The vegan diet has become very popular for environmental, ethical, or health reasons. When done right, such a diet can lead to a variety of health benefits, including a fitted waist and better blood sugar control. However, selectively consuming exclusively plant-based foods can, in some cases, increase the risk of nutritional deficiencies. So, let’s look at a vegan food list for beginners that covers everything you need to know to follow a vegan diet the right way.
Vegan Food List For Beginners: What To Eat, Avoid, Snacks, Supplements, and More!
What is the vegan diet?
A vegan diet cannot include animal products, including meat, eggs, and dairy. A vegan diet is consumed for a variety of reasons ranging from ethics to environmental concerns, but they can also stem from a desire to improve health. Essentially, a vegan food list for beginners excludes all animal products.
Most scientific research rarely differentiates between the different types of vegan diets although there are several variations of the vegan diet. Therefore, the information provided in this article talks about vegan diets as a whole.
Vegan Food List For Beginners: Foods to Avoid
Vegans don’t consume foods of animal origin, as well as any food containing ingredients derived from animals. These include:
- Meat and Poultry: Eggs, beef, lamb, wild meat, chicken, fish, pork, turkey, goose, duck, quail, veal, horse, organ meat, etc.
- Fish and seafood: All types of fish, anchovies, shrimp, squid, scallops, squid, mussels, crabs, lobsters, etc.
- Dairy: Milk, yogurt, cheese, butter, cream, cream, ice cream, etc.
- Eggs: From chickens, quails, ostriches, fish, etc.
- Beekeeping products: Honey, royal jelly, bee pollen, etc.
- Ingredients of animal origin: Whey, casein, lactose, egg white, albumin, gelatin, cochineal or carmine, isinglass, shellac, L-cysteine, vitamin D3 of animal origin and omega-3 fatty acids derived from fish.
- Vegans avoid consuming animal flesh, animal by-products, or foods containing an ingredient of animal origin.
Vegan Food List For Beginners: Foods to eat
Health-conscious vegans replace animal products with plant-based substitutes, such as:
- Tofu, Tempeh, and Seitan: These are high-protein and versatile, alternatives to meat, fish, poultry, and eggs in many recipes.
- Legumes: Foods like beans, lentils, and peas are great sources of many nutrients and beneficial plant compounds. Sprouting, fermentation and proper cooking can increase nutrient absorption.
- Nuts and nut butter: Especially the unbleached and unroasted varieties, which are good sources of iron, fiber, magnesium, zinc, selenium and vitamin E.
- Seeds: Mostly hemp, chia, and flax seeds, which contain good amounts of protein and beneficial omega-3 fatty acids.
- Calcium-fortified plant-based milks and yogurts: These help vegans achieve recommended dietary calcium intakes. Choose varieties that are also fortified with vitamins B12 and D when possible.
- Algae: Spirulina and chlorella are amazing sources of complete protein. Other varieties are excellent sources of iodine.
- Nutritional Yeast: This is an easy way to increase the protein content of vegan dishes and add an interesting cheese flavor. Choose varieties fortified with vitamin B12 whenever possible.
- Whole Grains, Grains, and Pseudo-Grains: These are an excellent source of complex carbohydrates, fiber, iron, B vitamins, and several minerals. Spelled, teff, amaranth, and quinoa are particularly high in protein.
- Sprouted and Fermented Plant Foods: Ezekiel bread, miso, tempeh, natto, pickles, kimchi, sauerkraut, and kombucha often contain probiotics and vitamin K2. These examples of germination and fermentation help improve mineral absorption.
- Fruits and Vegetables: Both are great foods for increasing your nutrient intake. Leafy greens like bok choy, spinach, kale, watercress, and mustard are especially high in iron and calcium.
These minimally processed plant foods are great additions to any vegan fridge or pantry.
Vegan Food List For Beginners: Risks and how to minimize them
It’s important for everyone, not just vegans, to promote a well-planned diet that limits processed foods and replaces them with nutrient-dense foods.
That said, those who follow poorly planned vegan diets are particularly at risk for certain nutritional deficiencies.
In fact, studies show that vegans are at bigger risks of having lesser than normal blood levels of vitamin B12, vitamin D, iodine, iron, calcium, long-chain omega-3s, and zinc.
Not getting enough of these nutrients is worrying for everyone, but it can pose a particular risk to those with increased needs, such as children or women who are pregnant or breastfeeding.
Your genetic makeup and the makeup of your gut bacteria can also influence your ability to get the nutrients you need from a vegan diet.
One way to decrease the likelihood of deficiency is to limit the amount of processed vegan foods you consume and opt for nutrient-dense plant foods instead.
Fortified foods, especially those fortified with calcium, vitamin D and vitamin B12, should also appear on your plate every day.
Also, vegans who want to improve their iron and zinc absorption should try fermenting, sprouting, and cooking foods.
Additionally, using cast iron pots and pans for cooking, avoiding tea or coffee with meals, and combining iron-rich foods with a source of vitamin C may further stimulate iron absorption.
Additionally, adding seaweed or iodized salt to the diet can help vegans meet their recommended daily iodine intake.
