I am here to demystify what food is vegan and what isn’t! It really is very simple and I know you’ll be an expert in no time at all.
That being said, I do also know how overwhelming it can be. Especially if you are tasked with cooking for a vegan friend or family member for the first time, or if you yourself have just transitioned to a vegan diet.
You’ll probably have stumbled across some articles telling you that honey is off-bounds and that many sweets brands use boiled-down pigs’ bones and skin. Ukk. And you are probably feeling a little bit lost and confused.
Well, I’ve been there too. When I went vegan back in 2015 it took me quite some time to get to grips with it. I made a lot of mistakes and learned a lot along the way. So did the people around me who would attempt to cook for me, as well as my favourite restaurants who would try to cater for my new diet.
See also: the reasons why I went vegan
Thankfully, nowadays there are handy lists (like this one) and vegan cooking guides to help you figure it out and the majority of supermarkets now label their food when it is suitable for vegans. Hurrah!
So, I am now going to take you through the foods that are suitable for a vegan diet before going through the foods that aren’t vegan. Make sure to bookmark this page for future reference!
What food can vegans eat?
There are a few reasons why people adopt a vegan diet, which can include health reasons or for the environment, but for many like myself, it is down to ethics. Morally, we don’t want to cause any animal suffering so we avoid eating anything that comes from an animal source. Therefore, this means that the food we eat comes from plant-based sources and absolutely nothing of animal origin.
Thankfully, this diet is also very healthy and the best diet to follow for the environment, so it does indeed draw in many people who haven’t made the ethical connection just yet.
Hopefully, this vegan food list can help those who aren’t 100% certain about what the vegan diet includes. Here are the main food groups which vegans can eat food from, within each, I have added examples of what this includes:
Vegetables are like the cool kids of the plant world. They’re totally vegan and they are some of the most nutrient-dense foods!
Take carrots for example, they never bite the hand that feeds them and they’re always down for a good juicing session. Broccoli is like the trendsetter of the veggie scene, always putting its florets out there, never afraid to be different. And let’s not forget about the humble potato, always the life of the party, whether mashed, fried, or baked (or made into vodka…). So, if you want to be like these cool plant-based superstars, go ahead and get your daily dose of veggies!
Okay, all joking aside, vegetables are awesome but they are also incredibly nutritious. They also come in all shapes and sizes meaning they are incredibly versatile. Try cooking them into your favourite dishes like curries, pasta sauces, and soups.
Here are some really great vegetables that you’ll love including in your vegan cooking:
- Root vegetables: potato, sweet potato, celeriac, onion, beetroot, fennel, garlic, carrot (all great for roasting, putting into soups, or adding into sauces)
- Leafy greens: lettuce, spinach, kale, cavolo nero
- Cruciferous: cauliflower, cabbage, broccoli
- Marrow: cucumber, courgette
Vegan recipes using vegetables
Vegans can enjoy eating all the fruits that exist since they all come from plants! This means that the list of fruits is endless, but I’ll mention a few of my favourite fruits that work really well in vegan cooking:
- Berries: raspberries, strawberries, and blueberries all go really nicely on their own or in fruit salads or smoothies
- Citrus: lemons, limes, and oranges are all great for juicing or adding flavour to dishes
- Savoury fruits: aubergine, jackfruit, banana blossom, ackee (all great for cooking into your savoury vegan recipes)
- Other fruits: bananas, apples, watermelons, avocadoes and kiwis are all great for snacking on
It is recommended that everyone (vegan or not) should eat at least 5 portions of fruit or vegetables a day, so make sure to get a few of these fruits in each day.
Whilst all fruits are plant-based and therefore technically vegan, there is a potential anomaly, the fig. This is due to their symbiotic relationship with wasps. Both species benefit from each other. The fig provides a safe and nutritious home for the wasp to lay its eggs and the wasp pollinates the fig. The fig is dependent on the wasp for pollination and the wasp is dependent on the fig for a place to lay its eggs and for food for its larvae. This mutualistic relationship is crucial for the survival of both species.
