What is a Vegan diet?
Magdanatka/ShutterstockA vegan diet is one that avoids all animal products, including animal flesh (meat, poultry, and fish), dairy products (milk, cream, butter, yogurt, and cheese), eggs, and honey. This means zero ingredients of any kind from animal products, such as gelatin (often used in vitamin capsules as a thickening agent), whey, and dairy fat ingredients. People are attracted to the vegan lifestyle out of concern for animal welfare, because of health issues (check out what happens to your body when you go vegan), for weight loss, or to be kinder to the environment. (It's also a money-saver, among other compelling reasons to go vegan.)
Vegans range in their degree of strictness with the diet. "Some will not eat at restaurants that prepare meat, while others don't mind if the same grill used to cook meat is used to prepare their food," says Sharon Palmer, aka the Plant Powered Dietitian. "Some vegans do not worry about trace ingredients (like eggs or dairy products) found in food products, while others scour food labels carefully." Many vegans also don't buy products made from animals, including leather, silk, or wool. They may also avoid household and cosmetic products that were tested on animals (here's a guide to vegan skin care).
How do vegans get protein?
Magdanatka/ShutterstockMost of us equate protein with meat, but there's plenty of protein in plant-based foods. (Here are the best plant-based protein sources, ranked.) Vegans tend to get their daily dose of protein mostly from soy (tofu, edamame, tempeh), pulses (beans, lentils, chickpeas, peas), nuts, seeds, peanuts, plus a bit from whole grains and vegetables. (And here's an egg substitute vegans are loving now.) It is completely possible to consume adequate protein from plant sources. What do vegans eat? Read on for examples of delicious plant-based meals.
Breakfast: Super Acai Berry Bowl
Courtesy Sharon PalmerPalmer, also the author of the The Plant Powered Diet and Plant Powered for Life, created a delicious mix of ancient grains (quinoa, which can fuel fat burn), coconut, antioxidant-rich blueberries, and blackberries to fuel your morning. And it's ready in just a few minutes, so you're not dashing out the door. Bonus—it's also gluten-free! Get more tasty vegan breakfast ideas here.
Breakfast: Tofu Scramble
Courtesy Catherine BrownIf eggs are your go-to morning meal, try this plant-based tofu scramble from chef Catherine Brown. Great for special weekend or holiday breakfasts, this dish is high in plant-based protein, fiber, Vitamins A, C, and potassium, and is a good source of calcium and iron. Brown shares, "I use fortified nutritional yeast here for both the color and flavor addition, as well as an important source of Vitamin B12." Don't miss the silent signs that you're not getting enough vitamin B.
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Breakfast: Pomegranate Pistachio Chia Breakfast Pudding
Courtesy Amy GorinIf you haven't jumped on the chia seed train yet, this is the perfect breakfast for you. Dietitian Amy Gorin created this decadent dish that makes it feel like you're having dessert for breakfast. She loves it because you can prep it the night before, and then you have a delicious, nutritious meal ready the next morning. It's full of protein and fiber to keep you fueled! Check out chia seeds' impressive health benefits.
Breakfast: Savory Steel Cut Oats with Spinach, Mushroom, and Tofu
Courtesy Sharon PalmerNot a fan of sweet breakfasts? Try these delicious savory steel cut oats packed with protein from tofu, and multiple vitamins from spinach and mushrooms. This meal, created by Sharon Palmer, boasts 10 grams of fiber to fill you up all morning long. Sun-dried tomatoes, garlic, onion, and black pepper provide a tasty spice blend, turning the traditionally sweet oats into a rich, savory anytime meal. As a bonus, steel cut oats make the perfect pre-workout breakfast.
Lunch: Avocado Chickpea Salad Sandwich
Courtesy Abbeys KitchenAre you the sandwich type? Canadian dietitian Abbey Sharp has just the lunch for you. This chicken-salad-inspired vegan sandwich combines smashed avocado for the creamy texture, along with chickpeas instead of chicken, lemon juice, and a hint of hot chili. Load up the veggies—tomatoes, greens, shredded carrots, and beets, some of the healthiest vegetables you can eat. This lunch packs serious amounts of fiber, healthy fats, vitamin A, and phytochemicals,a class of foods that fight disease.
