Before we dive into what foods vegans eat, it is important to discuss the foods vegans avoid.
Table of Contents
- 1 What Can’t You Eat on a Vegan Diet?
- 2 Is All Vegan Food Healthy?
- 3 What Should a Vegan Eat in a Day?
- 4 Sample Vegan Daily Meal Plan
- 5 Can You Eat Fish on a Vegan Diet?
- 6 Final Thoughts on Eating a Vegan Diet
What Can’t You Eat on a Vegan Diet?
Have you ever wondered what foods you can and cannot eat on the diet of a vegan? Vegans do not consume any ingredients that come from animals. Some people choose to go vegan for health reasons, while others do it for ethical or environmental reasons.
Avoid Eating Animals
When making the switch to a veganism diet, the more obvious foods to avoid are all meat and dairy products. Vegans do not consume any beef, pork, lamb, or any other meat from mammals. Additionally, vegans do not consume any poultry. Avoid turkey, chicken, goose, and duck. Vegans also do not eat any fish or seafood products. Things to avoid in this category include salmon, tuna, trout, and any other fish, shrimp, mussels, crabs, lobsters, clams, oysters, squid, or any other living sea creatures. Vegans do not eat eggs from any animal, including chicken eggs, quail eggs, and ostrich eggs. Dairy products are another food group vegans do not consume. The dairy category includes the most popular products of milk, cheese, yogurt, ice cream, and butter, as well as lesser-known ingredients of whey, casein, and lactose. The final major category vegans avoid is honey.
Avoid Eating Foods Derived from Animals
There are a lot of foods that may not be as obvious to avoid. Vegans do not eat any animal-derived ingredients. Vegans also avoid natural flavorings derived from animals in some way or another. Gelatin is for making food thicker. Gelatin is derived from the skin, bones, and cartilage of both pigs and cows. Cochineal or carmine is a natural food coloring that is often used instead of Red 40 to give foods like yogurt, icing, juice, and candy red or pink color. Cochineal (carmine) comes from crushed cochineal scale insects. Isinglass comes from fish bladders. It is similar in texture to gelatin and is in many alcoholic drinks like beer and wine. Natural flavorings that come from animals include castoreum, which comes from beavers’ scent glands. This ingredient is often in place of vanilla flavorings. Shellac is an ingredient that makes a waxy glaze for foods, candies, and produce. Shellac is from the female lac insect. Additives that are animal-derived include E120, E322, E471, E 631, and E904.
Omega-3 fatty acids are essential nutrients for heart health. The most common source of omega-3 fatty acids is fish. However, vegans can get the recommended amount of this nutrient from plant-based sources and supplements.
There are specific vitamins that people often consume through animal-derived sources. Vitamin D3, for instance, comes from fish and lanolin. Vegans can get the recommended vitamin D3 from lichen instead.
All of the above ingredients are often in many processed foods. For this reason, it is highly essential always to read the label of your processed foods and read all of the ingredients.
Foods that Sometimes Have Animal-Derived Ingredients. Check the Label!
You may be surprised to learn that some foods that seem like they would be vegan, but actually are not. Bread, for instance, looks like it would always be free from animal-derived products, right? Wrong! Sometimes bread can have an ingredient called L-cysteine, which is an amino acid derived from poultry feathers. Many bakeries use L-cysteine in baking to soften the dough. Some alcoholic beverages, including wine and beer, are not 100% vegan either. Sometimes ingredients such as casein, gelatin, isinglass, and egg white albumen are used in these drinks. Sometimes french fries (and fried foods in general) are cooked using animal fat. Additionally, the batter for deep-fried foods like onion rings or tempura often will have eggs in it. Many kinds of pasta also have eggs in them.
It is not only these animal-derived products to look out for. There are a lot of foods that contain dairy ingredients too. Pesto, for instance, may contain parmesan cheese. Non-dairy creamer may not contain milk per se but is often does have casein, which is a protein that comes from milk.
More Surprising Foods that May Contain Animal-Derived Products
Vegans avoid most chocolates because they contain milk derivatives. However, it is widely known that dark chocolate is the exception, and is 100% vegan-friendly most of the time. Make sure to check the label, though, because some dark chocolates can contain animal-derived ingredients such as milk fat, milk solids, whey, and nonfat milk powder.
Refined sugar seems like it would be vegan-friendly too. Usually, it is. But, some refined sugar can contain “natural carbon,” which is another way of saying bone char that comes from cattle bones. This substance makes the sugar lighter. To make sure your sugar is vegan-friendly, choose evaporated cane juice or organic sugar. As always, read the label to make sure it does not contain animal-derived ingredients.
Sometimes gelatin can be used to make the salt stick to roasted peanuts. Check the label.
The most surprising food type that is not always vegan-friendly is fruits vegetables and all kinds of produce. You would think fresh fruits and vegetables would be vegan. Sometimes, though, produce can be coated with wax made from beeswax or shellac.
The takeaway is that many foods that you’d think would automatically be vegan, actually do contain animal-derived products. For this reason, it is a smart habit always to read the label, ask questions if you’re at the store or restaurant where there is not a label, and choose your food carefully.
