Adding more plant-based foods to our diet 🍠🥦🥕🌿

You’re a nutritionist? * eye roll 🙄 * I bet you live on salads? No, not at all. Nutritionists enjoy foods high in sugar, salt, and saturated fat just as much as anyone. I baked a carrot cake the other day, delicious with a cup of tea! Crisps with a sour cream dip in front of the TV on Saturday night – favourite time of the week. Dessert after a meal out? Yes, please 😊 As nutritionists, our stock answer is it’s all about B A L A N C E. I enjoy these occasions knowing it’s balanced out by soup at lunchtime, vegetable-heavy meals for tea, pepper sticks and hummus when I’m peckish, wholegrains and good quality protein for breakfast.

We know that too many foods high in sugar, salt and saturated fat can be detrimental to our health over time. It’s important to balance our diet out with plenty of nourishing food containing vitamins and minerals, fibre, and unsaturated fat.

Fruits and vegetables, beans and pulses, oily fish, seafood, eggs, nuts and seeds and lean cuts of meat provide us with the nutrition our bodies need to run efficiently.  Enjoying a packet of crisps, a doughnut or ice cream is nothing to worry about. Many celebrations are revolved around these foods! But when our diets consist mostly of foods that provide little nutrition, it can be helpful to think about where we can add some more of the beneficial nutrients we require.

Even though I am a nutritionist, there are areas of my diet I could improve.  I’m trying to increase my intake and variety of plant-based ingredients such as beans, pulses, fruits & vegetables I wouldn’t normally buy.

A huge benefit of eating a more plant-based diet is the increase in fibre consumption. The research involving fibre and its potential benefits for the body is fascinating. The bacteria that live in our gut, sometimes referred to as our gut microbiome, could influence our immune system and our mental health and physical performance (Interactions between dietary fibre and the gut microbiotaDietary Fiber Intake and Gut Microbiota in Human Health). Other benefits include lowering cholesterol, preventing constipation and potentially even lowering the risk of developing bowel cancer (British Nutrition Foundation).

Here’s what I’ve been doing to increase the amount of plant-based ingredients in my weekly shop as a non-vegetarian looking to boost my fibre intake:

Meal planning:

Admittedly, this one comes easy to me as I am one of those people who love a list. It really does help to plan some meals by browsing the internet, cookbooks, and social media for recipes and cooking videos. I’m not a super creative cook - I need to follow a recipe!

Here’s what I do:

  •         Search for meal ideas online or in cookbooks 
  •         Save favourites
  •         Look at the ingredients I need
  •        Check what I already have in my cupboards
  •        Create shopping list
  •        Go shopping!


Beans and pulses:

Beans and pulses such as kidney beans, chickpeas and lentils are very nutritious, containing vitamins and minerals, fibre, and protein. They’re also easy to use. Pre-cooked tinned beans and pulses don’t require cooking, just heating. And, did you know, 80g (or three heaped tablespoons) count towards your 5-a-day, but only once a day? So, if you have baked beans on toast for breakfast, followed by chilli with kidney beans for tea, the kidney beans wouldn’t count as a further portion of your 5-a-day.

To add more beans and pulses into my diet, I’ve been using canned beans such as cannellini beans in pasta sauce and soups – they get blended into the sauce or soup, giving these meals a delicious creamy texture.  I’ve also got into the habit of adding a drained tin of chickpeas to curries (whether home-made or a jar of sauce). The chickpeas soak up the flavour and become super tasty. I also recently tried air-fryer crispy chickpeas coated in smoked paprika and garlic powder – they were yummy! Click for our air fryer recipes, you'll find crispy chickpeas here.

Finally, when making chilli, lasagne, or spaghetti Bolognese, I’ve halved the amount of mince and replaced with red lentils. The texture of cooked red lentils is very similar to mince, so it’s not a huge change to the overall dish but it decreases the amount of saturated fat in the meal and increases the fibre. It also reduces the cost as the mince goes further. I made meatballs with my leftover mince and popped them in the freezer for another time. The recipe is here or follow our video: 

Freezer aisle:

I am now completely obsessed with the freezer aisle. If you have freezer space, I’d really encourage you to have a nosy down the freezer aisle. I have frozen peppers, casserole mix, peas, sweetcorn, and even frozen avocado in my freezer now. It’s useful, especially if you live alone, as you can take out only what you need rather than have to use up fresh ingredients before they go off. Ps. So many foods can be frozen. Check out our resource on commonly wasted food items to see if you could be freezing more: Reducing food waste

I also now keep myself stocked up with frozen berries. Every few days, I pour some frozen berries into a Tupperware container and keep it in the fridge. This makes it so easy to pop a few spoonfuls of defrosted berries into yogurt, porridge or cereal, giving me another portion of my 5-a-day and a dose of brain-healthy antioxidants (How to Build a Healthy Brain - Kimberley Wilson).

Trying new things:

I’ve really enjoyed trying new, seasonal vegetables recently. Back in Spring, I bought myself an Edinburgh Community Food fruit & veg box to take home and challenge myself to use the ingredients. Some of the vegetables in the box were not usually on my shopping list: celeriac, kohlrabi, raw beetroot, chicory, and fennel! It was fun to try new ways of using these ingredients. Here’s what I made:

  •         Coleslaw using celeriac, kohlrabi, and carrot
  •      Fennel and lemon risotto
  •         Chicory and beetroot salad with goats’ cheese and walnuts

Using the rest of the vegetables (those that I am more familiar with!) I made:

  •      Leek & tattie soup
  •      Carrot & red lentil soup
  •          Spring green, kale and red lentil dahl

Recently, I've been using more summer seasonal vegetables. I've had asparagus, cucumber, radishes, and my favourite, local Scottish strawberries. The colours from summer fruits and vegetables make really exciting, fun meals. 

I’m keen to learn from others about what they’re doing to increase their nutrient intake. Let us know your tips!