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It’s easy to have a healthy vegan diet when you build habits around seven simple guidelines.

1. Eat legumes.

They’re packed with protein, with the bonus of a big dose of fiber. (No protein-rich animal food can claim that!). Choose three servings of these foods—which include cooked beans, peas, lentils, tofu, tempeh, soymilk, veggie meats, peanuts and peanut butter—every day. Keep it simple if you don’t have time to soak and cook beans (or if you don’t like beans that much). Meals that include a serving of legumes include a PB&J sandwich; baked potato topped with homemade tofu sour cream; hummus wrap; instant cup of lentil soup; veggie burger; or cereal with soymilk.

2.  Pile your plate with fruits and veggies, and vary your choices.

Vegans are ahead of the game here, since they tend to eat more of these foods than omnivores. Variety is important, though, because different fruits and vegetables have different benefits. Those that are high in vitamin C (citrus fruits, strawberries, green leafy vegetables, broccoli, peppers, cauliflower, and Brussels sprouts) will give iron absorption a big boost, so try to include one of these foods at every meal. Some leafy greens like spinach and Swiss chard are among the world’s best sources of potassium, which is good for your bones and blood pressure. Other green leafies—collards and kale—are packed with calcium. And, of course, all of those deep orange vegetables like squash and carrots are important for vitamin A.

3.  Get enough calcium.

It’s not the end-all and be-all of bone health, but calcium does matter and it’s an area where some vegans fall short. Best sources for vegans are fortified juices and plant milks, calcium-set tofu, kale and collards. But you can get smaller amounts of calcium from figs, oranges, broccoli, and cabbage, too.

4. Choose whole grains.

Every single bite of grain you eat doesn’t have to be unprocessed. If you enjoy crusty French bread with soups and salads, or regular pasta in your lasagna, that’s fine. Vegans get plenty of fiber after all. But whole grains have other benefits and nutrients besides fiber, so aim for the unrefined choices most of the time.

5. Be smart about fats.

Limiting fatty foods is good, but avoiding them completely isn’t. Some high fat foods like nuts and seeds contribute important nutrients to vegan diets. Nuts are also linked to lower heart disease risk and are helpful in the control of diabetes.  Added fats are okay, too, when used in small amounts to enhance texture and flavor of foods. Meals that are swimming in fat aren’t such a good idea, but a drizzle of olive or organic canola oil on salads and roasted vegetables is absolutely fine in the context of a healthy vegan diet. Be sure to include small amounts of ground flaxseed, chia seeds, or walnuts to meet needs for the essential fatty acid alpha-linolenic acid.

6. Don’t shun supplements.

All vegans need vitamin B12 supplements (or fortified foods.) And many vegans opt for supplements of the omega-3 fats DHA and EPA (although the jury is out on whether they are beneficial). Other supplements depend on your diet and lifestyle. If you use iodized salt, you’re covered for iodine. If not, it’s a good idea to take a supplement. (Iodine content of plants depends on where they are grown and many people, including meat eaters, fall short on this nutrient.) And vegans get vitamin D from the same places as omnivores—from sunshine or fortified foods. If you don’t get much time in the sun, especially during the winter, opt for a vitamin D supplement.

7. Be flexible and have fun with your vegan diet.

Vegans are automatically off to a good start with food choices. Diets built around plant foods are free of cholesterol, low in saturated fat and high in fiber. There are still plenty of junk-food choices for vegans, though. Needless to say, your diet won’t be healthy if it’s packed with potato chips and Oreo cookies. But it’s not an all-or-nothing kind of thing. Processed foods like veggie meats and cheeses can make it easier to stick to your healthy vegan diet, and so can the occasional treat.

Image Source: Kelly Taylor/Flickr

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11 comments on “The 7 Habits of Healthy Vegans”

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Christian Mancinelli
3 Months Ago

I need to pay my dues to the AVS before participating in the lifestyle. Somebody told them I ate meat and now I have to go through training again.


