Whether you’re vegan-curious for the first time or freshly embracing this lifestyle with open arms, our complete guide has all the resources you need to get started, maintain your diet, and thrive as a plant-based eater.
Table of Contents
General Vegan Diet Information
What Is the Vegan Diet?
What is the Difference Between Vegetarian and Vegan?
Why Go Vegan?
Is a Vegan Diet Healthy?
What are the Potential Risks Involved with Eating a Vegan Diet?
What Vitamins are Lacking in a Vegan Diet?
The Do’s and Don’ts of Vegan Foods
How to Find a Balance With a Vegan Diet
How Do I Know What is Vegan?
What Supplements Should I Take on a Vegan Diet?
How Much Does It Cost to be on a Vegan Diet?
Will I Lose Weight on a Vegan Diet?
How Can I Build Muscles on a Vegan Diet?
How Do I Eat a Vegan Diet at Restaurants?
How Do I Eat a Vegan Diet at Social Gatherings?
The vegan diet eschews eating meat, dairy, or other animal products like honey or gelatin. The philosophy also extends into lifestyle territory; many followers eliminate all animal products and nix leather from their wardrobe or any skin or beauty products that have been tested on animals.
The roots of the vegan diet can be traced back to ancient Indian and Mediterranean societies; the Greek philosopher Pythagoras of Samos first mentioned ethical vegetarianism around around 500 BCE, and ancient religions like Buddhism and Hinduism also advocated for vegetarianism. The more modern “vegan” term was coined in 1944 by a British woodworker named Donald Watson, who wanted to create an identifier for vegetarians who also didn’t eat dairy or eggs. When Watson died in 2005, there were 2 million vegans in the US. Today, there are approximately 9.7 million, according to a recent study.
Here are a few different types of popular vegan diets:
Both vegetarians and vegans do not eat meat or fish. While many vegetarians choose to include eggs and dairy products in their diet, vegans don’t, and also avoid animal byproducts that may be present in food, clothing, and beauty products. Vegans also typically abstain from activities that rely on animals for entertainment, like zoos, circuses, or aquariums.
Vegetarians and vegans do not consume:
Strict vegans also try to avoid:
When it comes to environmental, health, and ethical implications, there are many upsides that come with adopting a vegan lifestyle. For health benefits, some find they just feel better after cutting meat and dairy, while others are more compelled for scientific reasons, like the fact that a vegan diet includes less saturated fat and cholesterol, and more vitamins and dietary fiber than conventional diets. Some studies also suggest that vegans have a lower risk of heart disease as well as a lower risk of Type 2 diabetes when following a plant-based diet.
Those who give up animal products for ethical reasons are often motivated by a desire to protect the inhumane treatment of livestock animals, including poor-quality feed, overcrowded pens, and uncompassionate slaughtering practices. Vegans who strongly share these values go beyond the plate and nix leather, fur, wool, and silk from their wardrobes as well. On the environmental front, Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine reports that a vegan diet may help combat climate change, citing that a global shift to plant-based diets could reduce mortality and greenhouse gases caused by food production by 10% and 70%, respectively, by 2050.
A vegan diet can be a healthy addition to your lifestyle. Let’s take a look at some of the science-backed benefits you might enjoy by going vegan.
While there are numerous benefits to eating a vegan diet, there are also some nutritional imbalances that can come along with it, including missing out on getting enough protein, vitamin D, and more. If you’re paying close attention, these deficiencies can be remedied easily with supplements or diet modifications, but the deficiencies also come with some added risk. For example, lack of adequate iron may cause you to feel lethargic and put you at greater risk of developing iron-deficiency anemia, which is a potentially serious condition that occurs when your body isn’t making enough red blood cells. Like any diet, veganism requires a big lifestyle switch that can mean eliminating multiple food groups you might be used to. For some, it can feel unsustainable in the long-term. Chatting with your doctor or nutritionist, or discussing the potential change with your family can also help put your best foot forward.
Going meatless can be a healthy option for some, but veganism can come with certain nutrient deficiencies you should be on the lookout for.
Removing animal-derived ingredients is an obvious first step when transitioning to a vegan diet, but this lifestyle change requires more than dietary swaps and doesn’t have to look one specific way. Here are three tips for making the switch.
