What foods can be eaten in a plant-based diet?

A plant-based diet consists of foods derived from plants, including vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds. This type of diet limits or avoids meat, dairy, eggs, and highly processed foods. There are many health and environmental benefits associated with eating a predominately plant-based diet. However, it does require planning to ensure you are getting proper nutrition. This article will explore the wide variety of plant foods that can be enjoyed as part of a healthy, well-balanced plant-based diet.

Fruits and Vegetables

Fruits and vegetables should make up a significant portion of any plant-based diet. Eating a rainbow of produce provides a range of vitamins, minerals, fiber, and phytonutrients. Fruits and veggies can be fresh, frozen, canned, or dried. Here are some examples:

  • Fruits: apples, bananas, berries, citrus fruits, mangos, melons, pineapple, etc.
  • Vegetables: leafy greens, broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, tomatoes, peppers, mushrooms, onions, garlic, sweet potatoes, etc.

Aim for at least 2-3 servings of fruit and 2-3 servings of vegetables daily. Fruits and veggies can be enjoyed whole, sliced, roasted, sautéed, juiced, added to salads, soups, smoothies, and more. Having a variety is key to getting a range of nutrients.

Whole Grains

Whole grains provide important nutrients like fiber, B vitamins, iron, and magnesium. Refined grains lose some nutritional value during processing. Try to make at least half your grain choices whole grain. Options include:

  • Whole wheat or whole grain bread, pasta, cereal, crackers, etc.
  • Brown rice, quinoa, oats, barley, bulgur, farro, etc.
  • Popcorn, millet, amaranth, buckwheat, etc.

Aim for 6-11 servings of grains daily, with an emphasis on whole grains. Enjoy grains at breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks. Some easy ways to eat whole grains are a bowl of oatmeal, whole grain toast, whole wheat pasta, and brown rice.


Legumes, including beans, peas, lentils, and soy foods are a key protein source in a plant-based diet. They are also high in fiber, vitamins, and minerals. Some common legumes are:

  • Beans: black, pinto, kidney, white, garbanzo, fava, etc.
  • Peas: split peas, black-eyed peas, green peas, etc.
  • Lentils: brown, green, red, black, etc.
  • Soy foods: tofu, tempeh, edamame, soy milk, etc.

Aim for 1-2 servings of legumes daily. Legumes can be used to make veggie burgers, stews, soups, salads, curries, hummus, and more. Canned or dried legumes offer an easy, budget-friendly option.

Nuts and Seeds

Nuts and seeds provide healthy fats, protein, and nutrients like vitamin E, magnesium, and iron. They make great snacks, toppings, or additions to meals. Some examples include:

  • Nuts: almonds, walnuts, cashews, pistachios, pecans, etc.
  • Seeds: pumpkin, sunflower, chia, flax, hemp, etc.
  • Nut/seed butters: almond butter, cashew butter, sunflower seed butter, etc.

Aim for 1-2 servings of nuts/seeds per day. Sprinkle nuts on a salad, blend nut butter into smoothies, or enjoy handful of trail mix for an on-the-go snack.

Herbs, Spices, and Condiments

Herbs, spices, vinegars, sauces, and condiments allow you to add lots of flavor to plant-based meals. They can transform simple ingredients into delicious dishes. Options include:

  • Herbs: basil, cilantro, parsley, oregano, rosemary, thyme, etc.
  • Spices: cinnamon, turmeric, cumin, paprika, curry powder, ginger, etc.
  • Vinegars: balsamic, rice wine, apple cider, red wine, etc.
  • Sauces: soy sauce, sesame oil, hot sauce, etc.
  • Condiments: mustard, ketchup, relish, salsa, hummus, etc.

Don’t be afraid to experiment with combining herbs, spices, vinegars, sauces, and condiments to add lots of flavor to your food. Play around with new flavors regularly to keep your taste buds excited.


Staying hydrated is important when following a plant-based diet. Choose water as your primary beverage and aim for 7-9 cups per day. But there are other interesting beverage options besides plain water:

  • Sparkling/flavored water
  • Unsweetened teas (black, green, herbal)
  • Coffee
  • Plant-based milk (soy, almond, oat, etc.)
  • Fresh vegetable juice
  • Smoothies using plant-based milk and fruit

Limit sugary beverages like soda and sweetened teas. Choose unsweetened plant-based milk options over dairy milk. Enjoy the range of flavors from different teas, juices, and smoothies.

