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Balanced diet for vegans: A Complete Guide

Following a vegan diet, which avoids all animal products including meat, dairy, eggs, and honey, has gone mainstream. There are plant-based alternatives available for just about any food. But the question still remains – is a vegan diet healthy in the long run? Can you get all the necessary vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients without any animal foods?

The short answer is yes, absolutely. With mindful meal planning, vegans can easily meet all their nutritional requirements. The key is eating a varied, well-balanced diet full of whole plant foods. Like any diet, junk food and processed vegan products should be minimized.

This complete guide will cover everything you need to know to thrive on a balanced vegan diet.

What Exactly is a Balanced diet for vegans?

A Balanced diet for vegans is one that provides adequate amounts of macronutrients – protein, healthy fats, and complex carbohydrates – as well as micronutrients – vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals.

The main aspects of a balanced vegan diet include:

  • Eating a rainbow of fruits and vegetables. Produce provides the bulk of vitamins, minerals, fiber, and plant compounds that are protective against disease. Aim for 7-10 servings per day.
  • Choosing whole grains and legumes. Whole grains like brown rice, quinoa, farro, and oats along with beans, lentils, edamame, peas, and peanuts provide satiating fiber, protein, and B vitamins. Include at least 3 servings of whole grains and 2-3 servings of legumes daily.
  • Including healthy plant-based fats. Nuts, seeds, avocado, olive oil, and coconut provide essential fatty acids and vitamin E. Aim for 2-3 servings of healthy fats per day.
  • Incorporating soy foods and meat substitutes. Tofu, tempeh, seitan, and meat substitutes help boost protein intake on vegan diets. Have 1-2 servings daily.
  • Minimizing processed foods. Limit vegan junk food like fries, chips, soda, sugar-sweetened beverages, vegan baked goods, ice cream, and cheese. These provide excess calories without nutrition.
  • Supplementing when needed. Take a vitamin B12 supplement and consider an algal omega-3 supplement. Speak to a doctor about any other supplements that may be warranted.

When crafting vegan meals and snacks, emphasize whole, minimally processed plant foods over refined and sugary options. Portion control also matters – it’s easy to overeat high-calorie vegan foods. A truly balanced vegan diet is healthful, nutrient-dense, and promotes a healthy body weight.

Why You Need a Balanced Vegan Diet

It’s understandable to have concerns over nutrient deficiencies when adopting a fully plant-based diet. After all, foods like meat, eggs, and dairy are traditional sources of protein, fat, calcium, and vitamin B12 for many people. But through mindful meal planning, vegans can easily meet their nutritional needs – and reap some benefits too!

Here are some of the top reasons why following a balanced vegan diet matters:

  • Prevents nutrient deficiencies. Getting adequate protein, omega-3s, iron, zinc, calcium, iodine, B12, and other nutrients is crucial. A deficiency can lead to low energy, poor concentration, thyroid dysfunction, suppressed immunity, and developmental problems in kids.
  • Reduces risk of chronic diseases. Well-planned vegan diets are linked to lower rates of obesity, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and certain cancers. Vegans tend to have lower blood pressure and cholesterol too.
  • Promotes healthy body weight. The high fiber and lower calorie density of plants compared to animal foods facilitate healthy weight management. But beware of refined carbs and oils which can lead to weight gain.
  • Extends lifespan. Several studies show vegans live longer than meat-eaters, even when other lifestyle factors are accounted for. A balanced vegan diet may enhance longevity.
  • Benefits the planet. Vegan diets have a smaller carbon footprint and environmental impact than omnivorous diets. But sustainability depends on whole foods over processed mock meats and imported exotic fruits.

The takeaway is that just eliminating animal foods alone doesn’t guarantee health. But when well-planned, a balanced vegan diet provides excellent nutrition for all stages of life.

