Veganism is skyrocketing and while many people consider it a dietary choice, it’s really a lifestyle – here we explore the ins and outs of being vegan.
What is vegan? 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, it means not eating any animal products, so no meat, dairy, eggs, fish, shellfish, honey, insects, gelatine or other animal-derived products, not wearing wool, leather, fur or silk, not using products tested on animals and not using animals for entertainment or sport nor supporting 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.
What do vegans eat?
Vegans eat only plant foods and fungi (mushrooms, yeast). This includes:
- 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
A vegan diet is a varied diet full of wholefoods, grains, fruits and vegetables and the occasional processed treats! Image credit: Yagi Studio via Getty Images
What do vegans not eat?
Vegans do not eat meat of any kind (red, white, processed, game or any other), fish, shellfish (so no oysters either), milk and dairy products (from any animal), eggs, animal derivatives such as gelatine, honey, beeswax, shellac, carmine, fish oil or collagen.
There are many ingredients that can be animal-derived and comprehensive lists can be found online.
Why do people go vegan?
People tend to go vegan for one of these three reasons:
- Ethical: 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. These reasons usually broaden to include animals used for clothing, accessories, experiments, tests, entertainment and sport.
- Environmental: 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.
- Health: 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.
People go vegan because they are against animal exploitation, but are also often motivated by environmental concerns and health reasons too. Image credit: Yagi Studio via Getty Images
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. Image credit: 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. Image credit:
Do vegans eat eggs?
No, vegans don’t eat any 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 but not always – check the ingredients to be sure. Sometimes it contains milk fat, butter fat 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 but there are plenty of delicious dairy-free chocolate alternatives made with plant milks, and the same applies to white chocolate.
Do vegans wear wool?
No, 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.
Vegans do not wear wool due to the ethical issues surrounding sheep farming and wool production. Image credit: 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 50th anniversary 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.