There are still many people who are curious about what can vegans eat, so I decided to write a post answering the most frequently asked questions.
What’s A Vegan?
A vegan is a person who doesn’t eat the meat of any animals, or animal derived products, including milk, eggs, whey, lard, cheese, yogurt, butter, and gelatin.
I have seen increased growth in the number of people trying a vegan diet, and an increase in the amount of information and products available for a vegan diet since I started in 1998.
Historically speaking, a vegan diet has been around for a while. Christians, Buddhists, and Taoists have eaten a vegan or plant-based diet.
Many vegans avoid eating animals out of their concerns for the environment, the animals, or for their health. Whatever your reasons for being on a vegan or plant-based diet, it is important to stay healthy by eating a nutrient-rich diet with whole foods.
List of Foods That Vegans Can’t Eat
- Fish and shellfish
- Dairy- milk, cheese, yogurt, butter, kefir, cottage cheese, mayonnaise, salad dressings, whey
- Marshmallows, gummy bears (usually contain gelatin)
- White sugar (Some are processed with bone char)
- Sodium caseinate, casein, whey, albumin, carmine, gelatin, shellac, lard
Different Types of Vegans
- Plant-Based– avoid animal products in their diet but are not as strict about animal products in clothing or cosmetics.
- Ethical Vegans– Avoid animal products in their diet, clothes (no wearing of leather, goose down, wool, silk, animal testing), and cosmetics. They don’t visit zoos and aquariums.
- Raw Food- Raw food vegans eat foods that are mostly uncooked, unprocessed, organic and haven’t been heated over 118 degrees Fahrenheit. They eat fruits. vegetables, grains, and nuts. Diets such as 80/10/10 and Raw Till 4 are variations of a raw food diet.
- More Vegan Diets
- We need each to find our ‘why’ for becoming vegan in order for it to be fulfilling and lasting.
Top 9 Foods for Vegans to Include in Their Diet
- Fruits and Vegetables –Including a variety of fruits and vegetables is an important part of staying healthy on a vegan diet. Fruits and vegetables are high in fiber, antioxidants, minerals, and vitamins that are needed to build a strong immune system, and keep you satiated and healthy. Consuming salads and smoothies are great for getting an ample amount of your daily requirements of fruits and vegetables.
- Legumes/Beans – They are a great replacement for meat in a lot of dishes, and nutritionally, they are high in protein, fiber, calcium, vitamin B-complex and iron. Most common ones to include in your diet are lentils, chickpeas, black beans, navy beans, peanuts, peas, kidney beans, soybeans, pinto beans, and pigeon peas.
- Nuts – Almond, cashew, Brazil nut, pecan, walnut, macadamia, pistachio, and hazelnut. Great sources of fat, vitamins, and minerals. They are most commonly used to make dairy replacements, but are used in all sorts of recipes.
- Seeds – Sesame, pumpkin, sunflower, and hemp. They are also great sources of fat, and various other nutrients, depending on the seed. They can be added to breakfast food, or used in various dishes for added nutritional benefit. Flax, hemp, and sesame seed oil are also used in cooking.
- Whole Cereal Grains – Wheat, millet, rice, barley, corn, oats, teff, sorghum, and rye. Most of us eat some sort of grain practically every day, and they are a great source of protein and carbohydrates, and usually affordable.
- Pseudocereals – Quinoa, buckwheat, sesame, amaranth, chia, and flaxseed. These are seeds that can be used like cereals (ground into flour, etc.), but are technically not grasses.
- Fortified Foods – These are foods commonly eaten that have had nutrients added. Grains and juice are two things you’ll commonly find with fortified versions. I feel that in most cases if you are able to eat a fully nutritious diet with varieties of fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and grains, you should be able to get enough of your nutrients. If you live in a food desert or for any other reason find yourself unable to get all your necessary nutrients, then these are a good option, but also consider supplements for more control of what nutrients you want.
- Sprouted Foods – These are seeds that are allowed to sprout, making them easier to digest. More on this here, if you’re interested.
- Sea Vegetables – Nori, kelp, agar, wakame, hijiki, and dulse. Great sources for iodine, vitamin C, and a whole bunch of other vitamins and minerals. Everyone knows nori as in the wrapper for sushi, but various sea vegetables are also used for flavoring soup and rice, and agar is a fantastic gelatin replacement.
Top Tips for New Vegans
Adapting a vegan diet can be quite as intimidating as a beginner.
- Do lots of reading up on the why and how of veganism, so that you can fully understand why you are doing this, and how to be successful and stay committed. Dispel any misguided preconceptions you may have, and any myths people can use to discourage you.