Read also: Vitamin B12 Vegan Sources: A Complete Guide

Key Nutrients Vegans Must Be Mindful Of

While most vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients can be obtained on vegan diets from plants, there are some that require a bit more attention. Be certain to include reliable sources of these nutrients daily:


Being protein deficient is very rare on a vegan diet as long as calorie needs are met and protein intake is adequate. Good vegan protein sources include:

  • Beans: chickpeas, lentils, black beans, edamame
  • Tofu and tempeh
  • Seitan
  • Nuts and nut butter
  • Vegan meat substitutes
  • Whole grains: quinoa, oats, brown rice
  • Green peas

Aim for 0.5 – 0.8 grams of protein per lb of body weight as a vegan. This equates to 70-100g of protein for a 150 lb adult. Spread intake throughout the day.

Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Omega-3s provide anti-inflammatory effects and cardiovascular benefits. Vegans must turn to plant sources like:

  • Flaxseeds and chia seeds
  • Walnuts
  • Hemp seeds
  • Algae oil supplements
  • Brussels sprouts
  • Seaweed

To boost absorption, grind flax and chia seeds before eating. An algae oil supplement can help get sufficient EPA and DHA omega-3s.


Iron is essential for blood and cellular health. The non-heme iron in plant foods is absorbed less well compared to the heme iron in meat. But eating vitamin C foods boosts absorption. Get iron from:

  • Lentils, beans, tofu, and tempeh
  • Cashews and pumpkin seeds
  • Spinach and Swiss chard
  • Fortified cereals and plant milk
  • Dried fruits like apricots and figs

Including a source of vitamin C like citrus, peppers, broccoli, or strawberries with meals can enhance iron absorption from plant foods.


Calcium is crucial for bone health. Plant sources of calcium include:

  • Tofu made with calcium sulfate
  • Fortified plant milk
  • Kale, bok choy, and other leafy greens
  • Almonds and tahini
  • Beans
  • Dried figs and oranges

Aim for at least 2 servings of the above foods daily to meet calcium needs. Choose plant milk fortified with calcium and vitamin D when possible.

Vitamin B12

This essential nutrient is not found in plants, so vegans must supplement or consume enough fortified foods. Get B12 from:

  • Fortified plant milk, nutritional yeast, cereals
  • Multivitamins and B12 supplements
  • Occasional servings of mock meats and eggs

Take a daily B12 supplement providing 25-100 mcg or at minimum 3 servings of fortified foods to avoid deficiency. Those over age 50 should aim for 100 mcg daily.


Zinc supports immunity and DNA formation. Vegans can get enough from:

  • Legumes like chickpeas, lentils, and beans
  • Nuts, seeds, and peanut butter
  • Fortified cereals
  • Oats
  • Tofu and tempeh


Needed for proper thyroid hormone production, vegan iodine sources include:

  • Iodized salt
  • Seaweed
  • Multivitamins containing iodine

Be sure to use iodized rather than sea salt for iodine. Eating seaweed several times a week can provide iodine as well.

Vitamin D

Critical for calcium absorption and bone metabolism. Since vitamin D3 comes from animal sources, vegans must rely on:

  • Spending 10-15 minutes outdoors in the midday sun
  • Taking a lichen-derived vitamin D2 supplement
  • Consuming vitamin D2-fortified plant milk and cereals
  • Eating mushrooms, spinach, and tofu

To ensure sufficiency, take a daily vitamin D2 supplement providing 600-800 IU. Those living in cold climates may need more.

By being mindful of including sources of these key nutrients and taking supplements when required, vegans can prevent deficiencies.

Constructing Balanced Vegan Meals

One simple way to plan nutritious vegan meals is to think in terms of protein + produce + whole grains/starchy vegetables. Make this the template for any lunch or dinner:

  • 1/4 plate protein: Tofu, beans, edamame, tempeh, mock meats, nuts
  • 1/2 plate of non-starchy vegetables: Greens, carrots, tomatoes, peppers, broccoli, mushrooms, etc.
  • 1/4 plate whole grains or starchy vegetables: Quinoa, brown rice, sweet potato, corn, peas, squash

Add healthy fats like avocado, olive oil, nuts, or a sauce with meals. Include fresh fruit and nuts or seeds for snacks. Stay hydrated with water and herbal tea.

