You’ve probably noticed that veganism is growing in popularity - you may even be vegan yourself. Whether you are or not though, it’s practically a certainty that you at least know someone who is.
There’s a lot said about veganism from all quarters but when it comes down to the bare basics of it, what is veganism and how does it work?
If you’d like to go vegan this Veganuary (or any other time of the year) but find yourself wondering about what vegans can eat, or even what veganism means – we’ve got all the answers here.
This article will cover:
- What veganism is
- What a vegan lifestyle is
- Why people go vegan
- The advantages of veganism
- What a vegan diet is
- What a vegetarian diet is
- How to become a vegan
- 12 vegan-friendly food and drinks
- 10 non-vegan-friendly foods and drinks
- Benefits of a vegan diet
- Advice for beginning a vegan diet
- Why going vegan won’t break the bank
Veganism for beginners
There can’t be a person left in the country who hasn’t heard of veganism, especially when vegans are the butt of so many terrible jokes: How can you tell if someone’s vegan? Don’t worry, they’ll tell you…
Veganism has become popular over the last few decades, with around 1.5 million people in the UK currently following a vegan diet (2021) and 7.2 million British adults following a meat-free diet.1
On top of that, veganism is currently exploding in popularity; the number of vegans in the UK is said to have risen by 400% since 2014.
This growing appetite for a vegan diet – which ditches animal foods like meat, eggs and milk for plant alternatives – is driven by concern for animal welfare and the environment, plus the desire to eat more healthily.2
Once a niche subculture, the practice of consuming no animal products whatsoever has become mainstream, with thousands participating in Veganuary each year and growing numbers making the switch permanently.
Research has shown that a plant-based diet can be good for your wellbeing in more ways than one, but without proper planning, you could miss out on key vitamins and nutrients.3
So, get the low-down on going vegan with our guide, and you can make the switch without missing out.
What is a vegan?
First things first, there’s often a bit of confusion between vegans and vegetarians.
As a rule, vegetarians do not eat meat or fish but they do eat animal products such as eggs and dairy. They typically aren’t fussy about using goods, like cosmetics, which contain animal products.
Vegans do not eat any animal products at all and they usually won’t use any goods which contain animal products.
What is a vegan lifestyle
By its true definition, veganism is a lifestyle that cuts out all products and services (where possible) that harm, exploit or use animals.4
This doesn’t just mean eating a plant-based diet, but quitting clothes, make-up, and personal products like shower gel that are tested on animals or contain anything that comes from animals.
Veganism is generally considered a positive practice because it encourages the fair treatment of animals. But it can sometimes be thought of as a rather restrictive lifestyle choice, who view it rather simplistically as a list of things you can no longer eat.
Fortunately, there are plenty of ways to respond to any of the negativity that might be associated being vegan and it can always create the opportunity to educate others about the practice.
Why go vegan?
There are several reasons why people become vegan, including their health, the environment, and animal ethics.
People typically become vegan for either ethical or health reasons (or of course, both).
Ethical reasons may include:
- Concerns about animal welfare – specifically issues of animal maltreatment in the food industry, and the ethics of killing sentient creatures.
- Concerns about the environment – specifically the ways in which livestock farming practices result in deforestation and related environmental issues.
- Concerns about the impact of the global meat industry on human beings – specifically health issues which may be associated with eating meat, as well as the logistics of feeding malnourished populations (hypothetically easier to do with plants than meat).
Health reasons may include:
- Veganism may support heart health4
- Veganism may help support weight management5
What are the advantages of going vegan?
Thinking about making the change? Whether you’re planning on doing Veganuary or reducing your meat and dairy intake, you might be wondering about the benefits that come with it.
There are various potential advantages to adopting a vegan diet, ranging from major health considerations all the way down to simple financial considerations.
Here’s a look at some of the advantages of following a vegan diet:
For most vegans, animal welfare is the biggest reason for changing their lifestyle.6
Statistics show that more than one billion mammals in the UK alone are killed every year for human consumption, while many sheep, pigs, chickens and cows reared for their meat will have spent their lives in cramped and dirty conditions.7
Egg-laying chickens and dairy cows may be kept in similar conditions and are often killed well before the end of their natural life expectancy.7,8
Going vegan can help put an end to the lifetime of suffering that animals endure just to end up on our plates.
An increasing amount of evidence shows that a vegan diet, rich in wholefoods, has many health benefits, including helping to protecting you against certain illnesses and supporting weight management.
Animal food products are usually high in calories, a 100-gram beef burger, for example, contains around 250 calories while a 100-gram soya burger contains only around 130 calories.9,10
The weight loss management benefits aren’t just limited to eating less calorically dense food, either.
One 2015 review of studies on vegetarian and vegan diets found that vegetarians and vegans were able to lose significantly more weight in the short term than meat-eaters.11
This is likely due in part to foods such as whole grains, vegetables, and fruits which are rich in fibre, antioxidants and minerals, and low scoring on the glycaemic index – a great combination for fat loss.12
There’s no getting around the simple fact that meat is one of the most expensive foodstuffs you can buy, regardless of where you live.
Vegetables, on the other hand, tend to be reasonably cheap and of course, saving money on the groceries is never a bad thing.