Therefore, by eating figs you are also consuming an animal byproduct. For those ethical vegans it is important to have a moral line, and to eat figs would be to cross that line. For anyone eating a plant-based diet for health or environmental reasons, this will be less of a concern.
Vegan recipes using fruits
Legumes are a group of plant-based foods that include beans, lentils, chickpeas, and peas, among others. They are a staple source of protein, fibre, and various nutrients for those following a plant-based diet, and do not involve the use of animal products.
I use legumes on an almost daily basis. They often come pre-cooked in tins or you can buy them dry, although they do often require quite a lot of cooking! Here are a few really useful legumes for vegan cooking:
- Beans & peas: soybean (including tofu & tempeh), black beans, chickpeas, cannellini beans, butter beans, and fava beans are all great sources of protein and work well in curries, soups and sauces
- Lentils: green lentils, red lentils, beluga lentils, puy lentils and brown lentils are all great sources of protein and help to bulk up curries and sauces. I also like to use them as a minced meat alternative
Vegan recipes using legumes
Fungi are a diverse group of eukaryotic organisms that include yeasts, moulds, and mushrooms. Fungi are different from plants, animals, and bacteria, and form a distinct kingdom of life. Some species of fungi are also used in food production (such as yeast in bread and beer), medicine (such as antibiotics produced by penicillin-producing fungi), and biotechnology (such as industrial production of enzymes). The type of fungi we are focusing on here is mushrooms.
Mushrooms grow in soil or on other organic matter and obtain their nutrients by breaking down organic matter. Since they do not have animal-based tissues or tissues that are capable of experiencing pain or suffering, mushrooms are considered acceptable for vegans who follow a plant-based diet. In cooking, mushrooms are often used as a meat substitute in vegan dishes and are valued for their unique flavour, texture, and versatility.
Here is a list of edible mushrooms that will elevate your vegan cooking:
- Closed-cup mushrooms: great for cooking into pasta sauces or for having on top of toast
- Chestnut mushrooms: great for cooking into sauces or pasta bakes
- Portobello mushrooms: great for cooking whole and serving inside a burger bun or for slicing up and using as a beef alternative
- Oyster mushrooms: great for pulling apart into strips as a pulled pork alternative
- King oyster mushrooms: great for slicing and frying off and including inside curries
- Shiitake mushrooms: great for stir-fries and Asian sauce bases
- Chanterelle mushrooms: great for delicate and decadent sauces
Vegan recipes using fungi
Take a look at some of my favourite fungi-focused vegan recipes: pulled hoisin mushrooms with ackee fried rice, vegan mushroom ragu, spelt bao bun with shiitake filling, creamy vegan mushroom pasta, green curry with king oyster mushrooms
Grains are an important staple food for vegans, as they provide a rich source of carbohydrates, fibre, and various nutrients. They can also be used to make a wide variety of vegan food products, such as bread, pasta, cereal, and crackers. Grains are versatile, affordable, and widely available.
They can be cooked and seasoned in many different ways to add flavour, texture, and nutrition to vegan dishes. They can be served as a side dish, used as a base for a main dish, or added to soups, stews, and salads. Here are some popular grains:
- Wheat: use to make flour for bread, pasta, pastry, and other baked goods
- Rice: cook up as a side dish to curries or use as a base for salads, stir-fries, and stuffings
- Corn: it is used to make popular products like cornmeal, tortillas, polenta, and cornstarch
- Oats: great for making porridge, granola, and oat flour for baking
- Barley: perfect for bulking soups, stews, and salads
- Quinoa: a complete protein, use it as a base for salads, stir-fries, or as a substitute for rice
- Millet: a gluten-free grain with a nutty flavour, use it in porridge or soups
- Buckwheat: a gluten-free grain with a nutty flavour, use it to make delicious pancakes, cookies, noodles, and porridge
- Amaranth: a gluten-free grain with a slightly sweet flavour, use it to make porridge and puddings, and as a thickener for soups and stews
Vegan recipes using grains
Seeds are a staple food in a vegan diet and are a rich source of essential fatty acids, protein, fibre, and various vitamins and minerals.
