What Is A Vegan Diet

We’ve all heard about veganism. This term gained more popularity with the introduction of the “Veganuary” campaign in 2014. Since its inception, it has become an annual challenge that inspires people to adopt this lifestyle in January. It has inspired nearly 2.5 million people since 2014 to try the vegan diet. Before explaining the concept of veganism in detail, let’s first look at the country with the most vegans in the world. Yes, you guessed it right, it’s the UK.1 In fact, the oldest vegan organisation in the world, The Vegan Society was founded in the UK in 1944. Today there are many non-profit organisations that are promoting the concept of veganism across the globe. Many celebrities like Demi Moore and Billie Eilish have adopted a plant based lifestyle. So how has this concept gained immense popularity and what is the vegan diet all about? Well, we have the answer for you!

A vegan diet, also known as a “plant-based diet” is a diet that consists of the consumption of only plant-based foods such as fruits, vegetables, legumes, grains, pulses, nuts, and seeds. No meat, honey, or dairy products. That’s right, no steaks or bacon! Vegans (people who adopt this diet) do not eat any animal products. In addition, some vegans do not use any products such as leather and fur which are derived from animals.

A vegan diet, which avoids all animal-derived products, has been linked to various health benefits as well as environmental benefits. Understanding the psychological characteristics of successfully transitioning to a vegan diet will help to inform the design of long-term dietary change treatments. To date, studies have tended to focus on the rational motivations underpinning the decision to begin such a dietary change. However, focusing just on motivations for switching to such a lifestyle may overlook the significance of a larger variety of psychological/health-related aspects that may aid or hinder the attempts to sustain a vegan diet. 

Let us understand all the features associated with a vegan diet in detail here.


Veganism has come a long way from mere salads and fruits to innovative and delicious vegan recipes. You’d be surprised to know the variety of vegan foods available in the market. Since this concept has picked up pace, it has brought with itself a lot of opportunities of growth in the food industry. From deep fried oyster mushrooms that almost taste like chicken, Tempeh tacos, and jerk jackfruit to tofu scramble, vegan food is now no longer limited to simple food varieties.  Recipes are being created for inclusion to show that you can enjoy tasty wholesome foods as a vegan and not feel left out at the dinner table. 

So if someone is consuming purely fruits and vegetables, surely they are the healthiest person on earth right? Well, the answer is no. You can still consume “unhealthy” foods as a vegan. Deep fried chips, deep fried oyster mushrooms, vegan cakes and sweets, are all vegan but not necessarily good for the body if consumed in excess. Moderation is key as with any diet or lifestyle. Even the biggest fast food giants have hopped on the plant based bandwagon and now offer plant based options in most of their outlets. In a nutshell, just because it’s plant-based, does not mean it’s good for your body. Always seek the healthy, nutritious options.

Nutritional considerations for a vegan diet

For those who are health conscious, adopting a vegan diet can be very beneficial in aiding weight loss or maintaining a healthy body weight. People who follow a vegan diet generally have a lower BMI (Body Mass Index) in comparison to those who include meat in their diets. 

According to the NHS, you can receive all the nutrients your body requires with careful planning and an understanding of what constitutes a healthy, balanced vegan diet. If you do not carefully plan your meals, you may be deficient in key nutrients such as calcium, iron, vitamin B12, iodine, and selenium.

For a nutritious vegan diet:

  • Take at least 5 servings of a variety of fruits and vegetables every day
  • Include potatoes, bread, rice, pasta, or other starchy carbohydrates (preferably wholegrain) in your diet
  • Have some fortified dairy substitutes on hand, such as soya drinks and yoghurt (choose for lower-fat and lower-sugar versions)
  • Consume certain legumes, lentils, and other proteins
  • Include omega-3 fatty acid-rich nuts and seeds (such as walnuts) in your every day diet
  • Choose unsaturated oils and spreads and consume in moderation
  • Have fortified foods or supplements with elements that are more difficult to obtain on a vegan diet, such as vitamin D, vitamin B12, iodine, selenium, calcium, and iron

Health benefits of a vegan diet

According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, a well optimised vegan diet is "appropriate for all stages of the life cycle," "healthful, nutritionally adequate, and may provide health benefits in the prevention and treatment of chronic diseases." A lower risk of coronary heart disease may be linked to substituting high-quality plant meals like beans, almonds, or soy for red meat. 

