It’s January, and many people are doing Veganuary. If you haven’t heard about Veganuary, it’s a commitment to go vegan for the month of January. The challenge is now in its fifth year and has more participants than ever. But one thing that people are worried about when doing Veganuary is how to eat healthy as a vegan.
I have written in the past about how, in some places, it can be difficult to meet your nutritional needs if you’re vegan. But in this post, I want to give some more practical advice about healthy vegan food. And as a bonus, I’m including five vegan recipes. Whether you’re doing Veganuary or you’re already vegan you should definitely know how to eat healthy as a vegan.
Be aware though that this is not a guide to losing weight. No matter your body type or weight your body needs certain nutrients. You don’t have to look a certain way to be healthy. All you can try to do is provide your body with what it needs.
If you want to know how to eat healthy as a vegan read on for my suggestions and recipes.
Limit Processed Foods
Processed foods are not ideal for several reasons. First of all, they’re expensive. If you buy vegan mayo or cheese they’re usually more expensive than the non-vegan versions. But they’re also not very healthy because they don’t generally contain many nutritious ingredients. Rather, they’re full of flavorings, sugar, and salt.
I’m all for indulging (more on that later). And I’ve stated before that health is not the best reason to go vegan. But at the same time, I think it’s important to provide our bodies with the nutrients we need and not let big companies (vegan or not) negatively impact our health.
Eat Your Fruit and Veggies
The old advice to eat five servings of fruit and vegetables per day is true for vegans and non-vegans alike. The term “eat the rainbow” is an excellent guideline to ensure you get as many nutrients as possible. And don’t underestimate the value of dried fruits. They’re a great vegan source of iron, and you can add them to breakfast bowls or smoothies.
Green vegetables such as cabbage, kale, or broccoli are excellent sources of calcium. And they’re super versatile, too. You can add them to salads, soups, or curries. There’s no limit to preparing healthy leafy veggies.
Eat Seasonal Plants
Nature knows what’s good for us and when we need it. How else do you explain that vitamin C rich citrus fruits are in season when it gets cold? Right when we need a boost to our immune system. Keep track of seasonal foods in your region and plan your meals accordingly.
Another big advantage of buying seasonal fruit and vegetables is that they’re much cheaper than out-of-season foods that have to be imported.
Eat Lots of Carbs
Carbohydrates have a bad reputation, and people avoid them because they don’t want to gain weight. But it’s starchy carbs that provide your body with the necessary energy to go about your day. Calories are energy, that’s nothing you want to be deficient in. But it’s a matter of quality.
Potatoes and sweet potatoes are excellent sources of starch, and you can use them with almost anything. If you’re gluten-free they’re one of the best sources of carbohydrates.
If you eat gluten you have several other options, such as pasta and bread. But it’s best to choose their wholegrain varieties for more nutrients. The milling process removes a lot of the nutrients, so wholegrain foods contain more fiber and iron.
Rice is another source of carbs, but since most rice is contaminated with arsenic, I tend to avoid it. Instead, I opt for wild rice which tastes even better and can be used in the same way.
And don’t forget quinoa which has been a staple food in the Andean region for ages. But stick to organic and fair trade, please because the popularity of quinoa has had quite a negative effect on the indigenous populations of Peru and Bolivia.
Focus on Healthy Fats
Another nutrient with a bad reputation is fat. But we do need it to sustain or bodies. However, there’s a difference between frying oil and other sources of fat.
Avocados, nuts, and seeds provide healthy fat. But as yummy as they are, we should limit our fat intake. So don’t overdo it.
Eat Legumes to Feel Full
Neither vegans nor non-vegans are generally at risk of eating too little protein. Protein is very important for you to feel full and not feel like you’re hungry all the time. Legumes such as beans and lentils are wonderful plant sources of protein.
You can make delicious, hearty stews and curries with legumes. But I also love adding them to salads. Especially in the summer, when I don’t feel like eating heavy meals, adding some beluga lentils or chickpeas to a salad makes me feel much more satisfied.
In general, the fewer calories you eat the more exhausted you are going to feel. So it’s important to meet your caloric needs.
Drink Lots of Water
Often when people wonder how to eat healthy as a vegan they forget how to drink! Did you know that most of the time we feel hungry we are actually thirsty? We are not very good at distinguishing the two. Our bodies consist of 70% water so pure water is one of the main things our bodies need.
We should aim for at least two liters of water per day. Caffeinated or sugary drinks don’t count towards your balance. But green tea does so you can use it to mix things up. And if you get bored with water you can always infuse it with fruit or vegetables.
Supplement Where Needed
Knowing how to heat healthy as a vegan isn’t always enough, and you may have to supplement. Some people claim that if you need a supplement then you’re not eating well. I disagree. Vitamin D is difficult to obtain through food, and many people in the Northern Hemisphere are deficient due to their lack of exposure to sunlight.
Vitamin B12 is nearly impossible to get on a vegan diet. But easy to supplement with nutritional yeast, fortified foods, or supplements.
Omega 3 is quite difficult to get from vegan foods so if you don’t eat enough flaxseed, walnuts, or seaweeds like spirulina there’s no shame in supplementing.
And it might not be your veganism that makes it difficult to obtain some nutrients. What if you simply don’t like the foods that provide certain vitamins?
