If you are considering becoming a vegetarian or vegan, it’s important to get enough nutrients and vitamins. You can’t go all day without getting any protein, so we are here to help with some of the best food choices for vegans! Here’s some tips on what foods you should eat while living the vegan lifestyle.
Best Food For Vegans
What You Can Eat
On a vegan diet, you can eat foods made from plants, including:
- Fruits and vegetables
- Legumes such as peas, beans, and lentils
- Nuts and seeds
- Breads, rice, and pasta
- Dairy alternatives such as soymilk, coconut milk, and almond milk
- Vegetable oils
What You Can’t Eat
Vegans can’t eat any foods made from animals, including:
- Beef, pork, lamb, and other red meat
- Chicken, duck, and other poultry
- Fish or shellfish such as crabs, clams, and mussels
- Cheese, butter
- Milk, cream, ice cream, and other dairy products
- Mayonnaise (because it includes egg yolks)
Studies show that vegans have better heart health and lower odds of having certain diseases. Those who skip meat have less of a chance of becoming obese or getting heart disease, high cholesterol, and high blood pressure. Vegans are also less likely to get diabetes and some kinds of cancer, especially cancers of the GI tract and the breast, ovaries, and uterus in women.
Going vegan might even help you live longer, especially if you also cut down on your daily calories.
Better weight control may be one reason for all of these health benefits. Vegans have a lower body mass index (BMI) than people who eat animal-based products.
Good nutrition is another perk. Fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and nuts are staples of the vegan diet. These foods are rich in fiber, antioxidants, and compounds that help protect against diseases like diabetes and cancer.
A vegan diet is healthy overall, but avoiding animal protein can shortchange you on a few nutrients, like protein, calcium, omega-3 fatty acids, zinc, vitamin B12, and vitamin D. You need protein to power all the chemical reactions in your body. Calcium strengthens your bones and teeth. Omega-3 fatty acids keep your cells healthy and protect your heart by shielding against heart disease and stroke. These nutrients are especially important for children’s growing bodies and for pregnant women.
You can find substitutes for most of these essential nutrients in plant-based foods like:
- Protein: nuts, soy, beans, quinoa
- Calcium: soy milk, fortified orange juice, tofu with calcium, broccoli, kale, almonds
- Omega-3 fatty acids: flaxseeds, vegetable oils, plant-based supplements
- Iron: tofu, soy nuts, spinach, peanut butter, fortified cereals
One nutrient that’s impossible to get from plant sources alone is vitamin B12, which your body uses to make red blood cells and DNA. You’ll only find B12 in animal products. If you go vegan, you may need a supplement to make up for what you don’t get from your diet.
Keep in mind that a vegan diet is only as healthy as you make it. Products like “vegan” ice cream, cookies, and candy are tempting, but you don’t want to overdo. If you eat high-fat and processed foods and supersize your portions, you’ll gain weight and might end up with many of the same health problems you’d have on a meat-based diet.
How to Go Vegan
Does the idea of a vegan diet interest you, but you’re not sure how to start? If you want, you could plunge right in and cut out all poultry, meat, eggs, and dairy at once. Or, take a more gradual approach and increase the amount of fruits and vegetables you eat at each meal.
If removing all animal products from your diet feels overwhelming, try a less strict approach. Some diets focus on plants, but still leave wiggle room for other types of foods:
- Pescatarian: no meat and poultry, but you can still eat fish
- Lacto-ovo vegetarian: plant-based diet, plus dairy and eggs
- Flexitarian: plant-based diet that on occasion includes animal products.
Your doctor or a dietitian can help you choose the right foods as you start a vegan diet. It’s very important to get help from an expert if you have a long-term condition or you’re pregnant, to make sure you get the right mix of nutrients in your new eating plan.
Food For Vegan Diet
Here are 11 foods and food groups you should try to include in your vegan diet plan.
Vegans avoid animal-based sources of protein and iron, such as meat, poultry, fish, and eggs.
Therefore, it’s important to replace these animal products with protein- and iron-rich plant-based alternatives such as legumes.
Beans, lentils, and peas are great options that contain 10–20 grams of protein per cooked cup.
They’re also excellent sources of fiber, slowly digested carbs, iron, folate, calcium, potassium, zinc, antioxidants, and other health-promoting plant compounds.
However, legumes also contain a fair amount of antinutrients, which can reduce the absorption of minerals.
Beans, lentils, and peas are nutrient-rich plant alternatives to animal-derived foods. Soaking, fermenting, and proper cooking can increase nutrient absorption.
