Table of Contents
- 1 Is Eating Vegan Healthy?
- 2 What is Veganism?
- 3 What Can You Eat as a Vegan?
- 4 Is it Expensive to Eat a Vegan Diet?
- 5 Is a Vegan Diet Healthy?
- 6 What are the Health Risks of a Vegan Diet?
- 7 Does Veganism Help You Lose Weight?
- 8 What is the Healthiest Vegan Food?
- 8.1 Nuts, Nut Butters & Seeds
- 8.2 Legumes
- 8.3 Chia Seeds, Flax Seeds, and Hemp Seeds
- 8.4 Whole Grains, Cereals, and Pseudo Cereals
- 8.5 Soybean Derived Foods (Tofu & Tempeh)
- 8.6 Seitan
- 8.7 Plant Milk and Yogurts Fortified with Calcium & Vitamin D
- 8.8 Seaweed
- 8.9 Choline-Rich Foods
- 8.10 Yeast
- 8.11 Fruits and Vegetables
- 8.12 Sprouted and Fermented Plant Foods
- 9 What is a Good Vegan Diet?
- 10 The Bottom Line on Veganism
Is Eating Vegan Healthy?
Veganism is becoming more popular with the mainstream American population every day. People make the switch to a plant-based diet for several different reasons, including ethical, environmental, and health-related concerns. Healthy plant-based diets provide health benefits such as the reduced risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and even some types of cancers. As more people adopt a vegan diet and lifestyle, more restaurants are catering to customers who prefer to eat plant-based dishes, and more stores are carrying vegan food products.
What is Veganism?
The word “vegan” comes from the first and last parts of the word “vegetarian.” Unlike vegetarians, who do not eat meat, but do consume other animal products such as dairy foods and eggs, vegans do not consume any animal-derived products at all. Instead, the vegan diet consists of plant-based foods, including vegetables, leafy greens, seeds, nuts, fruit, and whole grains.
What Can You Eat as a Vegan?
A well-balanced vegan diet will provide you with all the nutrients you need to be healthy. The key is planning your meals and making sure to include a variety of foods rich in essential nutrients and amino acids. A healthy vegan diet should consist of all kinds of vegetables, lentils, legumes, seeds, nuts, fruits, grains, and soy.
There are so many vegan-friendly options available. If you choose to purchase ingredients yourself from the store and make vegan meals at home, the possibilities are only as limited as your imagination. The following is just an example of one vegan’s daily meals. Each of these contains good sources of iron, sources of protein, and sources of other essential vitamins and minerals vital to maintaining good nutrition.
Vegan Breakfast Foods:
For a healthy vegan breakfast, you may want to try one of the following (or a combination)
- Avocado on toast
Vegan Lunch Foods:
- Chickpea salad
- Peanut butter & jelly sandwich on whole-grain bread
- Black bean and rice bowl with veggies
Vegan Dinner Foods:
- Peppers stuffed with Quinoa
- Tofu stir fry
Healthy Vegan Snacks:
- Nut butter
- Kale chips
Is it Expensive to Eat a Vegan Diet?
There is not a one size fits all cost for a vegan lifestyle. The amount of money you spend on vegan-friendly meals will ultimately depend on your nutritional requirements, budget, eating habits, and preferences. If you are a meal-prepper, you are likely going to be purchasing different ingredients than someone who eats most meals out. If you are looking to eat vegan at home and you want to keep your costs low, you most definitely can. The key is to plan your meals carefully, shop accordingly, and cook in bulk.
Is a Vegan Diet Healthy?
There is a wide variety of health benefits of eating a plant-based diet, including a lower BMI (body mass index) and higher levels of fiber, vitamins C and E, potassium, and magnesium than people who do not consume a primarily plant-based diet. Moreover, vegans tend to have lower cholesterol and lower blood pressure.
Studies have shown that a plant-based lifestyle may help reduce the risk of getting type 2 diabetes by improving insulin sensitivity.
What are the Health Risks of a Vegan Diet?
The vegan menu typically includes many essential vitamins and minerals. Although vegans tend to get more of some critical nutrients than non-vegans, there is a risk of not getting enough of some of them. Nutrients like calcium, vitamin D, iron, B12, and omega-3 fatty acids are among the essential nutrients in which vegans are prone to becoming deficient.
How to Get Enough Iron in Your Diet
Heme iron is a type of iron that you get when you eat animal products. This type of iron is easier for your body to absorb than non-heme iron, which comes from plants. There are lower levels of iron in plants, and the levels of iron you do get from plants are not absorbed very well. To maintain a healthy iron intake, vegans should consume plant-based meals that are full of iron and vitamin C.
How to Get Enough B12 in Your Diet
Vitamin B12 is only found naturally in animal-derived products. There are no plant-based foods that usually provide this essential vitamin. Luckily, many processed vegan foods do contain B12. You can get vegan milk and soy products infused with vitamin B12. If you prefer to skip the processed foods, you can also get B12 supplements.
