As you begin your plant-based journey, you may be in search of new plant-based whole foods or you may come across new foods in plant-based recipes you’re unfamiliar with. Here is a brief list of new foods you may encounter or new plant foods to try. If you’re looking for a way to challenge yourself, try to incorporate one brand-new food each week. Don’t feel limited to this list; there are plenty of plant-based whole foods to explore.
What is it? Tofu, which is made of soybeans, is a great source of protein, phytonutrients (health-protective plant compounds), calcium, iron, and other vitamins and minerals. Research has found that tofu may have a positive impact on heart health, especially when substituted for red or processed meats regularly in your diet.
How do I use it? Tofu is very versatile. For breakfast, you can replace eggs in a scramble with crumbled tofu. You can use marinated baked or grilled tofu in place of chicken in a Greek salad. You can even blend tofu into a smoothie, creamy dessert, or sauce to add bonus protein and texture.
Side note: When substituting meat for tofu, extra firm tofu is best. When you use tofu for a creamy dish, soft or silk tofu may work better. After opening your tofu package be sure to drain and then press the tofu to squeeze out as much excess water as possible. One way to do that is to wrap your tofu in a clean kitchen towel and press lightly with a heavy pot.
What is it? Tempeh is fermented soybeans and like tofu, it’s an excellent meat substitute due to its protein content. Tempeh provides loads of fiber, vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients, and beneficial bacteria due to its fermentation.
How do I use it? Tempeh can be used wherever you typically use meat. It can be crumbled to resemble the texture of ground beef or sliced to make tempeh “bacon.”
Side note: Like tofu, tempeh adapts to the flavors around it, so it’s very versatile. It also packs more protein per serving than tofu.
What is it? Seitan is made from vital wheat gluten and is often used in place of meat in plant-based recipes. Unlike tofu and tempeh, seitan is not made from soy, so it’s a great option for someone with a soy allergy or sensitivity. However, seitan is not gluten-free.
How do I use it? Seitan can be used in place of meat in a number of dishes, like stews, sandwiches, tacos, kabobs, chilis, or barbeque. It tastes savory with a texture comparable to meat.
Side note: You can make seitan at home or buy it at your local market. If you decide to make seitan at home, add different seasoning combinations to mix up the flavors. For example, try BBQ tempeh or marinate it in teriyaki sauce.
What is it? Mung Beans are a commonly eaten legume in Asia and have been traditionally used for medicinal purposes. They have many potential positive impacts on health, including cancer prevention and improved regulation of blood sugar, blood pressure, and cholesterol. Mung beans tend to be well tolerated digestively and they provide protein, fiber, vitamins, and minerals.
How do I use it? Like other beans, mung beans can be added to salads, soups, grain bowls, or curry. Try them in a veggie stir fry or in place of lentils or beans in soup.
Side note: Mung beans are somewhat sweet, but mild in flavor overall.
Whole Food Carbohydrate Options
What is it? Jackfruit is a large fruit with a stringy interior that’s growing in popularity. It provides fiber, disease-protective antioxidants and phytonutrients, potassium, vitamin C, vitamin B6, and other micronutrients. Jackfruit has been shown to help prevent heart disease, cancer, and bone-related diseases.
How do I use it? Jackfruit has become a common substitute for meat in tacos, barbeque, and chili. It absorbs flavors well, so it’s very adaptable. And due to its stringy interior, it mimics the texture of shredded meat.
Side note: You can buy canned jackfruit, but you’ll also find it in the produce section at many supermarkets. It’s becoming more popular on restaurant menus as a meat alternative.
What is it? Açai is a type of berry that has become very popular in recent years. Açai berries are said to be a “superfood,” however, be cautious of health claims made by the media. While research does support acai’s antioxidant properties, you may see a variety of benefit claims that aren’t backed by published research.
How do I use it? Açai is most commonly used in smoothies or smoothie bowls. You can also purchase açai in juice or powdered form. Açai powders can be added to dishes like chia pudding, overnight oats, plant milk lattes, or smoothies.
Side note: If you buy frozen pureed açai be sure to check the label for added sugars. Frozen pureed açais will provide the benefits of a whole food, therefore we recommend the frozen whole food form over powders or juices.
