Where do the authorities stand when it comes to a healthy vegan diet plan?
The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics states that appropriately planned vegetarian diets (including total vegetarian or vegan diets) are healthful, nutritionally adequate, and may provide health benefits in the prevention and treatment of certain diseases .
Now that we know the importance of planning out our routine diet, let’s see what it means to have a healthy vegan diet and the ideal food sources to incorporate.
Vegan Diet, What Does it Mean?
Many interested in knowing the breadth, variety, what’s included and avoided in a vegan diet. Simply put, a vegan diet excludes all animal products like meat, eggs, dairy milk, cheese, honey, gelatin, etc. and primarily includes vegetables, fruits, grains, nuts, and seeds.
Let’s explore the list of healthy vegan food we should build our meals around to make sure we get all the nutrients we need and include all those health-promoting aspects a vegan diet has to offer.
Vegetables, Essential for Nourishment!
We’ve known for generations that eating our veggies is important; but why? What makes vegetables in their natural form so much better than just taking processed food or supplements?
While our scientific understanding of nutrition has certainly improved exponentially over the years, man-made nutrients are still no match for all the macro & micronutrients contained in plant foods that work together.
Essentially, all the components in the make-up of vegetables work in a synergy that is greater than the individual nutrients it contains; and it would be quite difficult to understand how to replicate it or the miraculous inner workings of a plant food yet.
Luckily, we don’t have to. We’ve been eating plants for millennia, and our bodies are perfectly adapted to extract exactly what they need, in the right quantities at the right time; as long as we make sure we eat them!
This is why including vegetables as part of a healthy vegan diet is vital.
Variety of Vegetables to Include Each Day
- Broccoli (protein 6.2%, calcium 3.3%, vitamin C 67%, vitamin A 20%, vitamin B-6 6.5%, and dietary fiber 12%) * 
- Asparagus (protein 4%, vitamin A 15%, and iron 11%)*
- Carrots (vitamin A 334%)*
- Pumpkins (good source of vitamin A)
- Sweet potatoes (good source of vitamin A)
- Cauliflower (vitamin C 80%)*
- Okra (ladies’ fingers)
- Beets (folate (B9) 27%, manganese 16%)*
- Brussels sprouts (protein 6%, calcium 4%, vitamin C 141%, iron 11%, vitamin B-6 10%, vitamin K 169%, manganese 16%)*
- Potatoes (eat in moderation)
- Radish (vitamin C 18%)*
- Chicory (protein 3%, good source of B vitamins, vitamin C 29%, vitamin E 15%, vitamin K 283%)*
*Nutrition values per 100 grams
Green Leafy Vegetables
Green leafy vegetables are simply one of the best dietary sources of minerals like calcium, potassium, and iron, as well as vital vitamins like vitamin A, C, and K.
They are also a great source of fiber and folate. Increased consumption of these has been shown to benefit health in countless ways, from skeletal health, healthy heart, stronger immune system, to better cognition, and even reducing risks of certain cancers. It is also known to reduce eye related diseases and digestive issues.
Green Leafy Vegetable Options
- Spring greens
- Kale/baby kale (protein 8%, vitamin A 199%, good source of B vitamins, vitamin C 145%, vitamin K 671%)*
- Collard greens
- Mustard greens
- Rocket/ arugula
- Watercress (protein 4%, calcium 12%, vitamin A 63%, vitamin C 71%)*
- Parsley (good source of iron)
- Broccoli Raab, Rabe, or Rapini
- Spinach (good source of iron)
- Chard (vitamin A 122%, calcium 5%, iron 9%)*
- Turnip greens
- Beet greens (protein 3%, folate B9 27%)*
- Lettuce / Iceberg lettuce
*Nutrition values per 100 grams
Not only legumes and pulses are some of the best sources of protein, they are quite affordable as well! Thus it’s only sensible for us to include them in our daily routine!
While you get many plant foods containing some amount of protein, grains generally tend to be a bit lower on the scale, so combining your rice with some legumes is the perfect way to make sure you’re covering all your bases.
List of Legumes/Pulses (eat at least 3 servings per day or 4 servings if you are over 50 years of age)
- Green beans
- Soybeans–Non-GMO (protein 72%, calcium 28%, good source of B vitamins, vitamin K 45%, iron 121%, zinc 51%)*
- White beans, navy beans, and pinto beans
- Aduki/ adzuki beans
- Black-eyed peas
- Chickpeas (protein 38%, calcium 5%, iron 22%)*
- Kidney beans (protein 48%, calcium 3%, iron 23%)*
- Green peas
- Mung bean
- Lentils (protein 18%, calcium 6%)*
*nutrition values per 100 grams
Grains are there for the gains and the health benefits associated with whole grain consumption range from improved digestion (due to fiber), better weight management, reduced risk of heart disease and may even prevent birth defects.