The following are the associated health benefits of a vegan diet:2,3,4,5

  • Reduced mortality risk (up to 20%, with fresh fruit reaching 21%)
  • Reduced CVD complications and associated mortality
  • Plant protein is sufficient to meet protein requirements at all ages (balanced vegan diet with enough calorie intake)
  • Plant protein is more nutritious than animal protein since it contains nearly no saturated fatty acids, no trans-fatty acids, and no dietary cholesterol. It is also a good source of complex carbohydrates, fibre, iron, zinc, resistant starch, antioxidants, and phytochemicals
  • It has a high nutritional density and a large number of complex carbohydrates

Potential risks and nutrient deficiencies of a vegan diet

Vegan diet adherence calls for an in-depth awareness of potential dangers and meticulous attention to detail when it comes to dietary supplements and medical testing. Simply consuming little amounts of nutrient-dense meals derived from animals makes more sense and is consistent with evolution.6 There are major vitamin deficits, particularly vitamin B12 and vitamin D. Vitamin B12 is a water-soluble vitamin found primarily in animal products and it plays an important role in hematopoiesis and the nervous system, resulting in a variety of comorbidities such as megaloblastic anaemia, stroke, Alzheimer's and Parkinson's diseases, vascular dementia, cognitive impairment, and more. To avoid vitamin deficiency caused by insufficient dietary intake, vegans must incorporate reliable vitamin B12 sources such as fortified soy and rice beverages, certain breakfast cereals, or vitamin B12 dietary supplements, which typically provide high absorption capacities.7 Other sources of vitamin B12 include vegetables such as broccoli, asparagus, and bean sprouts, nutritional mushrooms, tea leaves, tempeh, edible algae such as dried green and purple laver (Enteromorpha spp.) and porphyra spp.), other microalgae (klamath, Chlorella), and cyanobacteria (Spirulina, Nostoc). Breakfast cereals and nondairy milk substitutes other than soy, such as oat, almond, and rice drinks, are good sources of vitamin D.6 If sun exposure and fortified food consumption are insufficient to meet nutrient requirements, vitamin D supplements are recommended for both children and adults.8 Mineral deficiencies such as iodine, calcium, and zinc are also possible. Iodine deficiency is quite common in vegans, and it frequently leads to acquired hypothyroidism. Iodized salt and sea veggies containing varying levels of the mineral are vegan sources of iodine. 

Planning a healthy vegan diet

There are plenty of options available for vegan meals these days. Veganuary has an extensive range of meal plans that can be easily accessed on their website. From tasty tomato and basil baked beans on toast to a tofu bowl, vegans it’s time to explore!  

The NHS suggests a variety of vegan foods as sources of many essential nutrients including calcium, vitamin D, iron, vitamin B12, and omega-3 fatty acids. Calcium is an essential element of bones and teeth. Non-vegans get the majority of their calcium from dairy products (milk, cheese, and yoghurt).

Calcium-rich foods for vegans include:

  • Green, leafy vegetables like broccoli, cabbage, and okra, but not spinach (while spinach has a lot of calcium, the body can't digest it completely)
  • Unsweetened fortified soya, pea, and oat drinks
  • Tofu that has been calcium-set
  • Pulses of sesame seeds and tahini
  • Brown and white bread (by legislation, calcium is added to white and brown flour in the United Kingdom)

For vitamin D, exposure to sunlight is essential, particularly from late March/early April to the end of September - but always remember to cover up or protect your skin before it starts to turn red or burn. Fortified fat spreads, cereals, and unsweetened soya drinks (with additional vitamin D) are good sources of vitamin D for vegans. Everyone should consider taking a daily supplement of vitamin D during the autumn and winter months because getting enough from food alone is challenging. It’s important to check the label to check that the vitamin D in a product is not derived from animals.

A vegan diet can be high in iron, yet iron from plant-based foods is not as well absorbed by the body as iron from meat. It is essential for the production of red blood cells.

Iron-rich foods for vegetarians include:

  • Pulses
  • Flour and wholemeal bread
  • Iron-fortified breakfast cereals
  • Watercress, broccoli, and spring greens are examples of dark green, leafy vegetables
  • Nuts
  • Apricots, prunes, and figs are examples of dried fruits

Vitamin B12 is required by the body to sustain healthy blood and a healthy neural system.

Many people acquire their vitamin B12 from animal products like meat, fish, and dairy. Vegans have fewer options, and a vitamin B12 supplement may be required.

Vegans can get vitamin B12 via morning cereals supplemented with B12, unsweetened soya drinks enriched with B12, yeast extract, such as Marmite, and nutritional yeast flakes fortified with B12.

When consumed as part of a healthy diet, omega-3 fatty acids, particularly those present in oily fish, can help maintain a healthy heart and minimise the risk of heart disease. Plant sources of omega-3 fatty acids may not offer the same benefits in lowering the risk of heart disease as those found in oily fish, according to a research. However, eating rich plant sources of omega-3 fatty acids can help to ensure a balanced diet. Vegan sources of omega-3 fatty acids include powdered linseed oil and rapeseed oil, hemp seeds, shelled oil, chia seeds, and walnuts. You may also protect your heart by eating at least 5 servings of a variety of fruits and vegetables every day, getting plenty of fibre, avoiding foods high in saturated fat, and monitoring how much salt you consume.

Veganism and ethics

Over one billion animals are reared and slaughtered for human consumption in the United Kingdom alone every year, and this does not include fish and marine animals. The vast majority of these animals would have been grown under harsh conditions, sometimes known as factory farming.9 Veganism is closely intertwined with animal welfare and addresses this issue of cruelty to animals. That’s why, even though there are a lot of reasons why people choose veganism, animal welfare remains the most sought after one.

