Kickstart your week with this healthy vegan meal plan recommended by a registered dietician
- A healthy
vegandiet should consist of nutrient-dense whole foods, like fresh fruits and vegetables, as well as plant-based proteins from foods like beans, nuts, and legumes.
- B12 and vitamin D are the most common nutritional deficiencies on a vegan diet, so it's important to make sure you're getting enough of these vitamins through fortified foods or supplements.
- Many studies show that vegan and plant-based eating can promote weight control, maintain healthy cholesterol levels, and help you live a longer, healthier life.
"I recommend vegan or plant-based diets for anyone who wants to prevent or manage lifestyle, diseases or who wants to optimize
What to eat and drink on the vegan diet"B12 and vitamin D," are the most common nutritional deficiencies on a vegan diet, says Sharon Palmer, MSFS, RDN, who is a dietitian in private practice, author of "The Plant Powered Diet" and a vegan herself.
"The key to a healthy vegan diet is variety and balance," says Palmer. As a general rule, Palmer suggests the following foods to eat and drink on a vegan diet:Eat often:
- Plant proteins, whole grains, fruits, and vegetables (in a variety of colors) at every meal
- Beans and legumes, at every meal
- Nuts and seeds daily
- Fortified plant-based milk daily
- Plant-based oils, like extra virgin olive oil and avocado oil
- Water often throughout the day
Eat in moderation:
- Plant-based oils
- Alcohol (beer, wine, spirits)
- Coffee and tea
- Vegan chocolate
- Highly processed foods such as potato chips and pastries
- Sweetened sodas
7-day sample vegan diet meal planAccording to Palmer, here is an example of a healthy 7-day vegan meal plan. Adjust portion size to what best fits your daily caloric needs. A typical 2,000 calorie diet might include three full meals that are each 600 calories, and two snacks that are 100 calories each.
Breakfast: Protein-rich, plant-based plain yogurt, such as those from Forager, Kite Hill and So Delicious, with berries and walnuts
Lunch: Tofu-kale-quinoa salad with vinaigrette
Dinner: Vegetable and chickpea stew with whole grain breadMid-morning snack: Fruit and nuts
Breakfast: Whole-wheat toast with mashed avocado and tempeh slicesLunch: Greek vegetable salad topped with white beans and vinaigrette Dinner: Seitan vegetable stir-fry with brown rice
Mid-morning snack: Whole grain flatbread with nut butter
Mid-afternoon snack: Fruit slices with nutsDay 3
Breakfast: Tofu scramble with spinach, tomato, and whole wheat breadLunch: Pasta cooked with bean, artichokes, kalamata olives, garlic, tomatoes, olive oil, and herbs
Mid-morning snack: Plant-based yogurt and fruitMid-afternoon snack: Fruit with nuts
Day 4Breakfast: Whole-wheat toast with peanut butter, orange wedges
Lunch: Power bowl with quinoa, vegetables, edamame, and almonds
Dinner: Veggie burger with whole grain bun, lettuce, tomatoes, avocado, condimentsMid-morning snack: Hummus with vegetables
Mid-afternoon snack: Fruit slices with nuts
Lunch: Vegetable chili with whole-grain crackersDinner: Vegan chickpea vegetable paella
Mid-morning snack: Fruit and nut smoothieMid-afternoon snack: Apple slices with tahini Day 6
Breakfast: Breakfast burrito with corn tortilla, black beans, and sautéed vegetablesLunch: Greek pita with white beans and cucumber-tomato salad
Dinner: Thai tofu vegetable stir-fry with brown rice
Mid-morning snack: Peanut butter with bananaMid-afternoon snack: Whole grain flatbread and pumpkin or sunflower seeds
Breakfast: Steel-cut oats with fruit, plant-based milk, and walnuts
Lunch: Black bean tacos with a side of roasted broccoliDinner: Polenta topped with roasted eggplant, mushroom, beans, and red pepper ragout Mid-morning snack: Fruit and nut butter smoothie
Mid-afternoon snack: Trail mix
Vegan vs. vegetarian vs. plant-based diets
While they may seem similar, there are some key differences between the terms vegan, vegetarian, and plant-based:
- Vegan: Plant-exclusive, devoid of any animal products (no dairy or eggs).
