Although it sounds relatively simple, the practicalities of writing a meal plan that is healthy, convenient, and achievable to follow can be quite challenging. If you’re new to plant-based eating, the added layer of creating a balanced vegan meal plan can leave you feeling lost.
Luckily, our team of online nutritionists have put together a few simple steps to help get you started and feel confident in your meal planning abilities.
How To Create A Plant-Based Or Vegan Meal Plan
Step 1: Pick a meal planning template
The first step is picking or creating a meal planning template as your base. This will vary depending on how many days you want to plan for as well as how many meals/snacks you eat in a day.
We recommend starting with a 1-week meal plan. This could take the form of either a full 7-day meal plan or just a 5-day work week plan if you prefer weekends to be less structured. Add a row for each meal and snack you need to plan for.
Step 2: Map out your weekly schedule
Before you start adding in your meals and snacks, it is a good idea to map out your weekly schedule. This may include your work hours, travel, social events, exercise etc.
This is an important step as an achievable meal plan is one designed to seamlessly fit into your life. It needs to factor in everything that you do throughout the week. This will give you a better gauge of how many meals you need to prepare yourself as well as how much time you will actually have to prepare these meals.
There may be some days when cooking a meal may not be feasible and you need a meal-prepped option, leftovers, a ready-made supermarket meal or a quick-cooking option. On other days, however, you may have a bit more time to experiment and try a new recipe. The more you can account for these factors within your vegan meal plan, the easier it will be to stick to it.
Step 3: Gather your meal/recipe database
This is the most fun step. Start by creating your own digital or physical database of some recipes and snacks to select from each week. This can be time-consuming initially, but once you have it, it makes the meal planning process much faster.
If you’re new to plant-based eating or just lacking inspiration in general, we recommend picking up a new (or old and forgotten) cookbook to look through. Online cooking blogs as well as Instagram can also be a great place to start if you’re stuck on ideas.
You can visit our PNW Clinic Instagram here for recipe inspiration!
Some popular recipes that have been uploaded onto the blog:
A balanced plant-based snack should combine two of the above food groups.
Step 5: Fill your week of meals
Now that you’ve planned your week and have your meal and snack ideas ready, it’s time to create your vegan meal plan.
Start filling in your template keeping in mind your weekly schedule. Try to keep it as simple and realistic as possible using the following tips.
5 Top Meal Planning Tips
Make Use Of Leftovers
You don’t need to make a new meal every day. Cooking extra at dinner for lunch the next day or dinner later on in the week can be a great time saver.
Pick Meals That Use Similar Ingredients
This helps reduce the amount of food you have to buy while eliminating food waste and allowing you to easily prep in bulk.
Don’t Be Scared To Use Ready-Made Options
Busy schedules may mean that you don’t have time to make a freshly made meal each night from scratch. Or maybe you simply don’t enjoy cooking or are still new to it. In these instances, meal delivery services or pre-prepared fresh/frozen/packaged supermarket meals are great options to add to your plan! Try your best to opt for meals that include grains/starches, vegetables and a protein source.
Keep It Simple
Don’t try to be too ambitious, especially initially. Choosing recipes that are too complex or time-consuming or even just choosing too many different meal options can often leave you feeling overwhelmed. A simple plan will stop you from losing motivation and giving up on your plan altogether.
Keep Some Pantry Stable and Frozen Meals on Hand
No matter how well you plan, life doesn’t always end up following accordingly. Maybe an unexpected change of plans occurs or you get to the end of the day and are just too tired to cook the meal you planned for. These things happen to everyone. Having some premade meals on hand as backup options can be a lifesaver. They could be pantry staples such as baked beans or tinned soup, store-bought frozen meals, or homemade frozen meals saved earlier from leftovers.
Now that you know all our tips to meal plan like a pro, you are ready to start creating your own vegan/vegetarian meal plans!
Get started by having a look through some of the vegan meal plans that we have available here!
Are you worried you may have SIBO? Whether you have been diagnosed or have just heard about SIBO, it can be difficult to get reliable and factual information. Here’s what our online dietitians in Australia have to say regarding what SIBO is, everything you need to know about it, and nutrition for SIBO that could help aid your digestive symptoms.
What is SIBO?
SIBO stands for small intestinal bacterial overgrowth. It’s characterised by abnormal amounts of bacteria located in the small bowel.
