The Fundamentals of Eating Vegan
Have you been coaxed by family and friends to experience the delicious world of vegan cuisine, packed with nutritious, plant-based ingredients and bursting with bold flavors? Your taste buds (and body) will thank you for doing so.
It’s not surprising if you have: Globally, there is a steady rise in people following the vegan pathway. According to a 2018 report, around 50% of millennials were interested in veganism; a recent survey show that the 18- to 19-year-old population is the most invested (at 7 percent) in following a vegan diet.
People often switch to veganism due to a health scare, for ethical reasons, or simply to embrace healthy, plant-based food. Medical health professionals began to recommend it even a decade ago. Take cardiologist Dr Kim A. Williams, who recommended a plant-based diet, “because I know it’s going to lower [patients’] blood pressure, improve their insulin sensitivity, and decrease their cholesterol.”
Types of food options for vegans
So, what food can vegans eat? A vegan diet is based on plants, but there’s a wide variety within that category. Vegan chef, author, and health coach JL Fields breaks it down for us, “A vegan diet is one that includes five food groups: vegetables, fruits, beans, grains, and nuts and seeds.”
The Roundglass Ingredient Encyclopedia is ripe with possibilities. Here are some examples of foods that can easily be included as part of a vegan diet:
Nuts and seeds
In addition to these staples, a vegan diet may also include plant-based milk and milk alternatives (such as almond milk, soy milk, or oat milk), plant-based meat alternatives (such as tofu, tempeh, and seitan), and plant-based sources of fat (such as avocado oil, olive oil, and coconut oil).
“When the diet is limited by choice, it is more important than ever to include as much diversity as possible. This can be achieved by regularly rotating grains, legumes, seasonal fruits, vegetables, and herbs as well as experimenting with different recipes,” recommends Roundglass Director of Nutrition, Keri Romerdahl. “It’s best to consult your nutritionist to choose vegan options which are minimally or traditionally processed and well balanced,” she adds.
Roundglass teacher JL Fields introduces the five vegan food groups through a hippie bowl recipe
How can I add vegan foods to my diet?
There are many ways to incorporate these foods into a complete vegan diet.
Eat grains as part of a breakfast bowl, with fruit and plant-based milk. Or use them as a base for a salad or stir-fry, or as a side dish.
Legumes can be used to make soups, stews, and dips, or added to salads and grain dishes for protein.
Vegetables can be eaten raw or cooked and added to a wide variety of dishes, including soups, stews, stir-fries, and grain bowls. Fruits can be eaten on their own, as a snack, or added to smoothies and breakfast bowls.
Use nuts and seeds as a topping for oatmeal and salads or blended into nut butter.
What are the nutritional benefits of vegan food?
A well-rounded vegan diet is nutritious, as it is high in fiber, antioxidants, and other beneficial plant compounds. Vegan diets are often lower in saturated fat and cholesterol, which can help reduce the risk of heart disease.
However, it is important for vegans to be mindful of getting enough protein, vitamins, and minerals in their diet, as these nutrients can be more difficult to obtain from plant-based foods. This may require some planning and attention to dietary needs, such as ensuring sufficient intake of protein, iron, calcium, omega-3s, magnesium, vitamins D and B12, and iodine.
• Plant protein can be found in dal, beans (kidney, chickpeas), edamame, tofu, tempeh, barley, sorghum, quinoa, amaranth, hemp seeds, wild rice, natto, nutritional yeast, spirulina, and oats.
• Iron from plant foods can be found in lentils, chia and pumpkin seeds, chickpeas, beans, kale, figs and pomegranate, apricots, raisins, and quinoa.
• Calcium sources for vegans include soybean products, lentils, white and black beans, kidney beans, Brazil nuts, walnuts and almonds, chia and flax seeds, and grains like amaranth. Calcium is also found in seaweed, dark leafy greens, cabbage, broccoli, kale, and Brussels sprouts.
• If you’re looking for vitamin B12, try adding fortified almond and soy milk, tempeh, nori seaweed, nutritional yeast, and marmite to your vegan diet.
• Plant foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids include nuts and seeds like flaxseeds, walnuts, seaweed, and hemp seeds.
