Vegan Nutrition Guide

Following a vegan diet can bring significant health benefits. Plant-based diets have been linked to lower cholesterol levels, a reduced risk of type 2 diabetes, and the presence of anti-cancer compounds found in plant foods. Additionally, individuals often experience weight loss by replacing meat, dairy, and eggs with fiber-rich vegan alternatives.

By consuming a variety of whole plant foods and incorporating healthy fats, you can lower your chances of developing chronic diseases. However, it's important to pay extra attention to meeting your nutrient requirements on a vegan diet. It is recommended that everyone following a predominantly or entirely vegan diet familiarizes themselves with the fundamentals of vegan nutrition. This article emphasizes the essential nutrients to consider. While not particularly difficult, it may require some additional awareness as it may not come intuitively.

Focus on the Big Picture

Achieving good nutrition is the result of making sensible meal choices for the majority of the time. It's not about striving for perfection, as there is room for occasional slip-ups and indulgences. What truly matters is that the majority of your food choices consist of nutrient-dense options. To optimize your nutrient intake on a vegan diet, aim to consume a diverse range of foods from the following vegan food groups:

  • Fruits and vegetables - It is important to vary your selection of fruits and vegetables as much as possible. Leafy cruciferous vegetables such as kale, collards, and turnip greens are excellent sources of calcium. Peppers, oranges, grapefruit, strawberries, and chard are rich in vitamin C. Deep orange and yellow options like squash and carrots are vital for meeting vitamin A requirements in plant-based diets.
  • Beans and soy foods - Beans not only offer a good amount of protein but also provide fiber, potassium, and iron. Soy-based foods like tofu, tempeh, textured vegetable protein (TVP), and soy milk are excellent sources of high-quality protein. They are also unique in their contribution of isoflavones, compounds associated with a lower risk of cancer.
  • Grains - Opt for whole wheat bread and whole grains like brown rice and quinoa within this food group. They are rich in fiber and contain iron and zinc.
  • Nuts and seeds - While nuts and seeds are calorie-dense, they are packed with nutrients such as fiber, minerals, and healthy fats. Seeds, in particular, are excellent sources of the mineral zinc. Numerous studies have linked nuts to promoting heart health.

Transitioning to a vegan diet means discovering alternative food sources for certain nutrients. However, once you grasp the fundamentals of planning your meals, adopting a wholesome vegan diet becomes instinctive and effortless.

Eating for Optimal Health

Meeting nutrient requirements is just one aspect of healthy eating. The choices you make when it comes to food can influence your risk of developing conditions like heart disease, diabetes, and cancer. Vegan diets inherently contain protective factors and generally have lower amounts of dietary components that can increase risk. By paying some attention to your food choices, you can take proactive steps towards enhancing your long-term health.

Before delving into specific nutrient advice, let me provide you with some simple tips for adopting a healthier eating pattern. Even if you don't continue reading further, these suggestions will assist you in improving your overall diet.

  • Ensure an ample intake of fiber, which is naturally abundant in all whole plant foods, making it readily available in vegan diets. Prioritize whole grains over refined options and opt for whole fruits instead of juices. Aim to include at least one or two servings of beans in your daily meals.
  • Lower your saturated fat consumption, which is relatively effortless on a vegan diet since most dietary saturated fat comes from animal-based foods. Be mindful of processed foods containing palm oil and limit the use of coconut oil. Apart from these considerations, vegans generally do not need to be overly concerned about saturated fat.
  • Incorporate one or two servings of nuts into your daily diet as they contain heart-healthy components.
  • Make it a habit to consume generous amounts of fruits and vegetables as they are rich in minerals that contribute to maintaining healthy blood pressure. Frozen fruits and vegetables are equally nutritious alternatives to fresh produce.
  • Monitor your sodium intake, particularly from processed and canned foods.
  • If you consume alcohol, it is advisable to do so moderately. For men, moderation is defined as up to two drinks per day, while for women, it is limited to one drink per day.

