Vegan Food Shopping at Whole Foods Market
There are many misconceptions out there about how to find proper nutrition in a vegan diet, even from those who have had plant-centric eating habits for years. In this guide, we’ll offer suggestions for stocking a healthy, nutrient-dense pantry and for finding all the necessary nutritional building blocks for a healthy mind and body, plus over 700 of our favorite vegan recipes.
Stocking Your Vegan Pantry
Many vegan kitchens are filled with pre-fab meat substitutes, too-long ingredient lists, and other less than awesome food choices. A well-stocked pantry is the beginning of thousands of delicious homemade meals. Check out our shopping list for a healthy pantry makeover to give your kitchen a healthy boost.
In general, keeping whole grains, dried beans, nuts, non-dairy milks, dried fruits and a few condiments on hand can make nutritious meal times a no-brainer.
Animal Sources and Plant Sources
While you’ll find most packaged products in our store well labeled to indicate whether or not they meet the requirements to be considered “vegan,” it’s always good to check the ingredient list to ensure you know what you’re getting.
Here are a few things to look out for when you’re shopping:
Gelatin, derived from by-products of the meat and leather industry, is a commonly found ingredient. Some products include gummy bears, marshmallows, soups and sauces. Sometimes vegan alternatives are available and are generally labeled.
Sugar is often filtered through charred animal bones as part of the bleaching process. You can avoid this by looking for unbleached sugar products or ones that indicate being vegan.
Chicken stock (or broth) is often the base of conventional canned soups and many soups you find in restaurants. Check the ingredients list and don’t be afraid to ask questions.
Getting the Nutrition You Need
Good planning and forethought are essential to making sure you don’t become a “junk food vegan.” While it's true that several key nutrients found primarily in animal products cannot be obtained as easily from plant-based foods, there are ways to maximize your absorption and utilization of these important vitamins and minerals.
To maintain optimum health, it is especially important that vegans consume adequate amounts of the following nutrients, either from foods, fortified foods or supplements:
Most people need about 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight, or 8 ounces of protein per day for a 160-pound adult. Vegans may need to eat 10–20% more protein than recommended in order to compensate for the lower digestibility of plant-based protein.
Best Sources: Legumes, soy products such as tempeh, tofu, and soy-based meat substitutes, grains, nuts, seeds.
The Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) of iron for vegans is 1.8 times higher than for non-vegans: 27mg. versus 15mg. This is because iron from plant foods is not as available to the body as iron from animal sources. Although iron intake and stores are usually adequate in vegetarians and vegans, young women and athletes should pay special attention to make sure their needs are met.
Best Sources: Legumes (especially chickpeas, adzuki beans, lentils and kidney beans), nuts and seeds (most notably cashews, almonds, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds and tahini), whole and enriched grains such as quinoa, vegetables (particularly dark and leafy greens), dried fruits.
Essential Fatty Acids
Essential fatty acids are aptly named because they are truly essential to health. Since the body does not manufacture them, they must be obtained from the diet. Omega-3's are one class of essential fatty acids that are important for maintaining cell membranes, including those of the brain and eyes, and for regulating bodily processes.
Best Sources: Microalgae DHA supplements, flaxseed oil, hempseed oil, walnuts, chia seeds.
** To achieve a balanced Omega-6/Omega-3 ratio, decrease intake of certain vegetable oils including corn, soy and grapeseed oils. **
It is challenging to maintain adequate levels of vitamin B12 on a primarily plant-based diet. Because low levels of this vitamin increase disease risk and can negate the positive cardiovascular effects of a vegan diet, supplementation with vitamin B12 is strongly recommended. This is especially true for pregnant and lactating women for whom optimum vitamin B12 intake is crucial.
Best Sources: B12 fortified foods, including fortified meat substitutes, cereals and non-dairy milk beverages, and nutritional yeast, B12 supplements
Calcium is essential for overall body health, helping to ensure proper muscle and nerve function as well as strong bones and teeth. Vegans are most likely to have calcium levels lower than the general population along with the lower bone density that implies. Inadequate dietary protein can also contribute to low bone density.
Calcium levels can be negatively affected by other dietary factors such as high sodium consumption, too much or too little protein, caffeine and soft drinks with phosphoric acid, so be sure to be aware of these, as well.
Best Sources: Low-oxylate greens such as broccoli, kale, collards, okra and Chinese greens, tofu, soy beverages, sesame seeds, almonds, legumes, dried figs, and other calcium-fortified foods.
If you are a vegan who spends a lot of time indoors or in a northern clime, chances are you have less than optimal vitamin D levels. Sufficient vitamin D can be produced by exposure to the sun during warm months: 10–15 minutes on face and forearms for people with fairer complexion or 30 minutes to 3 hours for people with darker complexions. During cold months, you will likely have to depend on fortified foods or supplements.
Best Sources: Moderate warm-month sun, fortified soy beverages, fortified cereals
Want more information on how to find complete nutrition in a plant-based diet? Check our Vegetarian special diets page for advice on the ideal supplements and foods for your needs.