 grams of protein. I'll use it to make a stir-fry, a curry, a one-pot wonder, or a morning scramble. Tempeh is my other favorite soy product. While tofu is made from curdled soymilk (not as gross as it sounds), tempeh is made straight from the soybean, so it has a nuttier, heartier flavor that works great in marinades and sautées.
With both of these in my fridge, I never get bored of the food I cook at home. There are so many varieties and different dishes out there to play with!
When I'm craving something sweet and cold, instead of reaching for vegan ice cream (which can be packed with all kinds of preservatives and excess processed sugar), I make myself a decadent chia pudding. It only packs on about 200 calories and very minimal sugar. I sometimes even make myself an overnight chia cup for breakfast when I'm on the go.
Lots and Lots of Vegetables
I know you heard it a lot when you were a kid, but you gotta eat your veggies! They're full of fiber, which will keep you fuller for longer, and they're generally low in calories. Plus, there are so many health benefits of eating vegetables with every meal: your digestion will improve, you'll stave off many diseases, and you'll get your fill of minerals and vitamins. I always have spinach, bell peppers, tomatoes, cucumbers, celery, and mushrooms in my fridge. That way I'm always one step away from a tasty salad that has a lot of variety.
I'm part Italian, and my Nana, who was from Calabria, Italy, would turn in her grave if she pictured my life without some hearty pasta. When spiralized zucchini noodles just don't do it for me and I'm in need of something with more sustenance, I reach for edamame pasta. It has three times the amount of protein as the regular stuff (24 grams per serving), it's only 200 calories per serving, and it tastes stupid good. I experiment with all kinds of dairy-free sauces, and it always leaves me feeling satisfied.
You need tahini in your cabinet to create creamy salad dressings, marinades, and sauces. It has a unique, slightly bitter taste that goes really well with most Asian dishes. Tahini is generally low in carbs (about three or four grams) and calories. My favorite thing to make is a tahini marinade that includes maple syrup, liquid smoke, and soy sauce.
Raw Nuts and Seeds
I toss raw macadamias in my salad, I make a dairy-free cheese sauce with raw cashews, and I like to put toasted pumpkin seeds on top of a homemade Mexican meal. Nuts and seeds have the healthy fats that we all need to lose weight, and there are so many different kinds out there that are bound to suit your needs. I also love having hemp seeds around; they make my smoothies extra creamy.
What good is life without chocolate? There are endless vegan options out there, so when I'm in the mood for something sweet, I bust my cravings with a couple squares of dark chocolate. Personally, the darker the better. I have 90 percent bars living in hidden places around my apartment. This prevents me from binge-eating on the weekend or feeling deprived.