Nutrient Intake Recommendations for Vegans

Whether you follow a vegan lifestyle or not, it is advisable to incorporate a diverse range of the nutritious foods mentioned above into your diet. However, even when these foods form the foundation of your meals, there is still a possibility of falling short on certain nutrients. For vegans, it is important to pay particular attention to protein, calcium, iron, zinc, vitamin A, omega-3 fats, and vitamins B12 and D. In Western diets, these nutrients are typically associated with animal-based foods. However, vegans need not worry, as all of these nutrients, with the exception of B12 and vitamin D, can be easily obtained from vegan sources as well. Later in this article, I will provide an explanation on how to meet your B12 and D requirements while following a vegan diet.


Some popular books and websites claim that protein is not a concern for vegans. However, this viewpoint is misguided and irresponsible as it can potentially impact one's health.

While it is true that severe protein deficiency is rare among individuals, including vegans, in higher-income countries, there are still cases where protein intake falls short of optimal levels. Insufficient protein status can have negative effects on bone health, muscle strength, and immune function, particularly among older individuals. While many vegan foods are indeed rich in protein, it is still possible for vegans to have inadequate protein intake.

Therefore, it is wise to take precautions. The best way to ensure sufficient protein is to include legumes (such as beans, peas, soy foods, or peanuts) in your daily diet. Legumes have the highest protein content among vegan foods and are good sources of the amino acid lysine, which is comparatively low in other plant-based foods.

Consuming two servings of legumes per day will likely provide enough lysine, but opting for three servings adds an extra safety margin. Older individuals or those on weight loss diets may consider aiming for four or more servings. If you have difficulty digesting beans, switching to smaller varieties like lentils, split peas, and mung beans may help. Soaking beans and discarding the soaking water can also improve digestibility. Tofu, tempeh, and soy milk are generally well-tolerated by most people. Vegan protein powders, when blended into drinks, are also easily digested and offer an excellent protein source.

How to Eat More Protein-Rich Legumes

Including two to three servings of legumes in your daily diet may seem like a substantial amount, but the serving sizes for these foods are surprisingly small. Here are examples of what qualifies as a serving of legumes:

  • ½ cup cooked dried beans or lentils
  • ½ cup tofu, tempeh, or TVP
  • 3 ounces veggie meat made with soy protein, pea protein, or gluten
  • 1 cup soy milk or milk made from pea protein (but not other plant milks since most are too low in protein)
  • ¼ cup peanuts or soy nuts
  • 2 tablespoons peanut butter

Incorporating more legumes into your diet, even if you're not accustomed to them, can be a straightforward process. Here are some popular foods that include legumes:

  • Peanut butter and jam (or sliced banana) sandwiches
  • Scrambled tofu
  • Baked tofu
  • Veggie burgers
  • Lentil soup
  • Vegetables with peanut sauce
  • Bean burritos
  • Cereal with soy or pea protein milk
  • Tacos with soy-based “ground beef”
  • If you find it challenging to consume enough legumes, protein powders derived from soy, peas, or potatoes can be a helpful solution for increasing your protein intake.

Iron and Zinc

Numerous vegan foods are rich in iron, with beans and whole grains being particularly notable sources of this nutrient.

Unfortunately, iron in vegan foods is often bound to phytates, compounds that inhibit its absorption. However, certain food preparation techniques can help neutralize phytates and enhance iron availability. Toasting nuts and seeds and sprouting grains are effective methods in this regard. Nevertheless, the most effective way to improve iron absorption is by consuming vitamin C alongside iron-rich vegan foods. Vitamin C breaks the bond between iron and phytate, significantly boosting absorption.

To ensure adequate iron intake as a vegan, aim to consume ample amounts of beans, whole and enriched grains, leafy green vegetables, and dried fruits. Additionally, incorporating vitamin C-rich foods into your meals whenever possible is beneficial. Citrus fruits and juices, cantaloupe, kiwifruit, mango, papaya, pineapple, strawberries, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, peppers, tomato juice, cabbage, and cauliflower are all excellent sources of vitamin C.

