What to eat on a vegan diet for beginners to thrive and ensure you get all the nutrients your body requires as a vegan?


What to eat on a vegan diet?

This is one of the most common questions people have when transitioning to a vegan lifestyle: What should I eat to ensure I don’t suffer from malnutrition? Can I eat bread on a vegan? What about pasta? Can I eat pasta on a vegan diet? Will I lack protein without consuming chicken? Do I need supplements? And isn’t calcium only found in milk?

Okay. Let’s focus on this ‘vegan for beginners’ topic

If you follow a whole food plant-based diet, there is no reason to worry about deficiencies or the risk of malnutrition. Unless you have a specific medical condition that requires additional supplements or medication, you should consult your GP as you would as an omnivore. However, aside from that, a vegan diet is considered one of the best and healthiest options available.

Let me share the foods you should include in your daily diet to ensure you receive all the necessary nutrients and thrive as a vegan. It’s important to note that when I use the term ‘diet,’ I am not referring to counting calories or obsessing over food – Instead, I am referring to a lifestyle approach.

List of vegan foods for beginners

PROTEIN

Protein provides energy, transports nutrients and keeps our body healthy. It’s very important for building and repairing body tissues. Consuming the right amount produces stamina and energy.

Vegan source of protein:

Soy products – tofu, tempeh, edamame beans, soy milk, soy yoghurt

Legumes – lentils (green, red, yellow…), beans, chickpeas…

Seeds and nuts – pumpkin seeds, hemp seeds, peanuts, cashew nuts, almonds, Brazil nuts, sesame seeds…

Nutritional yeast (it’s a complete protein with all 9 essential amino acids our body needs)

vegan diet - proteine

CARBOHYDRATES

Carbs are supplying our body with energy, body fat and fibre. They manage blood sugar, and insulin levels and prevent constipation.

Fruits and vegetables – aim for 10-15 different servings per day. I know it may sound a lot, but if you make a smoothie with bananas, kale and/or spinach, frozen summer fruits with a mix of 3-4 berries, and perhaps mango, you’ve already covered 7 portions. Additionally, preparing a lentil stew or veggie pasta sauce with 7-8 different types of vegetables will complete your daily intake. See? Easy-peasy.

Try to purchase fruits and vegetables that are in season. This ensures you get the maximum nutrition and flavour while also saving money. Another tip is to buy from your local market and choose produce that has been grown in your country. This helps reduce CO2 emissions, and there’s no need to pick them before they are fully ripe.

Vegan source of carbs:

Fruit – Berries (blueberries, raspberries, strawberries, blackberries etc.), bananas, apples, grapes, watermelon, pineapple, melons, pears, mango etc.

Vegetables – cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, and Brussels sprouts), leafy greens (kale, spinach, watercress, romaine lettuce, microgreens), red and orange vegetables like carrots, sweet potato, squash, red bell pepper, tomatoes etc.

Whole grains – oats, quinoa, whole-wheat pasta, brown rice, wholemeal bread and cereals

vegan diet - carbs

Read more about ‘How to go vegan?’

FIBRE

Fibre is a vital part of our diet. It’s a type of complex carb and it’s found in fruits, veggies and grains. It does not digest nor does it provide energy but it’s important for digestion and absorption of other food. It also helps you feel fuller for longer, can improve cholesterol and blood sugar levels and can help in preventing some diseases such as diabetes, heart disease and bowel cancer.

Vegan source of fibre:

Include a variety of fruits and vegetables in your vegan diet, focusing on those with darker colours as they tend to be higher in fibre content. Incorporate beans and legumes such as red, green, and yellow lentils, red kidney beans, black beans, and chickpeas.

Enjoy nuts as a nutritious snack option. Opt for wholemeal or granary bread, whole-wheat pasta, bulgur wheat, brown rice, and new potatoes and sweet potatoes with skin.

You don’t need to worry too much about your fibre intake, as vegan diet is naturally rich in fibre. However, if you’re new to veganism, it’s advisable to gradually increase your fiber consumption. An omnivorous diet typically lacks fibre, so a sudden high intake at the beginning of your vegan journey may lead to digestion issues. Start with half a cup of beans a day and gradually increase the amount over time.


RDI (recommended daily intake) in the UK – 2-5yo 15g a day, 5-11yo 20g a day, adults 25g a day

vegna diet

CALCIUM

Calcium is a building material of bones and teeth. It’s needed for the heart and muscles. It also plays an important role in blood clotting and nerve functioning.

Vegan source of calcium:

Calcium-set tofu, fortified plant-based milk, fortified plant-based yoghurt, edamame beans, tahini (sesame seed paste), broccoli, spinach, kale, cabbage, nuts, spirulina or supplements if needed

RDA (recommended daily allowance) for adults is 700mg

VITAMIN B12

Vitamin B12 is required for normal growth and development. It plays a vital role with folate (folic acid) for the production of normal red blood cells. It’s very important in the protection and function of nerve cells, the manufacture of DNA and the metabolism of fats and carbs.

how to go vegan

Vegan source of B12:

Fortified plant-based milk, yoghurt, fortified nutritional yeast, Marmite, dairy-free spread, supplements

RDA (recommended daily allowance) in the UK for adults is 1.5mcg

VITAMIN D

The vital function this vitamin plays is in bone health: vitamin D helps to increase the absorption of calcium in the gut, and helps to regulate calcium levels in the blood. It also has functions in the brain, the nervous system and cellular growth. So you should make sure you are eating enough calcium to be able to absorb vitamin D into your bloodstream. The thing is, vegan or not vegan, you have to take care of your vitamin D intake. Especially if you have an office-based job and you are not able to get enough sun exposure.