Here are some of the most popular seeds that are used in vegan food:
- Chia Seeds: high in fiber, protein, and omega-3 fatty acids, making them beneficial for heart health and digestion.
- Flax Seeds: rich in fiber, protein, and omega-3 fatty acids, as well as lignans, which have been linked to decreased risk of certain cancers.
- Pumpkin Seeds: high in magnesium, which is important for heart and bone health, as well as zinc, which is essential for a healthy immune system.
- Sunflower Seeds: rich in vitamin E, which is important for skin and eye health, as well as magnesium and selenium.
- Sesame Seeds: high in calcium, which is important for bone health, as well as iron, magnesium, and zinc.
- Hemp Seeds: a complete protein, containing all nine essential amino acids, and high in essential fatty acids and fiber.
Vegan recipes using seeds
Nuts are an important source of healthy fats, protein, fibre, vitamins, and minerals in a vegan diet. Nuts can be used in a variety of dishes, such as vegan cheese and milk alternatives, nut butter, baked goods, and salads. The high-fat content of nuts makes them a calorie-dense food, so it is important to portion them appropriately in a balanced diet.
Here are some nuts that are very common in vegan food:
- Almonds: used to make almond milk, almond flour, and almond butter
- Cashews: used to make vegan cheese, cream sauces, and cashew milk
- Peanuts: used to make peanut butter, peanut sauces, and are a common ingredient in Asian cuisine
- Walnuts: used as a topping for salads, baked goods, and in vegan pesto
- Pecans: used in sweet and savory dishes, such as pecan pie
- Macadamia nuts: used to make vegan milk and vegan butter as well as being used in cookies
- Brazil nuts: used in baked goods and as a healthy snack
Vegan recipes using nuts
There are many drinks that vegans can consume. The obvious ones are fruit juices and water, but vegans can also drink tea and coffee, although if you like to drink these with milk you should substitute with a plant-based milk alternative.
Here is a more comprehensive list of drinks that are suitable for vegans:
- Water, sparkling water, tonic water, and soda water
- Juice and a lot of shop-bought squash (make sure to double-check check label)
- Tea & coffee (just avoid any herbal teas that include honey)
- Vegan seltzers and soft drinks: kombuchas like Hip Pop and sparkling fruit water like these from Dash
- Alcoholic spirits: many spirits like vodka and gin, as well as Aperol and vegan Baileys
- Beer & wine: many beers and wines now label theirs vegan if it is suitable, but always make sure to check the label or take a look on Barnivore (the vegan alcohol directory)
Vegan drinks recipes
Take a look at my vegan drinks recipes: vegan hot chocolate
We all like a little sweet treat now and then and there is no harm in doing this every so often, but you do need to be careful with what you buy. Here are some pointers on what sweet treats you can buy as a vegan:
- Sugar that is labelled vegan-friendly is suitable for vegans as it hasn’t been refined with bone char. To be extra safe, you can just buy unrefined sugars like coconut sugar or sugar alternatives like maple syrup and agave
- You can opt for dark chocolate bars (which have no dairy) or vegan milk chocolate bars –check out my favourite vegan chocolate bars here
- Most sweets which don’t contain gelatin or honey are suitable for vegans. You can buy from the vegan range of Candy Kittens (which are marked vegan on the packet) and Sweet Lounge which is fully vegan
Vegan sweet treat recipes
On top of all of these natural sources of food that vegans can safely eat, there is also the evergrowing selection of vegan substitutes that can be enjoyed!
These include but are not limited to:
- Try vegan bacon products like La Vie Bacon and THIS Isn’t Bacon
- Try vegan sausage products like THIS Isn’t Pork Sausages and Future Farm Sausages
- Try vegan burger products like Moving Mountains Burgers
- Try vegan mince alternatives
- Try vegan chicken substitutes
- Try vegan milk alternatives like oat milk, soya milk, and almond milk
- Try vegan cheese alternatives for cheddar, camembert, blue cheese and more
- Try silken tofu for making cream based sauces and more
Vegan recipes using substitutes
What food can’t vegans eat?