As for zinc, the best sources in vegan diets are whole grains, legumes, nuts, and particularly seeds. Similar to iron, zinc binds to phytates, which reduces its absorption. Unlike vitamin C, vitamin C does not enhance zinc absorption. However, specific food preparation methods can improve zinc absorption. For example, using yeast or a sourdough starter when baking whole grain bread can render its zinc more absorbable. This makes whole grain bread a better source of zinc compared to crackers, flatbreads, or cooked grains. Sprouting grains and legumes also increase zinc absorption.

Vitamin A

Vegan foods do not naturally contain preformed vitamin A, but fruits and vegetables, particularly deep orange varieties like winter squash (including pumpkin), sweet potatoes, and carrots, provide precursor compounds that the body converts into vitamin A molecules. These precursors, including beta-carotene, act as antioxidants and are abundant in these vegetables. Consuming approximately a cup of these foods daily ensures sufficient vitamin A intake. Dark leafy greens are also good sources of vitamin A.

To enhance the absorption of vitamin A from these foods, adding a drizzle of oil over vegetables or incorporating a dressing with fat-rich options like avocado or tahini can be beneficial.

Omega-3 Fats

While vegans who maintain a healthy diet may obtain most nutrients, one essential fatty acid called alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), which is an omega-3 fat, often poses a challenge. ALA is found in only a few plant-based foods. However, meeting your body's requirements for this nutrient is easily achievable. Simply incorporate any of the following options into your daily diet:

  • 1 tablespoon of ground flaxseed (note that it must be ground; otherwise, you won’t absorb the ALA)
  • 2 teaspoons of chia seeds
  • 1 tablespoon of walnut or canola oil
  • 8 walnut halves
  • 1 teaspoon of flaxseed oil
  • 2 teaspoons of hemp seed oil

Incorporating these foods into your diet is effortless. You can simply sprinkle a handful of walnuts into your morning cereal or add a tablespoon of ground flaxseed to cooked rice or quinoa during dinner.


Two other omega-3 fats, namely DHA and EPA, are not considered essential dietary components because the human body can synthesize them from ALA. However, the production of these fats, particularly DHA, is unreliable. Research indicates that vegans often have lower levels of DHA and EPA in their blood and tissues compared to individuals who consume fish.

The extent to which DHA and EPA status truly matter is not yet fully understood. Studies investigating the impact of these fats on heart health and cognitive function have produced conflicting results. Some experts speculate that insufficient intake of DHA and EPA may offset certain heart-healthy benefits associated with vegan diets. Additionally, there is evidence suggesting that EPA may be beneficial for individuals prone to depression.

While many individuals obtain DHA and EPA from fish oil supplements, several companies offer vegan alternatives. These vegan capsules contain omega-3 fats derived from microalgae, the same source from which fish obtain their DHA and EPA. If you consume sufficient ALA, the essential fat found in walnuts and flaxseeds, it is likely that your body will synthesize enough EPA. You can search for a supplement that provides only DHA. However, it's important to note that these algae-based supplements tend to be the most expensive among vegan supplements, so it is advisable to compare prices when shopping for them.

Other Fats in Vegan Diets

In addition to the previously mentioned sources of omega-3 fats, it is beneficial to include other fat-rich foods in your diet. A range of fat intake, between 20 to 35 percent of your daily calorie intake, supports good health. This equates to approximately 22 to 39 grams of fat for every 1,000 calories consumed.

The quantity of fat consumed is not the primary concern; rather, the focus should be on choosing the right types of fats. Unsaturated fats from plant-based foods promote healthier cholesterol levels and reduce the risk of heart disease.

Moreover, certain high-fat plant foods may offer unique health benefits unrelated to their fat content. For instance, tree nuts like almonds, walnuts, and pecans have been associated with a lower risk of heart disease. Soy foods, although higher in fat compared to most legumes, are rich in phytoestrogens that may contribute to reducing cancer risk and improving artery health. Alongside their health advantages, some fat-rich foods assist vegans in meeting specific nutrient requirements. For instance, seeds are an excellent source of zinc, while avocados and certain vegetable oils are abundant in vitamin E.