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Haylan Thurman
3 Months Ago

Christian Mancinelli . For your new lifestyle. ;)


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Jana Leland
3 Months Ago

good stuff!


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Terri Lee Ann Bowers
3 Months Ago

Leandro Leon


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Anatol
1 Years Ago

my take on this is a little different... here is the Nutritarian approach as i understand it ... and followed for 12 years now... first there is much misunderstanding about the priority of protein... all veggies fruits seeds nuts legumes have protein... GREENS have plenty of protein... broccoli has more protein per calorie than steak... basically no need to worry about getting enough protein on a VEGAN diet... what is much much more important is maximizing ur micro-nutrients... and GREENS have the highest density of micro-nutrients per calorie... so one huge salad per day with up to 2lbs of greens is not too much... whereas eating too many seeds & nuts is counterproductive... since ideally we need only a small amount of seeds & nuts for our omega-3s... so enjoy huge large salads with plenty of greens and a dressing of a variety other veggies, fruit, legumes and a small amout of seeds & nuts... if u are sensitive to mixing legumes with fruit... like i am... take that into consideration... another easy formula to remember... is this anti-cancer combination... G-Bombs = greens, beans, onions, mushrooms, berries, seeds ... and make sure all ur food & supplements are ORGANIC & GMO-FREE...


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maya
21 Jan 2014

I agree. I would also like to comment regarding the B12 - please correct the statement about all vegans needing to supplement B12, it's misleading! supplementation is needed only when blood levels are too low, which is not the case with all vegans. taking B12 when it's not needed might not be as harmless as it may sound.

mattheworbit
1 Years Ago

Vegans everywhere are forever in debt to Ginny Messina & Jack Norris. Their honest, unbiased, up to date and no-nonsense advice is a breath of fresh air. Thanks for the great article.


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Melissa
1 Years Ago

Great tips. I didn't realize that swiss chard was a good source of potassium, although I knew about the properties of the other green leafy veggies mentioned.


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Fredrick
2 Years Ago

Thanks so much for the sweet reply, Natala! No, I don’t sell aitnhnyg, but I’ll share when I can. I live in the city and my space is limited, so I do my best to sustain the household. However, luckily I live in a community with like-minded folks – there are now a few urban farms that are able to offer their harvest to the public, which is so cool.


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Auth
15 Mar 2012

Awesome site, thank you! Portland has such a wealth of great peacls to get vegan food, but it seems like there are always more peacls I've not even heard of yet.My review suggestions:Chaat House & India 4-U – Each of these peacls serve a totally delicious samosa chaat, but very different from one another.India 4-U has a daily lunch special, vegan option always available. If you want samosa chaat, don't wait too long! Kumar makes the samosas fresh each morning and runs out quickly.Chaat House has an extensive menu and will make vegan versions of dishes they even have a vegan mango shake that is so rich & creamy that I had to double-check to be sure it was vegan!Van Hahn in SE is an all vegan, Vietnamese restaurant that features amazing mock meat dishes, fantastic appetizers, and excellent soups. The lemon grass tofu sticks are a must order item. The green papaya salad appears to no longer be on the menu, which is a real shame. The steamed buns are stuffed with a very tasty mix of shredded tofu, glass noodle, bean curd skin, and potato all in a barbeque sauce. The potato rolls have a similar mix of items, without the barbeque sauce, wrapped in lettuce and rice paper. Spicy noodle soup is perfect for rainy days; especially love the sesame crackers on top. Be advised that the restaurant is run by volunteers, service can be slow, seemingly indifferent at times, and occasionally your server will not be entirely comfortable speaking English. Don’t be deterred by the location or the comments about the people who are staffing the restaurant, sit back and practice some patience, because the food is worth the wait!Thanks for all the great downtown cart reviews. I've never thought to try No Fish Go Fish, but will now! From the carts reviewed and the comments made about distance to some, it nearly sounds like we're in a similar part of downtown (I'm near Park & Stark)!

Sonnet Lauberth: Blogger, For the Love of Food
2 Years Ago

Great article! :)


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