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What foods to eat on a healthy vegan diet?

by tamarajune
Published: Last Updated on

There are many opinions out there about what you should and should not eat on a healthy vegan diet. This can be confusing and overwhelming because there is no “one size fits all” answer here.

So, what can you do? Firstly, you can incorporate more foods into your diet that most people would agree are health-promoting. The goal of this post is to help you do that.

Secondly, find out for yourself what kind of diet makes you feel the healthiest, the most energized, the most alive, the happiest. This is a very individual process and may take some trial and error, but if you want some tips, feel free to reach out!

So, what foods should be a part of a healthy diet?

Most would agree that everyone can benefit from incorporating more whole foods into their diet. And there is also a lot of scientific evidence to back that up.

Among others, whole foods are so beneficial for health because they tend to be very rich in nutrients and antioxidants. They are generally low in calories and saturated fats, as well as cholesterol-free. Moreover, the role whole foods can play in the prevention and treatment of chronic disease is well studied.

Thus, if you want to establish a healthy vegan diet, adding more whole foods to your meals will help you achieve your goal. In this post, you’ll learn about the five food groups that likely have the most substantial positive impact on your health if you incorporate them into your diet regularly.

Let’s get started.

1. Vegetables

A variety of vegetables on a white background as an example of what to eat on a healthy diet

The first food group that you should incorporate more often to achieve a healthy vegan diet is vegetables. This group offers many vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals. Vegetables tend to be very rich in fiber and water. Aside from a few exceptions (e.g., potatoes, peas), they are rather low in calories, protein, and fat.

Most vegetables can be consumed either raw or cooked.

The healthiest vegetables are cabbage and cruciferous vegetables because they contain the most vitamins and minerals.

They are particularly rich in vitamin C, vitamin K, folic acid, carotenoids, and provide more protein than other vegetables. In addition, they support liver detoxification.

Salad greens are rather low in nutrients and fiber. However, this varies from type to type.

Bulb vegetables, such as garlic and onion, provide relatively high amounts of selenium, vitamin B1, and vitamin B6. Plus, they contain moderate amounts of vitamin C.

Mushrooms are also very healthy and are one of the few plant sources of provitamin D. They are also rich in selenium, zinc, potassium, carotenoids, vitamin B3, and vitamin B5.

Further, they can have a positive effect on the immune system, protect the nervous system, have an antimicrobial effect, and help reduce cholesterol.

However, mushrooms should only be consumed in moderation because they may contain heavy metals such as mercury and radioactive decay products.

Algae are, for example, used to make sushi and are a great iodine source.

Further, algae may have a positive effect on the prevention of obesity, type 2 diabetes, and cancer.

Examples of how to use vegetables in a healthy vegan diet

Generally, it is easy to incorporate vegetables into main courses.

You could prepare spaghetti with tomato sauce and a side salad, stuffed bell peppers, vegetable curry, vegetable pizza, Zoodles, stir-fry with tofu, Buddha Bowls, etc.

Leafy vegetables such as spinach, arugula, and kale are popular ingredients for (green) smoothies.

Examples of what is included in this group:

  • Potatoes
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Beets
  • Carrots
  • Spinach
  • Broccoli
  • Cauliflower
  • Kale
  • Pumpkins
  • Melons
  • Zucchini
  • Red cabbage
  • Salad greens (iceberg lettuce, endive)
  • Arugula
  • Asparagus
  • Artichoke
  • Eggplant
  • Bell pepper
  • Tomato
  • Cucumber

[su_highlight]Summary: Vegetables tend to be rich in vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals, fiber, and water. Most are low in calories, protein, and fat. Vegetables can easily be incorporated into main dishes, added as a side, or used to make salads. Some popular veggies are tomatoes, potatoes, carrots, spinach, bell peppers, and salad greens.[/su_highlight]

2. Fruit

A large variety of fruits and berries

The second major food group is fruit, which also contains many health-promoting components. Fruits are usually very rich in vitamin C, potassium, folate, and antioxidants, which, among others, support the prevention of chronic diseases.

