But the same is true for the rest of us, too! We all, vegan, vegetarian, or a meat hound like myself all need to be eating a nutrient-rich diet filled with loads of vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients!
Here are a dozen foods and food groups that should be part of any healthy 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-rich 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. They’re also excellent sources of fiber, slowly digested carbs, iron, folate, manganese, zinc, antioxidants and other health-promoting plant compounds.
However, legumes also contain a good amount of antinutrients, (learn more about antinutrients in my book, Phytonutrient Gardening Book 1: Vegetables) which can reduce the absorption of minerals. For instance, iron absorption from plants is estimated to be 50% lower than that from animal sources. Similarly, vegetarian diets seem to reduce zinc absorption by about 35% compared to those containing meat.
It’s advantageous to sprout, ferment or cook legumes well because these processes can decrease the levels of antinutrients. To increase your absorption of iron and zinc from legumes, you may also want to avoid consuming them at the same time as calcium-rich foods. Calcium can hinder their absorption if you consume it at the same time. In contrast, eating legumes in combination with vitamin C-rich fruits and vegetables can further increase your absorption of iron.
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.
In addition, nuts and seeds are great sources of iron, fiber, magnesium, zinc, selenium and vitamin E. They also contain a good number of antioxidants and other beneficial plant compounds.
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. Not to mention the great tasting nut butters that are available! 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.
Try to choose unblanched and unroasted varieties whenever possible, since nutrients can be lost during processing.
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. One ounce (28 grams) of hemp seeds contains 9 grams of complete, easily digestible protein — about 50% more protein than most other seeds. What’s more, the omega-3 to omega-6 fatty acid ratio found in hemp seeds is considered optimal for human health.
Research also shows that the fats found in hemp seeds may be very effective at diminishing symptoms of premenstrual syndrome (PMS) and menopause. It may also reduce inflammation and improve certain skin conditions.
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). Don’t worry if you cannot pronounce those two, I would break my mouth just trying to pronounce them! EPA and DHA play important roles in the development and maintenance of the nervous system. These long-chain fatty acids also seem to play beneficial roles in pain, inflammation, depression and anxiety. Since EPA and DHA are primarily found in fish, it might be challenging for vegans to consume enough through their diets. For this reason, it’s important for vegans to eat enough ALA-rich foods, such as chia and flaxseeds.
However, studies suggest that the body is only able to convert 0.5–5% of ALA to EPA and DHA. This conversion may be increased somewhat in vegans. Regardless of this, both chia and flaxseeds are incredibly healthy for you. They also make great substitutes for eggs in baking, which is just one more reason to give them a try.
For more information on Nuts & Seeds just look to my book, Phytonutrient Gardening Book 2: Fruits, Nuts, and Seeds.
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.
Tofu, created from the pressing of soybean curds, is a popular replacement for meats. It can be sautéed, grilled or scrambled. It makes a nice alternative to eggs in recipes such as omelets, frittatas and quiches.
Tempeh is made from fermented soybeans. Its distinctive flavor makes it a popular replacement for fish, but tempeh can also be used in a variety of other dishes. The fermentation process helps reduce the amount of antinutrients that are naturally found in soybeans, which may increase the number of nutrients the body can absorb from tempeh. 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.
Seitan is another popular meat alternative. It provides about 25 grams of wheat protein per 3.5 oz (100 grams). It is also a good source of selenium and contains small amounts of iron, calcium and phosphorus. However, individuals with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity should avoid seitan due to its high gluten content.
More heavily processed mock meats, such as “vegan burgers” or “vegan chicken fillets,” usually provide far fewer nutrients and can contain various additives. They should be eaten sparingly. Minimally processed meat alternatives including tofu, tempeh and seitan are versatile, nutrient-rich additions to any diet. But as a rule, try to limit your consumption of heavily processed vegan mock meats.
Calcium-Fortified Plant Milks & 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. And you know what? So should the rest of us!
Those looking to simultaneously increase their protein intake should opt for milks and yogurts made from soy or hemp. Coconut, almond, Flax, rice and oat milks are lower-protein alternatives. Personally, I love flax so much that I now prefer to use it instead of regular milk on anything!
Calcium-fortified plant milks and yogurts are usually also fortified with vitamin D, a nutrient that plays an important role in the absorption of calcium. Some brands also add vitamin B12 to their products. Therefore, vegans looking to reach their daily intakes of calcium, vitamin D and vitamin B12 through foods alone should make sure to opt for fortified products. To keep added sugars to a minimum, make sure to choose unsweetened versions.
