New to plant based eating or just need some fresh inspiration for your vegan diet grocery list? Here are the 50 best healthy vegan foods to grab next time you hit the stores.
What do Vegans Eat?
Veganism is a style of eating that eliminates all forms of animal products including, meat, seafood, dairy, eggs and animal-based ingredients. Vegan represents the strictest form of plant-based diets.
Vegan vs. Plant Based
At first glance vegan and plant-based diets sound exactly the same, but it depends on who you ask. Vegan is defined more closely as a lifestyle choice and often expands beyond just food - with many vegans choosing to remove all animal products from their life, including things like leather and fur.
The Best Vegan Foods
Going vegan doesn’t always mean increased health benefits. No matter what lifestyle approach you choose, getting the right balance of nutrition through macronutrients (protein, fats, and carbohydrates) and essential micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) is vital for maintaining good health and reaching your fitness goals.
In other words, just because something is vegan (or plant based), doesn’t make it automatically good for you - there are plenty of high calorie, high sugar, processed vegan options on the market.
Don’t be fooled by marketing buzzwords, the quality of your choices goes far beyond a vegan certification!
Mastering your vegan meal plan starts with finding the best vegan proteins to help you swap out animal based foods and still get the well rounded nutrition your body needs. Then getting plenty of quality carbs from fruits and vegetables, and heart healthy fats from whole foods like nuts and seeds.
When looking for the best vegan options at the store, remember to check the nutrition facts label and track your daily food intake. This will help ensure you are getting plenty of protein and optimizing your nutrition for your unique needs.
To help you get the most out of your vegan meal prep, here is your complete guide to the best vegan foods, organized by macronutrient.
14 Vegan Protein Sources
There are two common concerns around protein and vegan eating: getting enough protein and getting complete proteins.
It is entirely possible to get enough protein on a plant-based diet to meet your minimum daily requirements, but getting high amounts of protein dense foods can be a little trickier than on a meat based meal plan.
Thus, understanding which foods pack the most protein per calorie (protein density) and serving size is your best bet for achieving a high protein vegan diet.
Find staple proteins you enjoy and aim to include them at every meal and snack to ensure you get plenty.
"Complete" proteins contain adequate amounts of all essential amino acids you need, whereas "incomplete" proteins are lacking in one or more essential amino acids.
While some may argue that complete proteins are absorbed and utilized more efficiently by your body, research suggests that consuming a diet containing all of your essential amino acids throughout the day may be sufficient enough (1). In other words, Aim to get plenty of variety in your diet and shoot for more complete proteins when you can.
Here are the most protein dense vegan foods:
Complete Vegan Proteins
- Mycoprotein (corn based)
Incomplete Vegan Proteins
- Beans and Legumes: Navy Beans, Pinto Beans, Black Beans, Butter Beans, Fava Beans, Chickpeas, Lima Beans, Black Eyed Peas, etc.
- Green Peas
- Nutritional Yeast
- Bean and Lentil Pastas
- Soy Products: Tofu, Textured Vegetable Protein, and Tempeh
- Pea Protein
- Meat-like Burgers
- Veggie Burgers
10 vegan meat alternatives to add to your plate.
7 Vegan Carbs
When it comes to quality carbohydrates, a vegan diet has no shortage - mainly because carbs come from plants and all foods that grow out of the ground! Which is essentially everything included on a vegan meal plan.
Some carb sources also provide a small amount of protein - like whole grains and some starchy vegetables.
Of course, many traditional sweeteners and sources of added sugar can also qualify as vegan. And while these may fit into your lifestyle, they don’t always offer the best nutrition and can be easy to over do it.
Opt for more fiber-rich whole foods like whole grains and fruits and less refined carbohydrates like added sugars and those found in processed foods.
Here are the best nutrient dense vegan carb sources:
- Whole Grains: Brown Rice and Other Whole Grain Rice, Oats, Farro, Barley, Bulgur, Kamut, Millet, Rye and Wheat.
- Starchy Vegetables: Sweet Potatoes and Other Potatoes, Corn, and Winter Squash
- Whole Wheat Pasta
- Fresh Fruit
- Frozen Fruit
- Dried Fruit
- 100% Fruit Juice or Pressed Juice
9 Healthy Fats
Healthy fats are easy to come by on this diet since plant-based fats tend to be the most nutritious - with the exception of certain omega-3 fats found only in seafood.