This basic formula helps create balanced, nutrient-dense vegan meals while keeping refined carbs and oils to a minimum. Tailor the template to suit your own preferences and calorie needs.

Here are some delicious balanced vegan meal ideas:

  • Chickpea coconut curry over brown rice with steamed spinach
  • Lentil walnut loaf with roasted Brussels sprouts and sweet potato
  • Tofu vegetable stir fry with brown rice and pineapple
  • Burrito bowl with black beans, rice, sautéed peppers, and guacamole
  • Buddha bowl with quinoa, edamame, cabbage, carrots, tofu, and tahini dressing
  • Pasta primavera with marinara sauce, veggies, and hemp seeds
  • Tacos with refried beans, slaw, guacamole, and corn tortillas
  • Vegan bibimbap rice bowl with tofu, mushrooms, spinach, and gochujang
  • Lentil shepherd’s pie with mashed sweet potato topping

Remember to include a source of vitamin C and iron in meals to maximize iron absorption.

Sample Balanced Vegan Weekly Meal Plan

Here is a sample one-week meal plan that hits all of the nutritional bases for a healthy vegan diet:


Breakfast: Peanut butter banana oatmeal with almond milk and chia seeds

Lunch: Lentil vegetable soup with whole-grain bread

Dinner: Baked tofu with roasted Brussels sprouts and quinoa


Breakfast: Berry soy yogurt smoothie

Lunch: Chickpea salad sandwich on whole wheat with lettuce, tomato, and avocado

Dinner: Veggie and black bean enchiladas with brown rice and guacamole


Breakfast: Tofu veggie scramble with fortified plant milk

Lunch: Lentil chili with a side salad

Dinner: Crispy tofu stir fry with broccoli over soba noodles


Breakfast: Overnight oats with almond milk, flaxseeds and fruit

Lunch: Curried chickpea salad stuffed in a pita with spinach

Dinner: Walnut mushroom meatballs with marinara over zucchini noodles


Breakfast: Whole grain cereal with fortified plant milk and banana

Lunch: Bean and avocado burrito with hot sauce

Dinner: Baked eggplant Parmesan over whole wheat pasta with a side salad


Breakfast: Tofu veggie scramble with fortified plant milk

Lunch: Vegan Caesar salad with chickpeas and whole-grain croutons

Dinner: Veggie sushi rolls and seaweed salad


Breakfast: Sweet potato hash with kale and tempeh

Lunch: Lentil soup with whole grain bread

Dinner: Veggie Pad Thai with tofu and peanuts

As you can see, it’s easy to hit all nutritional needs over the course of a week through varied whole-food plant-based meals and strategic use of fortified foods and supplements.

Vegan Substitutions for Common Non-Vegan Foods

For many new vegans, learning substitutes for old familiar favorites can help ease the transition to plant-based eating. Here are some popular vegan swaps:

  • Milk – Soy, almond, oat, coconut, hemp, or other plant milk
  • Yogurt – Coconut, almond, or soy yogurts
  • Cheese – Nut-based cheeses, soy cheeses, nutritional yeast
  • Ice Cream – Coconut, cashew, or almond milk ice creams
  • Eggs – Tofu, flax eggs, banana, Just Egg, aquafaba
  • Meat – Seitan, soy curls, jackfruit, mushrooms
  • Whey Protein Powder – Pea, soy, rice, or hemp protein powders
  • Honey – Maple syrup, agave, or date syrup
  • Gelatin – Agar flakes

With some creativity, vegan versions of nearly any dish can be whipped up. But be mindful of relying too heavily on processed substitutes. Whole foods should make up the foundation of balanced vegan eating.