One study published in the Journal of Hunger and Environmental Nutrition estimated that American vegetarians would spend an average of $746.6 per year on groceries less than their meat-eating counterparts.13
A 1999 study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that vegans had a 26% lower rate of death from coronary artery disease (a condition where the arteries are blocked, often due to a build-up of fatty plaque) than meat-eaters.14
As a vegan diet also tends to be associated with lower overall body fat, the risk factor for heart disease would seem to be reduced even further.
A healthy vegan diet involves eating lots of fruits, vegetables, legumes, plant proteins and nuts, which gives your vitamins and mineral intake a serious boost.
These foods typically contain large amounts of:
- Antioxidants – to help protect your cells from free-radical damage15
- Fibre – found in fruits and vegetables, helps with digestion16
- Folic acid – vital for making red blood cells formation17
- Phytochemicals – associated with protecting you from disease18
There is a risk that vegans may be lacking in vitamin B12, as this vitamin is found naturally in animal products. But a properly balanced vegan diet can provide all the vitamins and minerals your body needs.19
A 2010 United Nations report found that meat and dairy agriculture accounts for 70% of global fresh water consumption, 38% of total land use and 14% of greenhouse gas emissions, which all adds up to a huge strain on our natural resources.20
But going vegan has been described as the single biggest way to reduce our environmental impact on the planet.
In fact, switching to a plant-based diet could reduce farmland use by 75% and still feed everyone in the world!21
What is a vegan diet?
The Vegan Society says, ‘one thing all vegans have in common is a plant-based diet avoiding all animal foods such as meat (including fish, shellfish and insects), dairy, eggs and honey.’6
If you think that seems to cover most food groups, think again! A vegan diet can be one of the most richly diverse ways of eating.
You just need to be armed with the right information, and a bit of forward planning.
What does a vegan diet look like?
Vegans don’t eat or drink anything that comes from, or exploits, an animal. This means they cut out:
- Fish, including shellfish
- All dairy including milk, butter and cheese
- Gelatine, often found in jelly
Instead, vegans eat a plant-based diet, which is rich in:
- Fruits and vegetables
- Legumes, like chickpeas
- Pulses, such as lentils
- Soy protein, including tofu
- Plant-based milks – soy, almond, rice, hemp, hazelnut, cashew or oat milks
Don’t panic if you enjoy meals out – eating out as a vegan really isn’t that difficult. Many cuisines have a huge selection of plant-based choices – Indian, Middle Eastern, Mexican, even Italian (think of all that pasta) – so you can choose one of these restaurants next time you go out for dinner.22
A lot of chain restaurants now have vegan options on the menu, too. Leon, Yo! Sushi, Gourmet Burger Kitchen and even Toby Carvery all cater for vegans.23
Where do vegans get their protein?
The most protein rich foods out there are meat and other animal products.
Because of this fact, many people are confused about how vegans can meet their daily protein requirements.
Common protein sources for vegans include:
- Lentils – 9g of protein per 100g
- Tofu – 8g of protein per 100g
- Black beans – 21g of protein per 100g
- Quinoa – 4g of protein per 100g
- Oatmeal – 2.4g of protein per 100g
What is a vegetarian diet?
People the world over have followed a vegetarian diet since time immemorial.
But some people – especially those from cultures where meat makes up a big part of their diet – may still struggle with what being vegetarian entails.
What it means to follow a vegetarian diet
Vegetarians today still encounter questions such as “do vegetarians eat eggs?” And “what do vegetarians eat?”
And the truth is, it is OK to be a little confused, as there is a flexible spectrum of what vegetarians will and will not eat, depending on each individual.
If you are looking to make a change to your diet but feel veganism is a step too far for you right now, then opting to become a vegetarian may be your best starting point.
Neither vegetarians nor vegans eat meat or fish. But there is much more flexibility with dairy products when you follow a vegetarian diet.
There are (more or less) five types of ‘vegetarian’, ranging from those who will eat fish (and even meat, occasionally) to those who will refuse dairy.
Lacto-ovo vegetarian (the ‘classic’ vegetarian) - Eats no meat or fish, but dairy products (cheese, milk) and eggs are OK.
Lacto vegetarian - Eats no meat, fish or eggs, but dairy products, such as cheese and milk are OK.
Ovo vegetarian - Eats no meat, fish or dairy, but eggs are OK.
Pescatarian - Eats no meat, but fish, eggs and dairy products are OK.
Flexitarian - Predominantly lacto-ovo vegetarian, but sometimes eats meat or fish.
From this list, it is easy to see that becoming a vegetarian is all about deciding what is important to you.
If it is predominantly about trying to cut down the amount of meat in your diet for health or environmental reasons, rather than strong ideas about animal welfare, perhaps flexitarianism or pescatarianism is the way to go.
On the other hand, if you feel strongly about chicken welfare, perhaps you would be a natural lactovegetarian.
Some vegetarian meals could be based on starchy carbohydrates. Foods such as potatoes, pasta, cereals, bread, rice are all good sources of energy.24,25
As with all diets, they must be balanced and provide your body with enough vitamins, nutrients and minerals.
