Need some fresh inspiration for your vegan grocery list? Or just want to take your vegan meal prep to the next level? Here are the best vegan foods to help you crush your macros and dial-in your nutrition.
What is Vegan?
Veganism is a style of eating that eliminates all forms of animal products including, meat, seafood, dairy, and animal-based ingredients. Vegan represents the strictest form of plant-based diets.
Vegan vs. Plant Based
Plant-based eating focuses on including more plant-based foods, typically whole foods, and also encourages little to no meat and dairy intake.
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, like leather and fur.
How to Start a Vegan Diet
Starting a vegan diet is more than just cutting out the meat and cheese; it requires a little bit of strategy to keep your nutrition balanced and ensure you are getting the most out of this meal plan. While traditional, mixed diets can easily distinguish between the various macros: protein, fat, and carbs, vegan diets eliminate a large portion of the protein food group. And 100% of the intake shifts to plants. Considering nearly all plants are a source of fat or carbs, finding plant-based proteins that keep your macros in order can be challenging for some.
To keep your vegan macros fine-tuned to your fitness and nutrition goals, you should focus on choosing as many protein-rich plants as possible and be mindful of your portions for healthy fats and carbs.
You can accomplish this by tracking your daily food intake using a macro-friendly tracking app, and learning how to meal plan using the best vegan foods.
What do Vegans Eat?
If you are new to the vegan lifestyle or just curious about how you can eat get more plant based nutrition into your diet, it starts with understanding where to find the best vegan proteins to help you swap out animal based foods and still get the nutrition your body needs.
To help you get the most out of your vegan diet, here is your complete guide to the best vegan foods, organized by macronutrient.
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, but getting high amounts of protein dense foods can be a little trickier.
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 (1,2). 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:
- Mycoprotein (corn based)
- 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
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.
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
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.
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.
Non-starchy vegetables and fruits sort of fall into a class of their own, since they don;t contain a lot of calories or a significant source of any macro. But because of their high micronutrient content, these are some of the most nutrient-dense foods you can eat.
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, Onions and Carrots.
- All Fresh Herbs
- Sea Vegetables: Seaweed, Kelp, and Algae
- Melons: Watermelon, Cantaloupe, and Honeydew
- Berries: Strawberries, Blueberries, Raspberries, and Blackberries
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.
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
- Yogurt made from Soy, Almond, or Coconut
- Vegan Cheeses made from Almond, Soy, Cashews, or Nutritional Yeast
- Vegan Ice Cream
- Vegan Mayo
Finding the Best Vegan Foods and Ingredients
More and more vegan options continue to pop up in the market and at restaurants - it’s now easier than ever to find vegan fast food! But not all options are created equal. Nutrition still matters and just because something is technically “vegan”, doesn't mean it’s healthy or that it will help you reach your fitness goals.
When looking for the best vegan options, 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.
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.