The Healthiest Vegan Alternatives to Have in Your Diet
If you are on a vegan diet, you are totally cutting out all animal products. That means dairy, eggs, fish, poultry, and beef are off limits. (That’s a difference versus a plant-based diet, which limits the intake of these foods and favors plants, leaving room for more flexibility based on the individual!)
Yet, if you are vegan, you are only eating plants, and you’ll need vegan alternatives to animal sources in order to get enough protein and other macronutrients in your diet. Plus, sometimes you may just want that “meaty” texture or flavor you would get from a burger or from a hearty taco filling or chili, for example.
And as for a breakfast scramble? A great vegan alternative to eggs, like tofu, could do the trick, where you are still getting that texture and can stay fuller for hours!
Yet, it can be hard to figure out which are the healthiest vegan substitutes to choose from. For example, some vegan meat alternatives for things like hot dogs, sausages, deli or ground meats, and patties, can have high amounts of sodium, weird additives and chemicals, and other sneaky types of sugars and chemicals.
So, you might be swapping out the red meat for something way worse without even knowing it! The same goes for vegan cheese alternatives, like faux cheese slices or spreads.
Luckily, you can find great vegan options that are high in nutrition and have only wholesome ingredients. So, you can still get the flavor and texture you crave with good-for-you nutrients, too. These are the best vegan alternatives to choose from when you’re browsing the grocery store aisles.
Instead of eating chicken, shrimp, or steak in a stir-fry, add in cubed tofu, which offers a great source of plant-based protein, as well as other nutrients like calcium to build strong bones. Plus, you can get firm tofu, which holds up to hearty sauces and veggies, as well as rice, to give you that thicker texture of meat.
Tofu is also great for certain burger patties and links too, so as long as the packaging shows it is low in sodium, sugar, and does not contain any strange additives, then you’re good to go! You can also use tofu as a vegan alternative to eggs in a scramble with some veggies and vegan cheese!
You can also try seitan and tempeh, but make sure that those do not contain chemicals or high amounts of sodium, as they can be highly processed and are generally not as good for you as tofu.
Beans and Legumes
A plant-based protein free of meat, beans and legumes help you get those nutrients in and can act as hearty substances for soups, chilis, stews, tacos, burger patties, and more. They can also form a complete protein when paired with a whole grain, like brown rice. And a side note? Quinoa is a complete protein and vegan, so use that as a good base for burger patties and for areas where you need more protein but cannot eat an animal source.
Coconut Oil or Vegan Butter
Butter is off limits if you are vegan, but one of the best vegan alternatives to butter is coconut oil, used in moderation, to provide a yummy, nutty taste and flavor and to aid in making baked goods and other items that typically require butter. It has some saturated fat, so use in lower doses, but research is a bit mixed on effects of saturated fat, and the lauric acid content can actually potentially improve heart health when eaten in moderation. Plus it tastes great!
You can also choose vegan butters, like the Nutiva brand, as long as they are wholesome and have good ingredients on the label. Don’t choose ones that have lots of sodium, sugar, and other additives.
And lastly, ditch butter entirely and go for olive oil when you can! For instance, use olive oil for cooking purposes or to dip bread into, rather than spreading butter on that baguette or toast. Olive oil has healthy fats to protect the heart and lower inflammation, as well as improve cognition—it is a staple of the healthy Mediterranean diet!
What’s that? It’s water from a can of chickpeas and is a great substitute for an egg white. If you want to make meringue, mousse and other baked goods, like brownies and cakes, you can use it! Add aquafaba to dairy-free buttercream for frosting too. Use it in dairy-free batter and sauces. It can also work in a mayonnaise.
Popular non-dairy milks include soy, almond, oat, hazelnut, cashew and hemp. These alternative milks are great for dairy swaps for drinking or for using in cereal and can also be used in many recipes for cooking and baking.
Oat milk is great in coffee because of the texture, while soy milk might be great for a protein boost. And almond milk could be wonderful in smoothies or baked goods. Try them out and see what you like.
Dairy-Free Cheese and Yogurt
You can still get that cheesy feel without the dairy. These vegan cheese alternatives are made using a variety of ingredients, like coconuts, aquafaba, nuts and solidified vegetable oil. Look for those that are fortified with vitamin B12 and calcium for more nutritional value.
You can also go with nutritional yeast for Parmesan, which tastes great and cheesy and also has vitamin B12 and other B vitamins, so use on pasta, pizza, salads, kale chips, and more.
As for yogurt, try coconut yogurt! The texture is silky and creamy, and there are tons on the market that come in delicious flavors too. There is even soy and almond yogurt, too, which will be blander on their own than coconut. But you can opt for flavors or add in fun toppings!
Once you have good vegan substitutes in place for protein sources, add in healthy ingredients to boost the nutrition up further. For instance, add in nut butter for a protein or to make energy balls or bites, rather than using whey protein or butter.
Use nuts and seeds for crunch or as a “breading.” Go for avocado for creaminess and as a swap for Greek yogurt or sour cream in tacos, on toast, in eggs, in soups or chili, and in smoothies or desserts.
These vegan ingredients are tasty and good for you, so play around and experiment to see what you and your kids like!
And For Snacking on the Go…
Remember to choose healthy, vegan snacks when on the go, rather than junk food, like cookies and chips. These snacks may not have dairy or animal sources, but they won’t add nutritional value and can lead to further cravings or mood imbalances from all the excess calories and sugar.
Instead, you can grab healthy protein bars, granola bars or bites that are free of dairy and still taste great—there are even chocolate chip flavor options, vegan-approved!