By Will Hawkins

Vegan food swaps to try at home

The idea that vegan food is unexciting is a bit of a myth, and it's one that we're keen to change.

One of the first things you'll need to do if you're switching to a vegan diet is find acceptable substitutes for animal-based products such as meat and dairy.

While finding something tasty is important, you'll also want to consider whether your chosen substitute will replace the nutrients you're potentially missing out on.

Our expert nutritionists have a few suggestions for you.

Vegan meat alternatives

In a meat-based diet, meat is usually the primary source of protein. It follows that whatever you choose to use when replacing meat should also be high in protein. Here are some of the options:

1. Tofu

While often written off as bland and boring, tofu is actually great at absorbing flavour, so serving it with a good sauce or in a spicy coating will help.

It's a complete protein, which means it contains all your essential amino acids, and it's also rich in calcium.

2. Tempeh

Like tofu, tempeh is made from soybeans. The difference is that on this occasion, the beans have been fermented.

This means it has a slightly firmer, grainier texture, while in addition to the nutritional benefits of tofu, tempeh is an excellent probiotic that can help with digestion.

3. Seitan

A mix of gluten, herbs, spices and water, seitan has a robust, meaty texture that holds its shape better than many meat substitutes during cooking.

It isn't a complete protein, but serving it with soy sauce will ensure you get all your essential amino acids from your meal. Seitan is also high in iron, so it can help protect you against anaemia.

4. Textured Vegetable Protein (TVP)

TVP is made from dehydrated soy, and is available in mince or chunks. The mince is a particularly good substitute for beef in lasagne, bolognese and chilli.

One serving of TVP contains around 20% of your daily protein.

5. Jackfruit

Pulled pork is very fashionable right now, so if you want to recreate that texture, jackfruit is a good option.

This sweet, stringy fruit is pretty low in protein, so nutritionally it's not an equivalent. However, serve it with some beans (see below) and you have a nutritious, complete meal.

6. Beans and pulses

Some people are vegan because they simply don't like the taste or texture of meat. Beans and pulses work just as well as the main component of many dishes, including chillies, curries and even veggie burgers.

While individual beans and pulses aren't complete proteins, a combination of them can ensure you get all your essential amino acids. They'll also provide plenty of fibre to help your digestion.

7. Mushrooms

A staple of the veggie burger, mushrooms are considered an acceptable substitute due to their slightly meaty taste and texture.

While 100g of beef contains around 26g of protein, mushroom only offers 3g. This means you'd have to eat nearly 900g of mushrooms to get the same amount of protein, which isn't really practical. Still, it's a good option to look out for if you're dining out with friends.

8. Vegan brands

There are plenty of vegan brands available at your local supermarket that recreate the taste and texture of meat.

Look out for products from Fry's, Tofurky and Sgaia, where you can get ready made steaks, nuggets, burgers, bacon and sausages. These can be frozen, so they're ideal for busy vegan families.

While Quorn does produce some vegan-friendly options, a lot of Quorn produce contains egg and are therefore not suitable for vegans - check the packaging.

Vegan cheese alternatives

Many vegans find cheese harder to give up than meat. Fortunately, there are plenty of ways to recreate the delicious, creamy of texture of cheese with just a fraction of the saturated fat.

Cashew cheese is made by soaking plain, unsalted cashew nuts and blending them with lemon juice and salt. 100g of cashew nuts provides 3% of your daily calcium, which is much less than cheese, so it shouldn't be your primary source of this nutrient.

Some recipes use aquafaba, which is the water left over from a can of chickpeas or tinned beans. The amount of liquid determines the consistency of the cheese, so you can make a soft, spreadable cheese, a firmer cheese similar to mozzarella or even a hard, sliceable cheese.

You can also make your own ‘vegan feta' by chopping some tofu into cubes and marinating in a sharp, acidic marinade for a couple of days.

If you're not up for making your own, there are also an increasing number of vegan cheeses available in your local supermarket, including hard cheese, soft cheese, parmesan cheese, melting cheese and even blue cheese.

Vegan dairy alternatives

As well as the cheese substitutes we've discussed, there are also alternatives for milk, including almond, soy, oat, rice and coconut milk.

Many of these contain a good amount of calcium with just a fraction of the saturated fat. They're often fortified with important vitamins and minerals such as calcium and vitamins A, B12 and D.

Instead of butter, choose an olive oil-based spread. Olive oil is a key part of the very healthy Mediterranean diet and is proven to have a positive impact on your heart.

While there's not really a vegan equivalent of a fried or boiled egg, crumbled tofu can be used in place of scrambled eggs for your breakfast, providing both protein and a similar texture.

If you're baking, it's possible to use a substitute. Mashed banana or apple will do the same job as egg and bind the mixture together, or you can mix chia or flax seeds with water to create a similar consistency to egg white. These won't provide protein, but if you're baking a cake, chances are nutrition isn't high on your agenda anyway!

Vegan sources of omega-3

Omega-3 is an important fatty acid that's good for your heart and helps you manage cholesterol and blood pressure. Some studies have also suggested it helps prevent mental health conditions such as depression or Alzheimer's, reduces your risk of autoimmune diseases and improves your joint health, vision and skin.

The problem for vegans is that your body doesn't make this naturally and most health guidelines suggest you should get it from fish.

Obviously this isn't an option here, but luckily there are plenty of plant-based foods that are rich in omega-3. Simply work some of these into your diet to feel the benefits.

  • Walnuts
  • Soybeans
  • Canola oil
  • Chia seeds
  • Flax seeds

Vegan sources of iron

Iron is often associated with red meat, and your body needs this nutrient to make red blood cells that transport oxygen around your body.

Fortunately, there are plenty of plant-based ways to get enough iron. Try working the following into your weekly meal plan:

  • Leafy green veg
  • Kidney beans
  • Pinto beans
  • Tofu (soybeans)
  • Lentils
  • Dried fruit
  • Chickpeas
  • Quinoa
  • Brown rice

Try our healthy vegan recipes

Our chefs have created lots of healthy recipes that are suitable for vegans. This simple devilled tofu with shallots and rice is a quick and easy dinner that you can cook for you and your friends and family.