Wherever needed, take a vegan supplement. If you get your blood work done regularly you will know which ones they are.
Indulge With Measure
2020 has more vegan options than ever. Vegans can eat everything non-vegans can. Chocolate, cakes, burgers, milkshakes, hot dogs, you name it. I absolutely believe in eating these because, as I said before, being vegan is not about being healthy.
But I still suggest eating these things less frequently. The reason is simple: fries and a plant-based burger might be super delicious. But they don’t supply you with all the nutrients you need.
Eat them rarely and enjoy them when you do. Wanting to learn how to eat healthy as a vegan doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t ever treat yourself again.
5 Healthy Vegan Recipes
So if you’re not sure how to eat healthy as a vegan you probably need some recipe ideas. Don’t worry, I got you. These are five healthy vegan recipes that you absolutely must try. I’m not giving you exact measurements because that should always depend on your own preference. Usually, when I find recipes online I have to double the amount of garlic and spices. So likewise, I feel like if I add my measurements to these recipes you might find them too flavorful.
Make Your Own Plant Milk
The first essential vegan recipe if you want to eat more healthily is plant milk. Gone are the days when you were lucky if you found soy milk in stores. Today there are a lot of plant milk options that you can buy. Almond, hazelnut, oat, quinoa, pistachio, walnut – you name it. But usually, they’re extremely watery (being more than 95% water) and quite expensive. On top of that, more often than not they contain salt and sugar. So you essentially pay a lot of money for something that doesn’t taste good and isn’t healthy.
But if you search online for how to make your own almond milk you will see complicated recipes that involve soaking almonds, then blending them with water, and then straining them through a nut milk bag.
I don’t know about you, but I don’t have a nut milk bag. And I don’t even want to have one and then have to clean it twice a week because I made plant milk. Plus what do you do with all the leftover almond pulp? You can only use it for cookies etc. so often.
What I do is much simpler: I buy any nut butter I like and add as much as I want to a liter of water. You can make it as creamy or as watery as you like. I then add a little bit of maple syrup. Blend it. And voilà, you have your own plant milk to cook with. Or you can make smoothies and hot drinks with it.
One excellent and healthy way to use plant milk is to use it instead of vegan cream in sauces. It adds flavor and creaminess but isn’t as heavy. And it’s so much cheaper.
If you haven’t heard of nice cream you’re in for a treat. So this is a healthy, vegan version of ice cream.
What you do is you freeze a few chunks of very ripe (for sweetness) bananas and then blend them with a bit of the plant milk that you made. By itself, this is already amazing.
But you can enhance this any way you like. If you add raspberries (my favorite) while blending you get raspberry nice cream. If you add cocoa powder it becomes chocolate nice cream. Add anything you like to get the exact flavor you want.
This is such a healthy and delicious way to indulge in ice cream while getting all the good stuff from the banana or other ingredients you add.
Vegan Salad Dressing
Salads are such a delicious way to get in lots of nutrients from whichever vegetables are in season. But they’re pretty boring without the right dressing. However, you don’t need to make complicated salad dressings. This simple vegan salad dressing is all you need.
To make the dressing you mix equal parts of tahini (make it even healthier by using whole-wheat tahini) and water. You have to mix this well to achieve the right consistency. Mix in as much lemon, minced garlic, salt, pepper, and parsley as you like, and you’re ready to go.
Red Lentil and Spinach Soup
If you live in the Northern Hemisphere then January is a pretty cold month and chances are you won’t want to eat salad all the time. There’s nothing better to warm you up than a good bowl of hot soup.
For this recipe, you will want to cook some onions and garlic in olive oil until they’re nice and fragrant. You then add red lentils, cumin, coriander, cinnamon, and cayenne pepper and lots of water. How much water you add really depends on how watery or creamy you want your soup to be. I added more than 2.5 liters for 500g red lentils. Then you want to add some veggie stock to this. Bonus points if you make your own veggie stock (confession: I don’t.)
You boil all of this for 20 minutes and then blend about half of it. Mix in as much spinach as you like, and the result will be a simple yet super healthy and delicious soup. Spinach is one of the best sources of magnesium. But you could replace it with any other vegetable according to the season and eat this soup all year round.
Cauliflower Alfredo Sauce
If you’re like me you may find cauliflower a bit boring. It doesn’t really taste like much. And it even looks boring since it’s not particularly colorful.
But some vegans swear that cauliflower is one of the most versatile plant ingredients. There are vegan buffalo cauliflower recipes, and cauliflower is a healthy ingredient to use in a vegan Alfredo sauce.
All you have to do is cook a head of cauliflower and blend it with a liter of vegetable broth, a bit of plant milk, garlic, salt, and pepper. It’s one of the most life-changing recipes I’ve ever come across. And a great way to use a healthy vegetable like cauliflower.
Cauliflower is a fantastic source of vitamin C, choline, fiber, and anti-oxidants.
Health is not the best reason to go vegan, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t consider it at all when we choose what to eat. There are some excellent resources online if you want to know about specific food groups you should eat.
I hope this post helped answer the complex question of how to eat healthy as a vegan. Please keep in mind that I’m not a doctor. If you suspect that you may be lacking in something consult with a health care professional.
Are you doing Veganuary? Which one of my recipes will you try this month?