Veganism is skyrocketing leaving many wondering what is a vegan diet? Here we explore what it means to be vegan and how to live a vegan life.
Veganism is more than just a dietary trend; it’s a lifestyle embraced by a growing number of individuals worldwide.
It encompasses more than just what we eat; it embodies a commitment to compassionate living, ethical choices, and environmental consciousness.
Beyond the realm of food, veganism extends to various aspects of life from what vegans wear to the products they buy.
From understanding the philosophy behind veganism to discovering the vast realm of vegan food, this article explores what it means to be vegan and the delicious possibilities of a plant-based lifestyle.
- What is the definition of veganism?
- Why go vegan?
- What is vegan food?
- What do vegans not eat?
- What is a vegan meal?
- Is being vegan healthy?
- How do vegans get protein?
- Can vegans eat honey?
- Do vegans eat eggs?
- Is chocolate vegan?
- Do vegans wear wool?
- When is World Vegan Month and what is it?
- What is Veganuary?
What is the definition of veganism?
According to the Vegan Society definition: “Veganism is 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; and by extension, promotes the development and use of animal-free alternatives for the benefit of animals, humans and the environment. In dietary terms it denotes the practice of dispensing with all products derived wholly or partly from animals.”
In practice, being vegan means not eating any animal products, so no meat, dairy, eggs, fish, shellfish, honey, insects, gelatine or other animal-derived products.
Being vegan also extends to other areas of your lifestyle such as clothing, cosmetics, cleaning products and even home decor.
When it comes to clothing, vegans actively avoid purchasing items made from animal-derived materials like wool, leather, feathers, fur, or silk.
Additionally cosmetics and cleaning products often contain animal ingredients or are tested on animals, which is why vegans conscientiously choose not to use these products that contribute to animal exploitation.
As veganism aims to end animal exploitation, vegans also do not support the use of animals for entertainment or sport nor support places that do so.
While this is a lot of no’s, veganism supports dietary and lifestyle choices and alternatives that are ethical, sustainable and healthy for everyone.
Why go vegan?
People tend to go vegan for one of these three reasons: to end animal exploitation and cruelty, to protect the environment, and for health concerns.
1. Ethical reasons
It’s all about not wanting to exploit animals, to not cause unnecessary suffering and minimise our impact on the natural world. For most people, ethical reasons for veganism stem from learning how farmed animals live and die, from seeing commercial fishing or from an encounter with an animal used for profit and realising we don’t need to cause animal suffering in order to live.
The reasons for being vegan also include animals being used for clothing, accessories, experiments, tests, entertainment and sport.
People go vegan because they are against animal exploitation, but are also often motivated by environmental concerns and health reasons too. Photo © Yagi Studio via Getty Images
2. Environmental reasons
When people learn that animal farming is one of the major emitters of greenhouse gases that drive climate change, that it uses significantly more water than growing crops and causes more environmental pollution, many decide to live more sustainably which means cutting animal products out of their diet.
3. Health reasons
What we eat affects our health a great deal and many people discover veganism when searching for answers to their health questions. A healthy vegan diet can lower the risk of many diseases1, such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes, obesity, some types of cancer, kidney disease and gout. It is also a health choice for many plant-based athletes and healthcare professionals who encourage others to try it.
However, while there’s usually one driving motivation, as people learn more information about veganism, many embrace the other reasons too because they simply complement each other.
Caring about animals goes hand in hand with caring about the environment and planetary future, and caring about one’s health is important for quality of life and being able to enjoy the future.
Plant-based diets filled with whole foods can help lower the risk of many diseases including heart disease, type 2 diabetes, obesity, some types of cancer, kidney disease and gout. Photo © nenetusvia Adobe Stock
What is vegan food?
Vegan food encompasses a vibrant and diverse array of plant-based dishes typically made from fruits, vegetables, legumes, grains, nuts, and seeds.
- Wholefoods, such as fruit and vegetables, pulses (beans, peas, chickpeas, lentils, soya and products made from them including tofu, falafel and hummus)
- Wholegrains (bread, pasta, oats, rice, quinoa, tortillas)
- Nuts and seeds
From colourful vegan salads bursting with fresh produce to hearty grain bowls brimming with nutrient-rich ingredients, a plant-rich vegan diet celebrates plants, using them in creative and delicious ways.