The digestive tract is naturally home to trillions of bacteria. However, most of these bacteria are found in the large bowel. The small bowel normally only contains small amounts. When bacteria from the large intestine overflow into the small intestine, it can disrupt normal digestive processes.
In particular, SIBO is known for causing disruptions to the proper absorption of vitamins and nutrients . Nutrition for SIBO is an important issue to address as a lack of vitamin and nutrient absorption can result in deficiencies which can lead to poor health.
The commonly reported symptoms of SIBO include :
Sound familiar? These symptoms are very common and non-specific. This means the symptoms overlap with many gastrointestinal disorders and irritable bowel syndrome. Any changes in bowel habits should be discussed with your doctor as further investigations may be required.
There is no gold standard yet for diagnosing SIBO. Diagnostic testing usually involves breath testing as it is safe and non-invasive. Glucose and lactulose breath tests are the most common tests used to detect this condition .
How does a breath test work?
Preceding the test, sugar (lactose or glucose) is ingested. Bacteria then ferment the sugar and produce hydrogen and methane gasses as a result. These gases get absorbed across the digestive tract and carried into the bloodstream. The gases are then transported to the lungs where the gas is exhaled and the breath is collected. High levels of these gasses detected in the breath will indicate increased bacterial activity.
Is breath testing reliable?
Breath testing has its flaws, and as such a diagnosis of SIBO should not solely rely on results from breath testing. Breath testing is not a standardised method, meaning it isn’t performed consistently. It can also produce false positives in some digestive disorders in which your gut transit time is accelerated.
Who is at risk of developing SIBO?
While it is unknown how common SIBO is amongst healthy people, researchers have determined that the causes of this condition generally involve :
Lack of stomach acid
Changed gut motility
Structural changes to the digestive tract
Impaired immune system
Some health conditions or lifestyle choices may increase your risk of developing SIBO:
Irritable Bowel Syndrome
Chronic intestinal pseudo-obstruction
Small intestine diverticula
Surgeries including: Blind intestinal loop, resection of the ileocecal valve, and total colectomy or ileostomy
Medications: Chronic use of antacids
Lifestyle: Chronic alcohol abuse
Nutritional risks of SIBO
If left untreated, the long term effects of SIBO can have some serious consequences:
Steatorrhea (fat malabsorption) which may also result in deficiencies in fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E, K)
How is SIBO medically managed?
If you suspect you have SIBO, you should consult your doctor to undergo appropriate diagnostic testing and treatment that addresses nutrition for SIBO. Management involves correcting the underlying cause, antibiotics to reduce small bowel bacteria and addressing nutrient deficiencies .
1. Correct any possible underlying cause
Radiographic imaging should be performed to investigate the underlying reason for SIBO and then correct it if possible. Any underlying structural causes of this condition should be corrected through surgery. For example, to fix strictures, fistulas, diverticulums or blind loops. Impaired bowel motility or stomach acid can be treated with prokinetic agents (medications that help gut motility).
Antibiotics may be prescribed by your doctor to treat SIBO. Antibiotics work by killing the bacteria or stopping them from multiplying. Rifaximin (a type of antibiotic) has been shown in multiple studies to be a safe and effective treatment . However, the recurrence rate of SIBO after undergoing antibiotic treatment is high. Evidence shows that 30% of individuals treated with rifaximin had a recurrence of the same condition 6 months down the track . To limit the overuse of antibiotics, changes in lifestyle and diet management are important.
3. Correct nutrient deficiencies and dietary management
Low levels of vitamins A, D, E, or B12 can be identified through a blood test with your doctor. If any nutritional deficiencies are found, they should be replaced through dietary management. Working with an online dietitian in Australia can help you make sure all your nutritional needs are met. A dietitian can also work with you to come up with personalised diet strategies to help manage your digestive symptoms.
Dietary strategies to manage SIBO
Currently, there is no specific prescribed diet for managing SIBO. However, if you have SIBO, you are likely to benefit from eliminating high FODMAP foods.
FODMAPs are short-chain carbohydrates (sugars) found in a range of foods. These sugars normally provide a source of fuel for gut bacteria which helps them thrive, however in people with SIBO, eating FODMAPs results in excess gas production from these bacteria.
There are numerous studies that suggest the low FODMAP diet is effective at managing IBS and Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) . There is not enough evidence to say that the low FODMAP diet is effective for managing SIBO specifically, but many of the symptoms of this condition overlap with IBS and IBD, so those with SIBO may find symptom relief from following a low FODMAP diet.
