Pho is a popular Vietnamese noodle soup that has become beloved around the world for its complex and comforting flavors. Traditional pho is made with beef or chicken broth and served with rice noodles, herbs, bean sprouts, and meat. However, vegetarian “veggie” pho has also grown in popularity as more people adopt vegetarian and plant-based lifestyles. But is veggie pho actually healthy? Let’s take a closer look at the nutritional value of veggie pho and whether it makes for a nutritious meal.
What is Veggie Pho?
Veggie pho is pho made without any meat, meat broth, or fish sauce. Instead of beef or chicken broth, the broth is made by simmering vegetables, spices, and sometimes mushrooms. Common broth ingredients include:
- Star anise
- Vegetable stock
- Soy sauce or tamari
- Shiitake or button mushrooms
The noodles, herbs, sprouts, and other toppings remain the same as traditional pho. Popular veggie pho toppings include:
- Rice noodles
- Bean sprouts
- Fresh herbs like basil, cilantro, and mint
- Lime wedges
- Chili sauce like sriracha
- Hoisin sauce
- Julienned vegetables like carrots, cabbage, and red onion
- Tofu or seitan
The combination of aromatic broth, noodles, herbs, and vegetables makes veggie pho a light yet filling and comforting meatless meal. It provides a variety of nutrients from its plant-based ingredients.
Nutritional Profile of Veggie Pho
The exact nutritional content of veggie pho can vary depending on the specific ingredients used in the broth and toppings. However, in general, a bowl of veggie pho made with rice noodles, tofu, and a veggie broth has the following nutritional profile:
- Calories: Around 300-400 calories per large bowl
- Carbohydrates: 55-65g, primarily from the rice noodles
- Protein: 10-15g from the tofu and beansprouts
- Fat: 5-10g, mostly unsaturated fats from the vegetable broth ingredients
- Fiber: 3-5g from the noodles, sprouts, herbs and vegetables
- Vitamin A: 15-20% DV from carrots, spinach, herbs
- Vitamin C: 25-30% DV from herbs, limes, onions
- Iron: 15-20% DV from tofu, spinach
- Calcium: 15-20% DV from tofu, spinach, herbs
- Potassium: 15-20% DV from veggies, mushrooms, herbs
- Magnesium: 15-20% DV from veggies, noodles, tofu
As you can see, one large bowl of veggie pho provides a variety of vitamins, minerals, protein, fiber and energizing carbohydrates. The multitude of plant foods provides phytonutrients and antioxidants as well. Overall, the nutritional profile of veggie pho is quite strong considering it is a soup-based meal.
Benefits of Veggie Pho Ingredients
To understand why veggie pho is so nutritious, let’s take a closer look at some of its most common ingredients and their health benefits:
Rice noodles provide energy from their carbohydrate content. They are gluten-free, which makes them easier to digest for many people compared to wheat noodles. Rice noodles have a low glycemic index, meaning they do not spike blood sugar levels. They also provide small amounts of B vitamins like niacin, iron, magnesium and selenium. Look for rice noodles made from whole grain rice for the most nutrients.
Tofu is made from soybeans and is an excellent plant-based source of protein, calcium, iron and magnesium. It also provides substances called isoflavones which have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects in the body.
Veggie pho typically contains nutrient-dense vegetables like carrots, cabbage, spinach and onions. These provide vitamin C, vitamin K, potassium, immune-boosting phytonutrients and beneficial antioxidants. Onions and garlic add anti-inflammatory compounds like quercetin and allicin as well.
The fresh herbs in veggie pho like basil, cilantro and mint provide phenolic compounds that act as antioxidants to protect cells from damage. They also add to the vitamin and mineral contents.
Mushrooms like shiitakes contain B vitamins like niacin, selenium, copper and potassium. They have been shown to support immune function in the body.
Bean sprouts provide vitamin C, iron, folate, magnesium and vitamin K. The enzymes in sprouts also aid digestion and absorption of nutrients.
Is Veggie Pho Whole Foods Plant-Based?
A whole foods plant-based diet consists of minimally processed fruits, vegetables, legumes, whole grains, nuts/seeds and herbs. Animal products are excluded. Given its focus on vegetables, tofu, noodles and herbs, veggie pho is generally a whole foods plant-based meal.
However, some prepared veggie pho broths may contain refined oils or too much sodium, and non-whole grain noodles may be used. Check your ingredients and aim for a broth made from all whole foods. Look for rice noodles made from 100% whole grain rice as well. This makes your veggie pho completely whole foods plant-based.
Comparison to Traditional Beef Pho
How does veggie pho compare nutritionally to traditional beef pho? Here is a quick nutrition comparison:
|Nutrient||Veggie Pho (1 bowl)||Beef Pho (1 bowl)|
|Iron||15% DV||10% DV|
As shown, veggie pho is significantly lower in calories, fat, and sodium compared to beef pho. It provides more fiber, vitamins and minerals from all the vegetables. Beef pho does contain more protein.
Overall, veggie pho is the healthier option, aligning more closely with dietary recommendations to limit saturated fat, sodium and calories while eating plenty of fruits, veggies and whole grains.
Is it Healthy to Eat Veggie Pho Frequently?
Given the nutritional benefits of veggie pho, is it healthy to eat it frequently? Here are some things to consider:
- Whole foods plant-based diet – Veggie pho can fit well into a whole foods plant-based diet given its focus on vegetables, plant proteins, herbs and spices.
