What is a Vegan Diet?

Colorful vegetables and pita chips around a bowl of hummus

Considering a vegan diet? You’re not alone! In fact, according to some estimates, nearly 6 percent of the U.S. population now identifies as vegan. Visit any major city, and you’ll have no trouble finding vegan restaurants or cafes. Vegan products are stocked on store shelves everywhere. 

In the simplest terms, a vegan diet contains no animal products. All meat, poultry, game, fish and seafood, dairy products, eggs, gelatin and honey are eliminated. In addition, foods made from or by animals are not eaten. What does that leave? Luckily, a lot!

So what’s the appeal? For many people, switching to a vegan diet is inspired by health or environmental concerns. For some, the lifestyle aligns with their views on animal rights. For others, it’s part of their religious belief systems. 

Interested in giving it a try? It’s not difficult, once you’ve grasped the basics. Here are a few important things to know.

What Can You Eat on a Vegan Diet?

When you think of vegan eating from a regional cuisine perspective, the options become endless. Think: Mexican food. You can eat burritos, tacos or bowls stuffed with rice, beans, veggies, guacamole and salsa. Middle Eastern cuisine offers silky baba ghanoush and crispy falafel. Craving Italian? Enjoy a pasta primavera or a veggie-topped pizza. How about Ethiopian? Fill up on a hearty lentil-and-vegetable stew with spongy Injera bread.

With endless cookbooks, websites, blogs and social media channels offering recipes, tips and inspiration, you’ll be cooking up your own vegan meals in no time!

Grocery Shopping Tips for Vegans:

Grab a cart and start in the produce department – all whole fruits and vegetables in their original forms (not processed with any additives) – are vegan friendly. Think of all the smoothies, snacks, stir-fries and other colorful dishes you’ll enjoy!

Next, navigate through the store’s main aisles. Here, a little label reading may be required. For example, while you might think all nuts and nut butters are naturally vegan, they sometimes contain honey (a non-vegan ingredient). Many goods such as sauces and soups are vegan; just keep an eye out for hidden non-vegan ingredients such as beef broth in a vegetable soup, gelatin in marshmallows or anchovies in Worcestershire sauce. 

In the dairy section, you’ll find multiple varieties of plant-based milks (in many flavors) made from soy, coconut, almonds, cashews and oats. High-quality vegan cheeses (shredded, grated and sliced), vegan egg substitutes, vegan yogurts and vegan mayonnaise also can be found on most mainstream grocery store shelves. Don’t forget to grab some protein-packed tofu as a meat alternative!

Speaking of meat alternatives, vegan replacements have come a long way. Besides tofu, you’ll find tasty vegan burgers, ground-beef-style crumbles and sausages. Check out sausages or burgers from Beyond Meat® and crispy patties from Simple Truth® as perfect breakfast or starter foods. The freezer section also boasts loads of vegan options, with everything from pizzas to frozen dinners. 

Vegan Meal Planning Tips:

Is vegan cooking hard? Nope! As with any cuisine, vegan dishes and recipes can range from simple to complex. Appliances such as blenders or Instant Pot®-style multi-cookers can offer huge time savings (think of brown rice or home-cooked beans in a flash) and opportunities to batch cook.

Vegan-friendly snacks: In addition to whole fruits, veggies and nuts, many chips and cookies are vegan – just be sure to check labels. For a sweet treat, try a vegan “ice cream” such as HALO TOP® Vegan & Dairy-Free Ice Cream Flavors like Toasted Coconut or another one of their fabulous flavors. 

Quick vegan lunch idea: Got leftover grains? You can make lunch in a jiffy. Combine a mixture of any leftover cooked grains (quinoa, brown rice, etc.) with canned black beans, chopped cucumber and salsa, then scoop into avocado halves. No measuring needed, just do it to taste. Serve with your favorite vegan crackers.

Vegan-friendly dinners: For a convenient, family-friendly dinner, grill up some vegan burgers and serve them with toasted buns, sliced tomatoes and lettuce. Add a side of vegan macaroni and cheese (like Annie's® Vegan Mac) and some sliced apples and, presto, dinner is served!

Safety Considerations

While some followers of a vegan diet consider it a short-term diet to help with weight loss or another area of health, the majority consider it a healthy lifestyle. 

Beginners should be mindful of protein intake, including plenty of protein sources such as beans, lentils, nuts and meat alternatives like tofu. Also, be sure you’re eating plenty of foods rich in calcium and vitamin B12, two nutrients that may be lacking in a vegan diet.

As when making any significant dietary change, it’s always advisable to consult your healthcare provider.