Healthy Food & Life: How to Eat a Healthy Vegan Diet
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How to Eat a Healthy Vegan Diet


Some vegans think they are eating a healthy diet just because they are avoiding all animal foods. But in reality, some vegetarians are actually eating an unhealthy diet filled with refined carbs and processed foods. Learn how to eat a healthy vegan diet.

When some people start a strict vegetarian or vegan diet, they believe they are automatically eating a healthy vegan diet. Except there are many ways you can actually eat an unhealthy diet and become an unhealthy vegetarian. In fact, there are many unhealthy vegetarians and vegans that are overweight and eat just as much junk food as others that eat the standard American diet.

The Reasons People Eat a Vegan Diet

There are different reasons that people become vegans or vegetarians that include:
  • Becoming a vegan or vegetarian for health reasons.
  • Some are vegan or vegetarian for religious reasons
  • For ethical reasons. Vegans do not eat meat or any animal foods including honey for ethical reasons and they do not want to have animals harmed.

The Different Types of Vegetarian Diets

There are also different types of vegetarian diets, which can seem rather contradictory. Vegetarian used to mean no animal foods at all, but there are now different levels of a vegetarian diet.
  • A vegan diet is the strictest vegetarian diet or plant-based diet where the person who follows a vegan diet will not eat any type of products that has ingredients from animal products. With a vegan diet, you have to know ingredients because animal foods can be hidden in almost anything. This can include different types of milk or beef products like foods with gelatin or dairy. Since gelatin is in so many foods, it is important to look at all ingredients if you want to follow a vegan diet. Gelatin is made from the bone and skin of animals.
  • Vegetarian diets come in several forms. Originally, a vegetarian diet meant the same as a vegan diet, but over the years this has changed.
  • The lacto-vegetarian diet allows milk, cheese, and other dairy products but no other animal foods. With the Lacto-vegetarian diet, it is also important to read ingredients for gelatin since dairy is allowed on this lifestyle diet.
  • The ovo-vegetarian diet allows for eggs but not dairy products.
  • Pesco-vegetarians follow a plant-based diet for the most part, but also include fish in their diet. And some might even add eggs and dairy in small amounts.
As you can see, the term vegetarian has become confusing over the years. There was a time when calling yourself a vegetarian meant no animal products and only eating a diet based on plant foods. Some of these different or so-called vegetarian diets more closely resemble a healthy macrobiotic diet or Mediterranean diet. 

Whole Food Plant Based No Oil Diet 

A whole food plant-based diet is another form of a vegetarian diet but is even more strict because it allows no oil for cooking or in ingredients. This way of eating is possibly the healthiest diet of all. In addition to no animal foods allowed, a whole food plant based diet does not allow any type of oil in the diet. This includes no olive oil, soybean oil, coconut oil, canola oil, etc for cooking, salad dressings or included in store-bought foods. Oil is not allowed since all oils can damage the arteries and oil has twice the calories than either carbohydrates or protein.

Whole foods mean for the most part, just that, whole foods. Food products like soy protein isolate are not allowed that is found in many commercial veggie burgers and foods sold as a vegan food. Pasta, bread, tofu, and tempeh are allowed even though a few consider them to be processed in some way.

The whole food plant-based way of eating has been proven to reverse diseases and illnesses like type II diabetes, heart disease, obesity, metabolic syndrome, high blood pressure (hypertension), and many other of today's common illnesses.

The Unhealthy Vegan

Over the years as I have experimented with different ways to eat, I have met many who already were or became vegan or strict vegetarians who believed as long as they did not eat meat or any animal foods they would automatically be eating healthy.

Yet these new vegetarians would eat white bread, white pasta, donuts, candy and basically junk and processed food that is not very healthy for us to eat, just because the food contained no animal products.

Eating nothing but bad carbs, especially overly processed refined carbs and ignoring vegetables and legumes, you risk becoming deficient in certain vitamins, phytochemicals, and nutrients. It is important to eat a wide range of plant foods that include all vegetables, legumes, whole grains and fruit. 

