Is Eating Vegan Healthy? Is a Vegan Diet Healthy Long Term?
Is eating vegan healthy for your life? We sometimes have customers that want to quit eating meat for all kinds of different reasons, but don’t know what to eat. While people sometimes assume that vegetarians are healthier, it’s not necessarily true.
If you want to have a healthy vegetarian diet, or even a healthy vegan diet, you need to eat a balanced, nutrient-dense diet. We’re here to teach you how!
“I’m trying to go veg. What do healthy vegetarians eat?”
Veggies are so important, meat-free diets were named after them! Although one can technically be a vegetarian, without eating vegetables, it’s not a healthy way to go. Vegetarianism is best done as a plant-based diet, and the best thing you can focus on is whole fruits and vegetables. Aim to get 6-14 servings of vegetables per day. When it comes to fresh produce, it’s hard to overdo it. Eat more veggies by being creative! It’s a good idea to eat lots of green leafy vegetables, but to try to eat the full rainbow of natural colors, if not every day, at least every week.
Here are Some Ways to Eat Your Vegetables:
Salads don’t just have to be lettuce-based. Try mixing them up with seasonal ingredients, different toppings, and flavorful dressings.Try broccoli salad or a grain and veggie salad.
- We love throwing leftovers into salad. Try leftover roasted veggies on top of arugula with some balsamic vinaigrette, pumpkin seeds, and shaved parmesan (or whatever else you think up!)
- Both chunky and pureed soups are opportunities to squeeze in tons of nutritious veggies
- Remember, many soup recipes can be made vegetarian by using vegetable broth instead of chicken/beef broth
- You can make your own broth at home by saving all your vegetable scraps (store them in a bag in the freezer) and simmering them with water for a few hours. You can add in immune-boosting ingredients to make it even healthier and more flavorful! Try dried mushrooms (like shiitake, turkey tail, chaga, lion’s mane, porcini), herbs (garlic, ginger, bay leaves, black peppercorns, turmeric, rosemary, thyme, oregano), and seaweeds (kelp, dulse, etc.) for tons of health benefits.
- Soup isn’t only for winter, and not even just for dinner either!
- Cold soups, like gazpacho, are great in summer
- Fruit soup or savory soup makes a delicious breakfast
- Many soups can be based entirely on vegetables
- Green Soup
- Butternut squash soup
- Potato-Leek soup
- Veggies versions of grains
- Lately veggie ‘pasta’ and ‘rice’ is all the rage! These are basically different ways of cutting veggies to make them reminiscent of pasta or rice. Covered in sauce, mixed in a pilaf, or used as a base for a stir fry, these can take the place of traditional grains and help you meet your daily veggie quota!
- You can find spiralizers online or in stores. I found my zucchini spiralizer at Marshall’s in the clearance section for $5!
- Small, handheld spiralizers work better for softer veggies like zucchini, yellow squash, and cucumber. Larger, heavy duty countertop spiralizers are recommended for heartier vegetables like beets, carrots, daikon radish, andparsnips (I haven’t used those, so I can’t speak to how well they work).
- There are great resources online with tons of recipe ideas! For example, check out Inspiralized
- If you don’t want to get a spiralizer, I’ve seen spiralized veggie ‘pastas’ popping up in more grocery stores. I’ve seen spiralized beet, zucchini, and butternut squash at my local supermarket, and saw spiralized carrots at Trader Joe’s today
- To rice vegetables, simply pulse them in a food processor until they are small chunks, around the size of grains of rice.
- In my experience, the best way to cook veggie rice is to sauté it in a big pan with a little bit of cooking fat, and no additional liquid. If you cook it and get some of the liquid to evaporate, the ‘rice’ will stay solid. If you add liquid, it can get too soggy, which isn’t ideal if you’re going to put something saucy on top of it.
- The classic veggie ‘rice’ is cauliflower rice; it’s white, neutral in flavor, and much lower in carbs than real rice.
- You can rice other veggies too! I love riced butternut squash, sweet potato, and parsnip. You can also try broccoli, carrots, jicama, plantain, turnips, rutabagas, or any other solid veggie that will pulse easily in the food processor.