- Provides variety of nutrients – The diversity of plants in veggie pho provides a wide range of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants to support overall health.
- Lean protein – Tofu and beansprouts provide lean plant-based protein for energy and muscle recovery.
- Hydrating – The broth and vegetable ingredients have high water content to infuse hydration.
- Probiotics – Fermented ingredients like kimchi and sauerkraut contain probiotics for digestive health.
- Anti-inflammatory foods – Ginger, garlic, onions, and mushrooms contain anti-inflammatory compounds.
However, there are also some considerations with frequently eating veggie pho:
- Sodium content – Restaurant veggie pho can be quite high in sodium from soy sauce/tamari and MSG. Look for low sodium options or make homemade.
- Refined carbs – Some rice noodles may be made with refined grains instead of 100% whole grains.
- Accompaniments – Fried wontons and egg rolls are common but unhealthy pho accompaniments.
- Allergies – Wheat noodles, soy sauce and tofu are unsuitable for those with allergies or gluten/soy sensitivity.
Overall, veggie pho can be consumed frequently as part of a healthy diet as long as you choose whole food plant-based broths and noodles, go light on the sodium, and avoid fried pho accompaniments. Those with allergies may need to avoid ingredients like tofu and opt for rice noodles instead of wheat.
Tips for Building a Healthy Veggie Pho
Follow these tips to construct a healthy veggie pho meal:
- Choose low sodium vegetable broth as a base for full flavor without excess salt.
- Load up on veggies like baby spinach, shredded carrots and cabbage for nutrients.
- Add fresh herbs like basil and cilantro at the end to preserve nutrients.
- Use 100% whole grain rice noodles for more fiber and nutrients vs refined grains.
- Top with lean proteins like organic pressed tofu or seitan instead of fried tofu.
- Flavor with lime, chili sauce, ginger and garlic instead of heavy sauces.
- Avoid fried pho accompaniments and opt for spring rolls or kimchi instead.
- Choose mushroom broth for added minerals and skip MSG flavorings.
- Make your own broth and noodles at home to control sodium and ingredients.
With some simple tweaks, it’s easy to build a delicious veggie pho that is low in sodium, high in nutrients, and aligned with a whole foods plant-based diet.
Healthy Homemade Veggie Pho Recipe
This homemade veggie pho recipe is nutritious, easy to make, and totally customizable:
- 8 cups low sodium vegetable broth
- 1 onion, peeled and halved
- 3 cloves garlic, smashed
- 1 3-inch piece ginger, sliced
- 2 whole star anise
- 2 whole cloves
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 1 teaspoon whole black peppercorns
- 3 dried shiitake mushrooms
- 1 teaspoon low sodium tamari or soy sauce
- 1 teaspoon maple syrup or agave nectar
- 1 block firm or extra firm tofu, drained
- 1 package 100% whole grain rice noodles
- 1 cup mixed vegetables like carrots, baby spinach, sliced cabbage
- 1 cup fresh herbs like basil, cilantro, mint
- 2 green onions, sliced
- 1 lime, cut into wedges
- Sriracha sauce
- Simmer broth ingredients (onion through mushrooms) for 30 minutes.
- Strain broth through sieve into pot, discarding solids. Stir in tamari and sweetener.
- While broth simmers, prep pho toppings and cook rice noodles per package directions.
- Cut tofu into thin matchsticks.
- Divide cooked noodles and tofu between bowls. Ladle hot broth over top.
- Top with mixed veggies, herbs, green onions and a squeeze of lime.
- Serve with sriracha on the side.
This easy homemade veggie pho is nourishing and customizable. You control the sodium content with a homemade broth and can pile it high with your favorite herbs and vegetables.
Common Questions about Veggie Pho
Here are answers to some common questions about veggie pho:
Is veggie pho gluten free?
Veggie pho can be made gluten-free by using rice noodles instead of wheat noodles and tamari instead of soy sauce. Check for hidden sources like seasoning packets.
Does veggie pho have protein?
Yes, veggie pho provides 10-15g protein per serving from plant sources like tofu, beansprouts, mushrooms and spinach. This makes it a filling meal.
Can you lose weight eating veggie pho?
Veggie pho can be a helpful weight loss food given its low calorie, high nutrient density. Focus on vegetable toppings over noodles, avoid fried add-ins, and limit high sodium broths.
Is pho fattening?
Traditional beef pho can be moderately high in calories and fat. But veggie pho made with broth, rice noodles and tofu is generally low in fat and calories, especially if you pile on the vegetables.
Is pho healthy?
Veggie pho is quite healthy given its vitamins, antioxidants, lean protein and probiotics from real food plant-based ingredients. Traditional beef pho is less healthy due to higher fat, sodium and fewer nutrients.
The Bottom Line
Veggie pho made with whole food plant-based ingredients like vegetables, herbs, mushrooms, rice noodles and tofu can be a very healthy meal choice. It provides a diverse range of nutrients with lean protein and probiotics and minimal unhealthy fats, sodium and calories. Compared to beef pho, veggie pho aligns much more closely with expert dietary recommendations.
One large bowl of properly prepared veggie pho provides nutrients, antioxidants and anti-inflammatory compounds from real foods that support overall wellbeing. While some precautions should be taken around sodium content and refine carbs, veggie pho can be enjoyed regularly as part of a nutritious whole foods plant-based diet. Experiment with different vegetables, herbs, spices and proteins for flavorful veggie pho that nourishes your body.