Vegan Whole Grains
Vegan Nuts and Seeds
Vegans avoid any animal-derived products, but there are also some less obvious ingredients you’ll want to steer clear of. And just like other diets, not all vegan foods are healthy for you. Animal products to avoid include meat, poultry, fish and seafood, dairy, eggs, and bee products like honey and royal jelly. Vegans also avoid ingredients derived from animals including gelatin (a thickener sourced from animal bones and connective tissue), vitamin D3 (derived from fish oil), whey, casein, and lactose (derived from dairy), and omega-3 fatty acids, which come from fish, although there are vegan alternatives made from algae.
Be mindful of the “vegan junk food” category, which are typically packaged and processed and can be filled with as much sugar as their conventional counterparts. Non-vegan ingredients can also sneak into seemingly safe products like breads—some bakeries use L-cysteine, an amino acid used as a softening agent that’s sourced from poultry feathers, for example. Here are a few other culprits:
Many fruits are vegan and can be enjoyed on a plant-based diet. While some vegans argue that figs and avocados aren’t vegan because bees are required for cultivation, The Vegan Society disagrees with this stance, citing that “vegans avoid using animals as far as possible and practicable,” and recognize that it may not be possible to avoid pollinated foods at all times, although they support more humane farming practices that avoid trucking bees long distances.
If you prefer to keep a stricter vegan diet, consider avoiding the following fruits:
The world of vegan snacks has become really exciting recently, with options that fulfill every possible craving. The main thing is to be sure that what you’re enjoying is actually vegan. That means you’ll want to double check labels to be sure it doesn’t include any animal-derived ingredients, and shop for vegan cookies, vegan chocolate, and vegan chips using our handy filtering tool. Here are some of the most popular vegan snacks on ThriveMarket.com.
Partake Foods Crunchy Birthday Cookie
Inspired to make treats everyone can enjoy, this box of crunchy cookies is vegan, allergy-friendly, gluten-free, and kosher. Member Lawren from North Carolina says they’re the “perfect way to celebrate without needing an excuse.”
Thrive Market Avocado Oil Potato Chips
This bag keeps it simple with non-GMO spuds that are kettle-cooked in vegan-friendly avocado oil.
Hu Salty Dark Chocolate Bar
There’s a reason Hu’s chocolate has hundreds of five-star reviews: high-quality vegan ingredients like fair trade cacao and cocoa butter meet fleur de sel for ultimate satisfaction.
Late July Jalapeño Lime Tortilla Chips
This organic, gluten-free, and vegan bag offers an ideal blend of salty, crunchy, and a kick of heat that’s not over the top. Katherine says they’re the “best tortilla chips I’ve ever had!”
Thrive Market Chocolate Chip Cookie Mix
When you’re inspired to bake but don’t want to fuss over a recipe, just open a bag of our vegan cookie mix made with coconut flour, almond flour, coconut sugar, and vegan chocolate chips—no egg or dairy milk required.
Being a junk food vegan means you regularly consume highly processed foods instead of nourishing, whole foods like legumes, nuts, vegetables, fruits, healthy fats, and grains. Especially when you’re switching to a vegan diet, it’s tempting to be swayed by all the vegan options reminiscent of your favorite non-vegan foods, like alternative cheeses, cookies, and snacks. Australian blogger The Minimalist Vegan has seen how common it is for vegans to remain unhealthy. “With the rise of junk food options in our supermarkets, cafes and fast food chains like McDonald’s and Domino’s, it’s becoming harder for vegans to embrace a whole foods diet,” she writes. These foods might be convenient, but you’re likely sacrificing nutrition along the way, especially if you’re not balancing these occasional treats with whole foods as the foundation of your meals.
From carbonated cans and energy drinks to iced coffees and juices, there are plenty of vegan beverages to choose from. Most supermarkets and coffee shops have non-dairy nut milks and creamers available, and you can also make many of them yourself to enjoy at home.
Our vegan drinks list doesn’t miss a beat when it comes to hydration, caffeination, and sweet sips. Here’s a range of options to enjoy on a vegan diet.
When it comes to cocktail hour, vegans can definitely indulge—most beers, wines, and spirits are vegan-friendly. The main thing is figuring out whether specific production techniques utilize hidden ingredients that aren’t plant-based. Bailey’s Irish Cream is an obvious offender, but do you know if your wine has been filtered using fish guts? It’s not common knowledge, but some wine producers use isinglass (a fish product) to filter their grape bunches through a process called ‘fining.’ Although the wine industry doesn’t have plant-based regulations in place, some wineries recognize it’s an important detail for consumers and make it a point to advertise that their bottles are vegan. If you’re not sure, just ask.