- If you don’t have a spiralizer or food processor, just julienne your veggies finely or dice them. They’ll make a versatile base for any number of dishes.
- Spaghetti Squash:
- Spaghetti squash gets its own bullet point because it doesn’t require any special tools to make into a pasta replacement! Simply cut the squash in half, cook it (by baking or microwaving it), then use a fork to pull apart the inner flesh of the squash—it turns into thin strands of squash that are reminiscent of pasta. Use it as a base for any dishes you’d use spaghetti in.
- Dips and sauces
- You can incorporate veggies into hummus to add color and vitamins
- Beet hummus
- Green hummus (throw in any combination of green leafy vegetables and herbs you like– for example, spinach and parsley)
- Paleo hummus using vegetables as the base. Different recipes use things like zucchini, cauliflower, artichoke hearts, and pumpkin to create a hummus-like spread
- You can make delicious sauces and dips that are mostly vegetables (and then dip or coat veggies in them, doubling your nutrient intake!)
- Greens dip: Use gently steamed or raw greens, and throw them in the food processor with seasonings (like garlic, fresh herbs, spices…) and something to make the texture smoother. That could be a handful of cooked white beans, soaked cashews, cooked artichoke hearts, or avocado.
- Baba ganoush: A creamy dip made from grilled or roasted eggplant
- Pestos: Pestos are similar to a greens dip, but are thinner and can be used as a sauce on top of scrambles, on pizza or socca, in omelettes, on your veggie pastas, etc.
- You can incorporate veggies into hummus to add color and vitamins
- Healthy, homemade veggie chips can feel similar to potato chips, but if you bake instead of fry them, and use more nutrient-dense veggies, you can have a really healthy snack!
- Kale chips: Simply toss kale with olive oil and seasonings, roast, and you have delicious, crunchy green chips
- Beet chips
- Zucchini chips
- To make crisp, even veggie chips, use a mandolin. It stays set to a specific thickness, allowing you to slice your veggies perfectly evenly for consistent texture.
- You can even put veggies in your dessert!
- Parsnip-pear cake
- Sweet potato chocolate cake nutrition stripped
- A whole list of carrot desserts
Fruits are not quite as nutritious as vegetables, because they are often high in sugar. However, natural sugars in fruit are usually balanced by fiber, so it usually doesn’t spike blood sugar like simple processed sugars do. Fruit is high in vitamins, minerals, and antioxidant phytochemicals, so it’s still a very healthy addition to a plant-based diet. Eat 1-5 servings of fruit per day.
Whenever possible, buy fruits that are local and in-season. However, since these are not always available, frozen fruits are actually very nutritious. They are often picked at the height of ripeness and frozen quickly to preserve their nutrient content.
The best fruits to eat are colorful and low in sugar. Some of the healthiest fruits are:
- Berries (including blueberries, blackberries, strawberries, raspberries, and cranberries)
Ways to Eat Fruit
- As a snack (apples, bananas, and clementines are all easy to pack and bring with you)
- For dessert
- On top of yogurt or oatmeal
- With nut butter
- In smoothies
- In salads
With fruit and veggies as your focus, your next priority is protein. You should next aim to get 46-91 grams of protein a day. That’s a wide range, right? There is no set amount of any macronutrient everyone should get. How much protein you need will depend on your body size and activity level. Because it can be hard to get enough protein as a vegetarian, make sure to include protein in every meal and snack, and to get it from a variety of sources. Some good vegetarian protein sources are:
- The secret to tasty tofu is pressing out the moisture and marinating it overnight before cooking
- If you’re sensitive to dairy, try fermented dairy, like yogurt or kefir, or try goat’s dairy. Many aged cheeses also have little to no lactose (lactose is a sugar in milk that many people are sensitive to)
You also get some protein from vegetables and grains. For example, spirulina is an algae that is a good source of protein, containing 4 grams of protein per tablespoon. Other green vegetables are relatively high in protein by weight, too. We often hear about quinoa as a high-protein grain, but amaranth, wheat, spelt, wild rice, and farro are all relatively high in protein as well.
