Vegans avoid eating animal foods for environmental, ethical or health reasons.
Unfortunately, following a diet based exclusively on plants may put some people at a higher risk of nutrient deficiencies.
This is especially true when vegan diets are not well planned.
For vegans who want to stay healthy, consuming a nutrient-rich diet with whole and fortified foods is very important.
Here are 11 foods and food groups that should be part of a healthy vegan diet.
In an effort to exclude all forms of animal exploitation and cruelty, vegans avoid traditional sources of protein and iron such as meat, poultry, fish and eggs.
Therefore, it’s important to replace these animal products with protein- and iron-rich plant alternatives, such as legumes.
Beans, lentils and peas are great options that contain 10–20 grams of protein per cooked cup.
They’re also excellent sources of fiber, slowly digested carbs, iron, folate, manganese, zinc, antioxidants and other health-promoting plant compounds (1, 2, 3, 4).
However, legumes also contain a good amount of antinutrients, which can reduce the absorption of minerals.
For instance, iron absorption from plants is estimated to be 50% lower than that from animal sources. Similarly, vegetarian diets seem to reduce zinc absorption by about 35% compared to those containing meat (5, 6).
It’s advantageous to sprout, ferment or cook legumes well because these processes can decrease the levels of antinutrients (7).
To increase your absorption of iron and zinc from legumes, you may also want to avoid consuming them at the same time as calcium-rich foods. Calcium can hinder their absorption if you consume it at the same time (8). In contrast, eating legumes in combination with vitamin C-rich fruits and vegetables can further increase your absorption of iron (9).
BOTTOM LINE:Beans, lentils and peas are nutrient-rich plant alternatives to animal-derived foods. Sprouting, fermenting and proper cooking can increase nutrient absorption.