Just watch your portion control when it comes to added fats from cooking oils and toppings - this includes plant based oils, butters, cheeses, and high fat sauces. These can rack up calories quickly and don’t provide as much well rounded nutrition as fats from whole food sources.
Aim to get more fat from whole foods, as this type of fat is packaged with other important nutrients.
Here are some of the most popular plant-based fats:
- Oils: Flax Seed Oil, Sesame Oil, Coconut Oil, Olive Oil, Avocado Oil, Canola Oil, Vegan "Butter" and Vegan Margarine.
- Peanuts and Peanut Butter
- Nuts and Nut Butters: Almonds, Cashews, Pistachios, Pecans, Brazil Nuts, Walnuts, etc.
- Seeds: Chia Seeds, Flax Seeds, Hemp Seeds, Sesame Seeds, Sunflower Seeds, Pumpkin Seeds, etc.
Other Vegan Foods
The following options don't necessarily fall into a certain macro category, but can still be a great staple to your vegan meals.
7 Types of Non-Starchy Vegetables
Non-starchy vegetables and fruits sort of fall into a class of their own, since they typically don’t contain a lot of calories or a significant source of any macro. However, because of their high micronutrient content, these are some of the most nutrient-dense foods you can eat.
Because of their unique nutritional breakdown, eating more low carb veggies can allow you to get massive amounts of nutrition without throwing your vegan macro balance out of whack.
Non-starchy veggies also tend to be a great source of fiber that helps keep you feeling satisfied.
Include plenty of non-starchy fruits and veggies with every meal to help balance out carb and fat heavy proteins and perfect your macro and calorie balance even further - and improve your intake of vitamins and minerals.
Get more of these foods:
- Non-Starchy Veggies: Leafy Greens, Radishes, Cauliflower, Broccoli, Tomato, Eggplant, Zucchini, Cucumber, Peppers, Green Beans, Celery, Bok Choy, Jicama, Mushrooms, Artichokes, Cabbage, Beets, Brussels Sprouts, Onions and Carrots.
- All Fresh Herbs and Spices
- Sea Vegetables: Seaweed, Kelp, and Algae
- Melons: Watermelon, Cantaloupe, and Honeydew
- Berries: Strawberries, Blueberries, Raspberries, and Blackberries
12 Vegan Dairy Alternatives
There is also a growing market for vegan dairy substitutes, some better than others.
Most dairy free milk varieties - with the exception of soy milk and fortified milk, are not a source of protein, so they would not be nutritionally comparable to dairy from cows.
Some varieties can also be high in sugar, adding empty calories to your day.
Regardless, dairy alternatives are a great way to get your dairy fix and stick to your vegan plan.
To find the best dairy alternatives, check the nutrition facts label and look for options that are lower in calories and added sugar and contain some protein.
But nutrition aside, these options make for a tasty substitute to any vegan eater who is looking for more dairy-like foods:
- Soy Milk
- Almond Milk
- Cashew Milk
- Oat Milk
- Coconut Milk
- Rice Milk
- Hemp Milk
- Flax Milk
- Vegan Yogurt made from Soy, Almond, or Coconut
- Vegan Cheeses made from Almond, Soy, Cashews, or Nutritional Yeast
- Vegan Ice Cream
- Vegan Mayo
- Vegan Butter
10 Vegan Condiments and Sauces
Lastly, the various prepared vegan sauces and condiments on the market can add a ton of flavor and some nutrition to your dishes.
Be sure to double check the ingredients and label to ensure its 100% vegan - you might be surprised what doesn’t make the cut!
You’ll also want to make sure you account for any added fat, carbs, or calories the sauce may add to your meal.
Some of the best options include sauce made with simple ingredients, are low calorie, and use fruit or vegetables as a base! These include:
- Tomato Sauce
- Soy Sauce
- Coconut Aminos
- Hot Sauce
Need more help balancing your macros for a vegan diet? Check out Trifecta vegan meal plan to cut down on prep time and stock up on ready-to-eat healthy meals. All meals are gluten-free, made with organic whole foods, and contain zero artificial ingredients or preservatives.
Or build your ultimate vegan menu with this complete guide to vegan meal prep.