Fats are really important for tons of functions in the body. Every cell in your body contains fat as part of its membrane. Certain vitamins, like vitamins A, D, E, and K, are fat-soluble, so you won’t absorb them properly if you don’t eat enough fat. Many of your hormones are produced from fat. Fat also slows down digestion, helping you feel full faster and longer. Good fats and oils reduce inflammation and help keep your skin and mucous membranes properly lubricated. Seriously, you need to eat fat!
The absolute most important fats you need are omega-3 fatty acids. Omnivores and pescatarians can get these healthy, anti-inflammatory fats from fish, but vegetarians need to turn to plant-based sources of omega-3. These are the best vegetarian sources of omega-3 fats:
- Algal oil
- Chia seeds
- Flax seeds
Algal oil, derived from algae, is where fish get their omega-3s from. It is vegan, sustainable, and contains DHA, a type of omega-3 that is usually only found in fish. Chia, flax, and walnut provide ALA, a type of omega-3, but it doesn’t always convert very well to EPA and DHA, the forms of omega-3 that humans really need. An omega-3 supplement is a great idea for most vegetarians.
Other good sources of healthy vegetarian fats:
- Coconut (as whole coconut, oil, butter, or cream)
- Olives (as whole olives or oil)
- Pastured goat or grass-fed cow dairy products (ghee, kefir, yogurt, or milk)
- Grass-fed is important for getting healthier fats. Commercially-raised, grain-fed livestock have higher levels of pro-inflammatory omega-6 fatty acids. When animals eat their natural diets, they have healthier fat in their bodies and byproducts.
- If you’re eating grass-fed dairy for the good fats, make sure you get the full-fat version, not the 0% fat kind
Vegetables fall into the category of complex carbohydrates, but we listed them first and separately since they are so nutritionally valuable. The other foods people associate with the word ‘carbohydrates’ tend to be grain-based and less nutritionally dense, so we will discuss them here separately.
There are complex carbs in many of the foods vegetarians use for protein, especially legumes. Grains are also rich in complex carbohydrates. Both legumes (like beans, soy, and lentils) and grains (like rice, quinoa, oats, wheat, barley, millet, rye, etc.) contain fiber, some protein, and minerals. If consumed in whole form and cooked properly, they are a healthy part of a vegetarian diet.
Some people have digestive issues with legumes. To avoid gas, be sure to follow these tips:
- Soak legumes overnight before cooking. Be sure to drain the soak water, rinse them, and use fresh water while cooking.
- If cooking on the stove, “shock” the beans with a couple ounces of cool water poured in as soon as the pot reaches full boil. This helps to cook the beans the whole way through.
- Alternatively, use a pressure cooker to ensure the beans are fully cooked.
- Use a piece of kombu seaweed placed in the pot with the beans. The seaweed helps break down the parts of beans that tend to give people gas, and also adds important minerals.
- Use herbs and spices during or after cooking the beans. Many herbs have carminative properties, meaning they help reduce and relieve gas. Cumin is a carminative herb that goes great with most beans.
For both beans and grains, you can try soaking and sprouting before cooking to help “pre-digest” them, making for easier and more thorough assimilation.
More Easy Vegetarian Recipe Ideas
The best vegetarian recipes are ones that are customizable. Once you get the template down, you can mix and match based on your mood and seasonal availability so you never get bored of healthy food!
- Frittata is basically a crustless quiche; it has an egg base and can be filled with whatever vegetables, herbs, and cheeses you want
- A “bowl” usually includes a grain or vegetable base, topped with protein, veggies, healthy fats, and a tasty sauce.
- Socca is a gluten-free, vegan flatbread made with chickpea flour. It’s simple, delicious, and endlessly customizable!
- This is the simplest way to use up whatever ingredients you have in the house. Chop up veggies, sauté them, then add eggs, diced tofu, or a drained and washed can of beans for a fast, easy meal. Even if you don’t have any sauces around, you can season it with infused oils/vinegars, dried or fresh spices, or a squeeze of lemon juice
- Steamed collard green leaves make an excellent healthy substitute for tortillas
- Load them up with spreads, proteins, and veggies
- 4 carrots
- 2 apples
- 1 lemon
- 1 grapefruit
Now that you have ideas, go forth and be veg! Did we miss one of your favorite vegetarian tips? Share it in the comments!