How to Get Enough Calcium & Vitamin D in Your Diet
Calcium and vitamin D are both essential nutrients for healthy bones. These are most commonly in dairy products. Vegans will need to consume plant-based foods that contain these or turn to supplements to get the necessary amounts for healthy bones.
How to Get Enough Omega-3 Fatty Acids in Your Diet
Omega-3 fatty acids are in fish and eggs. Omega-3 fatty acids are most known for being vital for nutrition and heart health. They are also essential for brain and eye health. You can find omega-3 fatty acids in flax seeds, chia seeds, and walnuts. If you are unable to get the recommended amounts from these sources, you may need to get supplements.
Does Veganism Help You Lose Weight?
Many people choose to switch to a vegan lifestyle to lose weight only to end up gaining weight. Weight gain is often contributed to the increased intake of processed vegan junk foods such as Oreos, Pop-Tarts, and Pillsbury rolls, vegan mac and cheese, and vegan ice cream. If you are eating vegan to lose weight or to maintain a healthy weight and lifestyle, you may want to avoid vegan junk foods and stick to plant-based, protein-rich foods like fruit and leafy greens.
What is the Healthiest Vegan Food?
There are many foods to choose from when you make the switch to a healthy vegan diet. To maintain a well-balanced, healthy diet, you need to make sure you are getting proper nutrition. For this reason, you may want to include the following plant sources.
Nuts, Nut Butters & Seeds
Seeds, nuts, and nut butters are super versatile. You can eat them as a snack on their own, or you can include them in a wide range of yummy vegan recipes. They make delicious cheese alternatives, desserts, and sauces. Seeds and nuts are excellent replacements for protein. A one-ounce serving of nuts or seeds has, on average, from five-twelve grams of protein.
Seeds and nuts are also excellent sources of fiber, iron, magnesium, selenium, vitamin E, and zinc. Look for nuts and seeds that are not roasted or blanched to get the most nutrients out of them. If you use nut butter, look for some that are all-natural and not super processed. The overly processed nut butter brands are less healthy as they usually have high levels of sugar, salt, and oil.
Non-vegans get their protein and iron from animal products like fish, eggs, meat, poultry, and dairy products. Vegans need to turn to an alternative source of these key nutrients. Foods like lentils chickpeas and beans provide between ten-twenty grams of protein for each cooked cup. These legumes also contain fiber, iron, manganese, zinc, and folate.
Legumes do have a downside. They make it more difficult for your body to absorb these minerals. You might absorb only half as much iron from legumes as you would from animal products. Cooking the legumes helps to increase the amount of absorption. Another way to increase your body’s absorption of iron and zinc is to eat them with food rich in vitamin C like some fruits and veggies. Make sure to keep your legume meals separate from your calcium-rich meals. Eating calcium at the same time as legumes can reduce the number of nutrients your body will absorb from the legumes.
Chia Seeds, Flax Seeds, and Hemp Seeds
Chia seeds, flax seeds, and hemp seeds are all much higher in protein content than any other seeds. For example, one ounce of hemp seeds has as much as nine grams of protein. Hemp seeds also contain a higher amount of omega-3 fatty acids and omega-6 fatty acids than other seeds.
Chia seeds and flax seeds are great substitutes for eggs in baked goods. Both chia seeds and flax seeds have high levels of the omega-3 fatty acid called alpha-linolenic (ALA), which converts in your body to EPA and DHA. EPA and DHA are long-chain fatty acids that can be beneficial in the reduction of inflammation, pain, and even anxiety. EPA and DHA are usually absorbed into your body when you eat fish or seaweed. For vegans, consuming enough chia seeds and flax seeds regularly should provide the EPA and DHA they need.
Whole Grains, Cereals, and Pseudo Cereals
If you are looking for foods that will help you get your recommended amounts of fiber, B vitamins, phosphorus, zinc, complex carbohydrates, and selenium, try some whole grains, cereals, and pseudo cereals. Look for spelt, amaranth, or Quinoa. These grains also provide a good amount of protein. Teff and spelt are ancient grains that have approximately 10 grams of protein in every cooked cup. Quinoa and amaranth contain nearly nine grams per cooked cup.
Soybean Derived Foods (Tofu & Tempeh)
Tofu and tempeh are excellent sources of protein, calcium, and iron. Both tofu and tempeh come from soybeans. Tofu comes from pressed soybean curds. Tempeh comes from fermented soybeans. Both of these ingredients are popular substitutes for recipes that traditionally call for meat. Tempeh, in particular, is often used as a fish substitute. Tofu is also a popular replacement for eggs because you can scramble it. Both tofu and tempeh have an average of 15-20 grams of protein per 3.5 ounces.