Fruit also contains a lot of carbohydrates, water, and (depending on the type and ripeness) sugar. Proteins and fats are present in fruit only in small quantities. Although fruit is the most popular raw, it also tastes delicious cooked (e.g., as compote, in a cake, as jam, etc.).

The healthiest fruits are berries. Usually, the darker the berry, the higher the antioxidant content. Consuming berries can help prevent chronic diseases such as cancer, cardiovascular disease, and neurodegenerative diseases.

Examples of how to use fruits in a healthy vegan diet

Fruits are great for smoothies, as an ingredient in muesli/oatmeal/porridge or as a healthy snack.

Furthermore, fruits can be a part of numerous desserts, f.e. delicious tarts or refreshing Nicecream.

Examples of what is included in this group:

  • Apple
  • Pear
  • Apricot
  • Cherry
  • Peach
  • Aronia berry
  • Strawberry
  • Blueberry
  • Raspberry
  • Kiwi
  • Banana
  • Dates
  • Coconut
  • Mango
  • Olives
  • Oranges
  • Lemons
  • Grapes
  • Pineapple
  • Avocado

[su_highlight]Summary: Fruits tend to be a good source of vitamin C, potassium, antioxidants, carbohydrates, and water. Berries are the healthiest fruit and are known for their potential to reduce chronic diseases. Fruits are very popular as a snack or as an ingredient in smoothies or oatmeal. Plus, you can make delicious desserts with them. Examples of fruit are bananas, apples, peaches, lemons, strawberries, and raspberries. [/su_highlight]

3. Grains

A variety of whole grains in individual white bowls showing one of the ways to eat healthier

Grains are probably the most significant staple and the third major food group in a healthy vegan diet. They are an excellent source of carbohydrates, proteins, fiber, vitamins, minerals, and trace elements. Zinc and iron are especially abundant in grains.

Furthermore, grains contain mainly polyunsaturated fatty acids, so healthy fats.

The combination of grains and legumes is very valuable for getting enough protein from plants. Moreover, sprouted grains are exceptionally nutritious and an excellent source of protein.

Since most of the vitamins and minerals are located in the shell, you should choose whole grains as often as possible.

It’s also important to keep in mind that grains contain phytic acid, which can reduce the absorption of nutrients such as iron, magnesium, zinc, and calcium. Soaking, sprouting, and fermenting grains reduces this acid, and thus, increases nutrient absorption.

Further, pseudo-grains, such as quinoa and amaranth, contain bitter substances. You can remove these by washing the grain with hot water before cooking it.

The regular consumption of whole grains can reduce the risk of obesity, type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and cancer.

However, many grains contain gluten and are, therefore, not suitable for people with gluten intolerance or gluten sensitivity.

How to use whole grains on a healthy vegan diet

Grains often act as a base for main courses. So, for example, as noodles in pasta dishes, rice with curries and stews, oats for breakfast, bread for sandwiches and tortillas for wraps. Cooked grains are also used as a side.

Examples of what is included in this group:

Contain gluten

  • Spelt
  • Barley
  • Oats
  • Rye
  • Wheat

Gluten-free grains

  • Amaranth
  • Buckwheat
  • Millet
  • Corn
  • Rice
  • Quinoa

[su_highlight]Summary: Grains are an excellent source of carbohydrates, proteins, fiber, polyunsaturated fats, vitamins, minerals, and trace elements. Zinc and iron are especially abundant in grains. To get the most nutritional value, opt for whole grains as often as possible. By soaking, sprouting, and fermenting grains, you can increase nutrient absorption. Many grains contain gluten and are, therefore, not suitable for people with gluten intolerance or gluten sensitivity. Grains act as the base of many healthy main dishes, but you can also use them as a side. Common grains are wheat, oats, rice, and quinoa.[/su_highlight]

4. Legumes

Various rows of legumes and beans next to each other as an example of what to eat on a healthy diet

The fourth major food group is legumes. These are super important for a healthy vegan diet because they are particularly nutritious and super versatile.

Legumes are a great source of selenium, manganese, zinc, iron, calcium, potassium, fiber, and vitamins B1, B2, and B3.

Moreover, they are an excellent source of plant protein, especially in combination with whole grains. The fat content in legumes varies greatly. While lentils, for example, contain only small amounts, soybeans are very high in fat.