Meat manufacturing has a significant environmental impact. Every year, breeding, growing, and slaughtering billions of animals for food necessitates vast amounts of natural resources such as fresh water and land, as well as massive volumes of waste and pollution. Simply put, our appetite for meat is unsustainable, as is the factory farming system that supports it.10 So another major reason why people are adopting vegan diets is for environmental sustainability.

Moreover, respect for all sentient beings is at the heart of veganism. Vegans regard all sentient animals as beings to be respected, not as things to be exploited.11


Some researchers suggest that the notion of eliminating all animal-based foods from the diet to improve human health lacks substantial scientific backing. A plant-forward, omnivorous, whole-foods diet that emphasises a liberal intake of natural, unprocessed foods predominantly from plants, best ingested at the start of the meal, is more compatible with evolutionary human biology than veganism. However, animal welfare, adequacy of essential nutrients from the vegan diet, environmental sustainability, and moral responsibilities of human beings towards the planet and those whom we share this planet with, are still key factors that drive the concept of veganism, and rightfully so!


  1. Veganism by Country 2023 [Internet]. [cited 2023 Apr 22]. Available from: https://worldpopulationreview.com/country-rankings/veganism-by-country
  2. Appleby PN, Thorogood M, Mann JI, Key TJ. The oxford vegetarian study: an overview. Am J Clin Nutr. 1999 Sep;70(3 Suppl):525S-531S.
  3. Fraser GE. Associations between diet and cancer, ischemic heart disease, and all-cause mortality in non-Hispanic white California Seventh-day Adventists. Am J Clin Nutr. 1999 Sep;70(3 Suppl):532S-538S.
  4. Barr SI, Rideout CA. Nutritional considerations for vegetarian athletes. Nutrition. 2004;20(7–8):696–703.
  5. Melina V, Craig W, Levin S. Position of the academy of nutrition and dietetics: vegetarian diets. J Acad Nutr Diet. 2016 Dec;116(12):1970–80.
  6. O’Keefe JH, O’Keefe EL, Lavie CJ, Cordain L. Debunking the vegan myth: The case for a plant-forward omnivorous whole-foods diet. Progress in Cardiovascular Diseases [Internet]. 2022 Sep 1 [cited 2023 Apr 19];74:2–8. Available from: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0033062022000834
  7. Sakkas H, Bozidis P, Touzios C, Kolios D, Athanasiou G, Athanasopoulou E, et al. Nutritional status and the influence of the vegan diet on the gut microbiota and human health. Medicina (Kaunas) [Internet]. 2020 Feb 22 [cited 2023 Apr 23];56(2):88. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7073751/
  8. Menal-Puey S, Martínez-Biarge M, Marques-Lopes I. Developing a food exchange system for meal planning in vegan children and adolescents. Nutrients [Internet]. 2019 Jan [cited 2023 Apr 23];11(1):43. Available from: https://www.mdpi.com/2072-6643/11/1/43
  9. Going vegan for the animals [Internet]. Animal Aid. [cited 2023 Apr 23]. Available from: https://www.animalaid.org.uk/veganism/why-veganism/going-vegan-animals/
  10. Available from: https://thehumaneleague.org/article/environmental-benefits-of-veganism#:~:text=Veganism%20protects%20the%20rainforest%20and%20lands&text=The%20meat%20industry%20clears%20millions,our%20climate%20crisis%20even%20further. [cited 2023 Apr 23].
  11. Ethics A. Veganism [Internet]. Animal Ethics. [cited 2023 Apr 23]. Available from: https://www.animal-ethics.org/veganism/
This content is purely informational and isn’t medical guidance. It shouldn’t replace professional medical counsel. Always consult your physician regarding treatment risks and benefits. See our editorial standards for more details.

Get our health newsletter

Get daily health and wellness advice from our medical team.
Your privacy is important to us. Any information you provide to this website may be placed by us on our servers. If you do not agree do not provide the information.

Vridhi Sachdeva

Master of Pharmacy- MPharm, Guru Nanak Dev University, Amritsar, India

Vridhi is a Formulation Scientist with experience in the Research & Development sector of the pharmaceutical industry. She works on novel drug delivery systems to enhance active pharmaceutical ingredients' therapeutic potential and reduce the associated side effects. Her collective passion for improving the health of people and writing has led her to write and edit science and health-related articles.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

my.klarity.health presents all health information in line with our terms and conditions. It is essential to understand that the medical information available on our platform is not intended to substitute the relationship between a patient and their physician or doctor, as well as any medical guidance they offer. Always consult with a healthcare professional before making any decisions based on the information found on our website.
Klarity is a citizen-centric health data management platform that enables citizens to securely access, control and share their own health data. Klarity Health Library aims to provide clear and evidence-based health and wellness related informative articles. 
Klarity / Managed Self Ltd
Alum House
5 Alum Chine Road
Westbourne Bournemouth BH4 8DT
VAT Number: 362 5758 74
Company Number: 10696687

Phone Number:

 +44 20 3239 9818