Vegetarian meals do not have to be dull and there are a range of delicious vegetarian recipes, from Thai tofu laksa to a kimchi poke bowl to try out via our Health Hub.
Mango, poppy seed & blueberry vegan cheesecake
Try this showstopping mango, poppy seed & blueberry vegan cheesecake with heaps of mouthwatering fruit. It's easy to make and simply delicious.
Mango, poppy seed & blueberry vegan cheesecake
What is Veganuary?
Veganuary (aka vegan January) is a campaign that takes place every January, where hundreds of thousands of people across the world pledge to go plant-based for the duration of the month.
In 2021, over 500,000 people pledged to take the 31-day vegan challenge, which is a record number of participants for the campaign.26
Does the idea of going vegan appeal to you, but you’ve not quite done it yet because you’re not sure how to go vegan?
What can you eat? What can’t you eat? And how can you make sure you’re still eating a healthy, balanced diet?
Becoming vegan involves cutting out food that comes from animals, e.g. meat, dairy and eggs, and only eating plant-based products. For instance, fruit and veg and nuts and grains.27
As we all know, animal products can be a good source of vitamins and nutrients. But if you’re not eating them, because you’re following a vegan diet, it’s important you get this goodness from elsewhere.
If your diet isn't planned properly, you could easily miss out on essential nutrients, such as calcium, Omega-3 fatty acids, Vitamin B12 and iron.
“So, what do you eat on a vegan diet?”
If you’re vegan, or planning to be, this is a question you will have to get used to hearing.
Luckily, there are many ways to answer this question!
What do vegans eat?
Veganism is not just about eating plants.
Vegans also avoid products such as cheese, milk, butter, honey, eggs – essentially, anything derived from animals.
Becoming a vegan is not always an easy choice. And there are some surprising food items that you need to forgo such as tomato sauce, mustard and Coca-Cola.
The NHS recommends certain vegan foods for a healthy vegan diet.
These include consuming five portions of fruit and vegetables daily, wholegrain or starchy carbohydrates (e.g. pasta, potatoes), dairy-free products, and using unsaturated oils in cooking such as avocado, peanut or sunflower oil.28
Other vegan snacks such as nuts, seeds, hummus, beans and pulses are all good, healthy options for a vegan diet.
It is important to consume the right vitamins and nutrients for the body to function properly.
While vegans do not eat dairy products, they can find good sources of calcium in green leafy vegetables, rice, oat drinks, sesame seeds, tahini and dried fruits.28
Since vegans choose not to eat red meat (or indeed, any kind of meat), it can be a challenge for them to sustain their iron levels.
But there are other good iron sources and meat alternatives such as wholemeal bread, cereals fortified with iron, tempeh, black beans and lentils that vegans can eat.
Vegans will, of course, also cut out dairy from their diet.
But, again, there are also plenty of dairy-free alternatives to try such as the vegan version of the Philly Cheesesteak sandwich. And for dessert, why not try a date and chai tea sticky toffee pudding recipe?
Green spinach pancakes with mushrooms & sweetcorn
Start the day off right with vegan green spinach pancakes with mushrooms and sweetcorn. This breakfast recipe serves 3 to 4 and takes just 20 minutes to cook.
Green spinach pancakes with mushrooms & sweetcorn
Vegan food list for beginners
Do you have a first clue as to which foods make the food list for vegans or not?
Some products may be obvious and some, not so obvious.
Let’s take a look at some of them:
Vegan friendly foods you will most probably have heard of:
- Vegetables – carrots, cabbage, kale and cauliflower….veggies are a vegan’s best friend and a great source of vitamins, such as A and K, as well as potassium 29
- Fruit – are in the same league as veggies when it comes to vegan eating; you can eat as many of them as you like (this includes frozen fruit too) 0
- Beans – such as lentils, black beans or chickpeas, which can be boiled or blended and added to most dishes, such as soups, stews and salads 31
- Grains – brown rice, quinoa, spelt, millet and bulgar are all vegan food staples, providing nutrition, flavour and texture 31
- Tofu – is great for both cooking and baking. Cut it up into chunks for stir-fries or stews or blend it for sauces, dressings or puddings 31
Vegan food you may not have heard of:
- Jackfruit – is a fruit that has the same texture as pulled pork. You can marinate and roast it, just like pulled pork 32
- Seitan – comes from the protein gluten in wheat and has a meaty like taste and texture32
- Tempeh – made from soybeans, it tastes nutty and mushroom-like, with a meat-like alternative substance 32
- Aquafaba – is essentially the juice you drain from your chickpea cans, which happens to be great for vegan baking because of its egg-like qualities 32
Then there are these ‘surprising’ food items too…
Mustard, Heinz tomato ketchup, Coca-Cola, Warburton’s crumpets, Bisto gravy granules, Jus-Rol pastry, Biscoff spread, Cadbury’s Bournville chocolate, Green & Black’s dark chocolate, Betty Crocker baking mix and most meat-flavoured crisps (e.g., Twiglets, Bacon Hula Hoops, Pringles BBQ sauce) and so on…33
Vegan products and vegan meals
Whilst it may appear that there are many restrictions with a vegan diet, there are also plenty of alternatives available.