A vegan diet is a varied diet full of wholefoods, grains, fruits and vegetables and the occasional processed treats! Photo © Yagi Studio via Getty Images
What do vegans not eat?
As vegans do not consumer animals, a vegan diet excludes meat in all its forms, including red, white, and game.
Fish and shellfish are also off-limits, leaving oysters and other marine delicacies off the menu.
Vegans also do not consume milk and dairy products sourced from any animal, so will not eat dairy-based cheeses, butter, cream and ice cream.
Eggs, whether scrambled, sunny-side-up, or hidden in baked goods, are also skipped in favour of animal and vegan-friendly egg substitutes.
However, vegans don’t just avoid these obvious ingredients – other animal-derived ingredients like gelatin, honey, beeswax, shellac, carmine, fish oil, and collagen are strictly avoided too.
These non-vegan ingredients are often hidden in plain sight on ingredients labels, and so they must be aware of these and read labels carefully to avoid these potential animal-derived additives in packaged foods.
Additionally, vegans do not consume alcoholic drinks that have been filtered using isinglass – an ingredient derived from the swim bladders of fish that is often added to alcoholic drinks to make them clear.
In summary, vegans do not eat meat of any kind, fish, shellfish, milk and dairy products, eggs, animal derivatives such as gelatine, honey, beeswax, shellac, carmine, fish oil or collagen.
Vegans do not consume animal-derived ingredients including meat, eggs, dairy, seafood, gelatin, honey, beeswax, shellac, carmine, fish oil, and collagen. Alcoholic drinks can also contain animal-derived ingredients, so vegans must check before taking a sip. Photo © ontrastwerkstatt via Adobe Stock
What is a vegan meal?
Although vegan meals don’t contain animal ingredients, that doesn’t means vegans only eat salad. In fact, the beauty of vegan meals is their incredible variety, ranging from indulgent junk food to wholesome and nutritious dishes.
Many traditional meat-based recipes can be easily “veganised” using pre-made meat alternatives or even getting creative with ingredients like seitan.
This means you can still enjoy your favourite meals without compromising on taste while avoiding animal cruelty.
From mouth-watering plant-based burgers and pizzas to vibrant salads, nourishing grain bowls, and innovative plant-based alternatives, vegan meals offer a diverse and compassionate culinary experience for all tastes and preferences.
Vegan meals are delicious and varied, ranging from indulgent junk food to wholesome and nutritious dishes. Photo © Photographee.eu via Adobe Stock
Is being vegan healthy?
Yes, being vegan is super healthy! But it can also be unhealthy if all you eat is chips and vegan biscuits.
The key to a healthy vegan diet is to base your diet on wholefoods and limit processed and junk foods – in other words, eat mostly healthy plant-based foods and add the processed or fried and sweetened stuff as a treat only.
When you have at least five servings of fruit and vegetables, two or more portions of wholegrain foods (morning cereal, wholemeal bread, whole wheat pasta), a couple of servings of pulses (beans, hummus, tofu) and some nuts and seeds daily, it’s a healthy vegan diet.
On top of that, take a couple of supplements – vitamin B12 all year round and vitamin D at least from October to April. Vitamin D is recommended to absolutely everyone, not just vegans, because it’s the sunshine vitamin our skin makes when exposed to sunlight and we simply don’t get enough of it in the colder months.
Vitamin B12 is made by bacteria but thanks to our sanitised food systems, there aren’t any of these on or in the plant foods we eat. Farmed animals are given B12 with their feed so animal products contain it but it’s no more natural than taking a supplement.
A wholesome vegan diet is healthy, keeps your digestive system happy, lowers your risk of many diseases and provides plenty of healthy energy. Many health organisations agree that veganism is healthy and suitable for people of all ages.
A vegan diet that primarily consists of wholefoods is a very healthy diet. Photo © Yagi Studio via Getty Images
How do vegans get protein?
Many plant foods are rich in protein. Pulses and products made from them are particularly good sources – lentils, beans, chickpeas, soya, tofu, tempeh, hummus, beanburgers, falafels, lentil dhal, chickpea curry, bean casseroles, dips, spreads, etc.
Wholegrains are also an excellent source of vegan protein, for example oats, whole wheat pasta, wholemeal bread, quinoa, or crispbreads. Nuts and seeds are another food group that offers good amounts of protein – any nuts, seeds or nut and seed butters. Peanut butter is a protein-rich staple!
