Plant-based eating is a great way to boost your antioxidant intake. It’s also a great way to branch out into some foods you may not already be including in your diet. Nutritionally speaking, there’s a couple of micronutrients required for human health that only exist in animal products. Sometimes fortified foods can cover this deficit, or dietary supplementation may be necessary. Generally however, vegan diets can be a good option for many people.
Is A Vegan Diet Healthy?
There’s philosophical, ethical and nutritional arguments for not eating meat or animal products. Whatever the stance, the question of whether a vegan diet is healthy or not, is something different altogether.
Generally, vegans don’t consume meat, eggs, dairy products and in some instances no other animal-derived foods such as honey. The idea is that by reducing meat intake and increasing plant foods, your cardiovascular disease risk also decreases. A 2021 Cochrane review of controlled trials found that there’s "insufficient information to draw conclusions about the effects of vegan dietary interventions on cardiovascular disease risk factors."
In my view, what one person eats and how it makes them feel will always be completely different to the next. No one diet will fit absolutely everyone. So when I drill down on any particular diet, I consider quite simply what foods are included and ask whether it covers the important nutrients.
So, can you really get all the necessary nutrients you need from a standard vegan diet?
I’m not going to fence-sit on this topic. I love the philosophy of veganism, and I think in a broad sense it can be a very healthy dietary approach. However, I believe at some point in a vegan dieters’ journey, there’ll be some nutritional roadblocks. Nutrient deficiencies, such as vitamin B12 and iron are the major concerns for those following a long-term vegan diet. Other nutrients, such as choline, zinc and omega 3 are also sometimes lower in vegan diets.
The good news is, there are ways to boost these nutrients using plant-based foods.
Let’s look at some ways you can maximise a vegan diet, including some of the best vegan snacks.
A Quick Guide To Vegan Snacks
Check Your Ingredients List
Sometimes snacks need to be store-bought. In that case, just check that they’re made from wholefoods and ingredients you can understand. They should contain a blend of quality fats, protein, fibre or carbohydrates. Avoid artificial colours and preservatives. This should be an obvious start to healthy vegan snacking.
Look for Quality Protein & Limit Added Sugar
Go for whole food protein sources, including nuts, seeds and legumes. These will help you meet your protein requirements, which can be tricky on a strict vegan diet. When checking food labels, aim for 5g or less of total sugar.
Let’s get into some of my favourite vegan snack foods:
Recipe: Vegan Muesli Bars (scroll to the end to catch this one)
Edamame beans are young soybeans in their pod, usually eaten boiled or steamed and lightly salted. They’re a classic Japanese appetiser, side dish or can be enjoyed on their own. They’re also available as canned edamame beans which are a quick and delicious snack. A single serve of edamame has 12% protein, which is very high indeed for any snack food, let alone a plant-based one. Edamame is great for snacking at home, eating on the go, or added to salads with leafy greens and dressing. If you’re vegan and really want to hone your protein intake, edamame beans and other fermented soy foods like tofu and tempeh are a great foundation.
A simple and cheap snack, that’s loaded with good fats, protein and fibre. Peanuts, like all nuts, are vegan-friendly. There’s a million good things I could say about peanuts, but let’s just focus on the essentials. Peanuts are gloriously high in unsaturated fats, have a broad spectrum of essential amino acids, and dietary fibre.
Peanuts are great in a vegan diet for another reason. There are some key nutrients I always keep an eye on for people following a vegan or plant-based diet. One of these is the amino acid, choline. Eggs are very high in choline, however removing them from the diet means making up for the missing choline another way. Peanuts are the hero here, as they contain choline and are completely vegan. Choline is important for brain health, memory and fat metabolism.
Current scientific research shows that choline is essential in pregnancy for the growing baby’s nervous system development. So, for women following a vegan diet, and are trying to conceive, you should consider dietary choline sources as part of a healthy preconception plan.
Avocados. Smooth, creamy, full of healthy fats and of course completely vegan! Avocados are a wonderful food, high in vitamin E and folate. The versatility of an avocado continues to amaze me. Turn them into a salsa, blitz them in a green smoothie or even make a vegan chocolate mousse.
If you’re vegan and want to have a baby, avocados should be on your ‘absolutely must eat’ list. Avocados in particular were the subject of a large study involving the diets of pregnant and conceiving women. They are considered a unique and nutrient-rich food that’s critical for infant development.
Don’t worry, if you’re not about to make a baby, eat avocados anyway! Avocados are still a healthy, delicious and perfectly vegan snack food.
Seaweed, roasted nori and kelp are all wonderful inclusions in a vegan diet. These oceanic foods are loaded with micronutrients, in particular iron, iodine, vitamin A and omega 3. Seaweed also contains essential minerals such as selenium and zinc. All of these nutrients help to bolster your immune function, brain health, hormones and give some sustained energy.
Importantly, seaweed contains vitamin B12. In my experience, B12 is probably the nutrient that vegans are most likely going to be deficient in. This is because vitamin B12 occurs primarily in red meat, shellfish and eggs. It’s unlikely that the B12 content in seaweed will meet the minimum dietary requirements for most adults. However, including seaweed products can go some way to reaching sufficient B12 intake.
An interesting dried fruit that’s valuable for vegans, are prunes. An important mineral, which is commonly found in animal products is boron. Boron is integral to bone and skeletal health. The bone-protective qualities of prunes helps with bone regeneration and maintenance over a lifetime. Boron also facilitates magnesium absorption, reduces calcium loss and can prevent osteoporosis development. What’s more, the polyphenols found in prunes help balance blood glucose and protect against DNA damage. Prunes are a healthy vegan-friendly snack food.
Legumes are a wonderful way to boost plant-based protein and to broaden your cooking repertoire. If you’re new to legumes, chickpeas are a good starting place, and hummus should be your first snacking stop. Traditional hummus is very nutrient-dense and is something I recommend even for those who aren’t vegan. It’s made from cooked chickpeas, tahini, garlic, olive oil, lemon and salt. Sometimes paprika and fresh pomegranate seeds are added for a lovely Mediterranean flourish.
Snacking with hummus is a sure-fire way to increase your fibre, healthy fats, vitamin E, folate, iron and magnesium levels. These are sometimes lacking in a vegan diet, so it’s important to source foods, such as hummus that can top up these important nutrients.
Vegan Muesli Bars
Boasting at least 5g of protein per bar, these make for a fantastic lunchbox addition, kid’s snack or anytime munchies cure. What’s even better - these require no baking. Yes, a no-bake, healthy, vegan muesli bar.
I love the addition of hemp seeds in this very versatile and healthy snack. If I had to pick a favourite plant-based food, it would be hemp seeds. They have all the macronutrients, plenty of minerals and are easy to digest source of and vegan-friendly protein.
Vegan Muesli Bar Recipe
- 1 ½ cups rolled oats
- 8 pitted dates
- ¼ cup maple syrup or honey
- 1 cup raw almonds, chopped
- ¼ cup dried cranberries
- ¼ cup hemp seeds
- ½ tsp. cinnamon
- Add dates to a food processor and blend for 1 min, add a splash of water to get it going if needed. Blend into a paste
- In a large bowl, add dates, oats, almonds, cranberries and cinnamon
- Heat a small saucepan on low and melt together honey and peanut butter until well combined
- Pour warmed honey and peanut butter over oat mixture and combine.
- Line a square baking dish with baking paper and pour mixture into the dish. It will be thick so press down firmly until flat into corners of the pan.
- Cover with more baking paper and freeze for 30 mins.
- Remove from the freezer and cut into squares. Store in the fridge for a week or freeze for a month.
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