For instance, vegan butter is made from plant-based milk. You can also use almond butter in your cooking for a healthy alternative to many non-vegan options.
Many people who are nervous of starting a vegan diet often worry about the lack of options but there are many vegan products and alternatives to eggs, milk and even cheese.
Vegan cheese is made from plant-based products from vegetable proteins and there are many alternatives to try. Holland & Barrett also has a handy guide for those keen to find the best egg alternatives to incorporate into their vegan meals.
Vegan friendly food & drink
All our diets, whether vegan or non-vegan, should have more vegetables and fruit than anything else. Vegans can get really adventurous when it comes to this food group.
There are hundreds of different types of vegetable out there just waiting to be fried, baked, sautéed, grilled, steamed, and roasted.
Going vegan can be the perfect opportunity to build on your cooking skills, whatever stage they are currently at.
Of course, vegetables are incredibly rich in the nutrients and antioxidants which keep us healthy.
Here are some of the most-loved vegetables and what vegans use them for:
- Potatoes: chips, mash, roasted potatoes, potato salad, homemade crisps
- Broccoli: a staple vegetable for every meal, tastes great roasted with chili
- Cauliflower: vegan BBQ / hot wings, roasted, grated and used as rice, ‘cauli-steak’
- Mushrooms: pie fillings, gravies, stir-fries, noodle dishes, fried rice, sauteed with garlic
- Butternut squash: risottos, nut roasts, curries, soups, simply roasted, p.s. although they are known as a vegetable, squashes are actually fruits!
- Courgette: roasted, ribboned and used as ‘courgetti’ (spaghetti), spiced wedges
- Aubergine: curries, roasted, moussaka, baba ganoush – a creamy Lebanese dip
- Leek: roasted, steamed, roast dinners, sauteed with garlic and mushrooms
- Kale: sauteed with garlic, used in salads as leaves, roasted to make kale chips, steamed
- Spinach: used as salad leaves, sauteed, saag curries, simply wilted for a side dish
Second only to vegetables, fruits are key to any diet.
Each variety of fruit contains a unique combination of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and other nutrients like fibre. You’ll find everything from vitamin C and B vitamins, to potassium, magnesium and even iron.
Try adding more fruits to your breakfast, e.g. in yoghurt or with cereal, snack on fruit throughout the day or incorporate into your desserts – banana split anyone?!
One of the great things about fruit is the sheer abundance and variety of fruits available.
There are 5 main types of fleshy fruits, e.g. fruits we eat like apples and berries, not dried fruits, including legumes and nuts:34
A fleshy fruit with one seed in the middle, e.g. pitted fruit, including:
Another fleshy fruit with one or many seeds, including:
This type of fruit has many seeds in the inedible centre, with a sweet and juicy flesh, including:
Fleshy fruits with a leathery outer rind and 8-16 segments that contain the seeds and juice including:35
A fleshy fruit with a thick, hard rind, like:
- Cucumbers – yes, they’re a fruit!
One of the best ways to get a whole load of fruit power into one serving is to make a healthy nutritious fruit smoothie or smoothie bowl, with optional plant-based milk or yoghurt, chia seeds, nuts, nut butter, dates, oats, or anything else you fancy!
Did someone say carbs? All the yummy grains – rice, wheat (this means bread and pasta!), couscous, quinoa and bulgur, are naturally vegan.
Check individual product labels though, as some will inevitably sneak some dairy or other animal products in there.
Some of the most popular grains in the vegan diet (and most healthy diets!) include:
- Wheat, used to make bread, pizza, pasta
- Corn, and popcorn
And lesser known/used grains include:
- Bulgur wheat
Grains form the basis of countless dishes, and when added together with vegetables, an unsaturated fat such as olive oil, and a source of vegan protein such as tofu, you have a complete meal.
Wholegrain carbohydrates provide your body with slow-releasing energy, dietary fibre and other nutrients like B vitamins.
Benefits of including wholegrains in your diet include:
- Could help keep you feeling fuller for longer
- Reduce urges to snack too much
- Full of micronutrients including B vitamins, that may support the nervous system, digestive system and may help in to make new red cells blood formation
Hearty, filling and robust.
Three words you wouldn’t necessarily associate with vegan food, but with the addition of legumes, you can add real bulk and substance to your food meaning you’ll never go hungry.
One concern people have when they are considering making the switch to a vegan diet is that they won’t get enough iron, or protein.
Legumes are rich in both of these, as well as fibre, making them an absolute must in a vegan’s daily diet.
Some of the most common legumes used in vegan cooking include:
- Adzuki beans: soups, curries, salad bowls, making meatballs
- Black beans: frijoles, stews, refried beans, burgers, tacos
- Soybeans: curries, salads, stir-frys, falafel
- Fava beans: dips, salads, pasta, stews
- Chickpeas: fake ‘tuna’ mayo, patties, soups, salads, stews
- Kidney beans: chillis, curries, stews, refried beans, salads
- Butter beans: mash, Spanish beans, stews, soups
- Green peas: mushy peas, curries, simply served as a side
- Black-eyed peas: curries, stews
- Lentils: dahl curries, fake ‘mince’ for shepherd’s pies, lasagnas, etc.