Some high FODMAP foods to be mindful of:
Apple, mango, dried fruit, peach, nectarine, plum, watermelon, pear, fruit juice
Honey, high fructose corn syrup, sugar-free confectionary, agave syrup
It is important to note that the elimination phase of the diet should not be followed long term. The low FODMAP diet restricts plant-food diversity which can be detrimental to your gut health. For more information on low FODMAP foods, read nutrition for IBS on a plant-based diet.
The low FODMAP diet is complex and involves a number of phases. It is also restrictive so it should be carefully followed under the guidance of an Accredited Practising Dietitian (APD). All of our dietitians at The PNW Clinic are trained in the low FODMAP diet by Monash University.
The low FODMAP diet is not appropriate for everyone. This type of restriction may be harmful for people who are underweight, have experienced a past or present eating disorder, have a poor relationship with food or have certain medical conditions.
Some other dietary strategies that may help:
Eating small meals more frequently
Be mindful of carbonated beverages, chewing gum, drinking through a straw and artificial sweeteners (e.g. sorbitol, aspartame, and saccharine) as they can exacerbate bloating and flatulence.
Should I take a probiotic for SIBO?
Probiotics are bacteria that provide health benefits when consumed. Probiotics provide benefits by crowding out bad bacteria to create a balanced gut flora.
You may be thinking, why treat bacterial overgrowth with additional bacteria?
Evidence shows probiotics have been beneficial in reducing and relieving some symptoms of SIBO . Unfortunately, they have not been shown to be effective at preventing this condition. Probiotics could be something to consider as part of your treatment after trialling antibiotics and nutrition for SIBO through the low-FODMAP diet.
Considerations for managing SIBO on a plant-based diet
The low-FODMAP diet can be very restrictive during the elimination phase. Thus, being plant-based or vegan may restrict food options even further.
Without careful planning, this over-restriction might compromise diet variety and nutrient intake. Specific nutrients that are commonly missed on a low-FODMAP plant-based diet are B vitamins, iron, calcium and dietary fibre.
It is recommended to work with an online dietitian in Australia such as one of our team members at the PNW Clinic to help you develop a plan that ensures your nutrient needs are being met.
What other dietary and lifestyle strategies can help manage SIBO?
The Specific Carbohydrate Diet (SCD)
The SCD requires you to eliminate particular carbohydrates from your diet. It has been shown to ease symptoms of digestive disorders like IBD . As a result, it is thought to also help with SIBO symptoms.
The SCD restricts all grain foods, sugar, starchy vegetables, some legumes and most milk products.
This diet is even more restrictive than the low FODMAP diet and has limited evidence to prove effectiveness for SIBO management. Until we know more, the SCD is not recommended until after trailing antibiotics and a low FODMAP diet.
The Elemental Diet
An elemental diet is where all food is replaced with liquid supplement drinks which provide complete nutrition (i.e. meet all energy and nutrient needs). These liquid formulas are used to give your digestive system a ‘break’ from digestion and reduce inflammation.
One study showed correction of lactulose breath tests and significant improvement in digestive symptoms in 80% of participants with IBS after following a 2-week elemental diet . This study was conducted with people with IBS with abnormal lactulose breath test results. After the 2-week trial of the elemental diet, 74 of the 93 participants normalised their lactulose breath test results. It is important to note that lactulose breath testing is not a reliable tool to detect SIBO, so this approach has its limitations.
The elemental diet is not suitable for everyone and should only be done under the guidance of your doctor and dietitian.
Regular physical activity has positive effects on gut motility. A common cause of SIBO is slowed gut motility (i.e. failure to clear the bowels regularly). Adding 30-45 minutes of moderate activity into your daily routine will help prevent this by promoting regular bowel movements .
Small intestinal bacterial overgrowth is a poorly recognised condition and can be misdiagnosed. Evidence supports the use of antibiotics which should be followed up with dietary management addressing nutrition for SIBO for effective treatment.
Dietary management may involve correcting nutrient deficiencies and following a low FODMAP diet (if appropriate) to ease symptoms. We recommend booking in with one of our dietitians to personalise these strategies to your individual needs.
Commencing your fertility journey is always an exciting (yet slightly daunting) time. If you’ve started looking into what you can do to optimise your chances of falling pregnant, you have likely found that diet and the best supplements for fertility can play a pretty important role!
As general and pregnancy dietitians, we always advocate for a food-first approach when it comes to getting in your nutrients. However, when it comes to the preconception period, establishing a good supplement routine also has a place. With so many fertility supplements on the market, choosing the right one for you can be overwhelming.
