What Do Vegans Eat and How Do They Differ from Vegetarians?

Updated: Apr. 13, 2024

If you think vegan diets sound restrictive, you're missing out on the wide world of plant-based eating! Our quick guide lays out common vegan meals, vegan protein sources and vegan pantry staples.

When thinking about vegan eating, the first thing that might come to mind is the foods vegans can’t eat. No meat. No dairy. No eggs. No honey. By thinking about the diet in terms of what’s eliminated, it’s easy to lose track of what’s included. So what do vegans eat?

Turns out, vegan eating embraces tons of foods! Our favorite plant-based recipes offer plenty of variety in flavor, texture and presentation. You could eat for weeks without repeating a recipe. That includes naturally vegan foods, like vegetables, as well as an increasing variety of vegan alternatives to animal products like meat and dairy.

What Is a Vegan Diet?

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A vegan diet is an entirely plant-based diet. Vegan recipes include cooked and raw vegetable and fruit dishes, stews, stir-fries and soups, bread, rice and other grains.

Vegan diets exclude all products derived from animals, including meat, poultry and fish, as well as dairy, eggs, honey, gelatin and other animal byproducts.

Many people who eat a vegan diet do so for moral and ethical reasons, believing that it’s wrong to eat animals or to keep animals in factory-farm settings. Others are concerned for the environment, as it’s more resource-intensive to raise cattle and other livestock than to grow vegetables. Still others begin eating a vegan diet for the health benefits, whether hoping to maintain a healthy weight or wanting to maximize their intake of plant-based foods.

What Is the Difference Between Vegan and Vegetarian?

One common question is what makes a vegan different from a vegetarian. In a nutshell, vegetarians don’t eat animals, including meat, poultry or fish. They generally will consume animal products such as milk, eggs and cheese.

Vegans avoid any foods (and, often, other consumer products such as leather) derived from animals.

What Do Vegans Eat?

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The world of plant-based foods is vast! A wholesome vegan diet centers on whole foods, including vegetables, fruits, grains, legumes, nuts and seeds. Easy vegan meals include curries, grain salads, stews, soups and sandwiches. Vegans don’t have to skip dessert, either. Plenty of vegan food is kid-friendly, such as tasty pastas and treats like potato chips. Vegans can even find fast food options.

Note that not every food that’s vegan is necessarily healthy. Packaged snack foods, white bread, pasta and some fried foods might be vegan, but basing a vegan diet around such foods won’t be very nourishing.

Vegan Protein Sources

Without meat, how do vegans get enough protein? There are plenty of plant-based protein sources.

Most vegan diets include beans in at least one meal per day, including lentils, chickpeas, black beans, pinto beans and many more. Many vegans consume soy-based proteins such as tofu and tempeh; their mild flavor makes them a great substitute for meat in stir-fries, soups and stews. Nuts and seeds are both rich in protein.

Wheat-based proteins like seitan can mimic the flavor and texture of meat products, as do an increasingly large variety of plant-based meat substitutes. Most grocery stores stock a refrigerator of common vegan meat brands, such as Boca Burgers and Impossible Burgers.

You can also recreate your favorite meat recipes in your own kitchen, such as vegan sloppy joes made with lentils or easy vegan tacos. Savory ingredients like mushrooms can replace the beef in your favorite cozy stew, black beans make satisfying burgers and hearty vegan chilli is so richly seasoned, you won’t even miss the meat.

Vegan Pantry Staples

Those used to drinking dairy milk, spreading butter onto bread and cracking eggs for breakfast or baking might worry about transitioning to a vegan diet. The good news is that vegans have plenty of alternatives for these products too! Non-dairy milk is a huge category, including soy, almond, hemp and coconut. It’s easy to find vegan butters in most supermarkets, and you may also swap in oils like olive or coconut.

Vegan bakers have plenty of clever egg substitutes, including flax, chia seeds and aquafaba (that’s the liquid from a can of chickpeas).

How to Become Vegan

It’s never been easier to begin eating vegan. Online, a huge community of influencers and food bloggers promote a vegan lifestyle, offering recipes, grocery shopping tips and support.

In recent years, a spate of vegan cookbooks aims to promote vegan eating, even for those who aren’t ready to commit entirely. For instance, the influential food writer Mark Bittman, author of the How to Cook Everything series, published a book called VB6, which stands for “vegan before 6:00.” The goal of the book was to persuade everyone to eat vegan most of the day, reaping the health benefits of a plant-based diet and reducing their carbon footprint without the rigidity of going entirely vegan.

In short, becoming vegan can look different for everyone, with some people diving in fully and others slowly transitioning away from animal products.

As with any habit change, switching to a vegan diet is largely a matter of practice and persistence. At first, it may be daunting to learn which foods are off-limits, as well as how to plan satisfying vegan meals all day long. The more you practice, the easier vegan eating will be. To make it even more easier, here’s our collection of vegan comfort food.

Vegan Dinners for Everyone
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