What can a vegan eat


Thinking of going vegan? Here’s what you need to know

8 December 2023

Veganism is on the rise. Particularly in the UK, where there are currently around 1.4 million vegans, a number which is growing rapidly.1 In fact, the number of vegans in the UK quadrupled between 2014 and 2019, so it’s been on the rise for a while.2

If you’re considering making the change to veganism, it has many health benefits. But it’s more than just a diet. It’s a lifestyle choice and a commitment that can impact many different aspects of your life.

What is veganism?

The Vegan Society defines veganism as “a philosophy and way of living which seeks to exclude—as far as is possible and practicable—all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose”.3

As a vegan, you’ll enjoy a plant-based diet, avoiding any and all animal-derived products and ingredients including meat, dairy, eggs and honey.

But veganism is more than just a diet. It’s a way of life. Vegans don’t believe in exploiting animals for any purpose, so don’t use or buy any products that are derived from or tested on animals. This includes not buying leather accessories, shoes or clothing, and not using any cosmetic products that have been tested on animals.

How do I go vegan?

It might sound like there’s a lot that needs to change in order to become a vegan. This is true, but it’s important to remember that you don’t have to do it all at once. In fact, The Vegan Society encourages people to take it slow and make small changes over time. The best thing you can do is keep your end goal in mind and take the time you need to get used to one change before moving onto the next.

The most significant changes will likely be with your diet, as it’s something you need to think about every day. Clothing and cosmetics can be phased out and replaced over time, but with food, there’s a lot to get used to.

Try introducing new plant-based ingredients to each meal to discover what you like and start experimenting with new ingredients. At the same time, you can try phasing out meat gradually. Try removing it from one meal each week or doing something like ‘meat-free Mondays’ to begin with.

Then you can increase how regularly you swap the meat out of your meals, until it becomes the norm. You can also try substituting meat and dairy in certain recipes, so you get used to eating the meat-free versions of your favourite meals. Even swapping to meat-free mince in a lasagne or almond milk in your morning coffee is a great first step.

What do vegans avoid eating?

Vegans don’t eat food or use ingredients that are derived from animals in any way. These include:

  1. All meat and poultry.
  2. All seafood and shellfish.
  3. Dairy products, including milk, yogurt, cheese, butter and cream.
  4. Eggs.
  5. Honey, or any other products derived from bees.
  6. Gelatine, which is a thickening agent used in gummy sweets and marshmallows. It’s made from the skin, bones and connective tissue of cows and pigs.
  7. Casein, lactose and whey, which are proteins derived from milk.

What do vegans eat?

When you adopt a vegan lifestyle, you need to consider where you’ll be getting the key vitamins and minerals that you’d normally get from meat or dairy. You’ll be able to find it all in a well-balanced vegan diet, but you need to make sure you’re eating a variety of foods to cover everything.

It’s particularly important to make sure you have enough protein and calcium-rich foods in your diet to support healthy muscles and bones.

Here’s an overview on what you should have in your diet as part of a well-balanced vegan diet:

1) Vegetables: Let’s start with an obvious one. Vegetables make up a very large proportion of a vegan diet. There’s a huge variety to choose from, and they lend themselves to all kinds of cooking styles. They’re also a great source of dietary fibre, providing a range of essential vitamins, minerals and nutrients.

2) Fruits: Another obvious one, fruit has many health benefits. It can offer large amounts of vitamin C and antioxidants, which help in maintaining a healthy immune system. Whole fruits are also a good source of fibre, though it’s important to remember that fruit juices and smoothies can provide a lot of sugar without the added nutritional benefits that come from eating the whole fruit.

Jackfruit has also become popular with vegans as an alternative to meat. Its appearance and texture make it an ideal replica for pulled pork or chicken in certain recipes.

3) Whole grains: The wholegrains in bread, dried pasta and rice provide key carbohydrates. Their natural sugars are released into the body slowly, which keeps you going without dramatic spikes in your blood sugar. White bread, rice and pasta are also suitable for vegans but they’ve been stripped of most of their nutritional benefits, so whole grains are better.

4) Nuts and seeds: Nuts and seeds are great sources of protein and omegas (healthy fats), which support heart health. They’re also full of vitamins and minerals, including iron, potassium and zinc. They tend to be fairly high in calories, so portion size is important, but they’re ideal as a snack or as an addition to a salad, stir fry or breakfast mix. According to the British Heart Foundation, peanuts and pistachio nuts are lower calorie options compared to other nuts, while hazelnuts and almonds are lowest in saturated fat.4

5) Legumes: Legumes are vital for vegans. They include lentils, chickpeas, beans, soybeans, peas and (technically) peanuts. This food group is often the key source of protein in a vegan diet. They’re also a great source of fibre and essential vitamins. Raw legumes, however, can be bad for our digestion, so it’s important to prep them properly by soaking, boiling or cooking them.

6) Leafy greens: Some nutrients are harder to get into a meat, dairy and fish-free diet. But leafy greens, including kale, spinach and Swiss chard, are a great source of vitamins, minerals, and fibre. Kale, for example, is a great source of calcium.

What about vegan protein alternatives?

With veganism becoming ever more mainstream, there’s now an abundance of readily available plant-based meat alternatives that have made it easier than ever to adopt a vegan lifestyle. They provide an alternative to the meat in your meals, so you don’t have to deprive yourself of your favourite foods when you go vegan.

They are also important from a dietary point of view. Protein is an essential macronutrient, which we need to consume in higher quantities to help build and maintain our muscles, bones, cells, blood and skin. In a non-vegan diet, protein would usually be obtained through animal products, like meat and eggs, so these vegan-friendly protein sources could be an essential part of your new diet.

They include:

  • Tofu – Made from soy milk, tofu has been a firm favourite among vegans and vegetarians for many years. It’s rich in protein and contains all nine of the essential amino acids that our bodies need. It’s a versatile ingredient that can be used instead of meat in all kinds of recipes, from curries to stir fries and salads to smoothies.
  • Seitan – Flavoured to mimic the taste and texture of meat, seitan is made from wheat gluten. It’s packed with protein and offers vegans a delicious alternative to burgers and stir-fried meat.
  • Mycoprotein products – Made from naturally occurring fungi, there’s now a wide variety of mycoprotein products on the market. They often mimic popular meat products including mince, sausages, nuggets and battered fish fillets.
  • Tempeh – Made from soybeans, tempeh has an even higher dose of protein and fibre than tofu. Its mild nutty flavour works well in a variety of dishes, whether baked or fried.

If you’re wondering where to start, why not try some of our favourite vegan recipes, including our spinach and tofu curry and, one of our favourites, this quinoa, tofu and vegetable stir fry.

What are some of the potential health benefits of becoming vegan?

Aside from the ethical and environmental advantages associated with veganism, a well-balanced, nutritious plant-based diet also comes with a number of health benefits:

Improved gut health5: Vegans typically consume more fibre-rich foods, such as fruit and vegetables. Fibre contributes to a more efficient digestive system and a slower release of sugar into the blood stream. It helps you feel fuller for longer, which can aid healthy weight loss, while fibre also eases inflammation, which reduces the risk of things like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).

Increased intake of nutrients: Plant-based foods are often more dense in nutrients. Things like whole grains, fruit, nuts, seeds and vegetables provide a bigger hit of minerals and vitamins. This offers all kinds of health benefits, from having healthy looking hair and skin to a more efficient immune system.

Lower risk of type 2 diabetes: A vegan diet contains a lot of wholegrains and fibre-rich foods. These break down slowly and ensure the gradual release of natural sugars into the blood stream. A plant-based diet also tends to contain fewer foods that are high in added ‘free’ sugars. All of this helps to maintain a stable blood sugar level, which minimises the risk of insulin intolerance and obesity, both of which can lead to type 2 diabetes.

While there are many potential health benefits, it’s important to introduce dietary changes gradually and with care. As with any significant lifestyle change, if you have any health concerns you should consult a healthcare professional to discuss your individual needs.

For more information on going vegan, and recipes to help get you started, visit our diet and nutrition hub.


  1. UK Diet Trends - Finder
  2. Worldwide growth of veganism - The Vegan Society
  3. Definition of veganism - The Vegan Society
  4. Are nuts good for you? - British Heart Foundation
  5. What are the benefits of a vegan diet? – Patient info

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