The one nutrient that vegans cannot get through the diet is B12 and a B12 supplement is required, otherwise, a plant-based diet contains all of the vitamins and nutrients everyone needs for optimal health

Just because you are not including animal foods in your diet, does not automatically mean you are eating healthy and could actually be eating an unhealthy diet compared to someone who eats a well rounded healthy diet that does include meat. With all of the new plant-based vegan junk foods around today, it is easy to become an unhealthy vegetarian.

How to be a Healthy Vegetarian

There are healthy eating rules that all vegans or strict vegetarians should follow to ensure they are eating a healthy vegetarian diet.
  • Eat whole grains as much as possible so you get all of the great nutrients that are stripped out of white grains. Make sure you eat whole grain bread, brown rice, rolled oats oatmeal and quinoa. Quinoa is a complete source of vegetarian protein.
  • Eat plenty of vegetables and some fruits. This will guarantee you get plenty of vitamins, nutrients, and phytochemicals.
  • Do not worry at all about eating too much starch, as starch is extremely healthy. Many people still believe that potatoes will make them gain weight, and that is not true. White potatoes along with sweet potatoes are some of the healthiest foods we can eat.
  • When you have vegetables like broccoli, healthy lettuce salads and all kinds of greens, use some lemon. Using lemon on these vegetables will help your body absorb the iron from these vegetables.
  • Pay attention to healthy omega-3 fatty acids. Eating ground flax seeds will help you get plenty of the omega-3 fatty acids. It is easy to add ground flax seed meal in oatmeal, soups, smoothies, etc.
  • Stay away from too much white sugar and products that contain white sugar. Read ingredients, even though a food might be animal food free and completely vegan, they can still contain plenty of white sugar or high fructose corn syrup and neither are healthy.
  • Eat plenty of beans and legumes which include split peas and lentils. These foods are not only high in healthy fiber but also contain iron, protein and many other vitamins and nutrients. You could also include tofu products for protein.
  • If you are a strict vegetarian or vegan and do not eat yogurt, you should include some fermented foods in your diet like miso or sauerkraut for good digestive health. There are good vegan yogurts that are made of nuts like almonds and cashews that do contain good bacteria. Companies like Kite Hill and Forage Project are good vegan yogurts.
  • Eat foods that have the fewest ingredients. Today, there are so many food choices that make claims like heart healthy or vegetarian, yet can contain ingredients that are not healthy for you. In many cases, these so-called health foods are actually nothing more than unhealthy highly processed foods with too many man-made ingredients.
  • Don't forget to take a vitamin B12 supplement.

Eating a Healthy Vegetarian Diet

Following these simple rules can help you be a healthy vegetarian. Eat simple and eat whole foods like whole grains, lentils and legumes, fruits and plenty of vegetables. Don’t let yourself become an unhealthy vegetarian. There are many whole and real foods, you should be able to be a vegan or vegetarian and still eat healthily. At the bottom of this article in the resources section, there are many related articles for eating a healthy vegetarian diet.

About the Author

Sam Montana is a certified Food Over Medicine instructor from the Wellness Forum Health Center and certified in optimal nutrition from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

Copyright © 2011-2019 Sam Montana
How to Eat a Healthy Vegetarian Diet


  1. Excellent points! I definitely struggle with reducing the amount of oil I use. Would absolutely love to use less.

    1. I noticed health benefits when I quit having any kind of refined oil. Mainly my aches, pains, and arthritis in my knees went away.

      It is not too hard to get used to cooking without oil. I was used to always using olive oil, but I found it was easy to use vegetable broth or even water and it works great.

      The hard part is finding foods without oil, it seems almost every packaged food or restaurant food has some kind of oil in them.

      The best oil-free vegetable broth I have found is from Pacific and also from Kroger's Simple Truth brand.