Lunch: Southwestern Black Bean, Quinoa, and Mango Salad
Courtesy Sharon PalmerPalmer offers this light, yet satisfying salad marrying sweet mango with spicy jalapeno, ancient gluten-free grain (quinoa is actually a seed), and healthful spices such as turmeric and garlic (here's how to peel garlic in seconds!). This dish is rich in vitamin C from bell peppers and vitamin A from mango, two antioxidants the body uses to stave off chronic disease. It's an excellent make-ahead lunch that you can prep once and enjoy for several meals, as it keeps well in the fridge.
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Lunch: Lentil Patties with Cashew Cream Sauce
Courtesy Sharon PalmerIf you're craving a burger, but avoiding meat, try Palmer's lentil patties and you'll be more than satisfied. The combo of soy sauce, onion, garlic, and Dijon mustard liven up the protein-rich lentils. It's packed with fiber from the lentils, potato, oats, whole wheat bread crumbs, chia seeds, and carrots. In place of cream sauce, Palmer offers a nut-based "cream" sauce made from cashews and mixed with fresh basil for a tasty condiment. Lentils are quick-cooking legumes, ideal for weekday meals.
Lunch: Crispy Tofu Nuggets
Courtesy Angie AsheIf you love crunchy chicken nuggets or fish sticks, sports dietitian Angie Asche created a vegan option just for you. "These delicious crispy tofu nuggets are an easy plant-based recipe your whole family will love!" she says. They're lightly breaded with whole wheat breadcrumbs, spices, and nutritional yeast; and they're baked—not fried."
Dinner: Chickpea Coconut Curry
Courtesy Whitney EnglishDietitian Whitney English modified a rich curry dish into a plant-based dinner. Believe it or not, it comes together in less than 30 minutes. The combination of sweet potatoes, onion, kale, bell pepper, and brown rice (or quinoa for extra protein) is spicy, fiber-full, and packed with vitamins A, C and K. Chickpeas plus rice make a complete protein, which gives your body the building blocks it needs. Check out these other complete proteins that aren't meat.
Dinner: Vegan Tostadas
Courtesy Whitney EnglishIf you're in the mood for south-of-the-border flavors, you're in for a delicious treat. English created a simple black bean-based tostada that is so simple, you'll have dinner on the table super fast. Walnuts in the filling boosts fiber, protein, and healthy fats. There are many nutrients you could be missing as a vegan, particularly iron, so beans are a good source of these important nutrients. Perfect for both Meatless Mondays or Taco Tuesdays!
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Dinner: Crockpot Lentil Tikki Masala
Courtesy Angie AsheNeed a vegan meal but don't have time for lots of prep? What could be easier than dumping ingredients into a slow cooker and coming home to the divine aromas of curry? Asche proves through her lentil tikki masala that you can adjust your favorite dishes into plant-based goodness. "If you're a fan of the incredibly popular Indian favorite, Chicken Tikka Masala, you'll love this lighter vegan version! Packed with veggies and flavor, this nutritious recipe makes up to 8 servings, making it a great recipe for your weekly meal prep," Asche says. As a bonus, many Indian spices can improve your health.
Dinner: Roasted Butternut Squash Kale Farro Pilaf
Courtesy Judith Scharman DraughonThe versatile and slightly sweet butternut squash is the star of this plant-based dinner from dietitian Judith Scharman Draughon. "Buy pre-peeled and cut butternut squash, toss with oil and spices, and roast while putting the other ingredients together," she says. "In fact, if you are in a hurry, buy the onions and celery pre-cut too." Farro is a delicious ancient grain that cooks in about 15 minutes even though it is 100 percent whole grain. The curry and coriander flavors are even better the next day, so it's perfect for leftovers. The dish is full of fiber and micronutrients, vitamins A and K too.