by Rachael Link, MS, RD | The vegan diet is an eating plan that eliminates all animal products, including meat, fish, eggs, dairy, and honey. People decide to adopt veganism for different reasons, such as ethical concerns or religious principles.
Vegan diets have been linked to a variety of health benefits, including improved weight management and protection against certain chronic diseases.
However, finding balanced, healthy meals on a vegan diet can often be difficult and overwhelming.
If improperly planned, vegan diets may cause nutritional deficiencies and health problems.
This article provides a healthy vegan meal plan and sample menu to get you started.
What is a Vegan Diet?
The vegan diet is an eating plan that eliminates all animal products, including meat, fish, eggs, dairy, and honey.
People decide to adopt veganism for different reasons, such as ethical concerns or religious principles.
Others may decide to become vegan to decrease their ecological footprint, as plant-based diets are thought to generate fewer greenhouse gas emissions and use fewer natural resources.
Still, the environmental impact of any diet depends on multiple factors, including the way that foods are produced, packaged, and transported.
Some also decide to follow a vegan diet for health reasons, as veganism is associated with a multitude of benefits and may even help prevent certain chronic diseases.
In particular, vegan diets have been shown to improve heart health, increase weight loss, and support blood sugar control.
SUMMARY Vegan diets eliminate all animal products, including meat and dairy. People may adopt veganism for ethical, religious, environmental, or health reasons.
Health Benefits of Veganism
Research demonstrates that a well-rounded vegan diet may improve several aspects of your health.
According to one review, vegans have a 75% lower risk of developing high blood pressure than omnivores, or those who eat both meat and plants.
They also tend to have a lower body mass index (BMI) and lower levels of total and LDL (bad) cholesterol. High levels for these markers are all risk factors for heart disease.
Vegan diets may also aid in weight management.
One study in 18 women found that following a vegan diet for 6 months resulted in decreased calorie and fat intake, as well as faster short-term weight loss, compared to a low-calorie, omnivorous diet.
Some research also suggests that veganism may be beneficial for blood sugar control and could help reduce your risk of diabetes.
In fact, one study in nearly 61,000 people showed that vegans were 2.6 times less likely to develop type 2 diabetes than omnivores.
A vegan diet may also reduce osteoarthritis symptoms — including joint pain and swelling — and your risk of certain cancers, such as those of the breast and prostate.
SUMMARY Vegan diets are associated with many benefits, including improved heart health, faster short-term weight loss, enhanced blood sugar control, less joint pain, and a decreased risk of cancer.
Vegan Shopping List
A healthy vegan diet should contain a variety of whole grains, proteins, healthy fats, and fruits and vegetables.
Foods like nuts, seeds, legumes, soy products, and nutritional yeast can all help boost your protein intake throughout the day.
Meanwhile, avocado oil, coconut oil, and olive oil are nutritious, vegan-friendly choices for healthy fats.
Here is a sample vegan shopping list to help get you started.
- Vegetables: asparagus, bell peppers, broccoli, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, garlic, kale, onions, potatoes, spinach, tomatoes, zucchini, etc.
- Fruits: apples, bananas, blueberries, grapes, grapefruit, lemons, limes, kiwis, oranges, peaches, pears, pomegranates, strawberries, etc.
- Vegetables: broccoli, Brussels sprouts, butternut squash, carrots, cauliflower, corn, green beans, peas, vegetable medley, etc.
- Fruits: blackberries, blueberries, cherries, mangoes, pineapples, raspberries, strawberries, etc.
- brown rice
Breads and pastas
- brown rice pasta
- Whole-wheat pasta
- sprouted bread, such as Ezekiel bread
- brown rice wraps
- Nuts: almonds, Brazil nuts, cashews, hazelnuts, macadamia nuts, peanuts, pecans, pistachios, walnuts, etc.
- Seeds: chia seeds, flax seeds, hemp seeds, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, sunflower seeds, etc.
- Legumes: black beans, chickpeas, kidney beans, lentils, navy beans, pinto beans, etc.
- Soy products: tempeh, tofu, etc.
- Protein powders: pea protein powder, brown rice protein, hemp protein, etc.
- Milk substitutes: almond, cashew, coconut, flax, oat, rice, and soy milks, etc.
- Yogurt substitutes: almond, cashew, coconut, flax, and soy yogurts, etc.
- Vegan cheese: vegan parmesan cheese, shredded and sliced varieties, etc.
- arrowroot powder
- chia seeds
- flax meal
- prepackaged vegan egg substitute
- silken tofu
- avocado oil
- coconut oil
- flax oil
- olive oil
- unsweetened coconut
- dark chocolate
- dried fruit
- fruit leather
- nut butter
- pita chips
- roasted chickpeas
- seaweed crisps
- trail mix
- coconut sugar
- maple syrup
- monk fruit
Spices and condiments
- cayenne pepper
- chili powder
- garlic powder
- ground ginger
- nutritional yeast
Note that many processed vegan products found at the store — such as vegan meat substitutes — are often loaded with sodium, fillers, additives, and other ingredients that may harm your health.
Try to stick to mostly whole, unprocessed foods — and steer clear of mock meats and other highly processed vegan ingredients and premade meals.
SUMMARY A balanced vegan diet should include a wide variety of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, proteins, and healthy fats.
Sample Meal Plan
Here is a sample one-week meal plan that features a few of the nutritious foods that can be enjoyed on a vegan diet.