Finally, foods containing omega-3s, especially those high in alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), can help the body produce longer-chain omega-3s like eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and acid docosahexaenoic (DHA).
Foods high in ALA include chia, hemp, flax seeds, nuts, and soybeans. However, whether this conversion is effective enough to meet daily needs is up for debate.
Therefore, a daily intake of 200-300 mg of EPA and DHA from a seaweed oil supplement may be a safer way to prevent low levels.
Vegan Food List For Beginners: Supplements to Consider
Vegans may be at increased risk for certain nutrient deficiencies. A well-planned vegan diet that includes nutrient-dense whole foods and fortified foods can help provide adequate levels of nutrients, so some vegans may have difficulty eating enough nutrient-dense or fortified foods to meet their daily needs.
- Vitamin B12: Vitamin B12 in the form of cyanocobalamin is the most studied and appears to work well for most people.
- Vitamin D: Go for D2 or vegan D3 forms such as those made by Nordic Naturals or Viridian.
- EPA and DHA: From seaweed oil.
- Iron: Iron can only be supplemented in the case of a documented deficiency. Ingesting too much iron from supplements can lead to health complications and prevent absorption of other nutrients.
- Iodine: Take a supplement or add 1/2 teaspoon of iodized salt to your diet every day.
- Calcium: Calcium is best absorbed by the body when taken in doses of 500 mg or less at a time. Taking calcium with iron or zinc supplements may reduce their absorption.
- Zinc: Taken as zinc gluconate or zinc citrate. Do not take these at the same time as calcium supplements.
Vegan Food List For Beginners: An example of a vegan menu for a week
To get you started, here’s a simple plan covering a week of vegan meals:
Breakfast: Vegan breakfast sandwich with tofu, lettuce, tomato, turmeric, and a chai latte made with vegetable milk.
Lunch: Zucchini and quinoa spiral salad with a peanut vinaigrette.
Dinner: Red lentil and dal spinach on wild rice.
Breakfast: Night oats made from fruits, enriched vegetable milk, chia seeds and nuts.
Lunch: Sauerkraut sandwich with seitan .
Dinner: Pasta with a lentil bolognese sauce, zucchini noodles, and a side salad.
Breakfast: Mango and spinach smoothie made with enriched vegetable milk and a banana-line-walnut muffin.
Lunch: Baked tofu sandwich with a tomato salad.
Dinner: Vegan chili on a bed of amaranth.
Breakfast: Whole grain toast with hazelnut butter, banana and fortified vegetable yogurt.
Lunch: Tofu noodle soup with vegetables.
Dinner: Sweet potato wrap with lettuce, corn, beans, cashews and guacamole.
Breakfast: Vegan omelet with chickpeas and onion and a cappuccino made with enriched vegetable milk.
Lunch: Vegan tacos with mango pineapple salsa.
Dinner: Tempeh stir-fry with bok choy, steamed carrots and broccoli.
Breakfast: Wrap of spinach and scrambled tofu and a glass of enriched vegetable milk.
Lunch: Spicy red lentil, tomato, and kale soup with whole-grain toast and hummus.
Dinner: Vegetarian sushi rolls, miso soup, edamame, and wakame salad.
Breakfast: Chickpea pancakes, guacamole and salsa, and a glass of enriched orange juice.
Lunch: Vegan tofu quiche with a side of sautéed mustard leaves.
Dinner: Vegan spring rolls.
If you vary your sources of protein and vegetables throughout the day, that will help to give different vitamins and minerals that are important for your health.
Vegan Food List For Beginners: How to eat vegan in restaurants
Dining out as a vegan can be a challenge. One way to reduce stress is to identify vegan friendly restaurants in advance by using websites or apps.
When eating at a non-vegan establishment, see what vegan options they have for you ahead of time by browsing their menu online.
Sometimes calling ahead allows the chef to organize something just for you. This allows you to arrive at the restaurant with the hope that you have something more interesting than a side salad to order.
When choosing a restaurant on the fly, research about their vegan options as soon as you enter the restaurant, ideally before you sit down. When in doubt, go for ethnic restaurants. They tend to have dishes that are naturally vegan or that can be easily changed to become so Indian, Mexican, Thai, Middle Eastern, Ethiopian, and Indian restaurants tend to be great options.
Once in the restaurant, select the vegetarian options on the menu and ask if the dairy or eggs can be removed to make the dish vegan.
Another simple tip is to order several vegan appetizers or sides to prepare a meal.
Vegan Food List For Beginners: Healthy vegan snacks
Snacks are a great way to stay energized and fight hunger between meals. Some interesting and portable vegan options include:
- Fresh fruit with a spoonful of nut butter
- Hummus and vegetables
- Nutritional yeast sprinkled with popcorn
- Roasted chickpeas
- Nut and fruit bars
- Mix of trails
- Chia pudding
- Homemade muffins
- Whole wheat pita with salsa and guacamole
- Plant-based milk cereals
- Whole Grain Crackers and Cashew Spread
- Coffee with vegetable milk.
- Dried seaweed snacks