- Veganize your favorite recipes, for instance, in your favorite lasagna recipe, omit the meat and dairy and substitute with roasted veggies, and a vegan tofu or nut filling, if you’re feeling adventurous.
- Get rid of animal products from your kitchen and pantry, especially if your family is supportive. You could give them to non-vegan friends and families, or your local food bank.
- Plan your meals ahead, and take time to do meal planning so that you can reduce the temptation. Make a pot of beans like my Brazilian Black Bean Stew, Lentil Stew that can last for a couple of days. Make a batch of rice, like Turmeric Coconut Rice or Quinoa. Then, all you have to make is a fresh salad on the side.
- Stock your fridge and pantry with vegan essentials. Replace everything you got rid of with various substitutes, and usually, even things you choose to make at home can be stored decently. Use your meal planning list to help you grocery shop.
- Download a vegan app. This will help you to find vegan grocers, restaurants near you or when you are traveling. Yelp, Happy Cow, and Trip Advisor are my favorite apps.
- Make lots of homemade high-protein dishes that you can freeze and easily reheat to make a meal or sandwich, such as Vegan Lentil Meatballs, and Vegan Oatmeal Burgers.
- If you are invited to an event and you doubt the host is making arrangements for vegan meals. Eat before attending the event or offer to bring vegan dishes or your own food.
- Always have snack type foods when you are on the road, fruits, granola bars, trail mix, nuts.
- Connect with vegans at meetup groups in your area for support and potlucks. Join social media vegan groups and follow vegan bloggers for support, encouragement, inspiration, and recipes.
- Develop a thick skin, focus on your commitment and don’t be moved by negative comments and criticisms.
Do Vegans Get Enough Nutrients?
In any diet, if you do not need to eat enough variety, you may find yourself deficient in some nutrients. Vegans have a couple they need to make sure they either eat or take a supplement for. With any supplements or medication you purchase, check to make sure they are vegan-friendly as well.
- Vitamin B12 is very important to many body processes, and anyone can be deficient in it, but especially vegans, since it is much debated if it is possible to fully get what you need from food. Your primary care doctor can check your levels if this is a concern, or you can just take a supplement if you are not sure, and especially if you’re an older adult, because of a decrease in absorption. It is a water-soluble vitamin, so no need to worry about taking too much (within reason).
- Most people do not get enough vitamin D, and it is not commonly found in foods, even in animal products. If you are not sure if you are spending 15 minutes in the sun every day without sunscreen on, or eating foods fortified with enough vitamin D, you will want to get yourself a vegan vitamin D3 supplement.
- If you don’t use iodized salt, try to add seaweed to your diet, or take an iodine supplement. Iodine is an often overlooked, but important mineral for your body. If you do use iodized salt, you don’t have to worry about increasing your salt intake, between half and one whole teaspoon should have you covered.
- The iron that our blood needs to be able to bond with oxygen is usually taken from red meat, but that is not necessary. Include dark leafy greens and legumes in your food, cook in cast iron pots and pans, and include vitamin C in your diet to aid in iron absorption. Women (even those who are not vegan), and anyone else who feels they need to be worried about their iron levels, should get hemoglobin and ferritin levels checked routinely because you don’t want to take an iron supplement unnecessarily, but being iron deficient will cause you to have many issues.
Vegan Questions and Answers
What Do Vegans Eat for Protein?
There is a very common worry that vegans are protein deficient, but there isn’t any reason for worry. Beans, nuts, and seeds are amazing sources of protein. Beans are used to create common meat substitutes, such as tofu and tempeh. Wheat gluten is used to make seitan and similar meat substitutes under different names. In fact, people sometimes might even get more protein than they need.
Can Vegans Eat Cheese?
No, because cheeses are made from cow (or another animal) milk, making it an animal-derived product. There are various soy, legume, and nut-based substitutes now quite commonly available, even in my local Walmart.
Can Vegans Drink Milk?
No. Milk, as we commonly know it, is derived from cows, or less commonly, goats and sheep. Since it is derived from animals, it is not considered vegan. However, there are endless alternatives, made from soy, rice, coconut, almond, cashew, oat, macadamia, and the list goes on. They all have different pros and cons as it pertains to taste and texture so experiment until you find one you like. Personally, I love cashew milk for drinking and smoothies, and coconut for cooking.
Do Vegans Eat Fish?