What is it? Chia seeds provide an omega-3 fatty acid called alpha-linolenic acid, as well as protein, calcium, phosphorus, and zinc. Since chia seeds absorb water, they also help support hydration. These seeds are also high in a soluble fiber called beta-glucan, which helps stabilize blood sugar.
How do I use it? Chia seeds are a great addition to smoothies, overnight oats, breakfast cereals, soups, salads, marinades, baked goods, puddings, and sauces.
Side note: When baking you can replace one egg with 1 tablespoon of chia seeds mixed with 3 tablespoons of water. Dried chia seeds have a shelf life of 4-5 years.
What is it? Flaxseeds also supply omega-3 fatty acids and fiber in addition to protein, thiamine, and various other minerals and vitamins. Studies have shown that flaxseed consumption is linked to protection against heart disease and has anti-cancer effects. Additionally, consuming four tablespoons of ground flax meal per day has been shown to lower blood pressure.
How do I use it? Use flaxseeds to garnish smoothies, hot cereals, or avocado toast, or mix them into homemade baked goods, energy balls, sandwich condiments, or pasta sauces. Keep in mind that the seeds are calorie-dense, so a little goes a long way.
Side note: Ground flaxseeds are easier to digest than whole because the hard outer shell is broken down. Consider grinding whole flaxseeds in a food processor or coffee grinder just before eating them. You can also make a “flax egg” as an egg replacement by mixing 1 tablespoon of ground flaxseeds with 3 tablespoons of water.
What is it? Hemp seeds are a healthy source of omega-3 fatty acids and omega-6 fatty acids in addition to plant-based protein. They’re rich in magnesium, fiber, and more. They also provide antioxidants that combat free radicals, compounds that damage cells and lead to premature aging and disease.
How do I use it? Like flax and chia seeds, hemp seeds can be sprinkled onto meals and snacks as a garnish. You can also buy hemp seed milk or gluten-free hemp seed flour.
Side note: While hemp does come from the same plant as marijuana, eating the seeds won’t make you feel “high” due to their very low levels of THC (the psychoactive component of marijuana plants).
What is it? Tahini, which is a sesame seed paste, is a source of healthful polyunsaturated fatty acids and protein. It’s also rich in an amino acid called methionine, which can be low in a plant-based diet. Some research suggests it may also have positive effects on heart health.
How do I use it? Think of tahini as a condiment or dip. Serve it with veggies, whole grain pita, or whole grain crackers. Or drizzle tahini over a salad, grain bowl, avocado toast, veggie burger, or falafel. You can also blend tahini into smoothies or use it to thicken sauces or soups.
Side note: Tahini is typically an ingredient found in hummus, but you can buy it as a standalone item. You may find jarred tahini in the same aisle as nut butters. In addition, some stores stock herbed or pre-seasoned tahini in the refrigerated section near the hummus.
Flavor Enhancer Options
What is it? Nutritional yeast is a flaky powder that can be used as a garnish or ingredient to add unique umami flavor to meals and snacks. It provides protein and vitamin B12. The latter is especially important for plant-based eaters since B12 is mainly found in animal products and can be lacking in a plant-based diet.
How do I use it? Nutritional yeast is often added to plant-based recipes when seeking a cheesy flavor. Treat it as a seasoning when making savory dishes, like rice or pasta bowls, soups, and sauces. As a topping, nutritional yeast also makes a flavorful plant-based alternative to parmesan on anything from cooked vegetables to popcorn.
Side note: Nutritional yeast doesn’t need to be refrigerated and it will stay good in your pantry for about two years, so it’s easy to always keep on hand.
What is it? Miso paste is made from fermented soybeans, but you can also find soy-free options made from chickpeas. There are various types of miso paste, including white, yellow, or red, and we encourage you to try them all.
How do I use it? Miso paste has an umami flavor often used in Japanese cuisine. You can add it to marinades, stir-fries, salad dressings, soups, mashed potatoes, roasted vegetables, or pasta dishes.
Side note: Due to its pasty consistency and depending on how you use it, it may be helpful to dilute your miso paste with water. About one tablespoon of paste per 1 ½ cups of hot water can also serve as a broth.
What is it? Watercress is a leafy vegetable that’s been used medicinally due to its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties and its positive effects on heart disease, cancer, liver disease, glucose levels, and other ailments. Watercress is low in calories and packed with vitamins and minerals.