It's important to note that coconut, coconut oil, and palm oil are high in saturated fat, which raises cholesterol levels and increases the risk of heart disease. While coconut oil is commonly used as a solid fat in recipes, most vegans do not regularly cook with palm oil, although it is present in many processed foods. As the majority of saturated fat in average consumers diets comes from animal-based foods, vegans typically have lower intakes. It is acceptable to occasionally cook with coconut products or enjoy processed foods that contain them. However, for most of your cooking needs, opt for oils high in unsaturated fats, such as soy, canola, or sunflower oil.


Decades ago, research suggested that animal protein might lead to calcium loss from the bones, implying that vegans and those who consume limited animal foods might require less calcium. However, as research has progressed, it has become evident that protein, regardless of its source, actually supports bone health. The amount of protein consumed does not appear to affect calcium needs.

While it is crucial to consume sufficient calcium, it is also important to consider the variations in calcium absorption among different foods. For example, spinach contains a significant amount of calcium, but it is primarily bound to compounds called oxalates, which hinder absorption. Swiss chard and beet greens also contain notable levels of oxalates. In contrast, vegetables from the cabbage family, such as kale, bok choy, turnip greens, and broccoli, have excellent calcium absorption.

Calcium from calcium-fortified plant-based milks and tofu is also well absorbed. However, it's worth noting that unless tofu specifically lists calcium sulfate as an ingredient, its calcium content is negligible. Beans, tahini, and almonds contain moderate amounts of calcium, but the absorption of calcium from these sources is not particularly efficient.

Rich Vegan Sources of Calcium

To ensure sufficient calcium intake on a vegan diet, aim to consume a minimum of three cups per day of a combination of the following calcium-rich foods:

  • cooked Chinese cabbage, turnip greens, mustard greens, collards, bok choy, kale, or broccoli
  • tofu that lists calcium sulphate in its ingredients
  • calcium-fortified juices or plant milks

Next, strive to include several servings of other foods that provide smaller amounts of calcium, such as beans, almond butter, almonds, okra, sweet potatoes, figs, oranges, corn tortillas, and blackstrap molasses.

For individuals aged 50 and above, it is recommended to increase the consumption of the most calcium-rich foods by an additional cup. As people age, their ability to absorb calcium becomes less efficient, necessitating an increased dietary intake of calcium.

If you do not regularly consume calcium-rich foods or have reasons to believe that your calcium needs are not being met, it is advisable to take a small daily supplement of approximately 300 mg.

Vitamin B12

Misinformation about vitamin B12 is prevalent on the internet. Numerous websites and forum posts make baseless assertions that vegans do not need to be concerned about their B12 status. However, nutrition experts universally agree that there are only two reliable sources of vitamin B12 for vegans: fortified foods and supplements.

Contrary to popular claims, sea vegetables, fermented foods, and organic vegetables do not provide vitamin B12. Nutritional yeast can contain significant amounts of B12, but only if it is grown on a B12-rich medium (refer to the product's nutrition label for confirmation). Although the human body can store substantial amounts of vitamin B12 in the liver, it is important to regularly consume this nutrient rather than relying solely on stored reserves.

B12 Supplement Recommendations

When transitioning to a vegan diet or adopting a mostly vegan lifestyle, it is advisable to start taking vitamin B12 right away. There is no compelling reason to delay supplementation, but every reason to ensure you are getting enough. Vitamin B12 deficiency can lead to anaemia and nerve damage, which in some cases may be irreversible. Thus, it is crucial to take appropriate measures to meet your B12 needs.

Determining the appropriate dosage of B12 can be challenging as absorption rates vary depending on the dosage size. It is best absorbed in small, frequent doses. This means that the less often you consume B12, the larger the required amounts.

Here are three methods to meet your vitamin B12 requirements, all of which refer specifically to the cyanocobalamin form of the vitamin, which has been proven reliable as a supplement:

1. Take a daily supplement providing 25 to 100 mcg of vitamin B12. Opting for a chewable form may enhance absorption.

2. Take a supplement providing 1,000 mcg of vitamin B12 twice per week.

3. Consume two servings per day of foods fortified with at least 2 mcg of vitamin B12 each. Ensure there is a minimum of 4 hours between these servings to allow for optimal absorption.

