30 Whole Food, Plant-Based Hacks

Life hacking refers to any trick or shortcut that increases efficiency. I've heard this said before, "Life is hard, but it doesn't have to be!" That's life hacking. Use your magnificent brain to solve problems and be more productive, in light of challenges. After a few years of following a plant-based diet, I have a few food hacks, that follow the diet guidelines, and will help you to find many a plant-based options, among the sea of Oreos.

A whole food, plant-based diet includes whole, plant-based foods and excludes meat, dairy, added oils, sugar, and sodium, but also importantly eliminates processed foods, which is difficult in our convenience-centric world. We are used to having everything instantly, and that's an okay expectation, considering how busy life can be. So here are my time-saving tips for achieving great health using smart substitutions and whole or minimally processed foods.

1. Non Dairy Milks

Almond and coconut milks are my favorites, but you can also find hemp, rice, oat, 7-grain, soy, flax, and hazelnut milks. Be sure to purchase unsweetened varieties, and there is no need to purchase any "enhanced" versions. Unsweetened non-dairy milks are perfectly nutritious as is. You can replace milk with any of these in any way you use dairy milk (on cereal, in baking, for whipped desserts, to make yogurt, in smoothies, etc.).

2. Digestive Enzymes and Probiotics

So yes, with a high-fiber diet, you many experience increased flatulence. It's fine! It goes away once your body adjusts to the diet, but you will find digestive enzymes to be helpful and on the subject of digestion there are many health benefits around the use of probiotics. Consume probiotics through a supplement or naturally through raw, fermented foods such as sauerkraut (purchase from a farmer's market or health food store and make sure no salt is added or make your own).

3. Avocado as Butter

Avocado is great on toast, a baked potato, and anywhere else where you would use regular butter in baking or cooking. Try adding sliced avocado to the top of soup before serving.

4. Nutritional Yeast

Nutritional yeast is a great way to get in your B vitamins, but even better for former cheese-lovers, it has a wonderful cheesy taste with no sodium. Use it like you would have used parmesan, or use extra to make a vegan macs and cheese (with gluten-free elbows pasta, non-dairy milk, nutritional yeast, and avocado!),

5. Snack Bars

Most snack bars are "glorified cookies." They are over-processed and packed with sugar, salt, and oil, however, grabbing a snack bar is an easy way to snack, and snacks are important! Over the years, I have found the following few brands to be winners (be sure to check ingredients on all varieties so that you are not getting unwanted sugar, salt, or oil):  GoRaw, EVO Hemp, Greens +, Larabar

6. Gel "Eggs"

Add water to chia or ground flaxseeds and you have eggs, Baby, for all of your baking needs!

7. Hummus as Dressing or Mayo

Use an oil-free store bought hummus such as Abraham's or Engine 2 as a salad dressing or a "mayo" spread on sandwiches or wraps. I've used hummus to create a vegan potato salad, where I put hummus on top of cooked potatoes, gluten-free pasta elbows, and celery.

8. Store-bought Salsa

Organic, store-bought salsa means a quick snack or salad at anytime. Pair with raw veggies (celery, carrots, broccoli, cauliflower, or summer squash slices).

9. McDougall's Soups as Base for Quick Stew

Dr. McDougall's foods are plant-based diet friendly. I will buy the low-sodium lentil soup and then add in fresh garlic, sweet potatoes, kale, ginger, really anything fresh in my kitchen, and I have a hearty dinner stew in about 10 minutes.

10. Gluten-free Quick Oats

Oatmeal is satisfying and filling. You can add in anything from fresh fruit, to nut butters, non-dairy milks, or your favorite powder boost such as maca or raw fiber. Keeping it in your home means a healthy snack or meal anytime, in minutes, and that's a good thing!

11. Safely Canned Beans

White-lined, BPA-free canned beans are great to keep in your cabinets. You can add beans to your salad or to a great dinner or macro plate. We even baked them in cookies.

12. Sweet Potato Spread

You can never have too many sweet potatoes, pre-baked, and in the fridge. You can snack on these, add them to salads, and I even used a baked mashed sweet potato as a sauce replacement on a homemade pizza. It was delicious! When you have the time to prep, bake up a few sweet potatoes for the week.

13. Precooked Quinoa

Quinoa is a healthy, nutritionally-dense, ancient, gluten-free grain, and it's really easy to cook. Here's a hack inside a hack: Add quinoa to water, boil water, cover, turn off the heat, and let it sit for 10 minutes -- perfect quinoa every time.  Refrigerate in a BPA-free Tupperware dish, and you have a base for a meal, or a great addition to a salad as needed.

14. Store Bought Oil-free Dressings

Cindy's Kitchen brand oil-free line for Whole Foods has a few oil-free, vegan dressings, my favorite being the sesame ginger (keep refrigerated). It's the easiest way to dress a salad at the office, however, other dressing hacks include, fresh lemon juice, raw apple cider vinegar, Bragg's liquid aminos (which can also be brought to Japanese restaurants for a healthy soy sauce with your raw veggie sushi with brown rice).

