Vegans avoid eating animal foods for environmental, ethical or health reasons. Unfortunately, following a diet based exclusively on plants may put some people at a higher risk of nutrient deficiencies. This is especially true when vegan diets are not well planned.
For vegans who want to stay healthy, consuming a nutrient-rich diet with whole and fortified foods is very important. Here are 11 foods and food groups that should be part of a healthy vegan diet.
In an effort to exclude all forms of animal exploitation and cruelty, vegans avoid traditional 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 alternatives, such as legumes. Beans, lentils and peas are great options that contain 10–20 grams of protein per cooked cup. However, legumes also contain a good amount of antinutrients, which can reduce the absorption of minerals. Beans, lentils and peas are nutrient-rich plant alternatives to animal-derived foods. Sprouting, fermenting and proper cooking can increase nutrient absorption.
2. Nuts, Nut Butters and Seeds
Nuts, seeds and their byproducts are a great addition to any vegan refrigerator or pantry. That’s in part because a 1-oz (28-gram) serving of nuts or seeds contains 5–12 grams of protein. This makes them a good alternative to protein-rich animal products. Nuts and seeds are also extremely versatile. They can be consumed on their own, or worked into interesting recipes such as sauces, desserts and cheeses. Cashew cheese is one delicious option. Favor nut butters that are natural rather than heavily processed. These are usually devoid of the oil, sugar and salt often added to household brand varieties. Nuts, seeds and their butters are nutritious, versatile foods that are rich in protein and nutrients. Every vegan should consider adding them to their pantry.
3. Hemp, Flax and Chia Seeds
These three 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. For their part, chia and flaxseeds are particularly high in alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), an essential omega-3 fatty acid your body can partly convert into eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). 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. Flax 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. Both contain 16–19 grams of protein per 3.5-oz (100-gram) portion. They’re also good sources of iron and calcium (24, 25). Tofu, created from the pressing of soybean curds, is a popular replacement for meats. The fermentation process of tempeh may produce small amounts of vitamin B12, a nutrient mainly found in animal foods that soybeans do not normally contain. Minimally processed meat alternatives including 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 attempt to make calcium-fortified plant milks and plant yogurts part of their daily menu. Plant milks and yogurts fortified with calcium, vitamin D and vitamin B12 are good alternatives to products made from cows’ milk.
These are some easy vegan food items that you must consume daily.