If you’re becoming vegan, there’s never been a better time to embrace nuts.
These absolute powerhouses of nutrition will become your secret weapon for nutritious snacking and to add to dishes.
Offering essential fatty acids, vitamin E, magnesium, selenium and more, a handful of your favourite nuts along with a piece of fruit is the perfect vegan snack.
Here are some of the most popular nuts:
- Brazil nuts
- Pistachio nuts
- Macadamia nuts
Did you know that nuts can also help with creating a creamy sauce for both sweet and savoury dishes?
Cashews are especially good as a substitute for dairy cream. Simply soak cashews in water for an hour then blitz in a blender until creamy and smooth.
On the topic of creamy – you can also enjoy nut butters like peanut butter, cashew butter, almond butter and more!
They’re great for adding some tasty extra protein to your porridge or yoghurt, slathering onto hot toast or oatcakes, or added into bakes like brownies and cookies.
Just like nuts, seeds are an amazing source of healthy fats, vitamins, minerals, fibre and more 100% vegan goodness!
Seeds are often added to dishes, like yoghurt, smoothies, salads, stir-fries, nut roasts and more, but some are enjoyed as snacks too.
Here are a few of the most popular seeds and how they can be used in a vegan diet:
- Chia seeds: can be used to make chia-eggs for baking (1tbsp chia seeds, 3 tbsp water, left for 5 mins for one egg), put in smoothies or yoghurts and more
- Flaxseed (linseed): great for adding to porridge, yoghurt or condiments, can also be made into an egg substitute (1tbsp flaxseed meal, 3 tbsp water, left for 15 mins in fridge for one egg)
- Poppy seeds: lemon and poppy seed muffins (!), or other bakes like bread, cakes and bagels
- Sunflower seeds: add to bread / bakes, granola, pesto, cereal bars and burgers
- Sesame seeds: sprinkle onto sticky noodle dishes, tofu or vegetables.
- Mustard seeds: shake over potatoes and cauliflower or try making your own mustard!
Soy is a true gift for vegans and vegetarians!
Whether it’s a tofu scramble for breakfast, a tempeh sandwich for lunch or curry with soya chunks for dinner, you can always rely on a soy product to replace the animal products in your life.
Common soya products used by vegans include:
- Soy milk
- Dried soya chunks
- Tofu, aka beancurd
- Edamame beans
Seitan is a meat alternative made with wheat gluten and water. It’s naturally low in carbohydrates and high in protein, so can make a great substitute for meat.
You may have already seen vegan steak, chicken and burgers made from seitan in restaurants or shops – it is only rising in popularity due to its likeness to real meat.
There are so many different plant-based milks for vegans to choose from now that there’s bound to be one you love out there!
- Almond milk: low calorie with a naturally sweet taste
- Oat milk: one of the best eco-friendly milks, usually fortified with vitamins and minerals
- Coconut milk: naturally contains small amounts of vitamin C, iron, potassium, copper, selenium protein, carbs and fibre, but you’d need to consume a lot to get enough of these micronutrients
- Soy milk: high in protein and usually fortified with nutrients like calcium, vitamin B12 and vitamin D
- Pea milk: very low-carb and a good source of protein
- Hemp milk: high in protein with an earthy, creamy flavour
You can also get ‘barista-style’ plant milks, so you can froth them up like regular cow’s milk for lattes, cappuccinos, and hot chocolates.
Need to be cautious here as whilst coconut contains some micronutrients, they aren't a great source. as one would require a lot of coconut milk to get enough of those micronutrients
If you want to make sure you’re getting enough protein day to day to support your health and fitness goals, a vegan protein powder could help you out.
Instead of traditional whey (made from dairy) you can enjoy the following vegan protein powders:
The three vegan protein powders above are sources of complete protein – meaning they have all 9 essential amino acids, which are the ones our bodies can’t make for itself and must be obtained through diet.
You can use protein powders to make:
- Protein shakes
- Protein pancakes
- Protein bars
- Protein balls
- Protein yoghurt
- Protein brownies
What is life without snacks?
One of the worst things about starting a vegan diet is having to say goodbye to some of your favourite snacks, but don’t worry!
The vegan market is full of tasty snacks to take their place – and some of them taste better than the real thing.
From chocolate bars, cakes and brownies, to crisps, popcorn and snack bars, there are plenty of vegan snacky alternatives to keep you going.
Non vegan-friendly foods & drinks
- Some vitamin D enriched products (you can find vegan vitamin D though!)
- Lard / dripping
- Shellac (E904): crushed beetle shell that’s sometimes used as food colouring
Is a vegan diet healthier?
It totally depends on what your diet is like.
For example, if you eat a diet full of wholegrains, plant proteins, healthy fats, fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, then you’re probably going to feel pretty healthy.
However, if you eat mostly vegan junk food like pizzas, chips, burgers, noodles, etc. you can’t say that’s healthy, even if it’s vegan!
There are benefits to eating a well-balanced vegan diet though.
