3 healthy vegan lunches
Whether you’re a seasoned vegan or simply looking to eat fewer animal products, creating healthy and delicious vegan lunches can be a challenge. Building a vegan lunch requires creativity, especially to incorporate adequate protein, a nutrient most often consumed from animal products.
For most people, a healthy lunch looks like a balanced, nutrient-dense meal. You want to eat vegan food that keeps you satisfied, energized, and feeling your best, and this is easy to implement in your lifestyle once you learn how to accomplish it. Read on to learn about protein-rich vegan ingredients and how to incorporate them into healthy, balanced lunches.
What are the healthiest vegan foods?
What is vegan?
Vegan diets have gained a lot of popularity in the past few years due largely to environmental activism, the animal welfare movement, and a broad desire to eat healthier. This diet (or rather, lifestyle) consists entirely of plant-based foods and eliminates all food that comes from animal sources. Rather than eating vegan 100% of the time, many people choose to replace a few traditional meals each week with plant-based options. To eat vegan, avoid meat, poultry, dairy, eggs, and even honey.
Is eating vegan healthy?
The healthfulness of a vegan diet depends on each individual’s approach along with consuming alternatives for nutrients only found in animal products. Essentially, if you make sure that such nutrients are being covered, there should be nothing making a vegan diet, including lunches, unsustainable. Therefore, you should know what a healthy diet includes.
“Healthy” is a word with a wide variety of definitions - it all depends on the perspective or situation where it is being used. For some people, it can mean adding more vegetables to their plate to increase consumption, while for others, it may mean not restricting a bowl of ice cream after dinner, nourishing their relationship with food (this is the all foods fit concept). As per veganism, “unhealthy”, or better yet, not as healthy foods, are those that lack necessary nutrients that must be obtained from the diet (essential nutrients).
The key to healthy, vegan foods
Therefore, yes, eating vegan can be healthy. Finding sources that provide all food groups (carbs, protein, fats, and veggies) in a balanced, varied, and moderated way is the rule of thumb necessary that will help you accomplish healthy eating patterns in a vegan way.
While whole, plant-based foods tend to be nutrient-rich, it does tend to have a lower bioavailability in some nutrients such as vitamin B12, iron, calcium, and Omega-3 when compared to animal products.
Which vegan foods are healthiest?
Needed for nerve and tissue health, brain function, and for producing red blood cells. This vitamin is hard to get as a vegan as it occurs naturally in animal products only. Although there are no vegan products high in this nutrient, B12 supplements have proved to be a great solution to this problem.
Needed for the proper function of hemoglobin and vital functions in the body such as energy, gastrointestinal processes, immune system, and body temperature regulation. There are two types of dietary iron: heme and non-heme iron. Heme iron (more easily absorbed) is naturally found in animal products such as meat and seafood. Non-heme iron is present in plant-based foods, and it is harder for the body to absorb, but some of the sources include nuts, lentils, beans, spinach, and iron-fortified cereals.
Needed for bone health and muscle functioning. This mineral is most commonly found in animal-sourced products such as yogurt, milk, and cheese. No reason to worry as plant-based products such as tofu, green leafy vegetables (think of kale), nuts, legumes, and grains are good sources of calcium.
Important for heart, brain, and eye health. For pregnant women, it may help in fetal development too. Omega-3 fatty acids are commonly found in animal products and seafood, such as salmon, sardines, cod liver oil, and eggs. Plant-based sources include flaxseed oil, chia seeds, walnuts, canola oil, and kidney beans.
How to get enough protein as vegan?
Many people worry about getting enough protein when eliminating animal protein sources. Protein supports muscle growth and basic body processes. Humans need about 0.4 grams of protein per pound of body weight every single day. While meat, eggs, and dairy are major protein sources, plenty of plant-based foods are packed with protein, too.
High-protein plant-based foods
The first step in getting enough protein while eating vegan is to identify high-protein, plant-based foods.
It is important to identify which ones are high in protein which will make meeting protein needs easier. Some common sources include seitan, tofu, tempeh, lentils, and beans.
Complete proteins are the ones that contain all of the essential amino acids. These are commonly found in animal sources such as chicken, turkey, eggs, fish, and pork. While complete proteins are rare in plant foods, some vegan complete protein sources include soy, quinoa, and chia seeds.
Incomplete sources are the ones that contain some of the essential amino acids but are lacking one or two of these amino acids. These can be found in plant-based sources such as legumes, grains, nuts, and seeds.
Pairing complete + incomplete proteins
Don’t be too alarmed - only consuming plant-based sources of protein in the right manner can still help you meet those needs. How is that possible? Well, it turns out that when you combine incomplete protein sources, you get an excellent source of protein with a potential reduction in saturated fat and cholesterol.
This is important for veganism as combining plant-based sources of protein will be key in order to get enough high-quality protein. Some examples include:
Legumes + grains - think of black beans and rice, a Hispanic staple
Nuts and seeds + whole grain - think of your PB whole toast before your workout
3 healthy vegan lunch recipes
Now that you know about common vegan deficiencies and how to avoid them, you’re ready to build a healthy vegan lunch. These vegan lunch recipes will not only be easy to make but can also help you meet your daily nutrition goals.
1. Vegan Power Bowl
Power bowls offer a wide variety of flavor and texture profiles. Follow this guide when creating your bowl: base + protein + healthy fats + veggies.
Start with your base, preferably a whole grain such as quinoa, farro, or brown rice (bonus points for choosing a complete protein!). Then, add a plant-based protein, such as chickpeas, marinated tofu, or lentils. Top with raw, grilled, or sauteed veggies — your choice. Finally, drizzle your bowl with a healthy fat, think avocado oil, olive oil, or a drizzle of tahini sauce.
In the mood for Mexican? Enjoy a delicious Vegan Power Bowl with brown rice (base), black beans (creates a complete protein), roasted corn, pico de gallo, diced red onion, and roasted red bell peppers (veggies). Top with a spoonful of delicious (and maybe spicy) guacamole on top (healthy fat)!
These bowls are amazing sources of many different nutrients, you can get the complete proteins by pairing your whole grains with plant-based protein sources, while also allowing fats and nutrients coming from vegetables to be present too.
2. Thai Coconut Rice & Chickpea Curry
The coconut milk gives creaminess to this dish that you won’t miss dairy. You have a complete protein by pairing chickpeas and rice. Add some vegetables such as red bell pepper, bamboo shoots, and spinach, and you have a balanced meal!
3. Black Beans Patty for your next “BBQ”
Instead of using ground meat or turkey for your burgers, swap in the ground or pureed black beans. Add diced vegetables to the mixture, form them into a patty shape, and cook them in the oven - these are great as you can add different sources of whole grains to up the protein content when combined with the black beans. You will have the most delicious and flavorful vegan burgers ever with different flavor profiles coming from different added toppings!