So, what are the best supplements for fertility that you might want to consider? Our pregnancy nutritionists are here to tell you all you need to know about fertility nutrition and the best supplements for fertility.
Before we get too far into what supplements you need, let’s answer the big question. How important are your diet and nutrition for optimising fertility?
The role of nutrition in supporting fertility is actually not a recent concept. In fact, the link between the two can be dated back as far as Hippocrates (1). In more recent years, many studies have supported the importance of nutritional interventions to optimise fertility in both men and women (2, 3).
A few of the fertility outcomes which can be influenced by diet and nutrition factors include (4):
Treatment success using Assisted Reproductive Therapies
Live birth rates
Fertility supplements for women
The first step when it comes to fertility supplements for women is starting on a prenatal. Not only does a prenatal contain many nutrients with fertility-boosting properties, but they are also useful to help build up nutrient stores in preparation for pregnancy and make sure women are covered when they become pregnant.
As egg development takes around 3 months, it is recommended to ideally start on a prenatal at least 3 months prior to trying to conceive. There are a few nutrients, in particular, that should be covered in your prenatal. These include:
Folic acid is probably the most well-known supplement when it comes to preconception nutrition. If you are going to start on just one supplement, we would recommend it to be folic acid.
Folic acid is key for neural tube development early on in pregnancy. Because so many pregnancies are unplanned and many don’t realise they are pregnant until around 4-6 weeks, it’s recommended women start supplementing as early as possible so that levels are adequate by conception.
As a bonus, research has found that women who took a multivitamin containing folic acid prior to conception had increased rates of conception and a lower risk of spontaneous abortion (5, 6).
A prenatal should contain at least 400mcg of folic acid but ideally 600mcg. However, the dose can be up to 1-5mg for some people such as those with a family history of neural tube defects or who have undergone bariatric surgery. It’s always best to check in with your healthcare team to ensure you’re getting the correct dose.
On the note of folate, it is also worthwhile to mention the MTHFR gene mutation. This is a genetic mutation that impacts the body’s ability to break down folic acid into its active form of folate that the body uses to perform the above functions.
The best way to find out if you have this mutation is through a blood test which you can discuss with your doctor. If you have this mutation, it is recommended that you choose a supplement that also contains folate in its active form. We recommend speaking with your doctor/dietitian about this to find the best one for you.
Iodine is another nutrient that’s essential in a prenatal. Not only is iodine key for early foetal brain development in early pregnancy, but it also plays an important role in egg maturation (7). It is recommended for women to take at least 150mcg iodine daily, but ideally 220mcg.
Recently, more and more research has found associations between vitamin D and positive fertility outcomes. Adequate vitamin D levels have been associated with more positive pregnancy tests and live births (7).
Omega-3 fatty acids have a myriad of benefits when it comes to health, including improving fertility. In fact, omega-3 has important roles in (8, 9):
Production of reproductive hormones and maintaining regular menstrual cycles
Reducing inflammation around reproductive organs which has positive flow-on effects for improving egg quality and improving chances of successful implantation
Increasing blood flow to the uterus
A recent study found that women who took an omega-3 supplement in the lead up to pregnancy were 1.5 times more likely to conceive than those who took a pre-conception multi with no omega-3s. However, a big limitation of these findings was that women who were supplemented with omega-3s were also found to be much more health-conscious overall (10).
Supplementation is especially important for those on a plant-based diet (or who don’t eat oily fish at least 2 times per week) as dietary intake won’t be sufficient. We recommend opting for a daily algae oil-based supplement with at least 300mg of DHA.
In women, zinc plays a crucial role in maintaining normal hormonal balance and regular ovulation. This is a foundational step when it comes to optimising your fertility (11). Zinc is also important for healthy egg development, making it one of the best supplements for fertility.
What about antioxidant supplements for female fertility?
Antioxidants are important molecules that fight against free radicals in the body. We want to reduce free radicals as they are compounds that can start to cause us harm when levels get too high.
When it comes to female fertility, antioxidants can play an important role as high levels of free radicals can damage egg quality. They also increase inflammation around the reproductive organs which has negative effects on embryo development and implantation chances (12).
We can get antioxidants through the diet by eating a wide variety of colourful fruits and vegetables as well as nuts, seeds and whole grains. In fact, research suggests that an antioxidant-rich diet may even be more effective than supplements (13).