As a simple summary, the foods that vegans can’t eat include anything of animal origin. So this means anything that is an animal or has been created by an animal.
Let me go into more detail below:
Anything that comes from an animal, no matter what part, isn’t vegan. This includes (but isn’t limited to) the following:
- Chicken, turkey and any other bird meats
- Beef, venison, lamb and any other red meat
- Bacon, pork chops and any other meat from a pig
- Offal (the organs from an animal)
- Insects, including as a meat substitute or inside sweets
Vegan alternatives to meat
Try using tofu, tempeh, seitan (made using wheat), lentils, or mushrooms instead. Alternatively, you can pick up plenty of fake meat alternatives in the supermarket.
Fish & Seafood
Fish and other sea creatures are also animals since they are sentient beings which feel. So, any kind of fish or seafood product isn’t vegan. This includes (but isn’t limited to) the following:
- Fish like salmon, tuna, sea bass, mackerel, sardines
- Seafood like crab, lobster and mussels
Vegan alternatives to fish & seafood
Dairy products are made using the liquids created by female animals to feed their newborns, just like our breastmilk is for human babies. Since it is created by animals for their babies and the industry itself causes a lot of unnecessary suffering to these animals, it isn’t vegan. Dairy products include:
- Milk made from cows, goats, and other mammals
- Cheese which is made using dairy milk
- Cream which is made using dairy milk
- Butter which is made using dairy milk
Vegan alternatives to dairy
Try out a plant-based milk alternative like oat milk for coffee, soya milk for baking and pea milk for protein shakes. Sub your cheese with a vegan cheese alternative, your butter with vegan butter, and create your own cream using silken tofu, or buy some vegan cream from the supermarket.
Eggs are created by female birds, and thus are a byproduct of an animal, so they aren’t vegan. This is subject to a lot of debate within the vegetarian community since many people believe that eggs that come from either free-range farms or from their own backyard chickens are cruelty-free.
Yet there are many reasons we shouldn’t be eating eggs. I’m going to call upon Earthling Ed’s video to help show you why:
Vegan alternatives to eggs
There are many great vegan alternatives to eggs, including scrambled tofu and chickpea flour omelettes. You can also use aquafaba (the liquid from a tin of beans), flaxseed, banana, and chia seeds as an egg alternative in baking.
Honey isn’t vegan because it is produced by bees for their own consumption and is often harvested by humans, taking the honey away from the bees.
We consider this to be an exploitation of bees and their resources and therefore do not include honey in our vegan diets.
Vegan alternatives to honey
Instead of using honey, you can use brown rice syrup which I find to be scarily similar to honey, vegan honey alternatives made using dandelion, or you can use any other syrup like maple syrup, agave syrup, or date syrup.
How do vegans get the right nutrients in their diet?
It is really quite easy to get all the nutrients that you need on a vegan diet. It just requires some planning and organising on your part!
So, in order to have a healthy vegan diet that ensures you get all of the nutrients that your body needs you should cover the following:
- Eat at least 5 portions of fruit and vegetables a day (which is really easy on a vegan diet)
- Drink fortified dairy milk alternatives like oat or soya milk
- Eat plenty of beans, pulses and other sources of protein (this can include some fake meats just in moderation)
- Snack on nuts and seeds every day to get healthy fats and sources of omega-3
- Include plenty of starchy carbohydrates in your meals like potatoes, rice, pasta, and bread
- Opt for cold-pressed and virgin oils like rapeseed oil which is high in omega-3
Give vegan supplements a go
If you don’t feel like you are eating a balanced diet like above then you may want to consider supplementing your diet to ensure you are getting the vitamins and nutrients that your body needs whilst eating a vegan diet.
Luckily, this is really easily done! You can check out any of the following vegan nutrition guides to help you: