Many who follow the standard American diet or another meat-based diet often believe that veganism is highly restrictive. It can be difficult to understand why someone would embrace a diet that does not include meat, eggs, or dairy products. However, there are many healthy foods that vegans can consume to obtain all the protein, vitamins, minerals and other nutrients needed for optimal health.
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Fruits and Vegetables
As many omnivores or meat eaters would guess, fruits and vegetables are staples of the vegan diet. Vegans eat them in salads, casseroles, stir fry dishes and with dips such as hummus and baba ghannouj. All vegetables and fruits are considered vegan in their natural, raw states.
Beans and Legumes
Because vegans do not derive protein from meat, dairy or eggs, beans and legumes are important sources of protein for many vegans. These foods include black beans, chickpeas, lentils, navy beans and kidney beans. These foods also provide dietary fiber in the vegan diet.
Soy products are commonly used as meat and dairy replacements in the vegan diet. Soy milk can be used in any recipe that calls for cow's milk, and it can also be used in cereals or by itself. Tofu, which is made from soybean curds, appears in vegan sandwiches, casseroles and stir fry dishes. Some large supermarkets and health food stores also carry vegan soy versions of yogurt, shredded cheese, sour cream and cheese slices.
Vegans typically rely on grain products such as oatmeal, tortillas, breads and pastas for carbohydrates and dietary fiber. Most vegans choose whole-grain products, which do not contain processed and refined flours, because they offer more nutrients than white flour products.
Packaged Meat Replacements
Vegan versions of foods designed to imitate the color, texture and flavor of meat products are available in some large grocery stores. These include vegan faux chicken strips, bacon, lunch meat, beef crumbles, burgers, sausage patties and chorizo. However, some vegans avoid these products because they tend to be highly processed and are typically high in preservatives and sodium.
There are many other foods considered acceptable in a vegan diet. These include nuts, seeds, sprouts and popcorn. Baba ghannouj, a roasted eggplant dip, and hummus, a garbanzo bean dip, are popular among vegans because they provide plenty of protein and can be enjoyed with a variety of crudites and other dipping foods. Thai and Indian curries are also commonly enjoyed by vegans. There are South Indian and Thai restaurants in the United States that cater to vegans and vegetarians.
While vegans partake of a healthy diet that is rich in nutrients, it is lacking in one vitamin in particular -- vitamin B-12. Vitamin B-12 is naturally available in animal products, but vegans need to get B-12 from other sources. The McKinley Health Center at Illinois University suggests that vegans get vitamin B-12 from yeasts, fortified foods or dietary supplements.