There is some research backing up the potential benefits of supplementing with antioxidants when it comes to improving female fertility. However, the evidence is quite low quality and it is unclear which antioxidants (or combination of antioxidants) you should supplement with (14).
A common antioxidant supplement that may have some merit is ubiquinol.
Ubiquinol/Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10)
Ubiquinol, also known as coenzyme Q10 or CoQ10, may help boost egg quality by protecting eggs from damage (DNA damage in particular) as well as improving chances of successful ovulation and implantation (15, 16).
There is emerging research that suggests that CoQ10 may be a beneficial supplement to include for women trying to fall pregnant over 35. This is because, although our bodies produce CoQ10 naturally, the amount we produce declines as we age. If you are over the age of 35, this might be a good one to discuss with your pregnancy dietitian to see if it’s right for you. For those under 35, it is likely unnecessary.
Now that we’ve established the role of supplements in female fertility, what about for men? It takes two to successfully make a baby, yet the impact of fertility supplements for males is often overlooked. However, optimising nutrition for sperm quality is just as important.
We have a whole blog post dedicated to our top tips for optimising fertility (on a plant-based diet) for males already which you can read here.
But to focus more specifically on the role of supplements, the research currently shows that certain male fertility supplements can improve sperm quality. That includes the sperm’s ability to successfully reach and fertilise the egg as well as the quality of DNA that will be passed on to your future child (17).
So, what nutrients should you be looking for in a male fertility supplement routine? Here are the best supplements for fertility for men.
Omega-3 fatty acids
Just as they are great for optimising female fertility, omega-3s are just as important when it comes to male fertility. This is for two main reasons.
Firstly, omega-3s have antioxidant properties which are important for reducing any inflammation around the reproductive organs and improving sperm quality (18, 19).
Plus, omega-3s are actually a building block of sperm so play a very key role in creating healthy sperm. In fact, one study in particular has found that infertile men have lower levels of omega-3s in their sperm compared to fertile men (20, 21).
As mentioned previously, supplementation is especially important for those on a plant-based diet (or who don’t eat oily fish at least 2 times per week) as dietary intake won’t be sufficient.
As mentioned above, antioxidants are molecules that can help reduce inflammation in the body by fighting against free radicals. Large amounts of free radicals have been found to have multiple negative effects on male fertility including (22, 23, 24, 25, 26):
Decreased sperm motility which impacts the ability of sperm to reach the egg
Sperm morphology (the shape of the sperm) which can impact successful egg fertilisation
DNA damage within the sperm
Abnormal fertilisation, reduced implantation and poor embryo development
Common antioxidants in well-researched and effective male fertility supplements include vitamins E and C, selenium, lycopene and CoQ10. Current consensus recommends that supplements should be taken for at least 3-6 months for best results (27).
Folate and Folic Acid
Folate has been suggested to help boost sperm count as well as protect the genetic content they contain. This is all important for successful conception (28). However, so far the research suggests that getting enough folate through the diet is likely going to be more beneficial than adding it in as a supplement (29).
Luckily, there are an abundance of folate-rich foods you can consume in the lead-up to conception. These include green leafy vegetables, oranges, Vegemite, chickpeas and fortified breads/cereals.
Zinc and male fertility go hand-in-hand as zinc is essential for sperm maturation. Adequate zinc intake has also been associated with increased sperm count and quality (30).
However, similarly to folic acid, research suggests that supplementing with additional zinc is unlikely to provide much benefit and it is much more important to focus on getting enough through the diet instead (29).
This is especially something you may want to pay attention to if you are following a plant-based diet, where it can be harder to meet requirements. Fortunately, we have a blog post all about getting enough zinc on a plant-based diet which you can read here.
Vitamin D is another nutrient that is crucial for male fertility. More specifically, it plays a role in normal hormone production. Correcting a vitamin D deficiency has also been tied to improving sperm motility (31, 32).
However, supplementation with vitamin D will likely only be beneficial if you are vitamin D deficient. Plus, as it is a fat-soluble vitamin, excess intake will be stored and can cause toxicity. It is important to check in with a health professional before you supplement vitamin D to make sure you aren’t getting too much.
The bottom line on the best supplements for fertility
Although there are many supplements that may help improve both male and female fertility, we recommend consulting with a dietitian first before starting a new supplementation routine. This is because supplementation is highly individualised and the supplements that might be best for you will likely look quite different for each person depending on their needs.