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8 essential ingredients to boost your plant-based cooking

Incorporate these eight versatile ingredients into your weekly shop to take your cooking to new heights and boost your plant-based nutrition.

Vegetarianism and veganism are ways of life for many, but it makes sense for all of us to enjoy some healthy meat-free meals — for the sake of our health and the planet.

With plenty of evidence linking ultra-processed foods to obesity, type 2 diabetes, cancer and other chronic diseases, it pays to be picky with plant-based protein sources. There are a lot of meat alternatives available on supermarket shelves these days, but many contain ingredients that put them in the ultra-processed food category, including binders, protein isolates, emulsifiers and other additives, and some can also be very high in sodium. Use this list to help you choose the best in plant-based eating.

These ingredients make it easier and more enticing for you to cook the vegie way — and get enough all-important protein!


1 Frozen edamame beans

Otherwise known as soy beans, edamame provide protein to satisfy hunger, iron to transport oxygen to muscles and calcium to strengthen bones. They’re full of gut-loving fibre, too, providing almost a fifth of your daily fibre needs in just half a cup. Vibrant, green and crunchy — add them to grain or bean salads for extra colour and protein.

2 Lentils

Canned lentils are a convenient and versatile ingredient that will pump up the gut-friendly fibre and satisfying protein of any meal. Dried lentils cook quickly and, unlike most pulses, don’t need soaking beforehand. Both types contribute to your five-plus-a-day. Throw dried versions into soups and stews.


3 Canned beans

It pays to keep a few cans of beans on hand — they’re so versatile and a rich source of protein, carbohydrates and fibre. Go for those canned in water without added salt. As well as using them to make go-to bean salads, you can whiz them into burgers, dips and hummus.

4 Tempeh

This fermented soy bean cake is loaded with protein and minerals. Bake with a spicy marinade before tossing into salads and stir-fries, or stuffing into pitas. Tempeh has a higher nutritional content than tofu, with more than double the protein and substantially more B vitamins.


5 Quinoa

Quinoa contains all the essential amino acids and provides ample protein and carbs. Buy dried to cook from scratch, or in ready-to-heat pouches for when time is short. Use instead of rice or pasta, or add to soups and salads.

6 Tofu

Tofu can be firm or silken, and is made from soy. Firm tofu has a chewy texture and is often used in kebabs, curries and stir-fries. The silken variety has a smooth consistency, great for healthy cheesecakes and smoothies. Plain tofu can pick up seasoning and other flavourings well, meaning it works well in both savoury and sweet dishes. A 125g portion of tofu has half the calories as the same portion of grilled chicken breast, yet it provides a quarter of a woman’s daily protein.

7 Eggs

They‘re a key protein-rich fast food that’s also packed with nutrients such as zinc and vitamin B. Boil, scramble, whisk into omelettes or use to make fritters or frittata with leftover veg.

Frozen peas

8 Frozen peas

There are very few dishes peas can’t improve — they’re so versatile! And with around 5g protein in 100g, they can make a big difference to your protein (as well as your five-plus-a-day) intake.


For more advice on plant-based diets, we recommend: What are the benefits of a plant-based diet? or 4 key nutrients to watch on a plant-based diet.




Date modified: May 15 2023
First published: Mar 2023

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