Interested in giving the vegan diet a try? Here’s a deep dive on the animal product-free meal plan, including the best vegan diet foods, scientifically proven health benefits of a vegan diet, and what nutrients to keep an eye on for optimal health.

By Karla Walsh
Updated March 05, 2019

A relatively small amount of Americans—about 3 percent—classify themselves as vegans, according to the latest data from a Gallup Poll. Plant-based food sales rose more than 8 percent last year, however, and now account for more than $3 billion of total food spending each year. So it’s clear vegan diet foods are gaining in popularity even with those who don’t strictly follow a vegan diet plan. Part-time vegans are now a thing, thanks in part to the reported health benefits of a vegan diet.

What is a Vegan Diet?

A vegan diet plan involves abstaining from all animal products and any foods that potentially involve cruelty or exploitation of animals. Meat, poultry, dairy, and eggs are not acceptable vegan diet foods. Some adopt a vegan diet for ethical reasons, others choose it to aid the environment, and many do so for prospective health and longevity improvements.

You might hear about different types of the vegan diet, including:

  • Raw vegans: Consume foods cooked 188°F and below (or not cooked at all).
  • Whole food vegans: Eat produce, nuts, seeds, whole grains, and beans.
  • Junk food vegans: Dine on Doritos, Oreos, french fries, and other low-nutrition vegan diet foods.

What are the Potential Health Concerns and Health Benefits of a Vegan Diet?

“A whole foods, plant-based diet will almost certainly up your fiber intake, which can have many positive benefits: improved digestive health; increased satiety; reduced cholesterol levels; a lower risk of developing diabetes, heart disease, and certain cancers; and a potentially healthier microbiome,” says nutritionist Rania Batayneh, M.P.H., owner of Essential Nutrition for You and author of The One One One Diet.

Other possible health benefits of vegan diets, when done right:

  • Lower risk for certain cancers
  • Brighter, clearer skin
  • Higher-than-typical consumption of potassium, magnesium, folate, and vitamins A, C, and E
  • Better blood sugar control

As mentioned previously, “Not all vegan diets are necessarily healthy: sugar is vegan, after all!” Batayneh says, and it’s not a guarantee for weight loss. (Note: Strict vegans should check sugar packaging to ensure that brand of sugar is indeed vegan.)

A vegan could start the day with a sugary cereal with an alternative milk for breakfast, twirl up a bowl of carb-heavy pasta for lunch, and dunk vegan chicken strips and french fries in ketchup for dinner, “consuming too many refined carbs and added sugars, and too little protein,” she says. “It’s important to be mindful in choosing vegan foods that contain protein, like beans, legumes, nuts, and seeds, as well as minimally processed products with added protein. Luckily, the market for such products has really taken off in the past few years, and there are plenty that offer protein from sources besides soy, such as pea protein, beans, and legumes.”

Related: 30-Minute Vegan Dinner Recipes

Even if your day includes the healthiest vegan diet recipes and enough protein, you can still fall shy in certain nutrients. Here’s how to hit the mark:

  • Vitamin B12: Only found naturally in animal foods, so seek out fortified cereals and plant-based milks.
  • Vitamin D: While this is rich in dairy products, mushrooms and fortified cereals and juices also supply D.
  • Calcium: Score this in tofu, kale, black-eyed peas, or fortified foods.
  • Iron and Zinc: Lentils, tofu, grains, nuts, and seeds supply both. Pair with a vitamin C source for better absorption.
  • Omega-3 fats: For those steering clear of salmon and other seafood, flaxseeds, walnuts, soy, and chia seeds are good options.

What are the Best Vegan Diet Foods?

A healthy vegan diet plan is based around items our ancestors ate (although this is very different from a Paleo diet plan).

  • Fruits
  • Vegetables
  • Beans
  • Legumes
  • Nuts
  • Seeds
  • Whole grains

Plant-based dairy substitutes and meat substitutes are also popular among many vegan diet followers.

“What’s great about today’s market is there are so many companies that cater to plant-based diets, giving consumers the opportunity to enjoy their favorite ‘foods’ on a vegan diet. Daiya is a delicious dairy-free cheese that’s a great option for those following a plant-based lifestyle who miss standard Swiss,” Batayneh says. “And the world of meat substitutes has exploded since the days of veggie and tofu burgers. From tempeh, seitan, and textured vegetable proteins, there are plenty of options.”

While a healthy vegan diet can certainly include these, Batayneh encourages her vegan clients to get most of their protein from foods like beans and legumes.

What is Off-Limits on the Vegan Diet?

By now, it’s probably clear that meat is off the menu. (There’s not an ounce in these fan-favorite vegan dinner recipes.) But there are a few other items to keep an eye on when you’re cooking vegan or eating out and trying to follow a vegan diet plan.

  • Honey
  • Marshmallows
  • Worcestershire sauce
  • Beer and wine processed with animal products
  • Chocolate
  • Gummy candies
  • Omega-3 supplements with fish oil

Can You Share a Sample Day of Vegan Diet Recipes?

We’ve built this day of vegan diet dishes with an eye to macronutrient balance—in other words, plenty of protein and fat—as well as variety. If you’re following a typical 2,000-calorie-a-day diet, bulk up the servings and add a healthy vegan dessert after lunch.

Breakfast

Ginger-Sesame Oats with Mushrooms and Charred Green Onions

Lunch

Sweet Potato, White Bean Hummus, and Israeli Salad

Snack

Chewy Tropical Granola Bar

Dinner

Lentil, Quinoa, and Baby Kale Bowl

Dessert

Roasted Stone Fruit with Banana Ice Cream

Daily Tally

  • Calories: 1,548
  • Fat: 50 grams
  • Protein: 58 grams
  • Carbohydrates: 226 grams
  • Fiber: 38 grams

Should I Try a Vegan Diet?

Ultimately, it’s up to you.

“I like to encourage whatever eating lifestyle my clients want to follow, whether that’s including all animal products, some of them, or none of them. A healthy diet can certainly include meat—but it can also be free from it—and one is not necessarily healthier than the other,” Batayneh says.


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