Spirits like gin, tequila, rum, vodka, and whiskey are naturally vegan and can be enjoyed straight or with vegan mixers or sodas. Most beers are also vegan (more on that below.) You can also explore the world of mocktails, like our sparkling rose and hemp elixir.
Beer is made from grain, hops, yeast, and water—all naturally vegan ingredients. Most commercial beers (such as Budweiser, Coors, and Heineken) and small-batch brewers are vegan, and craft breweries might include the vegan status on their labels or online. Similar to wine, some breweries add finings to help clarify the beer when it’s being racked, which may include animal-derived products like gelatin or isinglass.
Non-alcoholic beer is also becoming a popular alternative. Brands like HOP WTR (mentioned above) and Q Mixers (offering ginger beer and tonic waters) enhance cocktail hour when you’re ready to unwind but don’t want the buzz.
Vegan wine and regular wine are both made the same way. The key difference is fining, a process that helps clarify and stabilize a wine and remove hydrogen sulfide and bitter flavors from the finished product. Vegan wine either hasn’t been fined (which would fall under the ‘natural’ wine category) or has been fined using ingredients like clay or charcoal, not animal-derived substances like gelatin, casein, or albumen (egg whites). If a winemaker labels their wines as unfiltered or unfined, you know it’s free from animal substances. You can also look for this designation in other languages:
How do you know if something is vegan? We have a few tips to make the most of your shopping experience.
Start by reading labels closely. Most vegan-friendly items will have certifications (like Certified Vegan) clearly marked on the package.
Check the ingredients list for potential allergens like dairy, eggs, or seafood, and seek out Big 8 Allergen-Free brands.
Familiarize yourself with vegan brands so you can always rely on trusty go-to’s when you’re shopping.
Simple is usually best. The closer you stick to whole and unprocessed foods, the more likely you are to eat vegan and not accidentally ingest something on the no-go list.
At the end of the day, knowing your personal values is important. Although a vegan diet has certain universal restrictions, some people may make accommodations or adjustments to suit their needs or lifestyle. Knowing what these are for you might help you make quicker shopping decisions.
When you’re vegan, certain nutrients may be naturally lacking in your diet. For example, vitamin B12 is primarily found in meat, fish, eggs, and dairy, so in addition to prioritizing this nutrient in your day-to-day meals, a supplement may be beneficial as well. Some vitamins and minerals are simply more difficult to get from plants alone. If you’re concerned about possible nutrient deficiencies, chat with your healthcare provider and consider the following supplements.
Wondering how expensive it is to eat on a vegan diet? A recent study in England found that vegans spend an average of 40% less on food than omnivores. Nixing meat and fish from your weekly menu can offer big savings, and you can stretch your budget even more by shopping in season. Make a visit to the farmers’ market part of your regular routine and support producers in your area—not only does this bolster the local economy, but you’ll be bringing home seasonal produce that’s both delicious and affordable.
Where veganism can sometimes get expensive is with processed and packaged foods. The more you cook from scratch without relying on pre-made ingredients, the more you’ll save. And don’t forget the frozen aisle! Enjoy peak season fruits and vegetables year-round at even greater savings. Bonus: it saves time in the kitchen too—just add frozen berries to smoothies or a vegetable medley to your next stir-fry.
While most people choose a vegan lifestyle due to ethical concerns over the treatment of animals, weight loss might be a byproduct. One of the reasons is that you’re naturally reducing the number of high-calorie foods you consume and upping high-fiber ingredients like loads of low-calorie veggies.
If weight loss is a priority for you, you’ll want to avoid refined sugars, oils, and refined flours, and The Vegan Food Pyramid recommends focusing on the following four food groups:
Studies suggest that those who follow a plant-based diet tend to have lower BMI than those who aren’t vegan. Although more research is needed (especially with larger and more diverse groups), plant-based diets “should be considered a viable option for patients who are interested in losing weight and improving dietary quality consistent with chronic disease prevention and treatment.”
Looking to build muscle on a vegan diet? Here are a few tips.
Vegan restaurants aren’t the only option when it comes to dining out. And no, you don’t have to limit yourself to salads (unless there’s a really exceptional one on the menu). Many cuisines are filled with veggies and plant-proteins:
Beyond looking for veggie-centric cuisines, here are some tips for dining out while vegan.
Download the app for easy shopping on the go
By providing your mobile number, you agree to receive marketing text messages from Thrive Market. Consent not a condition to purchase. Msg & data rates apply. Msg frequency varies. Reply HELP for help and STOP to cancel.