There are so many great reasons to be vegan as a plant based diet can be great for your health the environment.
However without planning, vegans can be deficient in certain vitamins. This isn’t to say vegans are deficient but the truth is if you don’t eat meat or dairy there’s an increased risk of lacking important vitamins.
Here I have a list of 15 important foods for vegans that are high in vitamins or minerals that are often lacking in a vegan diet. If you eat all of these regularly then you are eating a complete vegan diet.
Sauerkraut and Kimchi
These fermented dishes are a rare plant source of vitamin K2. This vitamin is found in meat, dairy and eggs but if you’re vegan it’s easy to be lacking in vitamin K2.
Fermented veggies also taste great – perfect on a salad or as a side to most dishes. If you like spice go for kimchi and mild lovers should try sauerkraut. This fermented cabbage dish is often just made with cabbage, salt and juniper berries.
If you can make your own sauerkraut as it will be unpasteurised and full of beneficial bacteria. Most kimchi is made with sugar and fish but it’s easy to make your own vegan kimchi with my recipe is raw and full of gut-friendly bacteria.
This thick black syrup is created as a by-product of unhealthy refined sugar and is a useful source of several vitamins including iron, calcium and magnesium.
As sugar cane is boiled repeatably to refine molasses are created. Molasses have a distinctive acidic bittersweet taste and are much lower in sugar. A small amount is commonly used in gingerbread and sticky toffee puddings to give flavour.
You can use a small amount of molasses in sweet recipes, check out my recipe for dairy-free high calcium fudge.
Don’t be put off by the fish food appearance of nutritional yeast as this is a must-have vegan ingredient for a cheesy taste and b vitamins.
Make sure you choose a brand of nutritional yeast that includes b12.
All of my vegan cheese recipes, like my smoked cashew cheese, use nutritional yeast to give that cheesy taste without any dairy.
Dark Leafy Greens
All dark leafy greens are a powerhouse of vitamins and minerals. Kale, spinach, bok choy, watercress are high in iron, magnesium, potassium and calcium.
Try to have a portion of dark leafy greens every day. Spinach is no more nutritious than the others (scientists originally thought due to a decimal in the wrong place) but it’s available in frozen in bundles making it easy to consume and avoid waste.
I tend to use frozen spinach or kale to make a green sorbet smoothie daily. It’s best to avoid pre-packaged greens in airtight bags as they are low in nutrients.
Vegan diets can be lacking in iodine and seaweed is a great way to get iodine and also enhance the flavour of food naturally.
You don’t need to consume much seaweed; I tend to sprinkle a bit every time I make something savoury (like my one-pot tomato basil quinoa) and despite a bag of dried seaweed being expensive, it will last many months.
Different sea vegetables contain different minerals so I tend to opt for a bag of mixed sea vegetables that contains dulse (Palmaria palmata), sea lettuce (Ulva spp), nori (Porphyra spp). Always choose a brand that collects seaweed from clean pristine water.
Seaweed powders like spirulina and chlorella are useful to add to smoothies for their many nutritional benefits.
This is the only other reliable source of iodine on a vegan diet after seaweed/sea vegetables.
Just 1/2 tsp a week of iodized salt is enough to meet the iodine target.
A sufficient amount of Long-chain omega-3 fatty acids have been linked to many health benefits including reducing the risk of cancer and depression.
Plant based diets are lacking in two non-essential fatty acids ( eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA)) so it’s vital to consume enough Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) fatty acids to make these. Flax seeds are high in ALA.
The conversion efficiency of the human body to convert the plant omega-3 to the essential omega-3 that’s lacking in vegan diets is low. So you need to consume about 50g of flax seeds a day to get your RDA omega-3 from just flax.
Similar to flax seeds chia seeds are high in plant omega-3 and about 45g a day will meet your long-chain omega-3 fatty acid requirements.
Apart from the health benefits, chia seeds are a useful food to replace eggs in cakes like in my quinoa avocado chocolate cake recipe and give structure in my gluten-free buckwheat bread recipe.
Or you can just soak chia seeds in a plant milk overnight to make a filling breakfast recipe like chia puddings.
Love it or hate it yeast extract is a great source of vitamin B12. Just enjoying a couple of servings a week can keep your B12 levels optimal.
As B12 mainly comes from animal sources it’s vital to either eat b12 fortified foods or supplement. If you’re not a fan of yeast extract (commonly known by the brand name Marmite in the UK) on its own try adding a tsp for a veggie quick stock.
Hulled hemp seeds contain a whopping 32g of protein per 100g. Making them a great ingredient in smoothies or topped on anything to add a huge amount of plant protein. The unhulled hempseeds can go rancid quickly so its’ best to store them in a freezer.
Hemp seeds also contain a significant amount of omega-3, not quite as much as chia or flaxseeds but it’s another useful source.
This Japanese fermented soybean dish is off the scale with its k2 content. This vital vitamin is important for bone health to deliver proteins to your bones and it’s only available without animals in fermented plant foods.
Natto can be bought frozen and just half a teaspoon will give you enough vitamin k2 to exceed the recommended daily allowance. It also contains a decent amount of calcium. Natto is what’s used to make vegan K2 supplements.
This seed paste is made from ground-up sesame seeds and is high in calcium, protein, iron and magnesium.
Unlike peanut butter you wouldn’t eat much tahini on its own as it has a strong taste but it’s very versatile as an ingredient in sweet or savoury recipes. Tahini mixed with lemon juice and garlic works well to make a salad dressing, tahini and nutritional yeast makes a cheese sauce or tahini mixed with maple syrup and vanilla to make a sweet dessert sauce.
Ok so maybe this isn’t a lesser-known food but I think it’s worth mentioning as it’s so useful on a vegan and gluten-free diet.
Lentil pasta tastes pretty similar to normal pasta and can be cooked in 8 minutes. However unlike normal pasta, it’s really high in protein with 22g a serving! Lentil pasta is just made from 100% red lentils. Although it loses its red colour after cooking.
Mushrooms With Vitamin D
Most people vegan or not are lacking in vitamin D.
You can leave mushrooms to bath in direct sunlight over the summer to absorb vitamin D from the sun.
However now vitamin D mushrooms are commonplace in the supermarkets where the mushrooms have been exposed to vitamin D so one serving gives your RDA. More on vitamin D mushrooms.
A rainbow of Natural Produce
This list is about individual foods that are high in something and often overlooked. But the most important foods to eat is a wide variety of fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds.
All different coloured natural produce is high in various vitamins and minerals. By eating a wide variety you’re almost certainly getting at least 95% of the vitamins and minerals needed.
For example pumpkin seeds are high in zinc, sweet potato is high in vitamin A, broccoli is high in vitamin C, Brussel sprouts contain omega-3, dried figs are high in iron and chickpeas are high in protein.
Final Thoughts on Important Vegan Healthy Foods
It’s perfectly possible to be vegan and not be deficient in anything.
This article has key and often overlooked vegan foods that most people will benefit from incorporating regularly into their diet.
By eating a wide variety of natural fresh produce there’s only a few vitamins that you may be short of.
More about the 8 vitamins that can be lacking in a vegan diet.
Have I missed any important vegan or plant based foods that you eat? Let me know below.