What Does a Well-Planned Vegan Diet Look Like?

Vegan Blog

Leigh-Anne Wooten MS, RDN/LDN, FAND

Registered Dietitian

In honor of World Vegan Month this November, check out our latest blog that takes the guesswork out of creating your own “well thought out” Vegan Diet.

It’s November, which means it’s time to celebrate…. World Vegan Month!  If this month is inspiring you to try a more plant-forward or even a vegan way of eating, read on to learn how to set yourself up for success.
Do a quick Google Scholar search and you will find plenty of studies (like this one) showing that a well-thought-out, vegan diet improves pretty much every measure of overall health, can help maintain a healthy weight, and reduces the risk of chronic disease (including diabetes, obesity, cardiovascular disease, cancer, etc.), but what does ‘well thought-out’ even mean?  What nutrients, and more importantly, what foods should vegans (and anyone focused on a more plant-forward diet) focus on to ensure it is well balanced?

 

Vegan doesn’t always equal healthy

First, let’s set the stage.  While a vegan diet can be incredibly nutrient-dense, there are just as many vegan foods that are laden with excess calories, saturated fat, and sodium and offer little to no vitamins or minerals.  Getting comfortable with reading the nutrition facts panel will serve you well in learning not only how to determine which foods are vegan, but also which ones provide more nutrition. 

That doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy these foods on occasion, just that they should be balanced with a wider variety of plant foods that provide more nutrients to meet that goal of ‘well-thought-out’.  The best recommendation? Not perfection, but focusing on the big picture, aiming to eat a wide variety of foods including whole grains, nuts, seeds (like chia!), legumes, fruits, and vegetables that will provide your body with the wide array of nutrients it needs to not only function but thrive.

Specific Nutrient Recommendations for Vegans

Moving toward a vegan diet does require a little research to find new food sources for some nutrients, but once you learn the basics, following a healthful vegan diet can become second nature.  That being said, some vegans can fall short of several specific nutrients as they’re mainly found in animal-based foods.  Here is a list of the most critical nutrients and vegan sources where they can be found:

Vitamins:

  • Vitamin A: This vitamin is only found in animal based foods, but certain fruits and especially deep orange vegetables like winter squash, pumpkin, sweet potatoes, and carrots are rich in the precursor to vitamin A, aka beta-carotene that your body can then turn into vitamin A. Dark leafy greens are also good sources.  Eating healthy fat (like a drizzle of our Cold Pressed Chia Oil over these veggies) increases the absorption of beta-carotene.   This trick also works when you are eating foods high in Vitamin D as these are both fat-soluble vitamins, meaning the body needs fat in order to absorb them. 
  • Vitamin B12: can be found in nutritional yeast and fortified foods like cereal.
  • Vitamin D: is also known as the sunshine vitamin, meaning your body can make this vitamin from sunlight. However, most of us aren’t outside long enough, are wearing sunscreen, or the sun isn’t high enough in the sky for us to get enough vitamin D.  And unfortunately, vitamin D is not easily found in plants.  The best sources include certain mushrooms raised under UV light and fortified dairy alternatives (like SOW Chia Milk), and fortified cereals.

Minerals:

  • Calcium: is found in fortified plant-based dairy alternatives (like our Chia Milk). Other plant sources include broccoli, soy, leafy greens like kale and bok choy, oranges, and chia seeds.
  • Iron: There are plenty of plant iron sources including soy, lentils, beans, peas, nuts, seeds (including chia), leafy greens, and other fortified foods like cereal. Remember that iron found in plants is not absorbed as well as iron from meat.  To enhance absorption, try:
    • Eating iron-rich foods alongside vitamin C-rich foods (vitamin C increases the absorption of iron)
    • Using a cast iron skillet (small amounts of iron from the skillet leach into the food)
    • Avoiding coffee, tea, and foods high in calcium while eating iron-rich foods (These iron decrease absorption.)
  • Zinc: which can be found in legumes, nuts, seeds (like, you guessed it, chia!), and soy.

Macronutrients:

  • Omega-3 fat (the healthy fat): Not only are omega-3’s essential for the body to perform basic functions, studies continually show that they also may help prevent certain chronic diseases including heart disease, stroke, and cancer. Chia seeds are the best source of plant omega-3’s followed by walnuts, flax, and hemp seeds.
  • Protein: Contrary to popular belief, vegan can get enough protein daily. Sources include some dairy alternatives, soy, nuts, seeds (chia for the win, again!), legumes, and whole grains.

Vegan Culinary Inspiration

A vegan diet is not all about eating raw boring plants.  With a little creativity, it can truly be enjoyable and delicious! 

Looking for some fun and easy vegan foods that are packed with nutrition?  Try our Unsweetened Chia Milk.  It’s vegan, low in calories, and has 740mg of heart-healthy omega-3 fats.  You can add it to cereal, smoothies, and soups, like this delicious vegan vegetable soup

Or, try our Cold Pressed Chia Oil which contains 3000mg of healthy plant-based omega-3 fats in just 1 tsp.  It has a medium-high smoke point (up to 420 degrees F°) meaning while you can use it in salad dressings or sauces, like this green pesto, you can also cook and bake with it!  Enjoy!


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