Nuts and seeds are great additions to any vegan refrigerator or pantry. That’s in part because a 1-ounce (28-gram) serving of nuts or seeds contains 5–12 grams of protein.
This makes them a good alternative to protein-rich animal products.
In addition, nuts and seeds are great sources of iron, fiber, magnesium, zinc, selenium, and vitamin E. They also contain a good amount of antioxidants and other beneficial plant compounds.
Nuts and seeds are extremely versatile. You can eat them on their own or work them into interesting recipes such as sauces, desserts, and vegan cheeses.
Try to choose unblanched and unroasted varieties whenever possible, since nutrients can be lost during processing.
Favor nut butters that are natural rather than heavily processed. These are usually free of the oil, sugar, and salt often added to some popular varieties.
Nuts, seeds, and their butters are nutritious, versatile foods rich in protein and nutrients. They can be good additions to your pantry.
These three types of seeds have special nutrient profiles that deserve to be highlighted separately from the previous category.
For starters, all three contain larger amounts of protein than most other seeds.
One ounce (28 grams) of hemp seeds contains 9 grams of complete, easily digestible protein — and up to 50% more protein than some other seeds.
Research also shows that the fats found in hemp seeds may be very effective at diminishing symptoms of premenstrual syndrome and menopause.
They may also reduce inflammation and improve certain skin conditions.
For their part, chia seeds and flaxseeds are particularly high in alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), an essential omega-3 fatty acid your body can partially convert into eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA).
EPA and DHA play important roles in the development and maintenance of the nervous system. These long-chain fatty acids also seem to have beneficial effects on pain, inflammation, depression, and anxiety.
Since EPA and DHA are primarily found in fish and seaweed, it might be challenging for vegans to consume enough through their diets. For this reason, it’s important for vegans to eat enough ALA-rich foods, such as chia seeds and flaxseeds.
However, studies suggest that the body can convert only 0.5–5% of ALA to EPA and DHA. This conversion may be increased somewhat in vegans .
Regardless of this, both chia seeds and flaxseeds are healthy. They also make great substitutes for eggs in baking, which is just one more reason to give them a try.
The seeds of hemp, chia, and flax are richer in protein and ALA than most other seeds. Flaxseeds and chia seeds are also great substitutes for eggs in recipes.
4. Tofu and other minimally processed meat substitutes
Tofu and tempeh are minimally processed meat substitutes made from soybeans..
Tofu, created by pressing soybean curds, is a popular replacement for meats. It can be sautéed, grilled, or scrambled. It makes a nice alternative to eggs in dishes such as omelets, frittatas, and quiches.
Tempeh is made from fermented soybeans. Its distinctive flavor makes it a popular replacement for fish, but it can also be used in a variety of other dishes.
Fermentation can help reduce the amount of antinutrients that are naturally found in soybeans, which may increase the amount of nutrients the body can absorb from tempeh.
The fermentation process of tempeh may produce small amounts of vitamin B12, a nutrient that’s mainly found in animal foods and not normally found in soybeans.
However, it remains unclear whether the type of vitamin B12 found in tempeh is active in humans.
The amount of vitamin B12 in tempeh also remains low and can vary from one brand of tempeh to another. Therefore, vegans should not rely on tempeh as their only source of vitamin B12.
Seitan is another popular meat alternative. It provides about 18 grams of protein per 3.5 ounces (100 grams). It is also contains iron, calcium, and phosphorus.
However, people with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity should avoid seitan due to its high gluten content.
More heavily processed mock meats, such as “vegan burgers” and “vegan chicken fillets,” usually provide far fewer nutrients and can contain various additives. They should be eaten sparingly.
Minimally processed meat alternatives such as tofu, tempeh, and seitan are versatile, nutrient-rich additions to a vegan diet. Try to limit your consumption of heavily processed vegan mock meats.
5. Calcium-fortified plant milks and yogurts
Vegans tend to consume smaller amounts of calcium per day than vegetarians or meat eaters, which may negatively affect their bone health. This seems especially true if calcium intake falls below 525 mg per day.
For this reason, vegans should try to include calcium-fortified plant milks and plant yogurts in their daily menu.
Those looking to simultaneously increase their protein intake should opt for milks and yogurts made from soy or hemp. Coconut, almond, rice, and oat milks are lower in protein.
Calcium-fortified plant milks and yogurts are usually also fortified with vitamin D, a nutrient that plays an important role in the absorption of calcium. Some brands also add vitamin B12 to their products.
Therefore, vegans looking to reach their daily intakes of calcium, vitamin D, and vitamin B12 through foods alone should opt for fortified products. To keep added sugars to a minimum, you can choose unsweetened versions.