9 benefits of a vegan diet
Vegan diet benefits can include:
- Eco friendly: meat and dairy have a much larger environmental impact than their plant alternatives in most cases
- Kind to animals: many vegans quit the animal products because of beliefs around the ethics of the meat and dairy industry
- Support weight management: animal products tend to be higher in calories, especially when compared to vegan foods like wholegrains, legumes, soya products, etc. One study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that followers of a vegan diet tended to have lower body weights 36
- Can support blood pressure: the same study found vegans have normal blood pressure 36
- May lower cholesterol: the study above also found those eating vegan diets had lower cholesterol in general.
- May contain more nutrients: nutrients like vitamin E, fibre, folate, vitamin C, potassium and magnesium come from mostly plant foods, so a vegan diet tends to include more of them 36
- Encourages you to experiment: cutting out big parts of a ‘normal’ diet requires you to get your thinking hat on and find alternatives and recipes, which can lead to some wonderful foodie experiments
- More fruit and vegetables: without meat, fish, cheese, etc. to fall back on, you’ll likely find you eat more fruit and vegetables than you did before following a vegan diet
- Inclusive: if you know how to cook vegan food, you already know how to cook for people with dairy or egg allergies
19 vegan foods & FAQs answered
Did you know you might already be eating vegan foods? Discover 19 everyday foods that are naturally vegan and how to eat more of them.
19 vegan foods & FAQs answered
Advice for beginning a vegan diet
It is generally advised that you go slowly when you start a vegan diet, as it’s a lot to take in for both your mind and body!
A great way to do this is to find swaps for your favourite meals / snacks / drinks and change a few things at a time to make the transition from meaty to meat-free a lot smoother.
Once you’ve settled in, it’s a good time to check you’re getting all the nutrients you need to be healthy, particularly the following nutrients that a vegan diet can sometimes lack:
- Calcium in a vegan diet is important for bone and teeth support
- Iron in a vegan diet is needed to support red blood cells and other bodily processes
- Vitamin B12 in a vegan diet it's needed to support energy levels
- Omega-3s in a vegan diet are needed to support brain and heart health – try algal oil!
- Iodine in a vegan diet is needed to support thyroid hormone function
3 tips for starting a successful vegan diet
Starting any new diet can be a bit daunting at the best of times.
If you’ve never been a full-time vegan before, there are a few key tips and tricks which can help to make the transition smoother and allow you to begin reaping the health benefits with as little stress as possible.
When you first get started on your vegan quest, you’re going to realise a few things quite quickly.
One is that you’ll likely have to go back to the drawing board and commit to spending a good deal of extra time, initially, to experimenting and discovering which meals you’d like to base your diet around.
There are calorie and macronutrient goals to meet and endless recipes to test for flavour. Treat this as a new frontier to be explored and enjoy the process of mapping out the new food territory. Allowing yourself enough time to go through this period of experimentation is vitally important.
The more rushed you are, the more likely you are to produce hit-and-miss results in the kitchen and lose motivation for the diet altogether.
It’s far harder to relapse into old eating patterns if you’ve constantly got delicious food at hand!
Not all plant foods are created equal. While it’s perfectly possible to be well-fed and meet your daily macronutrient requirements as a vegan, it takes a bit of planning.
In the early stages in particular, the temptation to snack can be strong. This can be a problem if you’re not being especially mindful of what you’re snacking on.
Research your meals and make sure they have enough calories and protein to keep you going. Starchy tubers, potatoes, beans and lentils are a great place to start.
Speaking of temptation, just about the worst thing you can do when adopting a new diet is to keep your pantry packed with souvenirs from the past.
You may get along fine for the first few days, but sooner or later the day will come when you’re in a rush and that dangerously convenient can of tuna seems very inviting.
Avoid the temptation. On the first day, you decide to go vegan, give away everything in your kitchen that doesn’t match your new diet.
Here’s a short list of vegan staples which can serve as the base for your next delicious and filling meal:
|Lentils||116kcal per 100g||
Lentils are an edible legume and have been used in cooking for thousands of years. Lentils have a meaty flavour and can be used equally well in stews or soups, or as a side dish.
As well as being a good source of protein, lentils are nutrient dense, containing calcium, zinc, niacin, vitamin K, fibre, folate, and iron.
|Tofu||76kcal per 100g||
Tofu is the vegan base ingredient, whether fried, baked or boiled. It’s simple and quick to prepare, takes on the flavour of whichever ingredients you mix it with, and is a good source of protein.
Tofu is a nutrient powerhouse, containing good quantities of iron, calcium, manganese, magnesium, zinc, vitamin B1 and eight essential amino acids.
|Quinoa||374kcal per 100g||
Quinoa is a filling, starchy seed with the texture and flavour of a cereal grain. It is naturally gluten free, rich in iron, B-vitamins, magnesium, potassium, calcium, vitamin E and fibre, and is considered one of the few “complete protein” plant foods, containing all nine essential amino acids.
|Oatmeal||68kcal per 100g||
Oatmeal is typically eaten as a breakfast porridge. It has a low glycaemic index score, and will give you steady energy over time.
Oatmeal is a whole grain and a great source of fibre, known to support weight loss control, and may also support blood pressure.
|Buckwheat||343kcal per 100g||
Buckwheat is a versatile seed which can be used as an alternative to rice or made into a porridge. It is a rich source of magnesium, copper, and fibre.
