Vegetables for a Healthy Vegan Diet
Vegetables and health seem to go hand in hand. While there are many different perspectives on what healthy eating looks like, most people seem to agree that vegetables are needed for optional health. Unfortunately, a vegan diet isn’t necessarily a healthy diet. It’s important for vegans to ensure they eat a range of different food groups, including vegetables.
While many people don’t enjoy vegetables, often times they have only had poorly cooked vegetables or haven’t really given vegetables a fair chance.
This article covers:
- What are Vegetables?
- Health Benefits of Vegetables
- Nutrition Content of Vegetables
- Why It’s Important to Eat Vegetables as a Vegan
- List of Vegetables to Include on a Vegan Diet
- How to Include More Vegetables into your Vegan Diet
- Recipes with Vegetables from Lettuce Veg Out
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What are Vegetables?
Vegetables are plants or parts of plants that humans use as food 1. There are different categories of vegetables, often classified by the part of the plant that is eaten. For example, “root vegetables” indicates we are eating the root of a plant.
Many of the vegetables that we eat fit the botanical definition of a fruit 1. However, when it comes to nutrition and culinary applications, the nutrient content and use in cooking is a far more practical way to define food.
When we look at vegetables as a food group, we are referring to a group of food with similar nutritional value and similar use in cooking applications.
Health Benefits of Vegetables
There are many health benefits associated with consumption of vegetables. Please note, since vegetables and fruits are often grouped together, research tends to look at vegetables and fruits as one group.
Some of the strongest associations we have between vegetables and health are for heart diseases including stroke 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8. Studies generally show consumption of vegetables (and fruits) lowers risk of heart disease 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8.
There’s also evidence for the health benefits of vegetables in relation to cancer. Research shows that vegetable intake can both help prevent cancer and provide better outcomes for those who are diagnosed with certain types of cancers 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17.
Nutrition Content of Vegetables
Personally, I separate vegetables and fruits into two distinct food groups (vs grouping them together). My main reasoning for this is to demonstrate the importance of eating both vegetables and fruits.
People are more likely to consume fruit so by separating fruits from vegetables, emphasis can be placed on the importance of consuming a variety of vegetables for health.
Vegetables tend to be a bit more nutrient dense compared to fruits, but it really depends on which vegetables and which fruits you are comparing.
Vegetables typically provide higher amounts of:
- Vitamin A (in the form of beta carotene)
- Calcium (specifically in leafy and dark green vegetables)
- B vitamins, including folate
- Vitamin K
- Vitamin C
While there are many beneficial antioxidant and phytochemical compounds in fruits, there are also many distinct and health-promoting compounds found exclusively in vegetables. Someone who only consumes fruit, or doesn’t consume any vegetables or fruits, would miss out on these amazing health benefits.
Why It’s Important to Eat Vegetables as a Vegan
It might seem silly to point out that vegans need to eat vegetables for health. However, a vegan diet isn’t necessarily healthy or meeting nutrient needs and there are vegetarians and vegans out there who do not consume enough vegetables.
Especially with the abundance of vegan options that replace animal products, a vegan could consume the vegan version of the Standard American Diet. Some of these vegan replacements to animal products are healthy whereas others may not be ideal as a staple in a vegan diet.
It’s perfectly okay to include processed vegan options in an overall balanced diet. But, not eating vegetables is not the path to optimal health, even if someone is following a completely vegan diet.
A vegan diet needs to be balanced and varied to ensure adequate nutrition is being consumed, and vegetables are an important part of that picture. Consuming legumes, whole grain, nuts, seeds, fruits and vegetables is a great base for a balanced vegan diet.
List of Vegetables to Include on a Vegan Diet
When selecting any foods, variety is often important. This holds true for vegetables in particular because each different vegetable contains different plant compounds. Many of these plant compounds haven’t been studied yet, but many of the ones that have been researched seem to benefit health (generally speaking).
Different colours also indicate different nutrition content as well as different antioxidants. Eating a variety of differently coloured vegetables can be a helpful way to 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 push your taste buds of find new ways of cooking that work better for you. 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 into your Vegan Diet
Most people could benefit from including more vegetables in their diet. Eating more vegetables is a common goal. However, it’s a goal that is often challenging to succeed with.
Here are my top tips for how to include more vegetables in your diet.
Don’t Boil Vegetables
Unless you truly enjoy eating vegetables this way, try other techniques for cooking vegetables. Boiled (and steamed) vegetables are often boring so instead, try stir frying/ sautéing, roasting, air frying, stewing, grilling and/ or pickling vegetables.
Try a New Vegetable a Few Times Before Deciding if you Like It
Taste buds are often hesitant with new foods and it can take many exposures before we start enjoying a food. While there’s nothing wrong with truly not liking something (and no reason to eat foods we don’t enjoy) giving each vegetable a few chances, cooked in a few different ways, can really help expand our palate and increase the variety of vegetables we want to include in our diet!
