Vegan diet: what does a vegan eat?
What does a vegan eat? Vegan diets have become increasingly popular in the past few years. Lots of people choose to go vegan for health reasons but also ethical and environmental reasons.
You might have heard in the past lots of different opinions and facts related to vegan diets. However, the experts in nutrition are registered dietitians.
In this article, we will go over what is a vegan diet and what can you eat as a vegan.
If you have questions or need help/support, a vegan dietitian can always be there to guide you in the right direction!
What is a vegan diet?
It is not uncommon that people have no clue what a vegan diet is. The most ridiculous answers to the question “what does a vegan eat in a day?” still make me laugh.
The worst one I’ve heard was that vegans only eat grass. Absolutely not!
A vegan diet is an eating pattern that excludes all forms of animal products. Veganism can extend to more than just food.
In fact, vegans tend to exclude all animal products for their lifestyle like leather, cosmetics and fur.
Why do people go vegan?
Do you know plant-based diets can reduce your risk of chronic diseases such as cancer?
A vegan diet can seem very restrictive or impossible to follow. However, following a healthy and varied vegan diet is surprisingly not that hard!
Here are some of the main reasons why people become vegan:
A lot of people think that vegans are unhealthy and cannot meet their needs with only plant-based foods. However, following a vegan diet can bring many health benefits compared to the typical Western diet.
In general, vegans have better overall health and diet quality than meat eaters. This of course, is true for vegans that follow a healthy, nutritious and varied vegan diet.
Being vegan is associated with a lower risk of chronic diseases, obesity, cancers and dementia. Eating plant-based food is also good for heart health.
It is hard to say if it is the plant-based diet that brings so many health benefits or it is avoiding animal-based products, such as meat and dairy.
Animal products are often higher in fat and associated with increased risk for chronic diseases and cancer. A study showed that vegans have between 11% less risk of mortality and are known to live longer.
It is very important that vegans eat a healthy and varied diet.
Plant-based diets can sometimes be lower in vitamins and minerals, not because the food is poor in nutrients, but because the body doesn’t absorb plant-based nutrients as well.
In fact, plant sources of iron are not well absorbed by the body. This is why it is recommended that vegans pair iron-rich foods with vitamin C to increase absorption!
Be careful to not take calcium supplements when eating iron-rich foods as it decreases iron absorption.
Plant-based food is low in vitamin B12 and all vegans should take daily supplements.
Another reason to become vegan is because of the environmental aspect. In fact, animal agriculture has a big impact on the environment and produces lots of greenhouse gas emissions (GHGEs).
Vegans contribute a lot less to GHGEs production as they do not consume any animal products.
Unfortunately, a lot of the plant foods grown around the world are used for animal agriculture.
In fact, these animals require a large quantity of food and water. A lot more food is used to feed animals to produce little meat in the end.
Those plant-based food resources and water could be used to feed a lot more humans if animal products were excluded from diet.
Another environmental factor about animal agriculture is space. Those farms require a lot of land that could be used to grow plant foods instead.
Studies have shown that by 2050, our planet will not be able to produce enough resources to feed the entire population.
While more environmental effort is needed to help the planet heal, being vegan helps to reduce personal GHGEs production!
Another aspect of veganism is ethics. One of the main beliefs of veganism is that all animals should be free and have a right to live.
Vegans do not consume/purchase any animal products as it is against not harming and killing living creatures.
It is also not always ethical in animal agriculture. Indeed, animals are often stuck in cages and do not have lots of space to move.
They are often fed unsanitary food and given hormones to get bigger. A lot of animals are also killed if there is a lack of space or any other unethical reasons.
Vegans refuse to eat or use animal products as the animals are not meant to be exploited by humans.
Even zoos do not treat animals in an ethical way. Instead, animal sanctuaries are better for the animal and most vegans choose to visit those places.
What do vegans eat?
So, what do you eat as a vegan? It is not always clear to people which foods are vegan. It can also be confusing to read food labels at the grocery store to check if it is vegan.
A healthy vegan diet is made of fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, plant-based protein like beans/peas/lentils, whole grains and healthy fats.
Animal products like meat, dairy products (like milk and cheese) and eggs are avoided. Other ingredients are also not vegan such as gelatin, lactose, casein, buttermilk and vitamin D3.
It can be difficult to determine if a product is vegan because there isn’t a universal certified vegan logo that companies can put on their products.
You always have to double-check by reading the ingredient list.
The “Is this Vegan” FAQ
What to eat on a vegan diet and what not to eat on a vegan diet. That is the question most people ask themselves when they are thinking of transitioning to a vegan diet.
In this section we will go over the most asked questions of what can a vegan eat.
Is honey vegan?
