More often than I thought I would, I hear friends tell me that they tried to go vegan for a little while, but they found that they were just hungry all the time. Constantly hungry? That sounds pretty painful and definitely not like something anyone should endure. It also pains me to hear that some people experience this feeling when going plant-based because it’s not representative of how you can and will feel if your diet is done right. I definitely don’t want anyone to quit the plant-based journey because of an empty stomach.
The following are some solutions to maintaining your vegan diet without feeling like you’re constantly running on empty.
::: Eat more food Ever heard of any diet that tells you to eat more food? That’s exactly the principle behind a balanced plant-based diet–the idea is to only consume whole foods that are minimally processed. Once you do that, you can eat as much of them as you want. Keep in mind that whole plant-based foods are dense in nutrients but less dense in calories than most foods that make up the traditional Westen diet. I generally don’t recommend to anyone actually track their calories in too much detail, but if you feel hungry all the time, go ahead and track them for a couple days. Most of us should consume between 2,000 and 2,500 calories a day. If you are far from that goal, then go ahead and add an extra serving of rice or a smoothie in your diet.
::: Reduce stress A lot of us are stress eaters. That means that if we get stressed, or when work becomes overwhelming, we suddenly feel a big emptiness in our stomach. We often mistake this feeling for hunger and quickly devour something while sitting in front of our computer or being on an agitated phone call while walking to work. The truth is, this feeling of hunger is actually stress and we try to compensate this impulse with eating. Even if you eat a vegan diet, you might still feel incredibly stressed at times, so instead of changing what you eat, change how you eat. Turn off all distractions, sit down at a real table, and most importantly, chew and enjoy your food. This can reduce your stress attacks considerably and with them, the impression of being hungry.
::: Balance the plate I think the misconception that vegan meals are all veg and nothing else gets to the issue at hand. I highly recommend having a mixture of grains, protein, and vegetables — it provides a great balance not only with flavor/bulk but also texture. Grains and legumes help keep the meal filling while the vegetables bring everything together. While I like to keep balance within my meals (and eat a lot of vegan bowl meals), showcasing a beautiful vegetable or fruit can make a great hearty, vegan meal.
::: To Feel Satiated, Try Incorporating Starchy Plant-Based Foods According to Dr. McDougall, research shows carbohydrates lead to long-term satiety, enduring for hours between meals, whereas the fats in a meal have little impact on satiety.
Before you worry about getting fat eating carbs, I’d like to clarify that not all carbs are equal. Refined and processed carbs like white bread are a no-no. The processing and refining steps of refined carbs usually turn them into products stripped of nutrients (fiber, vitamins, and minerals) and loaded with salt, oils, sugars, dairy- derivatives, and chemicals.
However, complex, natural, unprocessed sugars, made in nature by plants, contain fiber, vitamins, and phytochemicals which are all good for the body, reducing the risk of heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and obesity. Other than starch-based foods, I’d also like to add that nuts and seeds are also a great source of protein and can help you feel full.
According to Dr. Michael Greger, 90 percent of relevant studies have shown that subjects showed no weight gain from nut consumption perhaps because nuts are so satisfying and appetite suppressing that you just eat less throughout the whole day. Nuts may also increase our resting energy expenditure by as much as 11 percent, helping us burn more calories while we sleep!
Without further ado… below are 5 groups of plant-based foods you can incorporate into your diet to help you feel full:
Grains like wheat, barley, rye, corn, oats, millet, black rice, brown rice, purple rice, quinoa
Out of the grains listed, quinoa deserves a mention. I love quinoa (don’t we all?) especially since it serves as complete protein for vegetarians and is relatively low in calories. Quinoa has significantly greater amounts of both lysine and isoleucine, which allows the protein in quinoa to serve as a complete protein source, providing amino acids your body needs.
Starchy Vegetables like squashes, carrots, yams, parsnips, artichokes, potatoes, and sweet potatoes
I love my sweet potatoes, which is high in vitamin A and C, protecting cells and tissues from free radicals and oxidative damage which accelerates aging and causes diseases such as cancer. Roasting sweet potatoes have also been shown to have a more favorable impact on blood sugar regulation and to provide the plant with a lower glycemic index (GI) value.
Legumes like lentils, beans (black, green, kidney, pinto, navy, garbanzo), peas, peanuts
Beans are high in fiber, protein, and plethora of minerals that are good for your body. And yes, beans can curb your appetite. A recent study reported that subjects were more satisfied with their diet when garbanzo beans were included, and they consumed fewer processed food snacks during test weeks in the study when garbanzo beans were consumed. They also consumed less food overall when the diet was supplemented with garbanzo beans.
Nuts like cashews, almonds, walnuts, pecans, pistachios, brazil nuts, macadamia nuts
Before you fret at the thought of eating fatty nuts, please note that most of the fats in nuts are good for your health. A study published in the International Journal of Obesity and Related Metabolic Disorders suggested that an almond-enriched low-calorie diet (high in monounsaturated fats) can help overweight individuals shed pounds more effectively than a low-calorie diet high in complex carbohydrates.
Seeds like chia seeds, flax seeds
Chia is the richest plant-based source of omega 3, dietary fiber, protein, vitamin, and antioxidants. It also contains a right ratio of amino acids and essential fats. The indigenous population in Central America would use chia to sustain their energy and blood sugar levels so that they could sometimes run over 100 miles in a few days! When you eat chia seeds, they will expand c. 3x original size and keep your stomach full, especially since the seeds absorb water and expand!