• Jan 2024

Balanced vegan diet: How can you get the nutrients you need?

Balanced vegan diet: How can you get the nutrients you need?
  • A vegan diet is a type of plant-based diet that is free from any animal products (e.g. no meat, poultry, fish, dairy, eggs, or other animal byproducts).
  • Healthy vegan nutrition is based around a balanced breakdown of plant-based sources of macronutrients (protein, carbohydrates, fat) and micronutrients (vitamins and minerals).
  • It’s possible to eat a balanced vegan diet that will meet your nutrition needs while being glucose friendly, with intentional planning.

The start of the year is a new chance to revisit your overall nutrition. This year, you may be curious about Veganuary—a 31-day vegan diet challenge throughout the month of January that encourages participants to stick with the diet year-round. Veganuary is also a non-profit organisation that started in England and Wales in 2014 to support and encourage people to eat a plant-based diet.

Plant-based diets have continued to increase in popularity in recent years. From 2014 to 2018, there was a 600% increase in Americans subscribing to a vegan diet. (1) The British Nutrition Foundation reports that 2-3% of the UK population follow a vegetarian or vegan diet, with interest in reducing meat consumption on the rise. In 2017, 28% of people in the UK reported an interest in reducing their meat consumption, compared to 34% in 2018. (2)

While “vegan” and “plant-based” are often used interchangeably, there are some distinctions. A plant-based diet is any dietary pattern that includes a low amount of animal food and high amounts of foods from plants, like vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, legumes, and whole grains. A vegan diet is a type of plant-based diet that is free from any animal products (e.g. no meat, poultry, fish, dairy, eggs, or other foods derived from animals). For the purposes of this article, we will be using both terms to refer to the avoidance of animal-derived products in the diet.  

Whether you’re aiming to focus more on plants to get most of your nutrients or deciding to cut animal products completely, it is important to identify the best sources of protein, carbohydrate, and fat that fit into a plant-based diet. You may set out with the intention to better your health, but without careful planning, cutting out animal-based foods can leave you filling up on carbohydrates and ultra-processed foods, which aren’t best for your energy levels (due to blood sugar spikes and crashes), or your overall health.  

Below, we break down why people may choose to eat a vegan diet and what a healthy, balanced vegan diet truly looks like.  

Why people choose to eat a vegan diet

There are many reasons people may be interested in trying a vegan diet, a major one being for the desired health benefits. Plant-based eating has been linked to lower BMI (body mass index), weight loss, lower cholesterol, lower risk of diabetes, intestinal diseases, heart disease, cataracts, certain cancers, and more. (3)(4) Adopting a vegan diet is also a lifestyle for many people who choose it for ethical reasons, including animal cruelty and environmental considerations.  

Many of the health benefits of plant-based diets are linked to the higher fibre content compared to animal-based diets. Since vegan diets are based around complex carbohydrates, vegetables, and fruits, plant-based eaters tend to get closer to the 30 grams of fibre that is recommended daily. (5)  

Picturing a vegan diet may bring to mind brightly colored vegetables, fruits, and other healthy plant foods. However, many foods are technically vegan that aren’t health promoting (think: sugary soda, biscuits, greasy chips). So while the goal for many of eating a vegan diet is to eat more plants and plant-based foods, it can unintentionally lead to eating an unbalanced diet that is lower in protein and higher in carbohydrates, specifically refined and ultra-processed foods (UPFs).  

A 2021 study published in the Journal of Nutrition found that vegans consumed the most UPFs of any plant-based diet. (6) Eating a diet high in UPFs has excessive amounts of added sugar, unhealthy fats, salt, and low in micronutrients and fibre. This can wreak havoc on your glucose, energy levels, and overall health. In other words, vegan diets are not automatically healthy. (7)

A high consumption of vegan-friendly foods like sugary drinks, refined grains, potatoes, desserts, and fruit juices has been associated with a higher risk of chronic disease and overall mortality. (4)

In contrast, a balanced vegan diet can be health promoting. One of the ways is through better blood glucose levels due to increased fibre intake. A 2023 study found that diabetic participants on an animal-based diet had a six times greater risk of having uncontrolled blood glucose levels compared to those who adopted a vegetarian or vegan diet. (8)  

If you’re interested in eliminating animal products, it’s important to limit added sugars and get enough protein from plant-based sources to steady glucose. Eating protein, especially pairing a source of carbs with a protein, is key to helping balance blood sugar.  

