Vegetables are one of the six food groups for a balanced vegan diet. Most people agree that vegetables are essential for optimal health, but many perspectives exist on what balanced eating entails.
To thrive on a plant-based diet and meet nutritional needs, vegans should eat a range of vegetables. This article reviews the health benefits and nutritional value of vegetables while offering tips for adding more colorful veggies into your routine.
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What are Vegetables?
Vegetables are plants or parts of plants that humans use as food 1. They’re categorized based on the part of the plant consumed. For example, “root vegetables” indicates that people eat the plant’s root.
Many vegetables fit the botanical definition of a fruit 1. However, it’s more practical to define food based on nutrient content and culinary applications.
When discussing vegetables as a food group, we refer to a group of foods with similar nutritional value and culinary applications.
Health Benefits of Vegetables
Research often groups vegetables and fruit, considering them a single food group. Despite this relationship, we know that vegetables specifically offer numerous health benefits:
- Strong associations exist between vegetable consumption and heart health, including the prevention of stroke 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8. Studies consistently demonstrate that consuming vegetables (and fruits) lowers the risk of heart disease.
- Evidence also supports the role of vegetables in cancer prevention and improved outcomes for certain types of cancer 9, 10, 11, 12, 13.
- Furthermore, vegetable intake appears to benefit cognitive function with age 14, 15, 16.
This is a brief overview of the research, but the connection between vegetables and health is extremely robust and well documented across many aspects of health and disease.
Nutrition Content of Vegetables
Personally, I separate vegetables and fruits into two distinct food groups to emphasize the importance of eating both.
Research shows people tend to consume more fruit than vegetables, often because fruit is sweeter and more palatable. Separating fruits from vegetables emphasizes the importance of consuming a variety of vegetables for overall health.
Vegetables generally offer higher nutrient density comparted to fruits, depending on the specific vegetable and fruit being compared.
Compared to fruits, vegetables typically provide higher amounts of:
- Vitamin A (in the form of beta carotene, specifically in orange vegetables)
- Calcium (specifically in leafy and dark green vegetables)
- B vitamins, including folate
- Vitamin K
- Vitamin C
Fruits and vegetables contain essential nutrients, antioxidants and phytochemicals, and each offer distinct health-promoting compounds.
This is why it’s great to enjoy both fruits and vegetables, with vegetables often having a nutritional edge-up.
Why It’s Important to Eat Vegetables as a Vegan
While it may seem obvious, vegans must prioritize vegetable consumption for good health. Some vegetarians and vegans may not meet recommended vegetable intake levels.
Recommended intake typically ranges from 5 to 7 servings of vegetables per day, or half your plate 17.
A balanced and varied vegan diet is essential to ensure nutritional needs are met. This includes enjoying vegetables alongside legumes (and other protein foods), grains, nuts and seeds (and other healthy fats) and fruits.
While processed foods can be part of a balanced diet, avoiding vegetables isn’t the path to optimal health, even as a vegan.
List of Vegetables to Include on a Vegan Diet
Variety is key when selecting foods, especially vegetables, as they contain unique plant compounds with many potential health benefits.
Different colors indicate diverse nutrition content and antioxidants; eating a variety of colorful vegetables can help maximize nutrient intake.
So, what vegetables should vegans include in their diet? Vegans can eat whatever vegetables they enjoy!
If you’re not a fan of vegetables, try to find new ways of preparing vegetables, to make them more appealing. See my tips below!
List of Vegetables by Category
- Leafy green vegetables (kale, collard greens, spinach, cabbage, beet greens, Swiss chard, watercress, all types of lettuce etc.)
- Cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, radish etc.)
- Root vegetables (potato, sweet potato, parsnips, carrots, rutabaga, turnips etc.)
- Allium vegetables (onion, garlic, leeks, scallion, shallot, chives etc.)
- Stems/ stalks (asparagus, celery, fennel, fiddlehead etc.)
- Vegetables that are technically fruits (all types of squash and pumpkin, bell peppers, cucumber, tomato, avocado, olives etc.)
- Mushrooms (technically a fungus)
- Corn (technically a grain)
- Peas, snow peas/ snap peas, green beans (technically a legume)
How to Include More Vegetables in your Vegan Diet
Increasing vegetable consumption can be a challenge (but is a common dietary goal). Here are my top tips for how to include more vegetables in your diet:
- Try Different Cooking Techniques: Try stir frying, sautéing, braising, roasting, air frying, stewing, grilling or pickling vegetables (instead of boiling or steaming) to enhance their flavor and get the best texture. Find recipes that season vegetables with herbs and spices other than just salt and/or pepper.
- Give New Vegetables a Chance: Taste buds often need time to adjust to new foods. Try giving each vegetable a few chances, cooked in different ways, before deciding if you like it, or not. There’s nothing wrong with truly not liking a food but expanding your palate can be a great goal.
- Make a Tasty Salad: Prepare exciting salads with different vegetables, dressings, seasonings and toppings. There are thousands of recipes out there so get experimenting! Don’t forget a crunchy element like nuts, seeds, croutons or roasted chickpeas.
- Keep Frozen Vegetables on Hand: Frozen vegetables can be a quick and easy way to add veggies to a meal. They work well in mixed dishes like stir fry, soup, stew and curries.
- Consider Prepared Vegetable Options: If it fits within your budget, buying vegetables already washed and/or cut can be a huge time saver and make incorporating vegetables into your routine easier.
- Set Aside Time for Weekly Vegetable Prep: Dedicate time to wash, chop and prepare vegetables after grocery shopping to ensure they’re readily available and convenient to use.
- Buy a Realistic Amount: Sometimes, when people want to eat more vegetables, they go overboard at the grocery store. Be realistic with what you can eat and have a plan to use leftovers that are starting to go bad at the end of the week (see the recipes below).
Recipes to Use Up Vegetables
It’s easy to find recipes that incorporate a wide range of vegetables. Having versatile recipes ensures you can enjoy a nutritious and flavorful meal any time!
It’s also helpful to have a plan to use up vegetables before they start going bad.
Having recipes that work no matter what you throw into them are fantastic to keep in mind. If you have the flavoring ingredients (herbs, spices, sauces), you can make a tasty meal.
Here’s a list of my favorite recipes to make when there are vegetables around to use up:
- Tahini pasta
- Teriyaki tempeh
- Pizza crust (top with veggies)
- Oat milk bechamel (toss with veggies and pasta)
- Green curry with tofu
- Rice paper rolls (for veggies that are enjoyed raw)
- Chow mein
- Red curry with peanut-coconut sauce
- Minestrone soup
- Lentil stir fry
- Hummus pasta (this is my go-to for using veggies up!)
- Fried rice
- Hollandaise sauce (to pour over cooked veg)
- Tofu frittata
If there’s a specific vegetable you need to use, search this website (or elsewhere) and I’m sure you can find a recipe that works!
Summary: Vegetables for a Vegan Diet
Vegetables are an important food group for a balanced vegan diet. Consuming vegetables offers numerous health benefits and provides essential nutrients.
While vegan diets can support health at any stage of life, achieving nutritional adequacy requires a well-rounded diet that includes vegetables. Neglecting vegetables may result in nutritional deficiencies.
Consuming enough vegetables can be challenging, but exploring new options and using cooking techniques to enhance their flavor can help boost intake.
Always speak with a doctor before changing your diet or taking new supplements. Please read our full website disclaimer.
About Nicole Stevens
Nicole is a vegan Registered Dietitian (RD) and founder of Lettuce Veg Out.
She helps people thrive on a vegan diet with balanced recipes and easy-to-understand nutrition science.