15. Apples, Pears, Bananas, and Oranges

Any fresh fruits that you can easily drop into your bag as a snack are amazing food hacks. Especially bananas and oranges that come with their own protective wrap so you don't have to worry about washing. Thank you, nature! Bananas are also a great hack for baking, desserts, and smoothies, as they are naturally soft and creamy.

16. Vitacost

I source tons of foods, many of those on this list, from Vitacost, an online store for inexpensive healthy foods. I also buy nontoxic household cleaners and cruelty-free beauty products (check beauty product safety rating at ewg.com/skindeep). There is free shipping for all orders over $49, so there is no extra expense to get your groceries online.

17. Coconut Water Instead of Soda or Sports Drinks

Coconut water is a very tasty, refreshing beverage that is very effective improving hydration and energy. It contains natural electrolytes and a high amount of potassium. There are many great brands out there in the market, but my favorite is Harmless Harvest.

18. Almond Butter Packets

Another great "snack bar" is just a packet of almond butter made by the brand, Justin's. I love almond butter, but I struggle to eat it in the correct portion. Where as I'm ready to plow into a full jar, a packet makes it easier for me to stay on track. You can also make almond butter at home and find it is a great substitute in baking and cooking.

19. Green Juice Shops

I have a whole post about finding and ordering at green juice shops. If you have a goal to start each day with a fresh, green, juice or smoothie, like I do, you will find that buying them on your way to work gives you a nice break from time to time. 

20. Whole Foods and Trader Joe's

When I'm traveling, I look right away for the closest Whole Foods or Trader Joe's. At these stores I am always sure to find healthy options that suit my diet. Try the Whole Food's salad/food bar for well-labeled, diet-friendly take-a-way meals. Trader Joe's has the best prices I can find anywhere on products such as liquid stevia, pink Himalayan sea salt, flaxseed, chia, quinoa, dried mangoes, and coconut water. 

21. Mary's Gone Crackers

These raw, whole food crackers are really superior as far as quality of ingredients to any processed snack I have seen. As crackers are so satisfying, easy to travel with, and can add a great crunch to salads, it was really helpful to find some that are mindfully made with only the good stuff.

22. Dried Fruits, Especially Medjool Dates

Hello, nature's candies! Try taking unsweetened, unsulfured dried mangoes to the movie theater. Add dried cranberries to oatmeal, cereal, or salads. And plump, juicy, medjool dates basically taste like pie filling!  If you need a sweet indulgence, look no further.

23. Liquid Stevia and 100% Maple Syrup 

For more natural sweeteners try liquid stevia and 100% maple syrup. Both are from natural plant-sources and used sparingly can really add to your diet and, of course, help you to create many a fine dessert!  I add liquid stevia to raw cacao and unsweetened almond milk to make hot chocolate.

24. Prewashed Greens

When you buy greens, I suggest immediately washing, chopping, drying in a salad spinner, and saving in containers, or just purchasing triple-washed bagged organic greens. The chore of washing, but also the time it takes to dry greens, can make them undesirable at the end of a busy day, or if you need to pack a salad quick for work. But having pre-washed greens at home, makes them disappear fast, and that's exactly what we want. All greens consumption is good!

25. Pre-cooked Butternut Squash

Butternut squash is a hearty fall/winter squash that bakes easily in the oven with a little raw apple cider vinegar. Once it is cooked, it stores nicely in the refrigerator and can make your salads extra satisfying. Purchase pre-chopped squash for even quicker preparation.

26. Farmer's Markets and CSAs

Your local farmer's market is a great and affordable place to buy whole, plant-based foods. Additionally seek out CSAs. CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture. By buying in, you are purchasing a share of crops from a local farmer. You pay for a whole season upfront (typically a few hundred dollars), and get a regular delivery (either to your home or a pick-up station) of fresh produce.

27. Nori, Romaine, or Collard Greens as Wraps

Try using nori, which is a wonderful sea vegetable that has a high mineral content, or a big piece of romaine, or a collard green as a sandwich wrap instead of a processed wheat wrap.

28. Organic Frozen Fruits

Stock up on organic frozen berries, mangoes, and peaches to make smoothies or low-calorie snacks (I like to pour some in a bowl and pour unsweetened almond milk on top). You can keep them for a long time in the freezer. Cut up bananas to freeze and always be ready to make nice cream.

29. Ginger or Parsley Tea

Add ginger or parsley to hot water for an easy tea. Both are fresh and take seconds to make with tons of health benefits. No packet required.

30. Hot Water with Lemon

And, my biggest feel-great secret is hot water with lemon. I boil some water and squeeze the juice of half a lemon and add a bit of the rind or a slice as well. I do this first thing in the morning and no matter what I ate the night before, or what I plan to eat that day, the lemon cleanses my body, particularity the liver and colon, giving me a fresh start and and making me feel my very best. This has helped me hugely with weight management.

So here are 30 ways to beat the system and feel and look your best while achieving life-long health. Regardless of your health goals, I hope you will find something here that will help you achieve greatness. Be well and go you!