Is All Vegan Food Healthy?
Many people switch to eating vegan for the health benefits of a plant-based diet. However, just because a food is vegan does not automatically make it healthy. There are a ton of processed foods that are 100% vegan but are very unhealthy.
If you are looking to eat a healthy vegan diet, you may want to avoid the following items.
Vegan Junk Food
Junk food is junk food. Products such as vegan cookies, ice cream, candy, and chips may be meat-free, but they sure aren’t healthy. These products are usually highly processed and often have much higher amounts of sugar and fat (albeit vegetable fat) than the animal-derived versions. These processed junk foods typically do not have any healthy nutrients like vitamins or minerals that you would be getting from fresh plant-based alternatives.
Vegan Meats & Cheeses
Vegan meats and cheeses are highly processed and have a ton of additives to give them the flavor and consistency of their animal-derived counterparts. These products also do not contain as many vital nutrients like vitamins and minerals that you would get from plant-based alternatives like lentils, peas, seeds, and nuts.
Vegan sweeteners do not contain any animal-derived products. That does not make them healthy. Sweeteners like agave, date, and maple syrups, as well as molasses, are all great in moderate doses. However, eating a large amount of sugar in any form still poses health risks like obesity and heart disease.
What Should a Vegan Eat in a Day?
Although vegan diets can be extremely healthy, it is not as easy as just avoiding animal products. Vegans need to carefully plan meals to ensure enough vitamins and minerals to maintain a nutritious, balanced diet. A lot of times, you won’t be able to get enough of all of your essential nutrients through plant-based meals alone. Many vegans also need to take supplements to fill in the gaps in their nutrition. The following nutrients are those that are necessary for a healthy diet but are also those that vegans often become deficient in.
Calcium is an essential nutrient to build strong bones during youth and to maintain healthy bones throughout your life. If you are deficient in calcium for an extended period of time, it can cause osteoporosis. To get enough calcium without consuming dairy, vegans eat plant-based alternatives. Vegetables that contain calcium include leafy greens like kale and broccoli and veggies like sweet potatoes and butternut squash. Vegans also get calcium from tofu, soybeans, legumes, lentils, navy beans, and chickpeas. Certain dried fruits also contain calcium, including apricots and figs. Processed plant-based milk often comes fortified with calcium as well. These milk include soy milk and almond milk.
The most common source of protein is from eating animal-derived products; to be vegan you’ll need to make sure you consume enough plant-based alternatives to get the recommended amount of protein. Great sources of plant-based protein include quinoa, tofu, tempeh, soybeans, soy milk, lentils, legumes, nuts, seeds, and seitan.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Omega-3 fatty acids are essential for heart health. To make sure vegans eat enough of these essential nutrients, make sure to consume plant-based sources like nuts and seeds including flaxseeds, chia seeds, and walnuts.
Iron is essential to maintain healthy levels of oxygen in your bloodstream. If you develop an iron deficiency, it can cause serious health risks. To make sure vegans eat enough iron, eat plant-based sources of iron with some foods rich in vitamin C like tomatoes to help the body absorb iron better. Vegans eat iron through brown rice, oats, soybeans, tofu, kale, spinach, and peanut butter.
B12 is essential for healthy nerve cells and creating red blood cells. There are not very many plant-based sources of this nutrient, so many vegans eat B12-fortified products. Products with fortified options for include tempeh, soy products, whole grains, vegetables, fruit, legumes, lentils, nuts, seeds, and seaweed.
Sample Vegan Daily Meal Plan
The following are just a few examples of the many possible vegan food meal plan options on any given day.
For breakfast, try a tofu scramble with some whole-grain toast topped with veggies and avocado. Or, steel-cut oats topped with almond milk and fruits.
Some great lunch options include black beans and rice topped with veggies and olive oil, or quinoa salad with tofu, seeds, and lemon dressing.
For dinner, try some tempeh stir fry, or shepherd’s pie with lentils and veggies.
For healthy, well-balanced nutrition, it is important to include small snacks throughout the day. Some great choices include fresh fruit and nuts, veggies and hummus, or whole-grain crackers with peanut butter.
Can You Eat Fish on a Vegan Diet?
Vegans do not eat any animal-derived products; this includes fish and fish products. There are, however, several different types of plant-based diets. For instance, the vegetarian diet is similar to the vegan diet in that vegetarians typically avoid meat. However, many vegetarians still consume other animal-derived products, including dairy and eggs. Pescatarians do not consume meat like poultry or beef but do eat fish and shellfish. Ostorveganism is a kind of veganism that includes clams, oysters, and mussels, but otherwise is a plant-based diet. Many people choose to include fish in an otherwise vegan diet because it is one of the most efficient sources of several vital nutrients, such as omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin B12, and selenium. Whether you choose to include fish in your diet should be dependent upon your individual needs, preferences, and goals.
Final Thoughts on Eating a Vegan Diet
It should be noted that each person is different and has varying nutritional needs. Dietary needs may also evolve over time at different life stages. To ensure you’re getting all of the nutrients you need in the right amounts, you may want to consult your doctor or dietitian for guidance.