Many people might wonder what a healthy vegan meal looks like. When I plan meals for my family, I try to keep the vegan four food groups in mind: fruits, vegetables, beans/nuts, and whole grains. For example, breakfast could be cereal (whole grains) with soymilk (beans), walnuts (nuts) and raisins (fruit). Lunch might be an avocado, tomato, and lettuce sandwhich (vegetables, whole grains) and a peach (fruit). Snack might be some soy yogurt (beans), toast with peanut butter (whole grains, nuts), and/or more fruit. And a balanced dinner might be like the one pictured above: Chickpea Ratatouille (beans, vegetables) over a bed of quinoa (whole grains) and a side of zucchini and summer squash (more vegetables). If you want the recipe for this delicious Chickpea Ratatouille, go out and buy Dreena Burton’s fabulous cookbook, Vive Le Vegan!
As long as you keep enough variety in your diet (hint: eat fruits and vegetables in season!), then you should have all your nutritional bases covered.
However, there are a couple of nutrients that vegans should be aware of:
- Vitamin B-12: Vegan sources of this important vitamin include fortified soymilk (check the label), Red Star Nutritional Yeast (again, check the label), and some cereals (did I mention check the label?) Make sure that you eat at least one of these foods regularly, or take a supplement. Personally, I drink fortified soymilk every day, and enjoy nutritional yeast in a variety of dishes.
- Calcium: Good sources of calcium include tofu, nuts and seeds, blackstrap molasses, dried figs, and green leafy vegetables such as kale and collard greens. Spinach is high in oxalic acid which binds to the calcium and makes it difficult for the body to absorb. Many vegans choose to drink a calcium-fortified soymilk, rice milk, or nut milk in order to ensure adequate calcium intake.
- Iron: Vegan sources of iron include beans (all types), whole grains, nuts, green leafy vegetables, and dried fruit. Foods that are rich in vitamin C can enhance the body’s ability to absorb iron from plant sources.
- Omega-3 Fatty Acids: A lot of people eat fish to obtain these healthy fats, but there are some great plant sources as well! Nuts and seeds are fantastic sources, especially walnuts, flaxseed, and hempseed. I like to add walnuts to oatmeal or dry cereal, and add flaxseed to smoothies.
And in case you were worried about protein intake, rest easy. Studies have shown that most vegetarians and vegans actually get more protein than they need! Most meat-eaters get as much as 3 times the required amount. If you are eating enough food, and have a little variety in your diet, you are probably getting plenty of protein.
For more detailed information about vegan nutrition, the Vegan Society is a wonderful source of information!