Switching to a whole-food, plant-based diet is one of the best ways to flood your body with nutrition and give your physical and mental health a boost. But if all you eat is plain pasta or french fries, while you still technically vegan, you could be missing out on all the many health benefits of a plant-based approach. Here, nutritionists share their secrets to getting even more nutrients into your diet without even trying or needing to cook up elaborate meals, so you can make minor food prep tweaks that deliver major health benefits.

How to amp up your nutritional intake on a plant-based diet, from RDs

Whatever your goals for a healthier body here are a few easy ways to boost your nutrition on a plant-based approach, shared by nutritionists who share these strategies with their patients.

1. Instead of reaching for the salt shaker, add olives to your dishes

Olives have sodium, but along with their salty taste they deliver a lot of nutrients and are perfect for adding to salads and sauces like pasta sauces, explains Keith-Thomas Ayoob, EdD, RD, FAND, Associate Clinical Professor Emeritus at Albert Einstein College of Medicine. “Olives are a good source of antioxidants and contain anti-inflammatory compounds. Plus, they add more flavor than olive oil alone. You get the benefits of olive oil, but don't have to add oil to your meal. Also, there are dozens of types of olives, so add whatever you have, but go beyond the canned black ones.” Why didn’t we think of this, like 800 jars of Trader Joe’s Kalamata olives ago?

2. Add some pumpkin purée to your smoothies and oatmeal.

Increase your intake of vitamin A simply by adding canned pumpkin to smoothies, oatmeal, overnight oats, curries, pasta sauce, and any other recipe that would taste even better with the addition of this sweet fruit. “Vitamin A plays a crucial role in our immune systems by bolstering the body's ability to rally against viruses and infection it has seen before, according to studies.  It's also helpful against inflammation, and experts believe that to be your healthiest, "it’s important to consume vitamin A not only when you’re sick, but before you get sick to prevent illness in the first place,” comments Colleen Christensen, RD.

3. Put some protein powder in your overnight oats.

To boost the nutrition of your overnight oats with hardly any extra effort: “Sneak in a scoop of protein powder into your overnight oats for breakfast. Protein is the building block for hair, skin, and nails, as well as for building and repairing lean muscle tissue after a hard workout,” says Sara De Luca, RD, CDN, CPT, a Registered Dietitian in Private Practice and at Prefusion Health in Long Island, New York. “Most importantly, protein helps prevent a spike in insulin, so you can keep your blood sugar balanced and stay fuller for longer between meals.” Need a plant-based protein powder rec? Check out our guide here.

4. Throw a handful of dark, leafy greens into your next smoothie.

For a host of vitamins and minerals, add leafy dark green vegetables to your favorite shake or smoothie, for a zero-effort boost in its nutritional profile. Whether it’s spinach, kale, collard greens, swiss chard, arugula, or another of these superfoods, you can mix it into your energy drink, and "you won’t even taste it," says De Luca. "This is also an easy way to include heart-healthy vitamins, minerals and antioxidants into your diet since dark leafy greens are high in Vitamin C, vitamin E, vitamin K, iron, and even calcium."

5. Swap refined pasta for chickpea pasta.

Pasta is full of empty calories, we know, but chickpea pasta is both delicious and packed with protein, fiber, and nutrients like vitamin B6. “Chickpea pasta is gluten-free, has triple the protein and practically three times the fiber as traditional pasta,” shares De Luca.  “Banza is a well-known chickpea pasta brand in the industry that makes chickpea pasta of all shapes and sizes. From penne to lasagna noodles, there is something for everyone!” The taste is superb, but if you really are a pasta addict, try going half conventional, half chickpea-based.

6. Add cinnamon to pretty much everything you eat or drink.

“Taken regularly, cinnamon is anti-inflammatory and studies have shown it improves fasting blood glucose levels," says Ayoob. In that study, patients with diabetes were able to lower their insulin when given cinnamon, but how that translates is that cinnamon could help your body burn energy instead of storing it as fat. "It's anti-inflammatory properties, total lack of calories and major flavor components make cinnamon worth keeping front and center in your spice cabinet or better yet, putting onto the table with salt and pepper,” he adds. Consider adding cinnamon anytime you make a smoothie, coffee, tea, a tomato-based sauce (“gives it a Middle Eastern flair”), oatmeal, a mildly sweet soup, or roasted root vegetables like acorn squash or sweet potatoes.

7. Add nuts to your next salad or as a snack instead of chips

Add nuts to whatever you’re making—including salads, pasta, or just keep them nearby to snack on, says Ayoob. "Any kind of nut is great, but almonds, pistachios, and walnuts have been studied most for their heart-healthy value." It doesn't take a lot of nuts to get the nutritional benefits if you eat them daily,” he adds so don't overdo it. A serving size is just a small handful, which is the equivalent to about an ounce," since more nuts can also add more calories and fat to your diet.

"Nuts give you protein, heart-healthy monounsaturated fat, fiber, and many minerals and vitamins, as well as antioxidants,” he continues. Ayoob recommends avoiding eating junk food impulsively by keeping a small tin (like a re-purposed Altoids container) on hand with nuts inside to reach for when hunger strikes.

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