Many people follow a vegan diet, which involves eating plant-based foods and excluding all animal products, such as meat, dairy, and eggs. Although it can initially be difficult to get the right balance of nutrients, putting a meal plan in place to follow the diet correctly can help people avoid deficiencies.

When starting a vegan diet, it may be difficult at first to identify appropriate substitutes for animal products and achieve the correct nutritional profile. Many items within a vegan diet can be highly nutritious and improve aspects of health. However, people also need to understand how to obtain certain nutrients, such as iron, calcium, and vitamin B12, which it can sometimes be challenging to include enough of in a vegan diet.

In this article, we discuss the benefits and risks of veganism and provide some vegan meal suggestions for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

A green shopping cart that people can fill with vegan foods for their vegan meal plan.Share on Pinterest
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Veganism typically involves the exclusion of animal products, such as meat, poultry, and fish, as well as animal byproducts, including eggs, honey, and dairy. Instead, people consume plant-based foods, such as vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, legumes, and soy. Many people who follow a vegan diet also avoid all forms of animal products, including certain clothes, and products that involve animal testing.

The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics states that vegan dietary patterns can be diverse, nutritious, and helpful for the prevention and management of some chronic conditions.

People may choose a vegan lifestyle for a variety of reasons. For example, some people may adopt vegan dietary patterns for personal, religious, environmental, or health reasons. Some of the possible benefits of a vegan diet include:

Avoids cruelty to animals

Eating a vegan diet means not consuming any meat or animal byproducts. Not eating animal products can help reduce the demand, potentially decreasing the number of animals that people breed and kill for food. Many of those who follow a vegan diet cite avoiding animal cruelty as one of the main reasons for their choice.

For instance, a 2016 article investigating the motives behind following a vegan diet found that animal-related motives contributed to this decision for 89.7% of people. The second most common reason for eating vegan, which 69.3% of participants mentioned, was personal health or well-being.

Better for the planet

A vegan diet might be better for the planet. Raising animals for food uses a lot of resources, such as water. According to People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), factory farms cause billions of pounds of manure to end up in rivers, lakes, and, potentially, drinking water.

Weight loss

A nutritious vegan diet will include a wide variety of vegetables, which are usually low in calories. Although the number of calories varies significantly among different vegan meals, some studies show a link between eating a vegan diet and weight loss.

A small 2015 study involving 50 people who were overweight compared the effects of an omnivorous diet, a semi-vegetarian diet, a vegetarian diet, and a vegan diet on weight loss. The people who ate a vegan diet reported more weight loss than the other groups.

Decreased risk of heart disease

A plant-based diet, such as a vegan diet, may reduce the risk of heart disease. Research in Progress in Cardiovascular Diseases indicates that heart-healthy lifestyle choices may decrease the risk of a heart attack by about 80%.

Researchers have associated plant-based diets with a 40% reduction in cardiovascular disease deaths and the risk of coronary artery disease. Following a plant-based diet may result in reduced cholesterol and blood pressure, as well as a decreased risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

The increased popularity of the vegan lifestyle means that more options are becoming available in grocery stores. However, for many items, it is worth checking the food labels to ensure that they do not include any additional ingredients that may not be vegan. People may also want to look for official labels confirming that the food is vegan.

Staple items that people might wish to consider adding to a vegan shopping list could include:

  • Grains: Examples include rice, quinoa, and oats.
  • Fruits: People can choose from a wide range, including peaches, melons, berries, apples, and avocados.
  • Vegetables: Good options include dark leafy greens, cauliflower, peppers, and sweet potatoes.
  • Packaged: Crackers, cereal, and soups are useful pantry staples.
  • Flavorings: Balsamic vinegar, capers, olive oil, pepper, turmeric, and other herbs, spices, and dressings can make meals more flavorsome.

