What Do Vegans Eat—And What Exactly Does 'Vegan' Mean?
Here are the dos and don’ts of veganism.
Curious about veganism? You’ve come to the right place.
What Does “Vegan” Mean?
Let’s start off with a little grammar lesson:
“Vegan” can be used as a noun or an adjective.
- A vegan is someone who doesn’t eat or use animal products.
- Vegan diets and vegan recipes do not contain animal products.
So what do we mean by “animal products?” An animal product is anything (food, material, etc.) that comes from an animal. This includes the flesh of an animal, as well as its eggs, milk, skin, and organs.
Examples of animal products include:
Vegan vs. Vegetarian
Veganism is stricter than vegetarianism.
A vegetarian is someone who doesn’t eat animal meat. However, they do eat products that come from animals, like eggs and milk.
Vegans, meanwhile, don’t eat any animal products in any form.
Reasons People Follow Vegan Diets
Many people choose veganism purely for its health benefits. While it does take work to meet your dietary needs while following a vegan diet (more on that later), studies have shown that those who don’t eat animal products have lower blood pressure, body mass indexes, and cholesterol. They’re also less likely to develop certain diseases.
Others base their dietary choices on morals. Many feel that it’s unethical to consume animals and animal products when their nutritional needs can (presumably) be filled by eating plants. They also oppose the treatment of animals who spend their lives on factory farms. Often, these animals spend their days in small cages with no room to walk or roam.
It’s true that free-range animal husbandry exists—this means that cows and chickens have access to outdoor areas. However, the USDA doesn’t specify how much time the animals are allowed to roam. Because of this, many vegan people don’t consider free-range animal products ethical.
Supporting livestock requires lots of land and water. The vast amount of area that is used for animal farming leads to deforestation, soil degradation, and decreased biodiversity. The water that it requires (mostly irrigation for feed crops) accounts for 8 percent of the world’s total water usage.
Not to mention, the animals themselves are responsible for some pollution. Livestock produces more greenhouse gas emissions measured in CO2 equivalent (about 18 percent) than transport, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.
What Don’t Vegans Eat?
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Vegans don’t eat animals or animal byproducts, including:
Some vegans may be even stricter. They don’t eat additives or ingredients derived from animals, including:
- Gelatin, a thickening agent that comes from cow and pig skin, bones, and tissues.
- Ingredients derived from dairy, like lactose and whey.
- Food additives, which are used for a variety of purposes, that come from animal products. These additives usually start with “E” (for instance, E120, E322, E422, E 471, E542, E631, E901, and E904).
What Do Vegans Eat?
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Vegans can eat anything that doesn’t come from an animal, including:
- Vegetables: Spinach, lettuce, carrots, etc.
- Fruits: Apples, berries, bananas, etc.
- Grains: Bread, rice, pasta, etc.
- Nuts: Peanuts, almonds, cashews, etc.
- Beans: Chickpeas, lentils, black beans, etc.
- Seeds: Sunflower, flax, pumpkin, etc.
- Fungi (mushrooms)
- Oils: Olive, sesame, coconut, etc.
- Herbs and spices: Cumin, ground cayenne, cilantro, etc.
Is Veganism Healthy?
Sheet Pan Roasted Vegetables Photo: Jennifer Causey; Styling: Heather Chadduck Hillegas
A vegan lifestyle can be healthy—as long as it’s done properly. When you’re vegan, it’s essential to eat a wide variety of foods. If you stick to the same few fruits and veggies every day, you’ll miss out on extremely important nutrients, like iron.
There are a ton of health benefits associated with veganism. For instance:
- Lower body mass index (lower weight)
- Lower blood pressure
- Lower cholesterol
- Lower risk of diseases like some cancers, diabetes, and heart disease.
- Vegans typically consume more fiber, folate, vitamin C, vitamin E, potassium, and magnesium.
- Vegans typically consume less saturated fat.
Not consuming meat, dairy, or eggs does come with its own set of drawbacks.
It’s harder to get enough of some nutrients through a plant-based diet. For instance, vegans are at risk of being deficient in iron, B12, calcium, vitamin D, and omega-3 fatty acids.
It’s important that people following a vegan diet seek out plants with an abundance of these nutrients, or take supplements to make up the difference.
Recipes that typically contain animal products can often be adapted to fit a vegan lifestyle. Looking for something both delicious and vegan? You’re in luck—we’ve got plenty of easy and tasty vegan recipes.
Hungry for more? Find some of our best vegan recipes here.