Honey is made by bees. Most vegans agree that bee farming is included in the same category as animal agriculture.
Not all bee farms are ethical and treating them right. Some studies have shown that honey culture might harm the bees.
However, bees are insects and not animals. Some vegans might choose to include honey in their diet.
A lot of other types of sugars are vegan and are just as good! For example, you can have maple syrup and blackstrap molasses to add a bit of sugar and flavour to your meals.
Is bread vegan?
In theory, bread is generally vegan. The ingredients required to make bread are water, flour, nutritional yeast and salt.
However, commercial bread can sometimes contain additives that are not vegan. For example, some recipes contain lactose, which is found in milk.
In order to make sure the bread is vegan, you should look at the nutrition labels. Look out for ingredients like eggs, butter, milk, gelatin and honey.
So what do you eat as a vegan? You can choose breads like sourdough, baguette, pita, ciabatta and focaccia.
Is wine vegan?
Wine is not the first thing that comes to mind when wondering what can’t you eat as a vegan. Surprisingly, wine isn’t always vegan!
Wine is made from fermented grapes. Fermentation is a slow process that takes a long time. There are some particles that sink to the bottom of the wine as it ages.
Wine is obtained from the clear residual of all the solids at the bottom. However, new methods to make wine exist to make the process faster.
The technique called fining is to add substances, often animal products, to help clear the wine faster and get rid of all the solids.
Some wine might contain egg whites, casein, gelatin, isinglass, and chitosan which are all derived from animal products.
Fining helps to reduce the price of wine since the fermentation doesn’t take as long as the more traditional fermentation methods.
In order to make sure the wine is vegan, look at the label or ask your sommelier for more information about the fermentation process.
Is pasta vegan?
Most pastas are vegan. However, some types of noodles can contain eggs. To make sure your pasta is vegan, look at the ingredient list.
Almost all the dried pasta at the grocery store is vegan. However, dried lasagna noodles can sometimes contain eggs!
Egg noodles are made with eggs and they are to avoid for people on a vegan diet. What do you call a vegan who eats eggs? Either a vegetarian or a vegan person that is more flexible with what they choose to eat.
Everyone is different and the strictness of the vegan diet is a personal choice.
Fresh pasta is another type to double check to see if it is vegan. Traditionally, fresh pasta is made with eggs.
Watch out for the chilled pasta at the grocery store and fresh pasta served at Italian restaurants.
To serve with your pasta, you can always look out for vegan commercial sauces or make your own pasta sauce at home.
Is miso vegan?
Miso paste is usually vegan. However, miso soup is not always only made from plant-based ingredients!
Miso paste is made from fermented soybeans. To create the paste, salt and mold are added to the beans. Miso paste can even contain whole grains like rice or barley.
Miso soup is made from miso paste. To make the soup, the recipes often use dried japanese fish flakes.
In the more westernized recipes, miso soup can even be made with chicken or fish broth.
This soup is a good example of what can you not eat on a vegan diet even though it can seem like it is vegan.
Before buying miso soup at the grocery store or restaurant, you should look at the ingredient list or ask your waiter if it is vegan.
Here are ingredients to look out for :
- Chicken or fish stock
- Bonito flakes (katsuobushi)
- Japanese anchovies (niboshi)
Is chocolate vegan?
Chocolate in general is not vegan. However, there is vegan chocolate! Vegan chocolate is always appreciated by the vegan community as it tastes as good as non vegan chocolate!
In recent years, more and more vegan products are released on the market! Well known brands now offer vegan chocolate products, like Lindt who now sells different vegan chocolate flavours.
Chocolate is made from cacao beans which are plant-based. It is during the process of making that it sometimes becomes not vegan anymore. In fact, milk is usually added to the mix.
A lot of dark chocolates do not contain dairy. Always look at the ingredient list to make sure it doesn’t contain any dairy in it.
Flavoured chocolates, even if they don’t contain milk in them, can still be not vegan depending on the flavour.
For example, almond, fruit and mint chocolate are often good vegan options. However, caramel, truffle or toffee chocolate are probably not vegan as they usually contain dairy products.
The Bottom Line
What should a vegan eat in a day? A variety of different plant-based foods!
Following a vegan diet is not as complicated as it seems. In doubt, the key is to always look at ingredient lists of different food products.
There are different degrees of veganism. Everyone follows a vegan diet in a different way according to their beliefs and lifestyle.
This article is to help you understand what veganism is and what foods to choose or avoid for vegans.
If you are considering transitioning to a vegan diet, you can always refer to a vegan dietitian for personalized services.
Written by: Marriane Côté, dietetics student
Revised by: Alyssa Fontaine, vegan registered dietitian