This post is also available in: Deutsch (German)
Often, when I share that I am vegan, the question of what vegans eat comes up at some point in the conversation. From a non-vegan view, it seems that there are so many foods vegans avoid, that they only have a few things left to eat.
I totally get that impression. When I first went vegan, I was also primarily focused on all the things that I could not eat anymore. Stuck in this limiting mindset, I wasn’t aware of the wide variety of options that I actually have.
Maybe as a new vegan, you feel the same way and want to learn more about the various foods available on a vegan diet. Or maybe, your diet is a bit one-sided, and you’re looking to incorporate more variation. Or perhaps you’re a carnist and merely curious about what vegans eat. Either way, this post gives you the answers because we take a look at the five main food groups of a vegan diet and how they are used to make delicious meals.
The first major food group is vegetables. This group provides vegans with many vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals. Vegetables tend to be very rich in fiber and water. Aside from a few exceptions (e.g., potatoes, peas), they are rather low in calories, protein, and fat.
Most vegetables can be consumed either raw or cooked.The healthiest vegetables are cabbage and cruciferous vegetables because they contain the most vitamins and minerals. They are particularly rich in vitamin C, vitamin K, folic acid, carotenoids, and provide more protein than other vegetables. In addition, they support liver detoxification.
Salad greens are rather low in nutrients and fiber. However, this varies from type to type.
Bulb vegetables provide relatively high amounts of selenium, vitamin B1, and vitamin B6. Plus, they contain moderate amounts of vitamin C.
Mushrooms are also very healthy and are one of the few plant sources of provitamin D. They are also rich in selenium, zinc, potassium, carotenoids, vitamin B3, and vitamin B5. Also, they can have a positive effect on the immune system, protect the nervous system, have an antimicrobial effect, and help reduce cholesterol. However, mushrooms should only be consumed in moderation because they may contain heavy metals such as mercury and radioactive decay products.
Algae are f.e. used for sushi and are a common iodine source for vegans. Moreover, many vegans supplement the omega-3 fatty acids DHA and EPA with oil derived from microalgae. Further, algae may have a positive effect on the prevention of obesity, type 2 diabetes, and cancer.
Generally, most vegan main courses include vegetables.
Examples are spaghetti with tomato sauce and a side salad, stuffed bell peppers, curry, vegetable pizza, Zoodles, stir-fry with tofu, Buddha Bowls, etc.
Leafy vegetables such as spinach, arugula, and kale are popular ingredients for (green) smoothies.
- Sweet potatoes
- Red cabbage
- Salad greens (iceberg lettuce, endive)
- Bell pepper
The second major food group is fruit, which also contains many health-promoting components. It is usually very rich in vitamin C, potassium, and antioxidants, which, among others, support the prevention of chronic diseases.
Fruit also contains a lot of carbohydrates, water, and (depending on the type and ripeness) sugar. Proteins and fats are present in fruit only in small quantities. Although fruit is the most popular raw, it also tastes delicious cooked (e.g., as compote, in a cake, as jam, etc.).The healthiest fruits are berries. Usually, the darker the berry, the higher the antioxidant content. Consuming berries can help prevent chronic diseases such as cancer, cardiovascular disease, and neurodegenerative diseases.
Fruit is great for smoothies, as an ingredient in muesli/oatmeal/porridge or as a healthy snack.
Furthermore, it is a part of numerous desserts, f.e. delicious tarts or refreshing Nicecream.
- Aronia berry
Grains are probably the most significant staple in any diet and the third major food group for vegans. They are an excellent source of carbohydrates, proteins, fiber, vitamins, minerals, and trace elements. Zinc and iron are especially abundant in grains.
Furthermore, grains contain mainly polyunsaturated fatty acids, so healthy fats.
The combination of grains and legumes is very valuable for getting enough protein on a vegan diet (see Protein in the Vegan Diet). Moreover, sprouted grains are exceptionally nutritious and an excellent source of protein.Since most of the vitamins and minerals are located in the shell, you should choose whole grains as often as possible.
Moreover, grains contain phytic acid, which can reduce the absorption of nutrients such as iron, magnesium, zinc, and calcium. Soaking, sprouting, and fermenting grains reduces this acid, and thus, increases nutrient absorption.
Pseudo-grains contain bitter substances. You can remove these by washing the grain with hot water before cooking it.
The regular consumption of whole grains can reduce the risk of obesity, type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and cancer.
However, many grains contain gluten and are, therefore, not suitable for people with gluten intolerance or gluten sensitivity.
Grain products usually act as a base for main courses. So f.e. as noodles in pasta dishes, rice with curries and stews, oats for breakfast.
Breads and wraps are also used in a variety of meals.
The fourth major food group is legumes. These are super important in the vegan diet because they are particularly nutritious and super versatile.
Moreover, they are an excellent source of plant protein, especially in combination with whole grains. The fat content in legumes varies greatly. While lentils, for example, contain only small amounts, soybeans are very high in fat.
Further, it’s important to mention that legumes should never be eaten raw . Thus, dried ones must be soaked overnight and then cooked according to package instructions. You should also briefly heat sprouts before consuming them.
Like whole grains, legumes contain phytic acid, which can be broken down by soaking, sprouting, or fermenting.
If, until now, you’ve not consumed legumes regularly, you should give your body time to get used to them. Otherwise, you may experience digestive problems and bloating. To help minimize these initial side effects, you can incorporate spices such as ginger, cumin, turmeric, and cilantro into your dishes.
Regular consumption of legumes can support the prevention of cardiovascular disease and cancer.
Legumes are used extensively in the vegan diet. They are especially popular in the form of hummus, tofu, tempeh, or as the main ingredient in vegan burger patties or falafel.
Also, they are part of many vegan recipes f.e. curries, tacos, burritos, Buddha bowls, salads, etc.
- White beans
- Green beans
- Kidney beans
5. Nuts and seeds
Furthermore, nuts and seeds are high in fat, particularly in mono- and polyunsaturated fatty acids. Moreover, they can support the prevention of type II diabetes and obesity.
Also, nuts and seeds are an excellent omega-3 source.
Nuts are particularly suitable as snacks, f.e. in combination with fruit.
Seeds are a common ingredient in smoothies, muesli/oatmeal, and salads.
Furthermore, both are often processed to nut/seed butter, which is widely used in vegan cooking. Tahini, for example, is tasty as a salad dressing in combination with lemon juice or balsamic vinegar. Almond butter, for instance, is delicious on toast and a common ingredient in many recipes.
Moreover, lots of plant milk is made from nuts, and you can even make vegan cheese out of cashews, for example.
- Brazil nuts
- Pine nuts
- Chia seeds
- Pumpkin seeds
- Flax seeds
- Sesame seeds
- Sunflower seeds
What is the next step?
The knowledge that you acquired here will help you implement a healthy, whole-foods vegan diet. 😀
The following posts will help you incorporate these foods into your diet, prepare delicious meals, and meet your nutritional needs.
What is your favorite food group?
For me, the answer is fruit. 🙂