Veganism is defined as a way of living that aims to minimize, as much as possible, the exploitation and harm of animals.1 A vegan diet excludes animal foods, including meat, fish, poultry, eggs, and dairy products such as cheese, milk, ice cream, and butter.
Instead, a vegan diet consists entirely of plant foods. This includes fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds, as well as products made with these ingredients, such as meat analogues, egg substitutes, and milk made using plants.
A vegan diet often extends beyond food and into everyday lifestyle. For example, someone living a vegan lifestyle would avoid buying other consumer products made with animal-derived ingredients or that were tested on animals.
Three of the most common reasons people adopt a vegan diet are related to health, the environment, and animal welfare.
Research shows that people who follow a plant-based diet have a lower incidence of many chronic conditions, such as obesity, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and certain cancers.2-6
Studies have also found that industrialized animal agriculture is a tremendous contributor to environmental damage and greenhouse gas emissions. As such, many experts have recommended a global switch to a plant-based diet for better environmental outcomes.7
Lastly, many people choose to follow a vegan diet in order to support the welfare of animals. Industrialized animal agriculture requires over 70 billion farmed animals to be bred and slaughtered annually to keep up with current consumer demand for animal products.8
A vegan diet requires more awareness of how foods are made and how to determine whether a food is vegan-friendly. Most foods in restaurants and grocery stores are made with animal products, making the ability to read and understand ingredient labels a necessary skill.
Additionally, a vegan diet requires an extra degree of attention to nutrition to make sure it meets nutrient needs, especially for young children. As such, certain vitamin, mineral, and omega-3 dietary supplements are often recommended. That being said, in their 2016 position paper, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics states that, “…appropriately planned vegetarian, including vegan, diets are healthful, nutritionally adequate, and may provide health benefits in the prevention and treatment of certain diseases. These diets are appropriate for all stages of the life cycle, including pregnancy, lactation, infancy, childhood, adolescence, older adulthood, and for athletes.9
Lastly, it’s important to understand that while vegan food options have expanded significantly, a vegan diet can still be high in added sugar, sodium, and unwanted ingredients if it’s based on pre-made, highly processed, and packaged foods and lacks more nutrient-rich whole plant foods.
Sticking to a vegan diet will be more sustainable and enjoyable if you connect to the reasons you’ve decided to make the switch and commit to learning how to make it work well for you.
To make a vegan diet successful, experiment in the kitchen and discover how to use whole plant foods to make healthy, tasty meals. Learn the basics of plant-based nutrition so that you can nourish yourself well and with confidence using plant foods. Connect with like-minded people and communities who can support you and give insight or advice. Seek out resources like books, cookbooks, and documentaries, to guide you.