Vegan food: What is it, and what are things you can't eat as a vegan
The recent increase of interest in vegan eating is hardly surprising, given their many benefits. On top of the beneficial health outcomes that are associated with this diet , it also does less harm to animals and the environment. More people eating vegan diets means less demand fuelling the captivity and abuse of animals on factory farms. Fewer animals being raised via industrial agriculture means a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions and other pollutants associated with the industry.
What is vegan food?
Vegan food is any food that is not derived from animals. This means that vegan food does not contain milk, meat, butter, cheese, gelatin, fish, or eggs. It can be helpful to classify vegan foods into two broad types: whole and processed foods. Whole vegan foods include items such as wholegrain pastas, fruits, vegetables, lentils, beans, and nuts. These are foods that are eaten after minimal processing. Vegan processed foods include items such as Oreos, Sour Patch Kids, and many types of breads and pastas.
Another category of vegan foods is made up of products marketed as alternatives to animal-based foods. Many of these are processed foods including plant-based burgers like the Impossible Burger, plant-based cheeses, and vegan chik’n nuggets, but similar alternatives can also be made at home with less processed ingredients.
What foods are vegan?
Breads, rice, and pastas
Though most breads, rice, and pastas are free of animal-derived ingredients, it is important to be careful with prepared rice dishes such as Rice-a-roni, some breads such as brioche, and fresh pastas that may contain eggs. A quick look at the ingredient list on these foods will reveal whether they are among the many vegan options.
Dairy alternatives such as soy milk, coconut milk, and almond milk
There is a vast array of plant-based milks and alternative dairy products such as yogurt and cheese. Each of them have a unique and delicious flavor profile. The sheer number of varieties means that there’s also an option for people with virtually any food intolerances.
Fruits and vegetables
Fruits and vegetables make up a large proportion of vegan foods. Eating vegan often means trying out new fruits and vegetables and recipes using them as ingredients. Exploring different foods provides the opportunity to find new favorites and broaden horizons away from animal-based cuisine.
Legumes such as peas, beans, and lentils
Legumes play a large role in the diets of many vegan eaters. On top of being delicious and nutritious, they are also highly versatile and can easily be made into meat substitutes or added to stews.
Nuts and seeds
Nuts and seeds are a great vegan source of protein and healthy fats that can be used to top salads or eaten by the handful as a snack. All varieties of nuts and seeds are vegan, though shoppers should be cautious of flavored options that may contain dairy or other animal-derived ingredients.
There is a wide range of vegetable oils that can be used in cooking and recipes instead of lard or other animal fats. In addition to corn, canola, avocado, and olive oil, there are vegetable shortening, coconut oil, and even vegan butters that can be substituted into recipes or spread on bread and enjoyed.
Vegan food list for beginners
When embarking on a vegan diet, there are a few key ingredients and foods to keep around the house that can help ease the transition. For additional guidance on how to successfully stock your vegan kitchen for the first time, there are a variety of resources available online.
Take a look at your favorite foods and base your shopping list on those. If you usually have honey in your coffee swap it for agave. If you love a burger and fries make sure to grab some beans, oats, and the other ingredients for a straightforward veggie burger.
Choose a plant-based milk that you love and keep it on hand for adding to coffee or drinking with cookies.
Select a variety of vegan proteins including beans, nuts, seeds, nut butters, lentils, and veggie burgers. Having raw cashews on hand is also a good idea, as they can be used to make a variety of delicious sauces.
Make sure to pick up a few starches. Rice and quinoa are both excellent options for this but pastas and breads are also very versatile when starting out.
For cooking be sure to grab plenty of spices and one or two oil choices such as olive, canola, coconut, or sesame.
Of course you need to stock up on fruits and vegetables. These can be canned, fresh, or frozen. Having plenty of options to choose from and shifting your plate to center on these is a great way of ensuring your diet is healthy and sustainable.
What are things you can't eat as a vegan?
Eating a vegan diet means abstaining from all animal-derived products and foods. Below are just a few examples of foods that should be left off your plate when following a vegan diet.
Beef, pork, lamb, and other red meat
Though cheese and butter cannot be consumed when eating vegan, there are many delicious plant-based alternatives and recipes for vegan cheese sauces that can satisfy any cravings we may have.
Chicken, duck, and other poultry
In addition to abstaining from chicken, duck, and other poultry it is important to also stay away from foods that contain parts of these animals, such as foie gras, which is the liver of a goose or duck that has been fattened by a process of force-feeding.
Through the hard work of organizations such as Sinergia Animal more and more companies are committing to reducing cruelty by pledging to go cage-free. Yet the suffering still experienced by chickens within the egg industry is gruesome and widespread.
Fish or shellfish such as crabs, clams, and mussels
Though sometimes there is confusion as to whether fish and other sea life should be avoided by those who give up meat, when adopting a vegan diet these animals should definitely not be bought and consumed. In addition to their ability to suffer, both farming and catching wild fish and other ocean life have detrimental environmental impacts on oceans and other waterways.
Bees are valuable pollinators and as such are a necessary part of agriculture. Industrial honey production, however, causes bees to suffer and often kills them prematurely.
Mayonnaise may seem an innocuous sandwich spread, but one of the key ingredients is egg yolks, which raise the same moral problems as consuming any eggs.
Milk, cream, ice cream, and other dairy products
For decades now dairy has been described by many mainstream sources of information as an important part of a healthy diet. Yet this is an idea that is being challenged by recent research.
Vegan food menu
The options for a vegan menu are virtually endless. Below are just a few ways to combine different foods for a healthy and delicious vegan day of eating.
For lunch you can opt for a delicious array of vegetables topped with your favorite vegan dressing — either as a salad or a vegetable frankie.
As a snack a bowl of nuts and fruit may hit the spot.
If you’re craving something sweet you could reach for a prepackaged option like Oreos, Nutter Butters, or Sour Patch Kids. Or you could opt to bake something delicious like Lemon Olive Oil Cake or Tres Leches.
Is vegan food healthy?
As with any diet, whether vegan eating is healthy or not depends on the foods we choose to eat. Choosing to consume mostly vegan snack foods such as Sour Patch Kids, Oreos, and other highly processed vegan foods for every meal is not the healthiest option. Consuming a vegan diet full of whole foods such as wholegrain bread, vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, and legumes has been found to be one of the healthiest dietary choices one can make. In fact, following such a diet has been associated with a lower risk of severe COVID-19, a reduced need for medication in elderly people, and better cardiovascular health than those following a nonvegan diet.
How to go vegan
Choosing to adopt a vegan diet may seem daunting, but there are several steps that you can take to make the transition easier.
Focus on the foods you can eat
When grocery shopping and meal planning, focus on the many foods that vegans are able to enjoy and look for inventive ways to replace the foods you’re giving up. For example, both tofu and carrots can be marinated to make a delicious vegan bacon replacement.
Remember why you want to be vegan
Whether you’re choosing to go vegan for your health, or for ethical, religious, or other reasons, keeping them in mind as you choose food can help you stick to the diet while you form new habits.
Be kind to yourself
Changing one’s habits can be very difficult. If you slip up and consume an animal product, be kind to yourself and know that being an imperfect vegan is still a positive change. Veganism is centered around kindness toward living beings, so make sure to be kind to yourself on this journey.
Make the shift gradually
Instead of swearing off all animal products at one time, consider whether making the transition over a few weeks or months may be more sustainable for you.