How to tell if food is vegan
It should clearly state it, either by saying ‘suitable for vegans’ or by having the Certified Vegan logo on it somewhere. Always check the small print and steer clear of whey, casein and lactose, as they all come from milk.37,38
How to tackle the negativity of being a vegan
When you tell somebody you’re becoming vegan, you may not necessarily get the response you were expecting.
Some may be pleased for you. Some may be excited. And some may be curious.
Meanwhile, others may be confused about why you should go vegan or potentially even disappointed by your decision.
If you’re already vegan or are planning to become one, you’re obviously doing it for a reason that resonates with you.
For those who aren’t quite on the same page as you just yet, be it your gran or your best friend, here’s a reminder of some of the benefits of going vegan, including some interesting vegan facts:
- You’re not alone
Veganism is on the rise. According to research carried out by Ipsos Mori on behalf of The Vegan Society, the number of vegans in the UK alone quadrupled to 600,000 in 2019 from 150,000 in 2014.2
- You’re probably never going to be alone
A Future of Food report carried out by supermarket, Sainsbury’s, says vegans and vegetarians look set to make up a quarter of the British population by 2025.39
- Being vegan is better for the planet
According to the UN, meat and dairy livestock accounts for 14.5% of all manmade greenhouse gas emissions.
But it’s estimated that if everybody went vegan, the world’s food-related emissions would plummet 70% by 2050.40
- It can help support heart health
It’s believed vegans are 42% at less risk of dying from heart disease and at 75% lower risk of developing high blood pressure.41
This is due to the fact that most vegan diets are full of fresh fruit, veg, beans and fibre that can help in both of these areas.42
- Everybody’s reading about it
Waterstones have 9,030 book titles with the word 'vegan' in them available for sale (as of December 2019) compared to 944 in August 2018.43
Eating a plant-based diet is more affordable than eating meat
A study by Thinkmoney found that people who eat meat spend 645 extra a year on food, compared to people who don’t eat meat.44
- It’s possible to still eat a healthy diet
Guidance published by the NHS says, ‘You can get most of the nutrients you need from eating a varied and balanced vegan diet.’
Eating a healthy, balanced vegan diet just involves that bit more planning to make sure your body still receives all of the nutrients it needs.26
- Going vegan can help you stay trim
Research on the health benefits of a vegan diet has found vegans tend to be thinner and have lower Body Mass Indexes (BMI) than non-vegans.
One particular study found that people who followed a vegan diet and ate until they felt full, lost more weight than people who followed a calorie-controlled diet.45
- It’s not an ‘exclusive’ club
Anybody and everybody can go vegan if they’d like to. If a friend or family member isn’t convinced by your decision, then why not cook a delicious vegan dish for them and then see what they say?
They may not like the thought of not eating meat, but in reality, they may actually be pleasantly surprised!
Last, but by no means least….
Choosing not to eat meat or animal by-products means you are potentially saving animals, who are bred for food production and taking an overall stand against animal cruelty and exploitation, which is being made on a global level, with the help of organisations, such as The Vegan Society.7
Vegan shopping list essentials
From tempeh and tofu to teff and seitan, we share a vegan shopping list packed with the essential nutrients for a healthy, balanced diet.
Vegan shopping list essentials
4 things to consider when going vegan
Everyone will react differently to a vegan diet, and you may find yourself with some of the following side effects:
- Nutrient deficiencies: some nutrients like omega-3s, iron, calcium, iodine and vitamin B12 can be harder to obtain from plant-based foods, so ensure you include vegan sources of these nutrients in your diet or consider a supplement.
- Weight loss or gain: switching a diet containing meat to a vegan diet means your body will have to adjust to a whole new diet, so your weight may fluctuate during this time,
- Feeling tired: when you first start a vegan diet you may be eating too little calories or not be getting enough nutrients, like vitamin B12 for example
- Digestive problems: when you go vegan, your gut will need time to adapt to the different diet – and likely all the fibre! During the transition period, you may have digestive issues like bloating, gas, diarrhoea or constipation. Just take it easy and see what food does and doesn’t agree with you.
Why going vegan won't break the bank
Been putting off going vegan because of the cost? Don’t worry – going vegan could save you money (and help save the planet).
One of our biggest fears about switching to a plant-based diet is that it’s more expensive.
Especially when newspaper headlines scream that ‘it costs an extra £2,000 a year’ to go vegetarian or vegan.46
But dig a little deeper and you’ll find that cutting out meat is good for both your wallet and wellbeing.
Will it cost more to go vegan?
Does it really cost an extra £2,000 a year if you cut out meat? No – that research lumped veganism in with gluten-free and halal diets.
These ‘specialist’ diets might cost more, as followers may need to pay extra for certain items, but simply increasing the amount of plant products you eat shouldn’t increase the cost.46
‘Store-cupboard essentials, such as pasta, rice and tinned vegetables, are cheap, and you’re probably buying those things already,’ says Rich Hardy from the Veganuary campaign.
‘And meat is really expensive – steak, chicken or fish may be the most pricey things in your shopping basket, not including alcohol.’
It can save the NHS money too
While going vegan could put a few extra pounds in your pocket, it can also help with the UK’s healthcare costs.
