Number munching

We are a society of instruction-followers. We love rules, some of us only because we love an excuse to break them, and despite what some of us may think we hate decisions – especially those which carry some degree of responsibility.

That’s my only explanation for why everyone is always looking for some sort of diet plan which will solve all their problems and take the guesswork out of healthy eating (if you are wondering what guesswork is involved in healthy eating, congratulations, you have passed, give yourself a pat on the back).

Before you read any further – this is not a meal plan that any individual can or should follow. I am posting this simply as an example of what a healthy and varied plant-based meal plan could look like.

Specifically, this is a one day meal plan for a diabetic individual requiring 1800-2000 calories, of which 55-65% of calories come from carbohydrates. The day comprises three meals and three smaller snacks, and at least 30g of fibre.

This was an assignment I completed for my Coursera course on Nutrition for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention. I was given the above guidelines, and – I repeat – I am not posting this with any prescriptive end in mind. What I hope to achieve is to show you how it is possible to build a varied and healthy diet for an individual suffering from diabetes (and, by extension, many other diseases) out of whole plant-based foods. So if you are trying to reduce or increase your calories, if you want to tweak your macronutrient count, or are simply at a loss as to how to include more plant foods in your diet, I hope this serves as inspiration for you to review your diet (or see a health professional who can), knowing that you can still include a variety of foods and – more importantly – tasty and easy dishes in your daily diet.

Breakfast (porridge with fresh fruit)

  • oatmeal (1/2 cup) – 83kcal
  • soy milk (1/2 cup), water (1/2 cup) – 43kcal
  • banana (1 small) – 72kcal
  • strawberries, sliced (3/4 cup) – 40kcal
  • Carbohydrates: 51g
  • Protein: 7g
  • Fat: 4g
  • Fibre: 8g
  • Total calories: 238kcal

Morning snack

  • plain soy yoghurt (1/2 container: 100g approx) – 75kcal
  • blueberries (1/2 cup) – 42kcal
  • Carbohydrates: 21g
  • Protein: 3g
  • Fat: 2g
  • Fibre: 3g
  • Total calories: 117kcal

Lunch (chickpea and sweet potato salad)

  • sweet potato, baked with skin on, cubed (1/2 cup) – 90kcal
  • cooked chickpeas/garbanzo beans (3/4 cup) – 200kcal
  • raw spinach (1 cup) – 7cal
  • cherry tomatoes (1/2 cup) – 13kcal
  • grated carrot (1/2 cup) – 23kcal
  • sweet red pepper (1 cup) – 46kcal
  • olive oil (2 tsp) – 80kcal
  • balsamic vinegar (2 tsp) – 10kcal
  • Carbohydrates: 75g
  • Protein: 16g
  • Fat: 10g
  • Fibre: 19g
  • Total calories: 469kcal

Afternoon snack

  • apple quarters (1 cup) – 65kcal
  • smooth peanut butter without salt (1 tbsp) – 94kcal
  • Carbohydrates: 20g
  • Protein: 5g
  • Fat: 9g
  • Fibre: 4g
  • Total calories: 159kcal

Dinner (tofu stir-fry with soba noodles)

  • cooked soba noodles (1 cup) – 113kcal
  • firm tofu (1/2 cup) – 183kcal
  • broccoli, chopped (1/2 cup) – 27kcal
  • sugar snap peas (1 cup) – 31kcal
  • pak choi, shredded (1 cup) – 9kcal
  • sweet red pepper (1 cup) – 46kcal
  • shiitake mushrooms (1/2 cup) – 17kcal
  • bamboo shoots (1 can, drained) – 50kcal
  • raw cashew nuts (1oz) – 157kcal
  • tamari soy sauce (2 tbsp) – 20kcal
  • sesame oil (1 tbsp) – 120kcal
  • Carbohydrates: 76g
  • Protein: 35g
  • Fat: 28g
  • Fibre: 22g
  • Total calories: 773kcal

Evening snack

  • dark chocolate, 70-85% cocoa content (1oz) – 170kcal
  • Carbohydrates: 13g
  • Protein: 2g
  • Fat: 12g
  • Fibre: 3g
  • Total calories: 170kcal

Total calories: 1926kcal – Total carbohydrates: 250g (51.9%) – Total protein: 68g (14.1%) – Total fat: 65g (30.4%) – Total fibre: 59g

As you can see, I didn’t quite stick to the assignment guidelines – I missed out approximately 3% of calories which should have been carbohydrates, equating to about 58 calories from carbohydrates, which would have equated to about 14-15g of carbs.

Whilst completing the assignment, I really struggled to keep the carb count high, which is funny because you would expect a plant-based diet to have a sky-high carb count. However, it is fairly evenly spread throughout the day which is the important thing, to avoid insulin spikes and crashes.

Protein is high for my needs, at 53kg I need a minimum of 43g to maintain muscle mass, and probably around 63g per day to compensate for training – but in my personal diet, I include at least 2 protein shakes a day which adds an easy 40g to my daily total, which is more than enough (and probably excessive, but it’s convenient!).

Recommendations for fat intake are not to exceed 35% of total calories – so I hit that one bang on the head. I haven’t bothered to calculate saturated fat content of this diet, as it would be so minimal it would be pointless. Fat increased throughout the day – this is generally how I eat, so as to avoid high-energy meals later in the day but stay satiated with healthy fats.

Fibre is very high, which means that energy should be slowly released throughout the day, again to avoid those insulin highs and lows which can lead to overeating and unhealthy snacking.

To be honest, this didn’t take all that much effort to plan out – maybe about an hour at most. In my opinion, it goes to show that when you base your diet around wholefoods from plant sources, everything naturally balances itself out. There are so many tweaks you could make to this basic diet plan, but my point here is that by simply worrying about the calorie count and splitting carb intake evenly throughout the day, all the other macronutrients worked themselves out. I’m not working out all the micronutrients because frankly, I think it’s pretty obvious you are getting a good range here and once again, I have faith that nature will have balanced all of that out for us too.

This was a great exercise – again, the take-home message for me was not that carb-counting and macronutrient planning is essential, but that if you focus on constructing healthy, balanced, varied dishes from wholefoods, everything takes care of itself. How inspiring!

As I said, this diet won’t suit anyone but you do try any of these dishes for the sake of an experiment, or a full day of this diet, let me know how you get on!