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What Is a Vegan and What Do Vegans Eat?

What Is Veganism?

Fresh vegetables

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Veganism is a type of vegetarian diet that excludes meat,

eggs

,

dairy products

, and all other animal-derived ingredients. Many vegans also do not eat foods that are processed using animal products, such as refined white sugar and some

wines

Vegan refers to either a person who follows this way of eating or to the diet itself. That is, the word vegan can be an adjective used to describe a food item, as in, “This curry is vegan, or, it can be used as a noun, as in, “Vegans like cookies, too.”

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Beyond Just Food

Although there is some debate as to whether certain foods, such as honey, fit into a vegan diet, if you are cooking for other vegans, it is best to err on the side of caution and avoid these foods or ask your guests. Most vegans extend the definition of veganism to go beyond just food. Vegans will also likely avoid the use of all personal and household products tested on animals and avoid purchasing and using all animal-derived, non-food products, such as leather, fur, and wool. There is some debate as to whether second-hand animal products, such as a leather jacket from a thrift store, can be included in a cruelty-free vegan lifestyle or not.

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What Do Vegans Eat?

This is perhaps the most common question about veganism. A vegan diet includes all

grains

, beans, legumes, vegetables, fruits, and the nearly infinite number of foods made by combining them. 

In addition, many vegan versions of familiar foods are available, so vegans can eat vegan hot dogs, 

ice cream

cheese,

 non-dairy yogurt, and 

vegan mayonnaise

 along with the more familiar

veggie burgers

 and other meat substitute products like

vegan chicken recipes

. Many foods are associated with veganism, such as soy milk, non-dairy milk substitutes,

nutritional yeast

, and

tofu

, as well as

hemp tofu

, which is made completely from hemp seeds, and is less processed than its soybean alternative. You certainly don’t have to like tofu in order to eat vegan and you can enjoy any of these foods without being vegan.

Fermented foods are also popular in a vegan diet.

Tempeh

 is a fermented soybean product also comes in a sprouted version that is, very much, considered a whole food and a good replacement for tofu. Also allowed, and encouraged, in vegan diets are other fermented products like miso, 

kimchi

, and sauerkraut. And for seasoning,

Vegans also eat many of the same common and

familiar everyday foods

that everyone else does, such as a green salad, spaghetti, peanut butter sandwiches,

cornbread

, and chips and salsa. For example, foods such as a vegetarian burrito without cheese or sour cream would be vegan. A vegetarian Thai curry made from coconut milk is vegan. Egg-free pasta with tomato sauce or another non-meat and non-dairy sauce is vegan. Most bread is vegan as well. 

what's in a vegan diet illustration

Illustration: Nusha Ashjaee. © The Spruce, 2018

How To Become Vegan

Some people easily

go from eating meat to vegan

right away, while others struggle with their new commitment. Others may choose to

go vegetarian

first and then slowly omit eggs and dairy. There’s no right or wrong way to do it, but you may want to learn about what’s worked for other people. Whatever way you do it, keep your goals in mind and remember why you are choosing to adopt a vegan diet.

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