Vegans abstain from purchasing and consuming animal products, reaching out for exclusively vegan food instead.
So what is vegan food, exactly?
Vegan food includes all types of food and food products that don’t contain any animal products. In other words, all foods free from meat, fish, dairy, eggs, and honey too.
Examples of vegan food are grains, vegetables, fruit, beans, meat and dairy alternatives, nuts, and seeds.
Do you want to know more before your next grocery shop? You can find a comprehensive list of what vegans can eat here.
Vegan nutrition – how to get the most from your food
Vegan food is incredibly healthy for you and contains all the essential nutrients needed for your body to thrive.
However, new vegans should take their time to familiarize themselves with basic nutritional facts to avoid many common mistakes.
The first mistake new vegans make when switching over to a plant-based diet is overestimating their protein intake. Of course, popular vegan food such as quinoa and nut milks contains a fair amount of protein – but it’s often not enough to sustain the lifestyle in the long term.
It’s important that vegans should include as many legumes and beans in their diet as possible, and yes, that includes soybeans too.
But, isn’t soy bad for you?
Contrary to a now quite widespread belief, soy is actually an incredibly healthy vegan food, and a stellar source of protein for vegans and non-vegans alike.
Tofu, one of the most popular soy-based products, is commonly enjoyed in many East Asian countries and it’s been considered to be a health-promoting food for generations. Regular tofu consumption has been associated with decreased risk of heart disease, prostate, ovarian, and breast cancer. Overall, studies have found that a diet rich in vegetables, fruit, and soy products is associated with up to a 25% less risk of death.
Soy milk and tofu are protein-packed vegan foods that should be included as part of a balanced vegan diet rich in leafy greens and whole grains.
Don’t forget iron and omega-3 fatty acids
Another common mistake is forgetting about iron and omega-3 fatty acids. Vegan food rich in iron includes lentils, tofu, tempeh, black beans, quinoa, and collard greens.
Omega-3 fatty acids, which are essential to maintain a healthy heart, are usually found in fish.
What is vegan food rich in omega-3s? The best sources are nuts and oils such as walnuts, flax seeds and flaxseed oil, and leafy greens such as kale and spinach.
Make sure you get enough vitamin B12
Not getting enough vitamin B12 is also a killer. B12 is the only vitamin that cannot be found in vegan food in its whole form, so it has to be consumed daily via fortified food and supplements.
Plant-based milks, vegan cereals, vegan yogurts, and nutritional yeast are examples of vegan food fortified with vitamin B12. However, even a daily consumption of fortified vegan food can still put vegans at risk of developing deficiencies – a B12 supplement or multivitamin is the safest way to go!
Although delicious and protein-rich, vegan meat alternatives should not be the staple of your vegan diet.
Whole foods reign supreme in both vegan and meat-heavy diets.
So, what does a healthy vegan plate look like?
The balanced vegan plate
After answering the question “What is vegan food”, let’s dive into how to put together a healthy and balanced vegan meal.
Your plate should be made up of 50% vegetables and fresh fruit, 25% whole grains, 20% legumes, and beans, and 5% nuts and seeds.
This blueprint is easily the most health-promoting version of a vegan diet, as it ensures that all essential nutrients are taken into account: unrefined carbs, protein, healthy fats, and vitamins.
What does this plate look like in reality? Mastering a balanced vegan diet is not as complex as it may seem.
The best cuisines to master for delicious vegan food
Some world cuisines are well-known for being rich in plant-based dishes, not sacrificing taste and convenience for health.
In all regions of India, vegetarianism is often the norm. This is due to the pervasiveness of religions such as Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism, causing many Indians to reject meat, fish, and eggs. When it comes to offering an endless assortment of vegetarian dishes, it’s fair to say no cuisine compares to India’s.
However, dairy remains a staple, with clarified butter making an appearance in most curries and rice-centered dishes. When making Indian food at home, dairy can easily be omitted – you’ll be left with infinite amounts of bean and lentil varieties to experiment with.
Mediterranean and Middle Eastern
Mediterranean and Middle Eastern diets are known for their heart-healthy properties, so it’s no surprise that whole, plant-based foods play a major role in most Mediterranean and Middle Eastern countries. Italian, Greek, and Lebanese cuisines, for example, are based around olive oil, beans, grains, and vegetables.
A large number of vegan food staples originate from these cuisines: pasta, minestrone, bean wraps, hummus, falafel, and tahini are plant-based essentials that every vegan should learn how to master.
Leave the cheesy burritos at the door: authentic Mexican cuisine favors fresh vegetables, rice and beans more than anything else. In fact, Italian and Mexican food have quite a lot in common, especially when it comes to their healthfulness. Many of their classic dishes are loaded with vegetables and beans, providing remarkable plant-based nutrition. The best part is, many of the best-known Mexican meals are incredibly easy to prepare!
Just think of corn and wheat tortillas, rice and beans bowls, guacamole, and pico de gallo – all of your favorite Mexican food can easily be made vegan by swapping meat fillings with black or kidney beans.
Rich and spicy, Thai cuisine offers so much more beyond coconut-based curries and jasmine rice. Although eggs are a prominent ingredient in many Thai dishes, a simple swap with tofu opens the possibility of enjoying a huge variety of dishes. Pad thai, tom kha, tom yum goong, papaya salad, and of course, green and red curries make for an intensely flavorsome vegan dinner.
These are just a few examples of how delicious and varied vegan food can be. There is always a way of turning a classic meat-based dish into a tasty vegan meal, no matter what cuisine you’re dealing with.