Seaweed is one of the rare plant foods to contain DHA, an essential fatty acid with many health benefits. Algae such as spirulina and chlorella are also good sources of complete protein. Two tablespoons (30 ml) of these provide about 8 grams of protein. In addition, seaweed contains magnesium, riboflavin, manganese, potassium, iodine and good amounts of antioxidants.
The mineral iodine, in particular, plays crucial roles in your metabolism and in the function of your thyroid gland. The Reference Daily Intake (RDI) of iodine is 150 micrograms per day. We can meet our requirements by consuming several servings of seaweed per week.
That being said, some types of seaweed (such as kelp) are extremely high in iodine, so should not be eaten in large amounts. Other varieties, such as spirulina, contain very little iodine. Those who are having difficulty meeting their recommended daily intakes through seaweed alone should aim to consume half a teaspoon (2.5 ml) of iodized salt each day.
If you want to learn more about seaweed check out my Phytonutrient blog post: http://www.gardeningaustin.com/blog/eat-seaweed-yes-seaweed
Nutritional yeast is made from a deactivated strain of Saccharomyces cerevisiae yeast. It can be found in the form of yellow powder or flakes in most supermarkets and health food stores. One ounce (28 grams) contains approximately 14 grams of protein and 7 grams of fiber. In addition, nutritional yeast is commonly fortified with zinc, magnesium, copper, manganese and B vitamins, including vitamin B12. Therefore, fortified nutritional yeast can be a practical way for us to reach our daily vitamin B12 recommendations – (B12 is a vitamin that most of us are not getting enough of, so this is a great option).
However, it’s important to note that vitamin B12 is light-sensitive and may degrade if bought or stored in clear plastic bags. Non-fortified nutritional yeast should not be relied on as a source of vitamin B12. Nutritional yeast is NOT the same thing as baker’s or brewer’s yeast.
Although rich in nutrients, most plant foods also contain varying amounts of antinutrients. These antinutrients can reduce your body’s ability to absorb the minerals these foods contain. Sprouting and fermenting are simple and time-tested methods of reducing the amount of antinutrients found in various foods.
These techniques increase the number of beneficial nutrients absorbed from plant foods and can also boost their overall protein quality. Interestingly, sprouting may also slightly reduce the amount of gluten found in certain grains. Fermented plant foods are good sources of probiotic bacteria, which may help improve immune function and digestive health. They also contain vitamin K2, which is known to promote bone and dental health as well as help decrease the risk of heart disease and cancer.
You can try sprouting or fermenting grains at home. Some can also be bought in stores, such as Ezekiel bread, tempeh, miso, natto, sauerkraut, pickles, kimchi and kombucha.
When it comes to these foods the main point to understand is that sprouting and fermenting foods helps enhance their nutritional value. Fermented foods also provide a source of probiotics and vitamin K2.
Whole Grains, Cereals & Pseudocereals Whole grains, cereals and pseudocereals are good sources of complex carbs, fiber, and iron, as well as B vitamins, magnesium, phosphorus, zinc and selenium. That said, some varieties are more nutritious than others, especially when it comes to protein. For instance, the ancient grains spelt and teff contain 10–11 grams of protein per cooked cup (237 ml). That’s a lot compared to wheat and rice.
The pseudocereals amaranth and quinoa come in a close second with around 9 grams of protein per cooked cup (237 ml). They are also two of the rare sources of complete protein in this food group.
Like many plant foods, whole grains and pseudocereals contain varying levels of antinutrients, which can limit the absorption of beneficial nutrients. Sprouting is useful for reducing these antinutrients.
To me, the important thing here is that spelt, teff, amaranth and quinoa are flavorful, high-protein substitutes for better-known grains such as wheat and rice, they are healthy and delicious, what more could you ask!
The nutrient choline is important for the health of your liver, brain and nervous system. Our bodies can produce it, but only in small amounts. That’s why it’s considered an essential nutrient that you must get from your diet.
Choline can be found in small amounts in a wide variety of fruits, vegetables, nuts, legumes and grains. That said, the plant foods with the largest amounts include tofu, soymilk, cauliflower, broccoli and quinoa.