Helpful Tips for Maintaining a Balanced Vegan Diet

Here are some pointers to help you succeed in following a nutritious vegan diet:

  • Take a vitamin B12 supplement. This essential nutrient is only found naturally in animal foods, so supplementation is critical.
  • Look for fortified foods. Many products like plant milk, nutritional yeast, and cereals contain added vitamins and minerals like vitamin D, calcium, and iron.
  • Eat a variety of plant proteins. For optimal amino acid intake, vary your protein sources rather than relying on just one food.
  • Enjoy leafy greens daily. Greens like kale, spinach, and lettuces provide ample vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients.
  • Don’t overdo mock meats and cheeses. While they can help ease the transition, these processed foods should be occasional treats, not everyday staples.
  • See a vegan-friendly doctor if needed. They can check your levels and recommend supplements tailored to your needs.
  • Use a nutrition app to analyze your diet. Apps like Cronometer can help you ensure you’re hitting all your nutrient targets.
  • Be prepared to supplement. In addition to a B12 supplement, vegans may need a vitamin D, omega-3 ALA, or EPA/DHA supplement depending on individual factors.

Sticking with whole foods, eating a balanced diet, and taking supplements as advised will set you up for thriving on a vegan lifestyle.

The Takeaway: Thrive on a Vegan Diet by Focusing on Balance

More than just eliminating animal products, following a healthy vegan diet means making plant nutrition a priority. By filling your plate with fruits, veggies, whole grains, beans, nuts, and seeds, you can achieve all the great health and wellness benefits linked to plant-based eating.

Be sure to regularly include sources of key nutrients like plant-based protein, omega-3s, iron, zinc, calcium, iodine, and B12 in your daily diet. Supplement when required with a vegan multivitamin and/or isolated nutrients that may fall short.

With balanced eating, vegans can obtain all the macro and micronutrients they need for stellar health and performance. A whole food plant-based diet also reduces the risk of chronic disease, promotes a healthy weight, and is gentler on the planet.

By making plants the star of your plate along with mindful meal planning and supplementation, you will feel energized and reap all the benefits of going vegan. Your body will thank you.

Frequently Asked Questions About Balanced Vegan Diets

How can I get enough protein on a vegan diet?

Include high-protein food like tofu, tempeh, beans, lentils, edamame, nuts, or vegan meat substitutes with each meal and snack. Consuming 0.5-0.8 grams of protein per lb of body weight daily from these foods ensures adequate intake for most vegans.

What are some vegan sources of omega-3 fatty acids?

ALA omega-3s come from plant foods like flaxseeds, chia seeds, walnuts, hemp seeds, and Brussels sprouts. To boost absorption, grind flax and chia before eating. Algae oil supplements provide vegan EPA and DHA.

How can vegans obtain enough calcium?

Eat calcium-rich foods like tofu made with calcium sulfate, fortified plant milk, leafy greens, beans, and almonds. Aim for at least 2 servings daily. Choose plant milk fortified with calcium.

What are good vegan sources of iron?

Lentils, beans, spinach, pumpkin seeds, cashews, tofu, and tempeh are packed with iron. Eating a vitamin C source with iron aids absorption.

What about zinc and iodine on a vegan diet?

Legumes, nuts, seeds, and fortified cereals provide zinc. Use iodized salt, seaweed, and a multivitamin containing iodine for iodine needs.

Why is vitamin B12 especially important for vegans?

Vitamin B12 is only found naturally in animal foods. Vegans must supplement or regularly consume foods fortified with B12 to prevent deficiency.

How can I get vitamin D as a vegan?

Take a lichen-derived D2 supplement, consume D2-fortified plant milk and cereals, including mushrooms, and get midday sun. Most vegans need a D2 supplement, especially in winter.

Are there any other supplements vegans should consider taking?

Aside from B12 and possibly vitamin D, the need for supplements depends on the individual diet

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