Vitamin D

Vitamin D is naturally synthesized by the body when the skin is exposed to strong summer sunlight. However, factors such as smog, clouds, and sunscreen can impede this synthesis. Older individuals and those with darker skin tones require more sun exposure to produce adequate levels of vitamin D. In regions with temperate climates, the sunlight during winter is often too weak for sufficient vitamin D synthesis. Exposing your face and arms to midday summer sunlight (without sunscreen) for 10 to 20 minutes per day, depending on your skin tone, or 30 minutes if you are over 70, can help your body generate enough vitamin D. However, even this brief exposure to sunlight in the summer months increases the risk of skin cancer. If you are unable to regularly obtain this amount of sun exposure, you will need to obtain vitamin D from dietary sources.

While vitamin D is naturally found in eggs and certain types of fish, the amounts are generally insufficient to meet daily needs. Therefore, many individuals, regardless of their dietary choices, must take vitamin D supplements or consume fortified foods to avoid deficiency.

Vitamin D3 is the most common form of vitamin D found in foods and supplements, typically derived from animal sources. Vitamin D2, on the other hand, is usually sourced from yeast and has been the primary vegan form of the vitamin until recently. If your vitamin D levels are already adequate, vitamin D2 supplements are sufficient to maintain those levels. However, there is evidence suggesting that D3 is more effective in correcting a vitamin D deficiency. Therefore, if your vitamin D levels are currently low, you may require D3 to raise them to a healthy level. Vegan D3 supplements are readily available, and the recommended intake of this nutrient is 600 IUs (International Units) per day.


Iodine is an essential nutrient for maintaining a healthy thyroid gland. Inadequate intake of iodine can lead to hypothyroidism, characterized by a slowed metabolism, elevated cholesterol levels, and weight gain. Severe deficiency can cause the development of a goiter, which is an enlarged thyroid gland. Given the potential consequences of iodine deficiency and the ease of obtaining this nutrient, it is important to prioritize maintaining adequate iodine levels.

While plant foods do contain iodine, the actual amount present varies depending on the region where the food is grown. Many individuals obtain most of their iodine from iodized salt and dairy products. Processed and fast foods often use non-iodized salt. The iodine content in cow's milk primarily comes from disinfectants applied to cow udders before milking.

Sea vegetables, such as seaweed, can be a good source of iodine; however, the levels of iodine can vary significantly. Some sea vegetables may even contain excessive amounts of iodine. It is therefore advisable to use sea vegetables in moderation rather than relying solely on them as a source of iodine. Adding a small amount of extra iodine, such as ¼ teaspoon of iodized salt per day or a supplement providing 75 micrograms of iodine three or four times per week, can help ensure sufficient iodine intake.

Vitamin K

Vitamin K plays a crucial role in supporting bone health and facilitating blood clotting. Our intestinal bacteria produce some vitamin K, and it is also abundant in leafy green vegetables. It is important to note that the plant-based form of vitamin K found in these foods is vitamin K1. The presence and significance of vitamin K2, another form of the vitamin, in vegan diets has generated some controversy. Natto, a fermented soy food popular in Japan but relatively unfamiliar elsewhere, is the only notable vegan source of vitamin K2.

Although vitamin K2 is not directly involved in blood clotting, which is the primary function of the vitamin, there is speculation that it may contribute to the protection of bone and heart health. However, research findings on this topic have been conflicting. It is worth mentioning that there is no recommended dietary allowance (RDA) specifically for vitamin K2, but individuals consuming a meat-based diet typically consume around 31 micrograms of vitamin K2 daily. For those who wish to incorporate this form of the vitamin into their vegan diet, vegan vitamin K2 supplements are available as an option.

Five Simple Guidelines for Good Vegan Nutrition

Five Simple Guidelines for Good Vegan Nutrition

The following five guidelines provide a concise summary of the information presented in this article, offering simple steps to ensure a healthy and well-balanced vegan diet:

1. Include at least three servings per day of legumes, such as beans, tofu, tempeh, soy milk, veggie meats, peanuts, or peanut butter.