Eating a vegan diet comes with extra challenges, especially attaining proper nutrition from vegan foods. Trying a vegan diet this year? Keep reading to learn how to get the nutrients you need with a balanced vegan diet.

Sources of nutrients for vegans

Since vegan diets are free from any animal products or byproducts and often plant-based, it’s important to understand which vegan foods fit into each macronutrient (protein, carbohydrates, and fat) category for balanced vegan nutrition. Here are the best sources of vegan nutrition for each macronutrient:

  • Protein sources: Beans, peas, and lentils; nuts, seeds, and soy products (such as tofu and tempeh).
  • Carb sources: Whole grains (quinoa, barley, oats), whole-grain bread and pasta, brown rice, potatoes, and other starchy vegetables. 
  • Fat sources: Plant oils (canola, olive oil, coconut), avocado, nuts and nut butters, and seeds

It’s important to note that many meat alternatives on the market that are designed to replace animal-based foods like burgers and sausages are often not a healthier option. These foods can be low in protein and high in salt, oil, and sugar. If searching for a meat alternative, look for whole soy-based products like tofu and tempeh that have few additives.  

Healthy vegan nutrition should revolve around the rule of three: Fill ½ of your plate with non-starchy vegetables (e.g. asparagus, Brussels sprouts, peppers), ¼ with high-quality protein (e.g. tofu), and the remaining ¼ with complex carbohydrates (e.g. sweet potato, brown rice, quinoa). Don’t forget to include healthy fats (e.g. avocado, nuts, seeds, or a drizzle of olive oil) as well.

Vegan nutrition advice 
If you follow a vegan diet, it’s crucial that you eat a balanced diet that satisfies macronutrient and micronutrient (vitamin and mineral) needs, as vegans are more prone to nutritional deficiencies that can lead to future health problems like anemia, stroke, cognitive impairment, decreased bone health, and more. (9)

Nutritional deficiencies are common among people who follow an unbalanced vegan diet, like those who eat an abundance of ultra-processed foods. Common micronutrient deficiencies include vitamin B12, vitamin D, calcium, selenium, iodine, iron, zinc, riboflavin, and omega-3 fatty acids. (7)

Additionally, because plant-based sources of protein are not as easily utilized by the body and have a different mix of amino acids compared to animal sources, it’s important to ensure you are getting enough protein from a variety of sources to ensure you get all of the amino acids your body needs. (10) Soy (tofu, tempeh, edamame), quinoa, and buckwheat are complete proteins that provide all nine essential amino acids, and other plant-based foods that aren’t complete proteins but provide a good number of amino acids include beans, spirulina, hemp seeds, pumpkin seeds, walnuts, and flax seeds.  

To eat a balanced vegan diet, some of the recommendations from the National Health Service include: (11)

  • Eat at least 5 portions of a variety of fruits and vegetables every day.
  • Have some fortified dairy alternatives, such as soya drinks and yoghurts (choose lower-sugar options).
  • Eat some beans, pulses, and other proteins.
  • Eat nuts and seeds rich in omega-3 fatty acids (such as walnuts) every day.
  • Have fortified foods or supplements containing nutrients that are more difficult to get through a vegan diet, including vitamin D, vitamin B12, iodine, selenium, calcium and iron.
  • Drink plenty of fluids (the NHS recommends 6 to 8 cups or glasses a day).

While these are broad recommendations for people following a vegan diet, Lingo recommends that you tailor your own vegan diet to include foods that allow you to keep your glucose levels steady. This may mean:

  • Base meals on a quality source of protein (like tofu or tempeh) and make sure to include protein at every meal.
  • Tailor carb portions based on your own blood sugar response and choose whole grain carbs whenever possible.
  • Eat fruits and vegetables that don’t cause your blood sugar to spike rapidly.

Vegans should also still focus on limiting ultra-processed foods that are high in added sugars, simple carbohydrates, unhealthy fat, and sodium. Although many foods may be vegan-friendly, it does not mean they are nutritionally sound.