However, all plant foods, unless they are an extract (sugar, oil), contain protein – some in smaller, others in larger amounts. If you eat enough calories in a day, you will automatically get enough protein.
Can vegans eat honey?
Vegans don’t eat honey because it’s an animal product and it’s taken from bees who would normally use it as their main source of energy. In the process of ‘harvesting’ honey, many bees are accidentally killed.
Vegans do not eat honey because it's an animal product taken from bees who use it as their main source of energy. Photo © Soteavy Som/EyeEm via Getty Images
Do vegans eat eggs?
No, vegans don’t eat eggs. Commercial egg production causes substantial suffering to egg-laying hens no matter what system the hens are kept in (free range, barn, enriched cages).
Backyard eggs are not considered vegan either because they are still an animal product that perpetuates the cycle of exploiting animals for food.
Is chocolate vegan?
Some chocolate is vegan, some isn’t. Dark chocolate tends to be vegan as it typically has a higher cocoa content and fewer added ingredients, but so it’s important to check the ingredients to be sure.
Sometimes chocolate contains milk fat, butter fat, whey, casein, or butter oil, or lactose and because these ingredients are all dairy-based, they are not vegan. On the other hand, cocoa butter is extracted from cocoa beans and is always vegan.
Milk chocolate is not vegan as, like the name suggests, it contains milk to give it its signature creamy texture. White chocolate is also not vegan because it contains milk fats and solids which are essential for its buttery, milky taste.
However there are plenty of delicious vegan chocolate bars and alternatives made with plant milks widely available in stores.
Instead of dairy milk, vegan chocolate uses plant-based alternatives like almond milk, soy milk, rice milk, or coconut milk. These dairy-free alternatives provide the creamy texture and flavour found in traditional chocolate, without the cruelty.
When it comes to vegan chocolate, vegans are not short of options as there is plenty of choice available on the market for when the chocolate cravings strike! Photo © Anastasiia via Adobe Stock
Do vegans wear wool?
Vegans don’t wear wool because it comes from animals exploited for their bodies and products.
The problems with wool are multiple – sheep are bred into captivity, often injured in the shearing process, in some places their hindquarters are mutilated to keep the wool clean, they are made to breed to produce offspring for either lamb or wool production and all are eventually killed.
It’s similar with other animal products used for clothing or footwear – mohair, angora, down (feathers), silk, leather and fur. All are products of animal suffering and as such are unacceptable for vegans.
There are many other natural materials that are vegan-friendly and sustainable such as bamboo, lyocell (Tencel), cotton, viscose, hemp, pineapple or mushroom leather.
This reflects that veganism is much more than a diet, it’s a lifestyle that touches many aspects of our everyday life and offers ethical and sustainable solutions that don’t harm animals.
Vegans do not wear wool due to the ethical issues surrounding sheep farming and wool production. Photo © Peter Cade via Getty Images
When is World Vegan Month and what is it?
November is World Vegan Month and every year it draws a lot of attention to the vegan lifestyle. It started with 1 November declared World Vegan Day in 1994 to mark the 50thanniversary of the term vegan being coined by The Vegan Society and gradually grew to become a full month of celebrating veganism.
It is meant to raise awareness of the many benefits of being vegan, make people curious and bring vegans and non-vegans together in conversation.
Many companies, cafés and restaurants introduce vegan products in November and/or run special offers on their vegan offerings.
What is Veganuary?
Veganuary is a mashup of the words ‘vegan’ and ‘January’ and that’s exactly what it is – it’s an international campaign asking people to go vegan for the month of January. Once you sign up, you start getting emails guiding you through the month to make your vegan journey as smooth as possible – you receive information on all aspects of veganism, meal plans, recipe ideas, eating out tips and even discounts.
They also include plenty of inspiration, introduce you to famous vegans, athletes, doctors and share lots of practical information
In 2022, it inspired over 620,000 people to try veganism and the aim of the project is to encourage people to stay vegan even after the month is up. Every year, more and more people sign up for Veganuary and more companies introduce their vegan products specifically in time for January, and so the movement grows.
Feeling inspired to go vegan?
Start your vegan journey with this delicious ideas for Veganuary meals.
Featured image credit: Claudio Schwarz via Unsplash
- Melina V, Craig W, Levin S. Position of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: Vegetarian Diets. J Acad Nutr Diet. 2016 Dec;116(12):1970-1980.