Elgi Ultra explores the whole-food and plant-based diet

Your guide to dietary tips, nutritional info and more.

whole food

People have varied reasons for exploring plant-based and whole-food diets. It could be a short-term diet exploration, a recommended or prescribed dietary change or a voluntary lifestyle shift. A recently televised documentary titled, forks over knives, gained popularity as it focussed on aspects that made this change, above all, an anatomically better decision.

Each individual’s metabolism and nutritional requirements are different. Therefore it might be misguided to say one diet is better than the other unless scientifically proven or medically required. In most cases, a healthy combination of foods, might be well suited.

The difference between a vegan diet and a whole-foods, plant-based diet is the avoidance of processed and refined foods including highly refined, flour, sugar and oil; in addition to avoiding animal products.

While meat and animal products are essential sources of protein, vitamin B12 and omega 3, whole-food diets that are plant-based explore other sources to obtain these essential nutrients.

The broad classification of whole-foods plant-based diet, is as below:

Fruits: All fruits like apples, pears, pomegranates etc.

Vegetables: All vegetables like peas, beans, broccoli, cauliflower etc.

Tubers – All tubers like potatoes, sweet potatoes, yams, carrots, beets etc.

Wholegrains – Unprocessed and unrefined grains including rice, whole wheat, millets, barley, oats etc.

Legumes – Pulses and lentils.

Whole-foods advocate avoidance of sugars especially refined sugar. Switching to alternatives like unrefined brown sugar, agave and natural honey is recommended.

whole food

When it comes to oils, using unrefined cold-pressed oils is recommended. Unrefined oils are often cloudy and not clear like refined oils and they are cold-pressed using traditional methods of extraction ensuring they retain all the nutrients of the bran.

whole food

While switching to a plant-based diet, nut milk options may require some getting used to. The taste may vary, especially in teas and coffees. Almond, soy, oat and rice milk are however, highly nutritional and contain several essential vitamins and minerals. Nut butters are also gaining popularity. Specialty grocers and supermarkets have now started stocking a variety of nut butters including cashew, coconut and almond butter.

For making breads and rotis in the plant-based diet; switching to wholemeal wheat and millet flours like bajra is suggested.

Food synergy:

Food synergy is combining specific foods to maximise the absorption of their nutritional benefits. Many nutrients compete with the same gastrointestinal receptors in the gut for absorption. Combining foods in some cases means that you increase the body’s ability to absorb the nutrition.

Foods high in vitamin C, such as lime, may help prevent iron deficiency or anaemia by improving the absorption of iron from plant-based foods. For instance having a glass of lime juice along with a meal that includes greens like spinach or moringa or alternatively, adding the juice of lime to the dish, will help absorb the iron in the greens.

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Avocados when eaten with tomatoes, is said to increase the absorption of lycopene, the antioxidant compound that helps prevent cancer. So a portion of salsa with avocados is said to be about four times more nutritional than without.

Adding onions and garlic to wholegrains ensure that iron and zinc are better absorbed because of the presence of sulphur compounds. While iron is essential to transport oxygen, zinc improves the immunity of the body.

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Similarly Kale is a leafy green vegetable that is rich in Vitamins E and K. To help absorb the nutrients better, it is recommended to pair kale with almonds. Either in a salad, smoothie or a stir fry, these two ingredients can make for a very nutritional dish.

Plant-based protein sources:

The recommended protein intake per day (Harvard Health Publishing) is 0.8 gms for every 1 kg of body weight. The plant based foods that are rich protein sources include, chickpeas, black gram, quinoa, lentils all of which contain on average 8-10 gms of protein per ½ cup serving; hemp seeds contain 7-8 gms in a serving of 3tbsps and nuts contain 6-7 gms per ¼ cup. Green leafy vegetables like kale, moringa and broccoli also are good sources of protein and contain 2-3 gms per cup.

Omega 3 foods in a plant-based diet includes:

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Chia seeds, hemp seeds, walnuts, brussels sprouts and flax seeds are rich in Omega 3 Fatty Acid. A good sprinkle of nuts and seeds on salads and oatmeal will provide a good source of Omega 3 Fatty Acids.

Sources of Vitamin B-12 in plant-based foods:

Nori or seaweed has the highest percentage of vitamin B-12 in a plant-based diet. Other sources of this vitamin are certain types of fungi like shitake mushrooms and edible algae. Fermented soy based products like tempe which are common in the Far East and West are good sources of vitamin B-12.

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While plant-based diets may be lacking in some essential nutrients for the body, health food store now carry supplements suitable for plant-based diets that work in addition to choosing the right balance of fruits, vegetables, nuts and pulses. The overall health benefits that a balanced plant-based diet is what makes it really worth considering as a periodic option if not a complete dietary change.

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