To adhere to a balanced diet for good nutrition, follow the rule of three as outlined above to balance non-starchy vegetables, protein, complex carbohydrates, and healthy fats. 

A final note from Lingo

Since many people are looking to eat healthier and increase their consumption of fruits, vegetables, and other whole foods, a plant-based diet might be something to explore. Plant-based diets have grown in popularity in recent years, and some studies point to health benefits such as improved BMI, lower cholesterol, and reduced risk of heart disease. (11)  

However, if a balanced vegan diet is not followed, it can create nutritional challenges. Nutritional deficiencies can be common for vegans, but can be avoided with fortified foods and supplements such as B12 and vitamin D. (9)

Although eating a vegan diet higher in carbohydrates and lower in protein may lead to glucose spikes, using a continuous glucose monitor like Lingo can help you understand your habits and patterns and work towards eating a more balanced diet to limit glucose spikes.  

Lingo is not a medical device and not designed to treat or diagnose any disease or illness. If you have medical questions or concerns regarding your glucose, please contact your doctor.

January 15, 2024


  1. Clem J, Barthel B. A Look at Plant-Based Diets. Mo Med. 2021 May-Jun;118(3):233-238. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8210981/ 

  2. British Nutrition Foundation. (2019). “Plant-based diets.” https://www.nutrition.org.uk/putting-it-into-practice/plant-based-diets/plant-based-diets/

  3. Key TJ, Papier K, Tong TYN. Plant-based diets and long-term health: findings from the EPIC-Oxford study. Proc Nutr Soc. 2022 May;81(2):190-198.  https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7613518/ 

  4. Thompson AS, Tresserra-Rimbau A, Karavasiloglou N, Jennings A, Cantwell M, Hill C, Perez-Cornago A, Bondonno NP, Murphy N, Rohrmann S, Cassidy A, Kühn T. Association of Healthful Plant-based Diet Adherence With Risk of Mortality and Major Chronic Diseases Among Adults in the UK. JAMA Netw Open. 2023 Mar 1;6(3):e234714.  https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/36976560/

  5. Craig WJ. Health effects of vegan diets. Am J Clin Nutr. 2009 May;89(5):1627S-1633S. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/19279075/

  6. Gehring J, Touvier M, Baudry J, Julia C, Buscail C, Srour B, Hercberg S, Péneau S, Kesse-Guyot E, Allès B. Consumption of Ultra-Processed Foods by Pesco-Vegetarians, Vegetarians, and Vegans: Associations with Duration and Age at Diet Initiation. J Nutr. 2021 Jan 4;151(1):120-131.  https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32692345/

  7. Wang T, Masedunskas A, Willett WC, Fontana L. Vegetarian and vegan diets: benefits and drawbacks. Eur Heart J. 2023 Sep 21;44(36):3423-3439.  https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/37450568/

  8. Pavitasari A, Farapti F, Rachmah Q, Kalpana CA. Fiber Intake and Vegan Lifestyle Behaviour on Blood Glucose Control in Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus Patients: A Case-Control Study. Curr Diabetes Rev. 2023;19(5):e100822207394. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/35950253/

  9. Bali A, Naik R. The Impact of a Vegan Diet on Many Aspects of Health: The Overlooked Side of Veganism. Cureus. 2023 Feb 18;15(2):e35148.  https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC10027313/

  10. Langyan S, Yadava P, Khan FN, Dar ZA, Singh R, Kumar A. Sustaining Protein Nutrition Through Plant-Based Foods. Front Nutr. 2022 Jan 18;8:772573. doi: 10.3389/fnut.2021.772573. PMID: 35118103; PMCID: PMC8804093. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/35118103/

  11. National Health Service. “The vegan diet” https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/eat-well/how-to-eat-a-balanced-diet/the-vegan-diet

  12. Termannsen AD, Clemmensen KKB, Thomsen JM, Nørgaard O, Díaz LJ, Torekov SS, Quist JS, Faerch K. Effects of vegan diets on cardiometabolic health: A systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Obes Rev. 2022 Sep;23(9):e13462. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC9540559/

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