Plant milks and yogurts fortified with calcium, vitamin D, and vitamin B12 are good alternatives to products made from cows’ milk.
Seaweed is one of the rare plant foods to contain DHA, an essential fatty acid with many health benefits.
Algae such as spirulina and chlorella are also good sources of complete protein.
Two tablespoons (30 ml) of these provide about 8 grams of protein.
In addition, seaweed contains magnesium, riboflavin, manganese, potassium, and good amounts of antioxidants.
But keep in mind that some types of seaweed (such as kelp) are extremely high in iodine, so it’s best not to eat them in large amounts. Iodine is an element that is found naturally in some foods and added to some salt products.
Until more is known, vegans who want to reach their daily recommended vitamin B12 intake should rely on fortified foods or talk with a healthcare professional about possibly taking supplements.
Seaweed is a protein-rich source of essential fatty acids. It’s also rich in antioxidants, and some types are rich in iodine.
7. Nutritional yeast
Nutritional yeast is made from a deactivated strain of Saccharomyces cerevisiae yeast. It can be found in the form of yellow powder or flakes in most supermarkets and health food stores.
One ounce (28 grams) contains approximately 16 grams of protein and 6 grams of fiber. In addition, nutritional yeast is commonly fortified with B vitamins, including vitamin B12.
Therefore, fortified nutritional yeast can be a practical way for vegans to meet their daily vitamin B12 needs.
Non-fortified nutritional yeast is not a reliable source of vitamin B12.
Fortified nutritional yeast is a protein-rich source of vitamin B12. However, non-fortified versions are not a reliable source of the vitamin.
8. Sprouted and fermented plant foods
Although rich in nutrients, most plant foods also contain varying amounts of antinutrients.
These antinutrients can reduce your body’s ability to absorb minerals from these foods.
Sprouting and fermenting are simple and time-tested methods of reducing the amounts of antinutrients found in various foods.
These techniques increase the amounts of beneficial nutrients absorbed from plant foods and can also boost their overall protein quality.
Interestingly, sprouting may also slightly reduce the amount of gluten found in certain grains.
Fermented plant foods are good sources of probiotic bacteria, which may help improve immune function and digestive health.
You can try sprouting or fermenting grains at home. Some sprouted or fermented products — such as Ezekiel bread, tempeh, miso, natto, sauerkraut, pickles, kimchi, and kombucha — are also available in stores.
Sprouting and fermenting foods helps enhance their nutritional value. Fermented foods also provide vegans with a source of vitamin K2.
9. Whole grains, cereals, and pseudocereals
Whole grains, cereals, and pseudocereals are good sources of complex carbs, fiber, and iron, as well as B vitamins, magnesium, phosphorus, zinc, and selenium.
Spelt, teff, amaranth, and quinoa are flavorful, high protein substitutes for better-known grains such as wheat and rice. Sprouted varieties are best.
10. Choline-rich foods
The nutrient choline is important for the health of your liver, brain, and nervous system.
Our bodies can produce it, but only in small amounts. That’s why it’s considered an essential nutrient that you must get from your diet.
Choline can be found in small amounts in a wide variety of fruits, vegetables, nuts, legumes, and grains.
The plant foods with the largest amounts are tofu, cauliflower, and quinoa.
Daily choline requirements increase during pregnancy. People who drink alcohol heavily and postmenopausal women may also be at increased risk of deficiency.
Therefore, vegan individuals who fall into one of these categories should make a special effort to consume enough choline-rich foods.
Choline-rich plant foods such as tofu, cauliflower, broccoli, and quinoa are important for the proper functioning of your body.
11. Fruits and vegetables
Some vegans rely heavily on mock meats and other vegan processed foods to replace their favorite animal foods. However, these types of foods are often not the most nutritious options.
Luckily, there are many ways to add vitamin- and mineral-rich fruits and vegetables to your meals.
For instance, mashed banana is a great substitute for eggs in baking recipes.
Banana “ice cream” is a popular replacement for dairy-based ice cream. Simply blend a frozen banana until it’s smooth. Then you can add your preferred toppings.
Eggplant and mushrooms, especially cremini or portobello, are a great way to get a meaty texture in vegetable form. They’re particularly easy to grill.
Perhaps surprisingly, jackfruit is a great stand-in for meat in savory dishes such as stir-fries and barbecue sandwiches.
Cauliflower is a versatile addition to many recipes, including pizza crust.
Vegans should also aim to increase their intake of iron- and calcium-rich fruits and vegetables. This includes leafy greens such as bok choy, spinach, kale, watercress, and mustard greens.
Broccoli, turnip greens, artichokes, and black currants are also great options.