Vagan source of Vitamin D

Most vitamin D is obtained through the action of sunlight on the skin during the summer months.

Another way is through a diet – you should include this food into your diet BUT not rely on it completely:

Mushrooms enriched with Vitamin D, fortified plant-based milk, yoghurt, fortified orange juice etc.

I’m taking a vitamin D supplement during winter months and during summer I enjoy 10-15mins a day outside without sunscreen. There are 2 types of Vitamin D which are Vitamin D2 and Vitamin D3. I will write a separate post about it to explain everything in detail.

In a period from late March/April to September (in the UK) there is no need to take supplements if you are able to be exposed to the sun for at least 10-15min a day.

RDA (recommended daily allowance) in the UK for adults is 10-20 mcg (400-800 UI/day)

IODINE

Iodine is a trace mineral and is found in seawater, rocks and some type of soil. Your body uses iodine to make thyroid hormones which control our metabolism. It’s also needed for our hair, skin, nails and teeth. It’s hard to say how much iodine is in a certain vegetable as, nowadays, our soil is very depleted.

Vegan source of Iodine:

edible seaweeds (kelp, wakami, nori and hijiki), iodised salt, asparagus, green leafy vegetables and fortified foods, supplements

RDA (recommended daily allowance) for children aged 1-3 is 70mcg, for 4-10 is 100mcg and for adults 140mcg

IRON

Iron is a mineral and it can be found in every human cell. It carries oxygen around your body which means it keeps your body healthy. Iron is also a key element in DNA synthesis and the production of energy in the cells. Iron intake can vary from person to person as pregnant women, children, elderly people, people who consume high fibre diet or menstruating women are prone to iron deficiency more than others.

vegan diet - iron

Vegan source of Iron:

Green leafy vegetables (spinach, kale, collard greens, swiss chard), oatmeal, lentils, chickpeas, tofu, beans, edamame, apricots, raisins, seeds, fortified breakfast cereal, spirulina anddd..wait for it…DARK CHOCOCOLATE.” Yes, doctor..I just had to have that whole packet of dark chocolate to increase my iron intake. “ Not bad, eh?

Absorption:

There are iron enhancers and iron inhibitors which means some food can help with absorption and some can decrease it.

Enhancers are food rich in vitamin C (try eating your oatmeal with some kiwi, mango, berries…), add some lemon juice into your salad, dice red bell pepper and dip in hummus or simply eat a fruit rich in vitamin C after your main meal.

Inhibitors are tea and coffee – black tea, some herbal teas, espresso, or coffee. Try to consume it at least 30 minutes before or after a meal.

RDA (recommended daily allowance) in the UK for women is 14.8 mg and for men is 8.7mg

OMEGA 3 & OMEGA 6

Omegas are essential fatty acids meaning our body can’t make them and they need to be taken by food or supplements. They are important for the functioning of cardiovascular, reproductive, immune and nervous systems. I will do another post about this separately as it would be too long if I included all the info in this one.

nothing fishy vegan omega
NothingFishy – Vegan Algae Omega 3 DHA Supplement

Vegan source of Omega:

Tofu, chia seeds, ground linseed (flaxseed), hemp seeds and walnuts, pecans, olive oil, avocados, almonds, hazelnuts, green leafy vegetables, fortified bread, some fat spreads and use vegetable (rapeseed) oil as your main cooking oil, supplements

RDI (recommended daily intake) for adults is 250-500mg

Zinc

Zinc is important for growth, repair and sexual maturation. It is also required for the functioning of the immune system and in the structure and function of the skin and hence plays a vital role in wound healing

vegan diet

Vegan source of Zinc:

Whole grains – wheat, quinoa, rice and oats, tofu, tempeh, legumes, nuts- peanuts, cashews, almonds, seeds- hemp, pumpkin, squash and sesame, fortified breakfast cereals

RDA (recommended daily allowance) in the UK for women is 9.5mg, and for Men is 7mg

SELENIUM

Selenium is an important part of the body’s antioxidant defence system and it protects the cell structure against the harmful effects of oxidative and free-radical damage. It is also necessary for the use of iodine in thyroid hormone production, for immune system function and for reproductive function.

Vegan source of Selenium:

Brazil nuts, bread. Only two Brazil nuts a day will meet your daily intake.

In the UK selenium intakes have fallen with the decline in import of North American selenium-rich wheat and the increased use of European cereals which are less rich in the mineral. However, some bread manufacturers still import wheat from North America.

RDA: Women 60mcg, men 75mcg. Also, a higher intake is required for people with a higher body weight.

Disclaimer: The information contained on this website (thymewithtina.com) is for information only. You must not rely on the information on this website as an alternative to medical advice from your doctor or other professional healthcare provider. If you have any specific questions about any medical matter you should consult your doctor or other professional healthcare provider. If you think you may be suffering from any medical condition you should seek immediate medical attention. You should never delay seeking medical advice, disregard medical advice, or discontinue medical treatment because of information on this website.

Additional References: Department of Health, 41 Dietary Reference values for food energy and nutrients for the United Kingdom, The Vegan Society, vegansociety.com, British Nutrition Foundation, nutrition.org.uk

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