- Vegetarian: Plant-based, includes dairy and eggs
- Plant-based: Largely plant-based, but can include small amounts of animal food products. The Mediterranean diet is an example because it also contains some animal-based foods, mainly seafood, dairy, and eggs
The main dietary difference between vegetarians and vegans is the latter eat no animal products, including dairy, eggs, honey, and gelatin. Many vegans also avoid animal products to take a stand against animal cruelty and exploitation.
Benefits of a vegan and plant-based diet
Rajaram says that many studies show that vegan and plant-based eating can improve health. Major health benefits include:Weight control: The types of foods that vegans eat, including fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds, and legumes, are high in fiber and health-protective phytonutrients. Rajaram says eating plant foods that are nutrient-dense can help increase satiety or fullness and can even lead to weight loss. A 2013 study found that a group following a vegan diet for 18 weeks lost about 9.5 pounds whereas the control group lost less than a pound. Research also shows that plant-based diets help prevent and help manage type 2 diabetes.
Longevity: All of the health benefits of a vegan diet, including weight control and lower cholesterol and blood pressure, also lead to a lower risk of dying from heart disease, according to a 2019 study. Research has also shown that vegan diets may even lead to a reduction in the risk of getting cancer.
Vegan diet risks and disadvantages"There are two ways that a vegan diet can be unhealthy," says Rajaram. "One way is by eating processed foods, like potato chips and soda. They are plant-based but are not 'whole foods,' which make up a healthy vegan diet. The second way a vegan diet can be unhealthy is to not get the appropriate nutrients your body needs, even if you're eating a whole-food-based vegan diet."
The best way to tackle these challenges is to work with a registered dietitian, says Rajaram, especially if you've never eaten a primarily plant-based diet.Here are some ways Palmer helps clients incorporate important nutrients like B12 and vitamin D into their meal plans:
- B12 is necessary for healthy brain function and the formation of red blood cells. "All vegans should worry about this, because B12 comes from animal products, and too little B12 can lead to negative neurological effects," says Palmer. While there are some foods fortified with B12, most vegans should take supplements, she says. Her recommended dose: 1,000 micrograms of B12 two times per week or 250 micrograms daily.
- Vitamin D is important for bone health, as well as many other benefits, including possibly reducing depression. Vegans can get Vitamin D from moderate sun exposure, fortified plant-based milk, such as almond or soy milk, as well as from mushrooms exposed to light, says Palmer. "Almost everyone is short on this, no matter what type of diet they follow," says Palmer. She recommends scheduling a blood test every year with your doctor to check vitamin D levels.
"If you have severe food allergies, such as to soy, tree nuts, or gluten, you may have difficulty following a vegan diet," says Palmer. Similarly, she says, if you have digestive conditions that are triggered by high fiber consumption, you may have difficulty with a plant-based diet.
On a practical level, you may experience some difficulties making vegan food.Yet finding vegan ingredients is easier than ever. "We're so lucky that today you can find vegan food alternatives, like veggie burgers, vegan butter, and plant-based milks, at your local supermarket," says Palmer. Many items require little or no cooking or additional preparation, she says.
For a family that doesn't embrace vegan eating, "try modifying family favorite recipes, like lasagna, or start meatless Mondays and make a veggie pizza," says Palmer. Not all of Palmer's family members are vegan, and sometimes they grill their own piece of fish or chicken to accompany plant-based foods.
Choosing a vegan diet is a great way to maximize your chances of leading a long and healthy life. Today you can often find vegan foods and alternatives at your local supermarket.A great way to start is to try eating a healthy, fulfilling vegan diet for one week. Try following a vegan meal plan that offers plenty of plant proteins, whole grains, fruits, vegetables, beans, legumes, nuts, seeds, and fortified plant-based milk.
Related stories from Health Reference:
- What is a vegan diet? A guide for getting enough nutrients
- How to get protein as a vegan from 6 plant-based foods including sources of complete proteins
- Why the Mediterranean diet is touted as one of the best by dietitians
- What is the difference between veganism and vegetarianism? The health benefits and downsides of each
- Does intermittent fasting work? Research doesn't have a definite answer for its long-term effects
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