Daily choline requirements increase during pregnancy. Endurance athletes, heavy drinkers and postmenopausal women may also be at increased risk of deficiency. Therefore, individuals who fall into one of these categories should make a special effort to ensure they have sufficient choline-rich foods on their plates.
Some vegans rely heavily on mock meats and vegan junk food to replace their favorite animal foods. However, these types of foods are often highly processed and unhealthy.
Luckily, there are many ways to replace your favorite meals with vitamin-rich and mineral-rich fruits and vegetables instead.
Take the banana, mashed banana is a great substitute for eggs in baking recipes. Banana ice cream is also a popular replacement for dairy-based ice cream. Simply blend a frozen banana until it’s smooth. Then you can add your preferred toppings.
Eggplant and mushrooms, especially cremini or portobello, are a great way to get a meaty texture in vegetable form. They’re particularly easy to grill. Perhaps surprisingly, jackfruit is a great stand-in for meat in savory dishes such as stir-fries and barbecue sandwiches.
Meanwhile, cauliflower is a versatile addition to many recipes, including pizza crust.
We should all aim to increase our intake of iron-rich and calcium-rich fruits and vegetables. This includes leafy greens such as bok choy, spinach, kale, watercress and mustard greens. Broccoli, turnip greens, artichokes and blackcurrants are also great options.
The Moringa tree is beginning to gain more popularity as a new “superfood” for its highly nutritious profile and powerful anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and tissue-protective properties.
Moringa oleifera, also known as horseradish tree, ben tree, or drumstick tree, is a small tree from India, Pakistan, and Nepal that has been used for generations in Eastern countries to treat and prevent diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, anemia, arthritis, liver disease, and respiratory, skin, and digestive disorders.
Moringa has become popular as a leaf powder supplement, although the pods, roots, bark, flowers, seeds, and fruits are also edible and packed with health giving benefits.
When it comes to moringa benefits, there are almost too many to count! The Moringa Tree is one of the most nutrient-rich plants in the world.
Moringa Powder is made from naturally-dried moringa leaves. It is:
- 25% protein (unusual for a plant)
- 31% fibre
- A rich source of iron, vitamin A & vitamin K
- A source of vitamin E, calcium & magnesium
- High in antioxidants
Other health benefits of moringa include relief from stomach disorders, allergies and edema. The antioxidant power of moringa aids in liver protection, diabetes, eye protection, cardiovascular health, bone health, uroliathiasis, wound healing, healthy hair and skin. It is rich in antibacterial and antifungal properties that help to fight various infections, including herpes.
It is rich in phytonutrients, which are effective for preventing various medical conditions such as cancer, neurodegenerative diseases, bronchial asthma, sickle cell disease, nephrotoxicity, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, anemia, and obesity, as well as helping to build a strong immune system.
Although modern science has only recently discovered its value, moringa has been imparting a multitude of benefits across various cultures since ancient times. It was valued by the Romans, Egyptians and Greeks for its medicinal impact on a range of ailments. Today, its usage has been encouraged by various humanitarian organizations to combat malnutrition and its effects in poverty-stricken regions, mainly due to its economic viability and rapid growth.
Moringa leaves and pods are a nutritional powerhouse and provide a great range and amount of essential proteins, vitamins and minerals. It is a rich source of essential amino acids, which are the building blocks of proteins. It also contains a significant amount of vitamins such as vitamin A, vitamin B1 (thiamine), B2 (riboflavin), B3 (niacin), B-6, folate and ascorbic acid (vitamin C). The mineral wealth of moringa includes calcium, potassium, iron, magnesium, phosphorous and zinc. It contains very low amount of fats and offers no harmful cholesterol.
Moringa contains an immense wealth of healthy components and phytonutrients. Due to its extraordinary and unmatched range of medicinal benefits, it was named the “miracle tree” during the food crisis in Africa. In the Philippines, it is revered as mother’s best friend because of its galactogogic properties.
Learn more about this amazing gift of nature by visiting my website. While there be sure to check out the 30 minuet presentation I have prepared for you all about the moringa tree!
Or buy my book: The Moringa Tree – What you don’t know can HEAL You!
Vegans avoid all foods of animal origin, including meat and foods containing animal-derived ingredients, this can limit their intake of certain nutrients and increase their requirements for others. Most Vegans have learned that a well-planned plant-based diet that includes sufficient amounts of the foods discussed in this post will help them stay healthy and avoid nutrient deficiencies.
We can all benefit from this knowledge!