Protein sources

As a vegan diet does not include meat, it is important to eat foods that contain protein. Good sources of protein on a vegan diet include:

  • tofu
  • beans
  • legumes
  • nuts
  • almond butter
  • chickpeas
  • lentils

Dairy and egg alternatives

Alternatives to dairy products may include:

  • canned coconut milk
  • plant-based milks, such as almond, soy, or rice milk
  • vegan egg substitutes

Iron sources

Some vegan sources of iron may include:

  • chickpeas
  • tofu
  • cashew nuts
  • chia seeds
  • hemp seeds
  • fortified breakfast cereals

Learn more about iron-rich foods for vegans here.

Calcium sources

Vegan sources of calcium include:

  • fortified tofu
  • fortified plant milk
  • fortified yogurt alternatives
  • fortified bread
  • kale
  • watercress
  • okra
  • fig
  • almonds

Learn more about vegan sources of calcium here.

Vitamin B12 sources

Some vegan products containing vitamin B12 include:

  • vitamin B12 supplements
  • fortified plant milks
  • fortified cereals
  • nutritional yeast
  • tempeh
  • nori seaweed
  • chlorella
  • spirulina

Learn more about vegan sources of vitamin B12 here.

Various cookbooks and websites offer a large variety of meal ideas for people who follow a vegan diet. When constructing a vegan meal plan, people should ensure that they are getting sufficient nutrition.

Below is an example of a possible 3-day vegan meal plan:

1 cup nondairy yogurt alternative topped with a quarter cup of strawberries and almondsblack bean or soy burger with sliced tomatoes and baby spinach on a vegan bread rolltofu stir fry with 1 cup each of tofu, red and green peppers, and broccolihummus with carrot and celery sticks
two slices of Ezekiel toast topped with a half cup of mashed avocado grain bowl with 1 cup of brown rice and 1 cup of mixed carrots, edamame, peppers, and cherry tomatoesstuffed peppers with quinoa, onion, and tomato1 cup of mixed berries with a quarter cup of walnuts
peanut butter banana oatmeal with a quarter cup of cooked rolled oats, a half cup of sliced banana, a quarter cup of peanut butter, and soy or almond milk2 cups of mixed salad greens with oil and vinegar, a quarter cup of sunflower seeds, and 1 cup of mixed red pepper, carrot, cucumber, and tomatotwo corn tortillas with sauteed portobello mushroom, onion, and cabbage 1 cup of roasted edamame and chickpeas

There are also some potential risks to following a vegan diet. Knowing the risks helps an individual adjust their diet and include or exclude certain foods for better overall nutrition. Possible risks may include:

  • Inadequate protein: People following certain vegan diets may struggle to include adequate protein.
  • Nutrient deficiencies: Iron and some other nutrients, such as vitamin B12, are largely in animal products.
  • Limited food choices eating out: Not all restaurants have a vegan menu, which may make dining out challenging.

With some planning and consideration, an individual may avoid the risks. They should consider the following:

  • Remember key nutrients: To avoid nutritional deficiencies, it is essential to eat foods containing vitamin B12, such as fortified cereals and plant milks, and plenty of protein-rich foods, such as tofu, nuts, and beans.
  • Watch calories: Not all vegan foods are low in sugar or calories. For example, vegan snacks, such as cookies, may have a high sugar content. Nuts and seeds are nutritious but also high in calories, so people may wish to limit their portion sizes.
  • Eat a variety of foods: A vegan diet contains a lot of vegetables and fruits. Adding in a variety of meat and dairy substitutes can help an individual maintain a well-balanced diet.

Anyone who has particular concerns about their diet or is unsure how to create a suitable meal plan may wish to work with a qualified dietitian.

Following a vegan diet involves not eating meat and other animal products. The diet is typically rich in plant-based foods, such as vegetables, fruits, and grains.

Following a vegan meal plan has possible benefits, such as avoiding animal cruelty, improving certain health metrics, and potentially helping the environment. Although a few risks exist, such as nutritional deficiencies, careful meal planning makes proper nutrition maintainable.