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Healthy, hearty vegan breakfast ideas

These easy breakfast swaps are kinder to animals, the planet and your health, says nutritionist Rohini Bajekal

Monday 09 January 2023 07:00 GMT
A high fibre plant-based breakfast like oats can keep you energsied throughout the day
A high fibre plant-based breakfast like oats can keep you energsied throughout the day (Getty/iStock)

If you’re looking to include more plant-based meals in your diet, breakfast is one of the best places to start.

While you may associate breakfast with eggs and bacon, there are so many delicious, nourishing and versatile plant-based options to choose from. Starting your day with a plant-based breakfast is a great way to ensure you feel full and energised right the way through to lunch.

During the week, a high fibre plant-based breakfast can set you up for the day. Oats with soya milk, blueberries, banana, ground cinnamon, ground flax seeds (rich in omega-3 fats) and a chopped date or dried apricot is my go-to. This breakfast is rich in plant protein, fibre, omega-3 fats and other micronutrients and keeps my energy levels consistent throughout the morning. I recommend trying overnight oats chilled in the fridge or varying the toppings to keep it interesting: shredded coconut and pineapple for a tropical taste or stewed apples for a winter morning.

When it comes to swapping out dairy, there are many plant-based alternatives to choose from. Fortified soya and pea milks have the same amount of protein and calcium as cow’s milk and if you are a tea or coffee drinker, soya milk or oat milk are great replacements. According to a study from Oxford University, producing a glass of dairy milk results in almost three times the greenhouse gas emissions of any non-dairy milks.

Oats are a healthful, budget-friendly breakfast choice as they are minimally processed and usually contain no additives such as sugar, fat and salt, unlike many shop-bought breakfast products. Oats are rich sources of B vitamins, vitamin E and other micronutrients. Whole grain consumption has been associated with being at a healthier weight and a lower risk of type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, multiple cancers and other chronic diseases.

Pinhead oats, coarse oatmeal (UK), or Irish oatmeal are groats (the inner kernel with the inedible hull removed) of whole oats which have been chopped into two or three pinhead-sized pieces. They are slightly less processed than rolled oats and contain more resistant starch – a type of fermentable fibre that feeds your good gut bacteria. Oats also provide LDL cholesterol-lowering benefits. Around 3g of beta-glucans per day can help lower cholesterol.

Tofu scramble is a great heart-healthy swap for eggs (Getty)

If you prefer a savoury option, tofu scramble is a great heart-healthy swap for eggs. Tofu contains around 3.5 times less saturated fat than eggs, while being a good source of micronutrients including protein, iron and calcium – I use Cauldron Tofu which is calcium-fortified.

Unprocessed or minimally processed soya foods, such as tofu, edamame and soya milk, are a great addition to our daily diet. Soya has been shown to be beneficial for fertility and conditions such as polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), and a recent study showed a reduction in the incidence of hot flushes in the menopause.

As well as adding a variety of vegetables such as onion, peppers and spinach into your tofu scramble, you can also use anti-inflammatory spices such as turmeric. This dish is delicious served on wholemeal bread with a slice of avocado for healthy fats. You can add a helping of kimchi (fermented Korean cabbage) on top. Fermented foods such as kimchi have an umami flavour and are rich in gut-loving good bacteria called probiotics.

In the summer, smoothies and smoothie bowls make it easy to vary your fruit and vegetable intake. The American Gut Project, one of the largest studies to evaluate the human gut microbiome, has observed that people who consume more than 30 different types of plant foods a week have a healthier and more diverse gut microbiome than people consuming less than 10 different plant types. Improving our gut health may reduce our risk of common chronic diseases such as type 2 diabetes. A good principle is to focus on including a diverse mix of plants in your diet – the more diverse the better.

Smoothies make it easy to vary your fruit and vegetable intake (Getty/iStock)

Fruit can also easily be included in a plant-based breakfast. Researchers have found that low fruit intake is the third-leading dietary risk factor globally for premature death. Whole fruits come packaged with fibre, vitamins, minerals, water, antioxidants and other protective phytonutrients and do not need to be limited. Frozen fruit works best in smoothies as they are best served cold and frozen fruit and vegetables also tend to be more affordable and convenient.

However, for a hearty breakfast. smoothies should be more than just vegetables, fruit and water. Healthy fats such as calcium-fortified plant milks, avocado, soya yoghurt, nut and seed butters, ground flaxseed, chia seeds and hemp seeds are all great additions. You could also use a vegan protein powder to boost the protein content. Drizzle nut butter on top and add a bit of vegan-friendly granola or seeds for a tasty crunch.

If you are struggling to think of a hearty vegan brunch menu, there are more indulgent options out there too. You can easily make a cooked vegan breakfast with vegan sausages or bacon, tofu scramble, hash browns, baked beans, mushrooms, tomatoes and spinach.

For those craving something sweeter, there are thousands of recipes for vegan waffles, muffins or pancakes, which often use ground flax seed, a rich source of omega-3, as a binder instead of eggs.

My favourite vegan-friendly brunch is a masala dosa. This is a South Indian fermented savoury lentil and rice crepe which is often stuffed with masala potatoes and served with a coconut chutney and spicy lentil sambar.

With so many options to choose from, choosing a plant-based breakfast is an easy way to get started if you’d like to include more plant-based foods in your diet or make the transition to a fully plant-based diet. A plant-based diet, centred around fruit, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds, is one of the healthiest choices you can make.

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