Seitan contains approximately 25 grams of wheat protein for every 3.5 ounces. Seitan is not only an excellent meat replacement and source of protein, but it is also a great source of calcium, iron, phosphorus, and selenium as well. Although you should avoid seitan if you have gluten sensitivity as it is full of gluten.
Plant Milk and Yogurts Fortified with Calcium & Vitamin D
Calcium is an essential nutrient typically found in animal-derived products like milk. Since vegans do not consume dairy products, they often lack the necessary calcium intake for healthy bones. For this reason, vegans need to consume a variety of plant-based foods that are fortified with calcium. Look for vegan milk and vegan yogurts. These products are usually fortified with calcium. Some also contain vitamin D and vitamin B12. If you want to get more protein with your calcium, look for vegan milk and vegan yogurts made from almonds, coconuts, or rice.
Seaweed contains the fatty acid DHA, riboflavin, manganeses, potassium, magnesium, and iodine, as well as antioxidants.
Choline is a nutrient that you can get from several kinds of fruit and vegetables, legumes, grains, and nuts. Some of these include tofu, soy, cauliflower, and QuinoaQuinoa. This nutrient is beneficial for the health of your nervous system, as well as your brain and your liver.
You can get nutritional yeast in most grocery stores. It comes in the form of flakes or powder. There are approximately 14 grams of protein in every ounce of nutritional yeast. Many times, nutritional yeast will also come fortified with copper, zinc, manganese, magnesium, and vitamin B12. Nutritional yeast is also a great source of your daily fiber intake.
Fruits and Vegetables
It is no surprise that a well-balanced vegan diet is going to include a lot of fruits and vegetables. The key to making sure you get enough of the essential nutrients for your health is to make sure to consume enough of a variety of fruits and vegetables that will give you the nutrients you need.
Sprouted and Fermented Plant Foods
Sprouting and fermenting foods are methods used to help make the nutrients easier for your body to absorb. Fermented foods provide probiotic bacteria, which is excellent for digestion and immunity and vitamin K2, which is beneficial to bone and heart health. Fermented foods include tempeh, miso, pickles, kimchi, and kombucha.
What is a Good Vegan Diet?
When making the switch to a vegan diet, it can be all too easy to rely on processed vegan meals that contain highly processed vegan meats and cheeses. Although some of these dishes are perfectly fine once in a while, it is not healthy to eat these as your go-to-vegan meals. Instead, try to replace your favorite dishes with plant-based foods that are full of critical nutrients.
Some ideas for healthy alternatives include bananas in place of eggs for baking eggplant in place of meat in your lasagna and cauliflower in place of pizza dough for your vegan pizza.
A well-balanced plant-based diet can provide a ton of health benefits from a lower BMI to a healthy heart. The downside to eating vegan is that, unless you are actively planning your meals, you may end up deficient in many of the key vitamins and minerals for good nutrition to keep you healthy. There are many different kinds of vegan diets to choose from. Choose the one that fits your dietary needs as well as your lifestyle and goals.
Types of Vegan Diets
- Whole Foods: Whole plant foods, including whole fruits, veggies, grains, legumes, seeds, and nuts.
- Raw Foods: The basic raw food diet includes similar plant foods as the whole food diet. The main difference is that for a war food diet, nothing over 118 degrees Fahrenheit will be consumed.
- 80/10/10: A variation of the raw food diet that avoids plants rich in fats like avocados and nuts. Instead, the 80/10/10 diet includes more fruits and greens. Sometimes this diet is called the low-fat vegan, or the Fruitarian diet.
- Starch Solution Diet: Includes cooking starches like rice, potatoes, and corn.
- Vegan Junk Food: An oxymoron – junk food and diet. You can easily adhere to the requirements for eating vegan, while still consuming mostly junk food. This diet is anything but healthy. It is, however, vegan. The junk food diet includes items like Oreos and Fritos. Also, processed meals that include vegan meats and cheeses are completely vegan-friendly, but often contain more calories than their non-vegan counterparts.
Stay healthy with meal planning to include all of the key nutrients needed to maintain good health. If you have trouble meeting the requirements, you may want to add supplements to fill in the gaps.
The Bottom Line on Veganism
Eating a vegan diet can be super healthy. The key is to plan your meals to ensure you are getting all of your essential nutrients, including calcium, vitamin D, vitamin B12, iron, and omega-3 fatty acids, and supplementing when necessary. Make sure to stick to plant-based meals, and skip the junk food. If you are turning to a vegan diet purely for the potential health benefits, you should note that many vegetarian diets that include eggs and dairy products are just as healthy. Also, just because a food is vegan-friendly, does not automatically make it healthy. Just like any other diet, you can find super healthy vegan diets and extremely unhealthy vegan diets. It’s essential to plan your meals, plant your shopping, and plan your cooking of the meals each day to maintain a healthy diet.