• Iodine deficiency in vegan diets can be remedied by consuming seaweed, such as nori and kelp, or kombucha.
“Vegans can achieve a balanced macro and micronutrient profile, but it often takes more effort and precision. I recommend annual bloodwork to stay on top of micronutrient levels before they become deficiencies. While important for everyone, this is especially critical for vegans, who may be at a higher risk for nutritional deficiencies,” says Romerdahl.
It may be necessary for vegans to find fortified foods or supplements to ensure they are getting enough of these nutrients.
What are some easy vegan recipes?
As vegan chef, author, and health coach JL Fields says, “Vegan cooking can be fun and completely doable.”
Many delicious and satisfying vegan dishes can be prepared using a wide variety of plant-based ingredients. Here are a few examples of building-block vegan dishes that can easily be made at home:
This dish can be made by stir-frying a variety of vegetables (such as broccoli, bell peppers, fennel and onions) with tofu or tempeh, and serving over a bed of rice or noodles. Try stir-frying pumpkin leaves or okra and other vegetables.
Vegan pasta dishes
Pasta can actually be a great complete meal, provided the carbs and protein (from durum wheat) in the noodles are supplemented with veggies and herbs or spices. Toss cooked vegan pasta (made without egg) with a sauce of pureed or chunky vegetables and tomatoes or roasted red peppers, nuts, and seasonings. Not a fan of tomatoes? Even a simple “Puttanesca Bianca” can be intensely satisfying.
Vegan grain bowl
Combine cooked grains (such as quinoa or brown rice and others) with a variety of vegetables, legumes (such as beans or lentils), and a plant-based protein source (such as tofu or tempeh). With added spices, nuts, and seeds, overnight oats are a variation on this concept.
Simmer a variety of vegetables (such as carrots, onions, and potatoes) in broth with legumes (such as lentils or chickpeas) and spices. This Creamy Broccoli and Coconut Soup is a winner.
Blend a variety of fruits (such as berries and bananas) with plant-based milk (such as almond milk or soy milk) and a source of protein (nuts or even tofu) to create smoothie drinks or bowls. Try using local, seasonal fruits, veggies, and greens.
Once you start experimenting with vegan prep and cooking, you’ll find an array of tastes, flavors, and textures to play with. Take, for example, Joanne Lee Molinaro, author of The Korean Vegan Cookbook, who set out to find a way to make the food she grew up eating but without animal products and ended up reinventing her grandmother’s recipes. Try our recipes for Vegan XO Sauce or Vegan Choron Sauce to tap into a reimagining of sauces through a vegan lens.
These are just a few examples of the many vegan dishes that can be prepared at home. With a little creativity and a willingness to experiment with new ingredients, it is possible to create a wide variety of delicious and satisfying vegan meals.
Vegan Myths: Is it hard to follow a plant-based diet?
There can be challenges and difficulties associated with following a vegan diet, particularly if you are not used to eating this way, or if you have limited access to a variety of vegetables, fruit, and other plant-based foods.
Here are a few common challenges that people may encounter when following a vegan diet, along with some tips for overcoming them:
Some nutrients, such as protein, iron, calcium, and vitamin B12, are more commonly found in animal-derived foods. It is important for vegans to ensure that they are getting enough of these nutrients, either through fortified foods, supplements, and/or a good balance of the food groups mentioned above.
Limited food options
Depending on where you live, you may have limited access to a variety of plant-based foods. In this case, it may be helpful to seek out online sources or specialty stores where you can purchase a wider range of vegan products.
It can be challenging to follow a vegan diet in certain social situations, particularly if you are eating with non-vegans who may not be familiar with your dietary needs. Consider bringing your own food, and letting the host know in advance about your dietary restrictions.
Meal planning and preparation
It can take a little bit of extra effort to plan and prepare vegan meals, particularly if you are not used to cooking with plant-based ingredients. To make things easier, try batch cooking or meal prepping in advance.
Learn tips for vegan meal preps from Roundglass teacher JL Fields
To go vegan be proactive and educate yourself about its nutritional needs. They key to vegan wellbeing is to continue on your journey positively. With some planning and preparation, it’s easy to follow a vegan diet in a healthy and sustainable way.
- Build immunity
- Support heart health
- Reduce stress on the planet’s resources