2. Consume a diverse range of fruits and vegetables, including leafy greens, dark orange vegetables, and vitamin C-rich sources like peppers, citrus fruits, and strawberries.

3. Obtain most of your fat from healthy sources such as nuts, nut butters, avocados, seeds, and moderate amounts of oils. Additionally, make sure to incorporate a good source of essential omega-3 fats found in flax or chia seeds, canola oil, and walnuts.

4. Aim to consume three cups of calcium-rich foods every day, including fortified plant milks, fortified juices, tofu made with calcium sulfate, and cooked greens like kale, collards, bok choy, or turnip greens (double the amount of raw greens if consuming them uncooked).

5. Do not disregard supplements as "unnatural." They offer an inexpensive, convenient, and reliable way to prevent deficiencies. All vegans require vitamin B12 from supplements or fortified foods. Many also benefit from vitamin D supplementation, particularly during winter months. Additionally, you may choose to take vegan DHA and EPA supplements for omega-3 fats. If you do not regularly consume iodized salt, it is advisable to take an iodine supplement. Vegans with insufficient intake of calcium-rich foods may also find a low-dose calcium supplement beneficial.

Find Your Cooking (and Eating) Style

Whether you enjoy cooking or prefer quick and simple meals, there are various ways to enjoy healthy and appealing vegan food. Even basic cooking skills, such as steaming vegetables, baking potatoes, and preparing rice or pasta, can help you create satisfying and budget-friendly vegan meals. If time or culinary expertise is a concern, you can still round out your meals with store-bought items like jarred tomato sauce, vegan meats, canned beans, and pre-made hummus.

While it's beneficial to include plenty of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, beans, nuts, and seeds in your diet, there's no need to avoid vegan meats, plant milks, or oils. The market offers a wide range of these products, and exploring alternatives to animal-based ingredients can be a great starting point. Imposing unnecessary restrictions on food choices can make it more challenging to meet your nutrient needs and adhere to a vegan diet. Highly restrictive versions of vegan diets, such as raw food or very low-fat regimens, do not offer any advantages over diets that include cooked or slightly higher fat foods.

Certain foods that are considered "ultra-processed" can provide convenience, flavorful options, and important nutrients. For instance, vegan meats can be a good source of protein, and fortified breakfast cereals can be beneficial for busy individuals or picky eaters, especially when they contribute essential nutrients. There is no evidence to suggest that vegans who include these foods in their diets have poorer health outcomes compared to those who avoid them.

Many long-term vegans enjoy a variety of foods, including veggie burgers and occasional sweet treats, as well as convenient products that enhance the practicality and enjoyment of their diet. Others take pleasure in creating meals from scratch. Both approaches can support good health as long as attention is given to meeting nutrient needs and the diet is not solely comprised of cookies and chips. When it comes to cooking and eating as a vegan, there is no single right way to do it.

Are Vegan Diets Healthy?

Individuals of all ages can thrive on a vegan diet. The most comprehensive evaluation of the health benefits of vegan diets concluded that "Vegan and vegetarian diets can offer substantial health advantages when compared to non-vegetarian diets."

Why go vegan?

Joining a vegan lifestyle promotes good health, preserve numerous animal lives, and contribute to the fight against climate change. Also, the culinary experience of vegan food is truly delightful and becoming more accessible every year.

How to Go Vegan?

If you're planning to go vegan, you don't have to do it alone. This guide covers all aspects of transitioning to a vegan diet in an enjoyable way. By the time you complete reading it, you'll have a clear understanding of how to proceed confidently.

What Foods are Vegan?

By reading our introduction to vegan cuisine, you'll never face difficulty in finding delightful meals. Our comprehensive guide encompasses various aspects, including grocery shopping, convenient food options, dining out, and even travel recommendations.

Try Out a Vegan Diet

Embarking on a vegan diet is incredibly simple. Here is all the information you require to get started. Whether you choose to follow it for a day, a week, or a month, you will have an enjoyable experience and gain valuable knowledge.

Vegan Cooking Made Easy

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Investing just an hour or two in acquiring fundamental cooking skills can bring lifelong benefits to your culinary journey.

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Frequently Asked Questions

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