- Breakfast: tempeh bacon with sautéed mushrooms, avocado, and wilted arugula
- Lunch: whole-grain pasta with lentil “meatballs” and a side salad
- Dinner: cauliflower and chickpea tacos with guacamole and pico de gallo
- Snacks: air-popped popcorn, kale chips, and trail mix
- Breakfast: coconut yogurt with berries, walnuts, and chia seeds
- Lunch: baked tofu with sautéed red cabbage, Brussels sprouts, and herbed couscous
- Dinner: mushroom lentil loaf with garlic cauliflower and Italian green beans
- Snacks: bell peppers with guacamole, fruit leather, and seaweed crisps
- Breakfast: sweet potato toast topped with peanut butter and banana
- Lunch: tempeh taco salad with quinoa, avocados, tomatoes, onions, beans, and cilantro
- Dinner: oat risotto with Swiss chard, mushrooms, and butternut squash
- Snacks: mixed berries, vegan protein shake, and walnuts
- Breakfast: eggless quiche with silken tofu, broccoli, tomatoes, and spinach
- Lunch: chickpea and spinach curry with brown rice
- Dinner: Mediterranean lentil salad with cucumbers, olives, peppers, sun-dried tomatoes, kale, and parsley
- Snacks: roasted edamame, sliced pear, and energy balls made from oats, chia seeds, nut butter, and dried fruit
- Breakfast: overnight oats with apple slices, pumpkin seeds, cinnamon, and nut butter
- Lunch: black bean veggie burger with steamed broccoli and sweet potato wedges
- Dinner: mac and “cheese” with nutritional yeast and collard greens
- Snacks: pistachios, homemade granola, and coconut chia pudding
- Breakfast: breakfast skillet with tempeh, broccoli, kale, tomatoes, and zucchini
- Lunch: garlic-ginger tofu with stir-fried veggies and quinoa
- Dinner: bean salad with black-eyed peas, tomatoes, corn, bell peppers, and onions
- Snacks: roasted pumpkin seeds, frozen grapes, and celery with almond butter
- Breakfast: whole-grain toast with avocado and nutritional yeast alongside a vegan protein shake
- Lunch: lentil chili with grilled asparagus and baked potato
- Dinner: vegetable paella with brown rice, onions, tomatoes, bell peppers, artichoke, and chickpeas
- Snacks: almonds, fruit salad, and carrots with hummus
SUMMARY The sample meal plan listed above highlights many of the healthy ingredients and dishes that can be enjoyed on a well-rounded vegan diet.
Potential Downsides and Precautions
Although a well-rounded vegan diet can be healthy and nutritious, a vegan diet that is not properly planned can harm your health.
Here are a few factors that you may want to consider when starting a vegan diet.
Vegan diets may be associated with an increased risk of several nutritional deficiencies.
This is because meat, fish, and poultry are rich in several important nutrients that are mostly lacking in plant-based foods, including protein, iron, zinc, vitamin B12, phosphorus, and omega-3 fatty acids.
Animal products like eggs and dairy are also high in protein and micronutrients like calcium, potassium, phosphorus, iodine, iron, and magnesium.
Completely cutting these foods out of your diet can increase your risk of nutritional deficiencies.
In particular, vegans may be at a higher risk of deficiency for vitamin B12, vitamin D, calcium, iodine, iron, and protein.
This can lead to an increased risk of issues like anemia, weakened bones, and impaired immunity.
Low levels of vitamin B12 can be especially concerning during pregnancy, as a deficiency could potentially increase the risk of neural tube defects and impair your baby’s brain and nervous system.
Including a variety of nutrient-rich ingredients and fortified foods in your diet is necessary to ensure you’re meeting your nutritional needs.
Vitamin B12 and vitamin D can be found in fortified foods, such as plant-based milks, cereals, and nutritional yeast.
Meanwhile, protein, zinc, and iron are found in legumes, soy products, nuts, and seeds.
Including moderate amounts of iodized salt in your diet can also help you meet your needs for iodine.
It can be challenging to meet your nutritional needs while following a vegan diet.
Certain nutrients like vitamin B12, vitamin D, and iodine, are found primarily in animal products and certain fortified foods.
Plus, while non-heme iron occurs in a variety of plant foods, it may not be as well absorbed as the heme iron found in animal products.
Taking a multivitamin or other supplements can help fill in any nutritional gaps and provide key micronutrients that you may be missing.
For best results, look for a multivitamin that contains vitamin B12, zinc, iron, vitamin D, and calcium.
Keep in mind that it’s typically recommended to supplement with higher amounts of vitamin B12 than the Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA), as your body is only able to absorb a small amount at a time.
Try to aim for 2,000–2,500 mcg of vitamin B12 per week. This can be divided into several smaller doses and may require a separate supplement in addition to your multivitamin.
You may also want to consider taking algal oil, a plant-based form of omega-3 fatty acid. Your body needs this kind of fat for optimal heart health, brain function, and disease prevention.
Supplements like vegan B12 and algal oil can be commonly found online.
SUMMARY When not properly planned, vegan diets can increase your risk of several nutritional deficiencies. Following a balanced diet and taking certain supplements can help ensure you’re getting the nutrients your body needs.
The Bottom Line
Well-rounded vegan diets are healthy, nutritious, and associated with a number of health benefits, including improved heart health, blood sugar, and body mass.
Following a vegan meal plan can help you incorporate many nutrient-rich, whole foods into your diet to provide your body with the nutrients it needs.
Keep in mind that supplements and proper planning are essential to avoid deficiencies in several critical nutrients.
If you’re interested in veganism, check out this foods list and meal plan to get creative ideas for your next vegan dish.
Rachael Link, MS, RD is a registered dietitian based in New York City. Rachael completed her undergraduate degree in Missouri and received her Master’s degree from New York University. She is passionate about plant-based nutrition and achieving better health by balancing her time between the kitchen and the gym. She also enjoys sharing healthy recipes and nutrition tips on her blog and Instagram.