Make a Tasty Salad
Skip the boring iceberg lettuce salads and prep a new and exciting salad each week. There are thousands of recipes out there so get experimenting. Once you find a few that you like, add them to your regular meal rotation, with room to try a new salad recipe every month or so!
Keep Frozen Vegetables on Hand
Frozen vegetables can be a quick and easy way to add some nutrition to a meal. Frozen vegetables work well in mixed dishes like stir fry, soup, stew and curries. It’s nice to have a mix of fresh and frozen vegetables in a recipe, but by keeping frozen on hand, there’s never an excuse for skipping out on the veg! Peas, corn, edamame, broccoli, cauliflower, stir fry veg (peppers, onions, snap peas mix) and frozen leafy greens are all great to keep on hand.
Buy Ready-to-Go 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 to Prepare Vegetables Every Week
Especially if buying prepped vegetables doesn’t fit into your budget, set aside a half hour or so to prep vegetables yourself once you get home from the grocery store. This is one of the best ways to ensure you eat vegetables as you are much more likely to toss them into a meal if they are ready to go.
Buy a Realistic Amount of Vegetables Each Week
Sometimes, when people want to eat more vegetables they go a bit overboard at the grocery store. Be realistic with what you can eat and have a plan in place for how to use up leftover veg that’s starting to go bad at the end of the week (see the recipes below).
Recipes with Vegetables from Lettuce Veg Out
I put vegetables in almost any recipe I make which means most of the recipes I’ve posted here at Lettuce Veg Out have vegetables in them!
Here are the latest recipes with vegetables from Lettuce Veg Out.
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 a fantastic to keep in mind. As long as you have the flavouring ingredients (herbs, spices, sauces), you can make a tasty meal.
Here’s a list of my favourite recipes to make when I have a few vegetables around that need to get used up:
- Mediterranean couscous salad (for vegetables that you enjoy raw)
- Vegetable chow mein stir fry
- Thai spicy eggplant with coconut rice (can be made without eggplant)
- Simple, quick, Thai green curry
- Vegetable fried rice
- Soba noodle stir fry with peanut sauce
- Quick veggie stir fry
Hope you find this list helpful so you never have to waste veggies again! There’s also the option to roast vegetables with a touch of oil and your favourite spices.
Summary: Vegetables for a Healthy Vegan Diet
Vegetables are an important food group for a healthy vegan diet. There are many health benefits to consuming vegetables as well as many important nutrients that vegetables provide in the diet.
Despite vegan diets having the potential to support health at any stage of life, without a balance of food groups including vegetables, a vegan diet may not be considered healthy. Vegetables may be challenging to consume enough of, but focusing on trying new options and using cooking methods that make vegetables taste better can be very helpful in increasing intake.
- Vegetable Research and Information Center FAQs
- Consumption of fruit and vegetable and risk of coronary heart disease: A meta-analysis of prospective cohort studies
- Fruit and vegetable intake and mortality from ischaemic heart disease: results from the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition (EPIC)-Heart study
- Quantity and variety in fruit and vegetable intake and risk of coronary heart disease
- Raw and Processed Fruit and Vegetable Consumption and 10-Year Coronary Heart Disease Incidence in a Population-Based Cohort Study in the Netherlands
- Food groups and risk of coronary heart disease stroke and heart failure: A systematic review and dose-response meta-analysis of prospective studies
- Fruit and Vegetable Intake in Relation to Risk of Ischemic Stroke
- Association between dietary fibre intake and fruit, vegetable or whole-grain consumption and the risk of CVD: results from the PREvención con DIeta MEDiterránea (PREDIMED) trial
- Fruit and Vegetable Consumption and the Risk of Proximal Colon, Distal Colon, and Rectal Cancers in a Case-Control Study in Western Australia
- A prospective study of whole grains, fruits, vegetables and colon cancer risk
- Fruit and vegetables and cancer risk
- Fruit and vegetable consumption and breast cancer incidence: Repeated measures over 30 years of follow-up
- Fruit, Vegetable, and Animal Food Intake and Breast Cancer Risk by Hormone Receptor Status
- Greater Survival After Breast Cancer in Physically Active Women With High Vegetable-Fruit Intake Regardless of Obesity
- Vegetable and fruit intake after diagnosis and risk of prostate cancer progression
- The effect of raw vegetable and fruit intake on thyroid cancer risk among women: a case–control study in South Korea
- Variety in Fruit and Vegetable Consumption and the Risk of Lung Cancer in the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition
- Nutrition and AGE-ing: Focusing on Alzheimer’s Disease
- Neuroprotective Effect of Natural Products Against Alzheimer’s Disease
- Cognitive performance among the elderly in relation to the intake of plant foods. The Hordaland Health Study
- Mediterranean Diet, Cognitive Function, and Dementia A Systematic Review
- Increased Consumption of Fruit and Vegetables Is Related to a Reduced Risk of Cognitive Impairment and Dementia: Meta-Analysis
Please note that this is a curated list of references for the topics above and is not intended to be comprehensive.
Disclaimer: it is always advised for you to speak with your doctor before making any changes to your diet; please read our full website disclaimer.