How do I use it? Like other leafy vegetables, watercress makes a great salad base. Watercress can also be sauteed, pureed in sauces, or added to sandwiches, wraps, soups, and pizzas. To diversify your plant sources, try mixing watercress in with your spinach, collard greens, or kale.
Side note: Depending on how you prepare it, you might want to chop off the stems before eating watercress. While they are edible, they can be quite thick.
What is it? Rutabaga is a root vegetable. Rutabagas provide antioxidants, fiber, and micronutrients, such as vitamin C, potassium, and folate.
How do I use it? Any time you might use a potato or sweet potato, try a rutabaga. They can be mashed, roasted, made into soup or hash, baked as “fries,” or even baked into a savory or sweet pie. When experimenting with rutabaga try to get creative with spices and seasonings.
Side note: In addition to rutabaga, try a variety of root vegetables, like turnips, parsnips, kohlrabi, and celeriac. Many stores now sell frozen root vegetable “fries” to take home and bake.
What is it? Chayote is a type of squash that provides folate, vitamins A, E, and C, and various other vitamins and minerals. It’s also a great source of antioxidants, phytonutrients, and fiber, all of which contribute to disease prevention and wellness.
How do I use it? Chayote is common in Mexican culture, so try seasoning it with Latin-inspired spices. You can also add it to salads, soups, curries, or stir-fries. You can even incorporate it into desserts, like chayote cobbler or pie.
Side note: You may also see chayote mentioned in the cosmetic aisle as it is often used in beauty products.
There are so many spices to try! You don’t need to buy all of these seasonings at once. Instead, buy a new spice you may not have tried before one at a time to see if you like the taste. Many stores allow you to buy small spice samples, so you don’t have to commit to a bulk purchase. You’ll also find a wide variety of spices at ethnic markets, which can often be purchased in small quantities.
Sugar and Oil Replacements for Baking
Let’s make a swap!
Sweetener –> Mashed Banana
What is it? Use a mashed banana instead of added sugar in baked goods, oatmeal, and other dishes you need to sweeten.
How do I use it? When baking, substitute mashed banana for half the amount of sugar, honey, brown sugar, or agave a recipe calls. For example, if the recipe lists 1 cup of sugar, omit the sugar and use approximately ½ cup of mashed banana instead.
Side note: Using bananas not only cuts down on calories and sugar content but also adds fiber and nutrients. For this type of swap, ripe bananas work best.
Sweetener –> Dates
What is it? Dates are chewy but sweet fruits that are full of nutrients and packed with fiber. They’re often used to mimic a chocolate-like flavor in baking.
How do I use it? Dates can be added to salads, oatmeal, or baked goods for sweetness. In baked goods, chop up or puree dates and use a 1:1 ratio. For example, if a recipe calls for ½ cup of sugar, use approximately ½ cup of chopped dates instead.
Side note: Dates often have pits, so be sure to remove pits before you add the fruit to your food processor. Also, be careful when biting into a date that has a pit. Pitted dates (meaning the pit has been removed) are deliciously stuffed with nut butter, nuts, or coconut for a quick sweet snack.
Oil –> Applesauce
What is it? Use unsweetened applesauce as a replacement for oil when baking.
How do I use it? When baking, applesauce makes a great alternative to oil in a 1:1 ratio. For example, if a recipe calls for ½ cup of oil, use ½ cup of applesauce instead. If you don’t like how the recipe turns out, try to substitute half of the oil for applesauce.
Side note: Substituting applesauce lowers the amount of saturated fat and calories you add to baked goods. Additionally, the fruit provides bonus fiber and micronutrients.
Oil –> Pumpkin/pureed squash
What is it? Canned pureed pumpkin provides fiber, antioxidants, vitamin A, potassium, and more. Look for 100% pure pumpkin rather than a canned pumpkin pie mix with added sugars and spices.
How do I use it? Like applesauce, pureed pumpkin or squash can be substituted for oil in a 1:1 ratio when baking. For every 1 cup of oil the recipe calls for, use 1 cup of pureed squash or pumpkin instead.
Side note: Pumpkin can also be used as an egg replacement in baking. Replace 1 egg with ¼ cup of pumpkin puree.