Research by the University of Oxford found that switching to a vegetarian or vegan diet could save up to £1000 billion worldwide every year on healthcare, mainly by reducing obesity. Obesity increases your risk of developing major conditions such as diabetes, certain cancers and high blood pressure.47
A report by Public Health England estimated that the cost of obesity to the NHS would be £9.7 billion by 2050 – so reducing obesity can save the NHS money, and you get to live longer and healthier too!48
What can’t vegans eat? Five myths busted
If you’re on the fence about going vegan because you don’t want to miss out on your favourite indulgent foods, then you’ll be pleased to know that going vegan doesn’t mean giving up what you love!
And you’re in good company. According to the Vegan Society, demand for meat-free food in the UK increased by 987% in 2017.2
Read on to discover how some of the most common myths about vegan diets are just that.
If you feel sorry for vegans unable to enjoy creamy, cheesy flavours and textures then you can stop right now!
Smart vegans know that the soft flavour and richness of cream can be magically re-created using cashew cream. Cashew cream isn’t some pricey, obscure ingredient. It’s literally just cashews and water, and you can make it yourself in a blender at home!
Even cheesy sauces aren’t off the menu for hungry vegans. A vegan cheese sauce can be made in minutes using oil, flour, soya milk simmered on the stove and stirred continuously until thickened, with salt, pepper and nutritional yeast flakes mixed in at the end. Nutritional yeast flakes are high in B vitamins, which is great news for vegans as they can become low in them if they don’t make sure to eat enough vegan sources.
Use this sauce as you would a cheese sauce in lasagne, macaroni and cheese, sauce for roasted vegetables or to pour over a baked potato.
Good news - going vegan doesn’t necessarily mean the end of ice-cream and a lifetime of ordering the sorbet.
The key to ice-cream that won’t make you feel like you’re missing out is coconut milk. Ice-cream made with coconut milk has the thick consistency, creamy taste and indulgent feel of dairy ice-cream, without any cows being involved. If you don’t fancy having a go at home, many major brands sell vegan ice cream in as many varieties as you can imagine, so stock up your freezer.
Along with the growing trend of veganism, (with number of vegans in the UK having risen by 400% since 2014), has been a rise in innovative vegan food products to meet our every culinary need, including the sweet tooth.2
Beyond this, there are so many delectable desserts which are either naturally vegan or can be made vegan simply with the switch to a milk substitute.
Examples include peanut butter cookies, cinnamon rolls, cheesecake, brownies, blondies, carrot cake and fudge.
This is obvious when you think about it, as most dried pasta does not contain any meat or dairy products.
Some people are surprised to learn this one, though. We think this might be because some pasta (usually fresh pastas) do contain egg.
Also, because pasta is often smothered with creamy, cheesy additions, it is so far from the stereotype of plain vegan cooking that people don’t make the connection.
But the truth is simple – pasta made from durum wheat is 100% vegan!
Smokey bean burgers, sizzling seitan sausages and grilled vegetable skewers. Who says vegans can’t enjoy a BBQ?
With a few caveats, there is no reason why you can’t get down and dirty with food cooked over the coals.
Of course, you’re going to want a separate grill space for your meatless foods and ensure different cooking utensils are used.
Apart from that, there is a huge (and growing) range of vegan products designed to mimic our classic food favourites that behave just like meat when cooked.
Vegans love coffee just as much as non-vegans. And, luckily, they don’t have to miss out on those milky lattes and whipped cappuccinos.
The range of dairy-free milks is expanding all the time. Once a rarity, the alternative milk market is booming and almond milk, soya milk, oat milk, rice milk and cashew milk can all be found in most supermarkets and at health food shops.
Many major coffee chains have begun to offer dairy-free milk at no extra charge. You might be surprised at how many independent, smaller coffee and tea shops offer a range of dairy-free milk alternatives, too.
If your local coffee place doesn’t offer a range of dairy-free milks – ask them! Smaller businesses are great at offering their customers what they want.
Is the vegan diet safe for children?
Yes, a well-balanced vegan diet containing all the vital nutrients children need to grow and stay healthy is safe for children.
The NHS state that: ‘As long as they get all the nutrients they need, children can be brought up healthily on a vegetarian or vegan diet.’49
Just like adults, vegan children need to make sure they get enough:
- Energy (mostly carbs and fat)
- Vitamin B12
- Vitamin D
This may take a little more planning and meal prepping, but you can find sources of these nutrients in plant foods or fortified foods.
You can usually find a ‘growing-up’ milk for children that will contain these nutrients that you can use in cereal or give your child as a drink.
The final say on vegan diets
- The vegan diet can be a little tricky to navigate, but can be very worth it for most people.
- A lot of foods are naturally vegan like fruits, vegetables, wholegrains, beans, legumes, soya products, etc.
- You can find a vegan alternative for most animal products nowadays, even if you have to make it yourself.
- It is essential to ensure you’re getting all the nutrients you need from a vegan diet, particularly vitamin B12, iron, calcium, iodine, and omega-3s.
- Take it easy at first with the vegan diet, as this can be kinder to your body and help you transition to a plant-based life more smoothly!
Last updated: 3 January 2023