Further, it’s important to mention that legumes should never be eaten raw. Thus, dried ones must be soaked overnight and then cooked according to package instructions. You should also briefly heat sprouts before consuming them.

Like whole grains, legumes contain phytic acid, which can be broken down by soaking, sprouting, or fermenting.

If, until now, you haven’t consumed legumes regularly, you should give your body time to get used to them. Otherwise, you may experience digestive problems and bloating. To help minimize these initial side effects, you can incorporate spices such as ginger, cumin, turmeric, and cilantro into your dishes.

Regular consumption of legumes can support the prevention of cardiovascular disease and cancer.

How to use legumes on a healthy vegan diet

Legumes are used extensively to prepare healthy meals. They are especially popular in the form of hummus, tofu, tempeh, or as the main ingredient in vegan burger patties or falafel.

Also, they are part of many nutritious main dishes, such as plant-based curries, lentil tacos, bean burritos, Buddha bowls, chickpeas in salads, etc.

Examples of what is included in this group:

  • White beans
  • Peas
  • Peanuts
  • Green beans
  • Chickpeas
  • Lentils
  • Soybeans
  • Tofu
  • Kidney beans

[su_highlight]Summary: Legumes are a great source of protein, selenium, manganese, zinc, iron, calcium, potassium, fiber, and vitamins B1, B2, and B3. Legumes should never be eaten raw. Like grains, nutrient absorption can be increased by soaking, sprouting, or fermenting them. If you don’t eat beans regularly, work them into your diet slowly to get your body used to them. They are especially popular in the form of hummus, tofu, tempeh, or as the main ingredient in vegan burger patties or falafel. They are also a part of many healthy main dishes. Examples of legumes are kidney beans, chickpeas, lentils, soybeans, and green beans[/su_highlight].

5. Nuts and seeds

A wooden bowl full of a variety of nuts

Nuts and seeds, as the fifth major food group, are characterized by their high content of protein, iron, calcium, zinc, magnesium, potassium, manganese, selenium, vitamin E, and B vitamins.

Furthermore, nuts and seeds are high in fat, particularly in mono- and polyunsaturated fatty acids. Moreover, they can support the prevention of type II diabetes and obesity.

Also, nuts and seeds are an excellent omega-3 source.

How nuts and seeds are used in a healthy vegan diet

Nuts are particularly suitable as snacks, especially in combination with fruit.

Seeds are a common ingredient in smoothies, muesli/oatmeal, and salads.

Furthermore, both are often processed to nut/seed butter, which is widely used in plant-based cooking. Tahini, for example, is tasty as a salad dressing with lemon juice or balsamic vinegar. Almond butter, for instance, is delicious on toast and a common ingredient in a lot of recipes.

Moreover, you can use nuts and seeds to make plant milk or vegan cheese.

Examples of what is included in this group:

Nuts

  • Cashews
  • Almond
  • Brazil nuts
  • Pine nuts
  • Walnuts
  • Pecan nuts

Seeds

  • Chia seeds
  • Pumpkin seeds
  • Flax seeds
  • Sesame seeds
  • Sunflower seeds
  • Hemp seeds

[su_highlight]Summary: Nuts and seeds are rich in protein, healthy fats, iron, calcium, zinc, magnesium, potassium, manganese, selenium, vitamin E, and B vitamins. They are an excellent omega-3 source. Nuts are great as a snack, and seeds are a great addition to smoothies, muesli/oatmeal, and salads. You can use both to make nut/seed butter, which has a variety of uses. Popular nuts are cashews, almonds, and walnuts. Examples of seeds are chia seeds, flax seeds, hemp seeds, and sunflower seeds.[/su_highlight]

What is the next step?

Now that you know which food groups to incorporate into your diet to eat healthier, it’s time to get practical and add them to your diet. 😀

Here and here are some great recipes to help you get started.

Moreover, if you want to take it to the next level you can use the Daily Dozen List to eat even healthier.

Overview of what to eat on a healthy diet

Graphic showing examples of what foods to eat on a healthy diet

What is your favorite food group?

For me, it’s definitely fruit. 🙂

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