Fortified Foods

Some plant foods are fortified with vitamins and minerals that can be harder to obtain on a strict plant-based diet. Choosing some fortified food options helps provide important nutrients. Some examples include:

  • Plant-based milk fortified with calcium, vitamin D, vitamin B12
  • Plant-based yogurt fortified with calcium, vitamin D
  • Cereals fortified with B vitamins
  • Orange juice fortified with calcium and vitamin D
  • Iodized salt
  • Nutritional yeast

Read nutrition labels to identify fortified foods. Prioritize those fortified with calcium, vitamin D, vitamin B12, and iodine. Consuming some fortified foods helps safeguard against potential nutritional deficiencies.

Occasional Treats

Eating only whole, plant foods 100% of the time is not realistic or sustainable for most people. Allowing some indulgences makes a plant-based diet more enjoyable. Here are some treats that can be worked into a healthy plant-based eating plan:

  • Dark chocolate
  • Plant-based ice cream
  • Vegan cookies, cakes, donuts
  • Fried veggie spring rolls
  • French fries
  • Potato chips
  • Guacamole and tortilla chips
  • Vegan pizza

The key is moderation. Save treats for special occasions or limit yourself to a small portion as part of an overall healthy diet. Get nutrients from whole foods at most meals and allow room for occasional indulgences.

Sample 1-Day Plant-Based Meal Plan

Here is an example of what a day in a plant-based diet might look like:

Meal Foods
Breakfast Oatmeal made with soy milk, topped with walnuts and blueberries
Snack Apple slices with almond butter
Lunch Chickpea salad sandwich on whole grain bread with lettuce, tomato, avocado
Snack Hummus with carrot sticks
Dinner Stir fry with tofu, brown rice, broccoli, carrots, onion, garlic
Dessert Dark chocolate square

This provides a balanced mix of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts, and a treat. Eating a variety of plant foods throughout the day ensures you meet all your nutritional needs.

Common Questions

Here are answers to some frequently asked questions about the plant foods you can eat on a vegan diet:

Can I eat potatoes and sweet potatoes?

Yes, potatoes and sweet potatoes are vegetable options that can be enjoyed as part of a plant-based diet. They provide nutrients like fiber, potassium, vitamin C, and vitamin B6. Enjoy baked, mashed, roasted, as fries, in soups, in salads.

Are mushrooms allowed?

Definitely. Mushrooms provide nutrients like selenium, potassium, and B vitamins. Enjoy raw, sautéed, roasted, grilled.

Can I have avocados and olives?

Yes. Avocados and olives are fruits that provide healthy fats. Enjoy them sliced, mashed, made into guacamole, on salads, sandwiches.

What about tofu and tempeh?

Tofu and tempeh are versatile soy-based proteins that are excellent options in a plant-based diet. They can be baked, sautéed, crumbled, blended, etc.

Are fruits like bananas and melons okay to eat?

Yes, all fruits are encouraged as part of a plant-based diet. Bananas, melons, mangos, and other fruits provide important vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and fiber.

Can I eat bread and tortillas?

Breads and tortillas can be eaten if they are made without animal products. Look for whole grain varieties made without eggs and dairy. Or make your own using plant-based ingredients.

Supplements on a Plant-Based Diet

Some supplements may be helpful when following a strict plant-based diet to prevent potential nutrient deficiencies:

  • Vitamin B12: This is not naturally found in plant foods, so a B12 supplement is recommended.
  • Vitamin D: Those with limited sun exposure may need a D supplement.
  • Calcium: If not meeting needs through fortified foods, a calcium supplement may be beneficial.
  • Iron: More plant-based sources of iron should be consumed to prevent anemia.
  • Iodine: Those not using iodized salt may need an iodine supplement.
  • Omega-3s: A DHA/EPA supplement can provide these beneficial fatty acids.

Check with your healthcare provider to determine if any supplements may be helpful for you based on your dietary intake and health status. Supplements should not replace eating a healthy diet, but can help fill potential gaps.


There is a wide variety of delicious whole food options to create a healthy, balanced plant-based diet. Emphasize fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds. Include fortified foods to help meet nutrient needs. Allow for occasional indulgences in moderation. Supplement wisely if required. Eating mainly plant foods can provide many benefits for health and the environment. With proper planning, plant-based diets can be nutritionally complete and satisfying. The key is eating a diverse mix of all the plant foods available. With creativity and flexibility, you can enjoy delicious plant-based meals.

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