What is veganism?
Veganism has become increasingly 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
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.
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.’2
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 is Veganuary?
Veganuary is a campaign taking place every January – hence the name! Where hundreds of thousands of people across the world pledge to go plant-based diet 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.3
- The vegan diet is growing in popularity and involves cutting out all animal products
- Eggs, meat, dairy, fish and honey are all off the menu, but there are many vegan foods out there to be discovered!
“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!
12 vegan friendly foods + drinks
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.
The fact that vegans tend to eat more vegetables than non-vegans could explain why they have less chance of developing diseases such as heart disease and type 2 diabetes.4
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-frys, 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.
Eating being plant-based or vegan usually encourages more fruit feasting – especially when the restaurant doesn’t have a vegan dessert, fruit it is!
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:5
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:6
A fleshy fruit with a thick, hard rind, like:
- Cucumbers – yes, they’re a fruit!
And that’s only scratching the surface when it comes to fruits, there are over 2000 types of fruit in the world, and only 10% of those are used in the western world.
One of the best ways to get a whole load of fruit power into one serving is to make a healthy fruit smoothie or smoothie bowl, with optional plant-based milk or yoghurt, chia seeds, nuts, nut butter, dates, oats, or anything else you fancy! Here are a few recipes to get you started:
- Green goddess superfood smoothie
- Salted caramel smoothie
- Aloe vera, kale and blueberry skin super-smoothie
- Rebel Recipes lemon & ginger smoothie bowl
- Deliciously Ella breakfast smoothie
- Healthy smoothie breakfast bowl
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.
- Could help keep you feeling fuller for longer
- Reduce urges to snack too much
- Full of micronutrients including B vitamins, that support the nervous system, digestive system and help to make new red blood cells
Here are some healthy grain-packed vegan recipes to try:
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.
Burgers, stews, meatless meatloaf can all be made by being clever with legumes. Try our Black Bean Burger with Guacamole & Chipotle Mayo recipe
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 healthy 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-frys, 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, here’s 6 ways to use chia seeds
- 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
Benefits of soya include:
- Great source of plant protein
- Could help lower cholesterol levels
- Versatile and usually easy to source
- Good source of omega-3 fatty acids
Here are some recipes using soy products you can try:
Seitan and other meat alternatives
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! Choose from:
- 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 vitamin C, iron, potassium, copper, selenium protein, carbs and fibre
- 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.
Other dairy alternatives
Milk isn’t the only popular dairy products around that you need an alternative for following a vegan diet.
Thankfully, everything from butter, margerine, cream, whipped cream, cheese, ice cream, yoghurts and more has a vegan equivalent or two, for example:
|Dairy product||Vegan swap|
|Dairy butter||Plant-based butter block, avocado, hummus, other vegan spreads|
|Dairy margarine||Dairy-free margarine|
|Dairy cheese||Coconut, cashew or other types of vegan cheese|
|Dairy cream||Cashew cream, oat cream, soya cream|
|Dairy ice cream||Almond ice cream, soya ice cream, coconut ice cream|
|Dairy yoghurt||Soya, oat, coconut yoghurt|
Vegan protein powder/other products
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 thing 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. Check out 27 of the best healthy vegan snacks for some inspo.
- As you can see from the list above, there are so many vegan foods out there!
- From healthy wholegrains to vegan pizzas, you’ll find a vegan substitute for whatever food you’re craving – you just might need to get a little creative!
10 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
Do vegans eat eggs?
No, eggs are not considered vegan-friendly.
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 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 the inevitable cruelty involved in eating meat and dairy.
- Maintaining a healthy weight: 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.8
- Blood pressure: the same study found vegans have normal blood pressure.9
- 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.10
- 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
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 blood cells and other bodily processes
- Vitamin B12 in a vegan diet it 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
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 today with as little stress as possible.
Give yourself extra time to cook
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!
Focus on nutritionally dense meals
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.
Eating a giant helping of iceberg lettuce, for example, is just about the same as swallowing a small vitamin capsule.
With 14 calories per 100 grams and less than 1 gram of protein, it’s not going to cut it as the base of a meal.
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.
Audit your pantry
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 – 116 calories 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 – 76 calories 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 – 374 calories 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 – 68 calories 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 promote weight loss, and reduce your risk of high blood pressure and diabetes.
- Buckwheat – 343 calories per 100g Buckwheat is a versatile seed which can be used as an alternative to rice or made into a porridge. It is the rich source of magnesium, copper, and fibre.
4 vegan side effects
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 diarrohea or constipation. Just take it easy and see what food does and doesn’t agree with you.
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.’
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.
- A healthy vegan diet will be well balanced and full of all the nutrients your body needs to thrive
- It could help you maintain a healthy weight, include more fruits and vegetables in your diet and even help lower your cholesterol
- Well-considered and balanced vegan diets are considered safe for most people, including children
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: 5 August 2021