They are a wonderful source of essential & trace minerals, like magnesium & selenium while being an excellent source of the B vitamins like thiamine, riboflavin, and niacin which are essential for the nervous system and healthy metabolism.
Whole Grains (emphasize whole grains over refined)
Fruits for Vitamins & Antioxidants
Rich in micronutrients, antioxidants and health-promoting natural pigments (not to mention the sweet taste!), adding fruits to your diet every day is one of the sweetest ways to improve your health.
An excellent source of fiber, they also assist in keeping cholesterol in check and improving digestion. Its rich supply of antioxidants helps the body not only to combat aging, but cope with disease, and boost your immunity.
List of Fruits (try as much as possible to include below fruits)
- Oranges (good source of calcium and vitamin C)
- Blueberries (vitamin C 16%, vitamin E 4%, vitamin K 18%)*
- Avocado (good source for healthy fats)
- Guavas (good source of vitamin C)
- Papaya (vitamin A 19%, vitamin C 101%, dietary fiber 6%)
- Bananas (vitamin C 14%, vitamin B-6 20%, dietary fiber 10%, potassium 8%)*
*Nutrition values per 100 grams
Nuts & Seeds (too good to miss!)
Unlike the saturated and trans fats found in animal products and processed foods, nuts and seeds are rich in good fats; mono and polyunsaturated fats. These fats can actually help lower cholesterol and as a result, lower the risk of heart disease while helping with nerve function, and reduce inflammation.
Especially for vegans, this is one of the best sources of omega 3 fatty acid ALA (which can convert into other omega 3 fatty acids EPA & DHA) which is important for lowering the risk of heart disease and aid in brain function! They are also an excellent source of protein, vitamin E, magnesium, and calcium.
As you can have nuts and seeds as a snack, incorporating those to your diet is much easier!
List of Nuts & Seeds
- Almonds (protein 42%, calcium 26%, iron 29%, vitamin E 175%, magnesium 75%, manganese 109%, phosphorus 69%, zinc 32%)*
- Walnuts (protein 30%, calcium 10%, iron 22%)*
- Pine nuts
- Sesame seeds
- Chia seeds
- Hemp, pumpkin, and sunflower seeds
*Nutrition values per 100 grams
- Flaxseed oil*
- Canola oil*
- Hempseed oil*
- Camelina oil*
- Chia seed oil*
- Extra virgin olive oil (recommended for dressings and a good source of antioxidants)
- Coconut Oil
*good source of omega 3 fatty acid ALA
Other Vegan Foods for Nourishment
- Tempeh (non-GMO: good source of protein & calcium)
- Tofu (non-GMO: good source of protein & calcium)
- Fortified plant milk (good source of vitamin B12: soy milk, almond milk, etc)
- Fortified vegan breakfast cereals (good source of vitamin B12)
- Whole grain bread
- Use iodized salt for iodine
- Vegan dark chocolate
- Mushrooms (can be a source of vitamin D)
- Peanut butter
- Molasses (good source of iron)
While getting the majority of your nutrients is entirely possible and ideal through a diet of whole foods, in reality, it may not be just simple or straightforward! Sometimes we may not have enough time to prepare balanced meals from scratch.
Vegan supplementation and fortified food are also options to consider which can be handy in such situations if you are battling to balance & incorporate certain nutrients (like vitamin B12, and omega 3 DHA/EPA). It is generally advised for all vegans, vegetarians (even omnivores over the age of 50) to take a vitamin B12 supplement unless you are certain that your diet contains enough B12 from fortified foods like vegan breakfast cereals, or fortified plant milk.
If you’re not getting adequate sun exposure, have dark skin or just spend most of your time indoors, you may consider taking a vegan vitamin D supplement.
Keep the focus on whole foods as much as possible, but there’s no need to get obsessive about it. Fortified food with the appropriate nutrients can be helpful in maintaining your health that may be hard to achieve if you’re caught up with a fast-paced lifestyle! They can be a useful source of nutrients that make your vegan diet easier to stick with, in the long run.
Finally, try your best to stick to whole foods when you can, but fortified foods and a few vegan supplements can be just as useful, to make sure all your nutritional needs are being met when you need to.
- Vegan Fortified Food
- Vegan Supplements
- Best Multi-Purpose Specialty Blenders Review (these blenders can do wonders making your vegan recipes/diets convenient and healthy making it a great investment)
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