There is a common misconception that fish is not a meat, and it’s not considered as such traditionally. Of course, in a scientific sense, it is still is a meat product and is not appropriate for a vegan diet. Those who choose to eat fish/shellfish only, and no other meats, are called pescatarians.
Can Vegans Eat Bread?
In a broad sense, yes, however it depends on the bread ingredients. Some bread products may involve eggs or dairy products, such as challah or brioche. It is also recommended that you consume bread made from whole grains, instead of processed and nutrient stripped varieties. Also, check for hidden “enzymes” in bagel ingredients, that are made from animal byproducts.
Can Vegans Eat Pasta?
Similar to bread, in general you can, but you just have to be careful as some varieties may have egg, such as pappardelle, and prefilled varieties generally have cheese or meat. Check your labels’ allergen list and ask servers at restaurants to verify if they are egg free.
Can Vegans Eat Potato?
Yes, in so many different ways! Any way you are used to eating your potatoes can be easily made vegan, either with homemade or store bought alternatives.
Can Vegans Eat Peanut Butter?
Yes! Peanut butter is usually made with just peanuts, and maybe added oil or sugar. Be conscious of those additives, which may be vegan but may not be the healthiest in excessive amounts.
Do Vegans Eat Tofu?
Tofu is definitely a vegan staple product. It can be used in every meal, in so many different ways. It can be made to replace eggs for breakfast, in sandwiches and salads, with various sauces to be your main dinner entrée, and in desserts.
Do Vegans Eat Rice?
Rice is definitely vegan-friendly. If you are used to making your rice with butter, use a vegan buttery spread or even coconut oil instead. If you haven’t already, try making the switch to brown rice, so you can enjoy the full nutritional benefit.
Foods Vegans Don’t Eat?
There are some foods vegans generally choose not to eat, including but not limited to:
- Why don’t vegans eat honey? It is a byproduct of bee production, and even though they aren’t hurt in the actual production of honey, harvesting of honey usually causes distress and death to the colony. There are several different liquid sweetener alternatives, such as agave or maple syrup
- Insects may not seem to fit the regular description of meat, but they are living creatures, and do have certain stimuli that suggests feeling. It also makes no sense to farm insects for protein, when there are perfectly appropriate plant-based protein sources.
Hidden Animal Products in Food?
There are some common foods that appear vegan but aren’t because of animal-derived products that are in them in ways you would not consider.
- Worcestershire sauce usually contains anchovies, but there are vegan substitutes and alternatives.
- Barbecue sauce can contain Worcestershire sauce, but again there are ones without.
- Marshmallows and gummy candies contain gelatin, which is usually pork derived. Even kosher/halal certified brands usually contain beef or fish gelatin. For marshmallows, Trader Joe’s and Dandies are vegan, and you can usually find vegan gummy candy choices in the bulk section of your local health food store, some supermarkets, or online.
- “Lactose Free” or “Vegetarian” or “Soy-Based” dairy substitute products. These are labeled in such a way that they seem to be vegan substitutes, but are only for those who are lactose intolerant and wouldn’t mind dairy otherwise. They usually contain casein or whey, which are milk products, making them unsuitable for vegans.
- Refried bean, in concept, are vegan, except for the fact that they sometimes have lard. Most major brands in regular supermarkets have a lard-free version, and definitely in health food stores, so make sure to check the label. My personal favorite is made by Trader Joe’s. If eating at a Mexican restaurant, be sure to double check with your server.
- Artificially red-colored foods, such as juices and candy, may contain carmine, which is made from crushed up red beetles and can also be listed as carminic acid, cochineal, or red dye No. 40.
- Lots of vitamin supplements may contain vitamins derived from animal products, and gummy supplements could be made with gelatin. Usually, they will be marked vegan or vegetarian, so check the labeling.
- Fried foods in restaurants could be fried in a multitude of oils or animal fats, so ask just to be sure.
- Soups and seasonings can have hidden animal products, such as a vegetable soup containing chicken stock or bouillon, always check and be sure
- Protein powders are generally made from whey and other milk-derived protein sources, but there many vegan options available now. However, be careful, because even soy-based protein powders have been known to contain hidden casein and whey. Check the label thoroughly, or look for explicitly marked “vegan” or “plant-based” on the front.
- Lecithin, an emulsifier found in many sorts of foods, can be made from animal or soy.
- Pesto is made from ground up herbs and nuts, but also usually includes cheese. Health food stores, such as Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods, do sell vegan alternatives, and in restaurants, it would be best to avoid it.
- Medications and supplements, particularly those in capsule, gelcap, or similar form, usually contain gelatin, but some brands do make vegan-friendly options.