The Vegan Diet: Everything You Need to Know About Plant-Based Foods

A vegan diet is an eating pattern based solely on plant foods and avoids all foods from animal sources. Veganism has risen in popularity recently due to ethical, environmental, and health concerns.

The diet has health benefits for many people, but a diet based entirely on plants could lead to nutrient deficiencies, which can be harmful to some. This article will cover everything you need to know to follow a vegan diet while keeping your health in mind.

A person dips a fork into a bowl of vegan tofu salad

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What Is a Vegan Diet?

A vegan diet is an eating pattern based solely on plant foods and avoids all foods from animal sources, including meats, poultry, dairy, fish, shellfish, and eggs. Grains, fruits, vegetables, beans, nuts, seeds, and plant oils may be included.

Foods to Eat

A vegan diet is not limited to only a few foods. Many delicious and nutritious foods may be consumed on a vegan diet, including:

  • Tofu, tempeh, seitan: Made from soybeans, these are a good source of plant-based protein.
  • Legumes, beans, lentils: Black, kidney, lima, or pinto beans, peas, chickpeas, and others provide nutrients such as iron, B vitamins, magnesium, fiber, and protein.
  • Nuts: Almonds, walnuts, pecans, cashews, pistachios, peanuts, and more provide healthy fats, fiber, and protein.
  • Seeds: Chia, sunflower, pepita (pumpkin seeds), flaxseed, and others provide healthy fats, fiber, and protein.
  • Plant milk and yogurt (calcium-fortified, if possible): These may be made from sources such as soy, rice, almond, cashew, coconut, or oats.
  • Plant-based oils: Olive, avocado, vegetable, canola, corn, peanut, coconut, or sesame are some of the options.
  • Algae: Edible varieties include chlorella, seaweed, spirulina, and sea moss.
  • Nutritional yeast: This vegan source of vitamin B12 is generally sold as a powder or flakes to be added to foods.
  • Whole grains, cereals, rice, breads: Whole wheat bread, corn or whole wheat tortillas, brown rice, quinoa, whole wheat, or legume-based pasta are some options. However, they must be made without eggs, dairy products, or animal fat.
  • Sprouted and fermented plant foods and beverages: These include natto, miso, sauerkraut, and kombucha.
  • Fruits and vegetables: Berries, apples, pears, bananas, avocados, tomatoes, leafy green vegetables, root and starchy vegetables, potatoes, and more are all included in a vegan diet.

Foods and Products to Avoid

All animal-based foods are excluded from a vegan diet, as well as foods and beverages made with animal-derived products. These include:

  • Meat and poultry: Beef, pork, chicken, turkey, etc.
  • Fish and seafood: Such as tuna, salmon, trout, shrimp, oysters, sardines, anchovies, and scallops
  • Dairy: Cow or goat milk, butter, yogurt, cheese, cottage cheese, ice cream, and puddings
  • Eggs: Any type of eggs
  • Bee products: Honey and bee pollen
  • Animal-based ingredients: Gelatin, ghee, whey, casein, lard, and others

Alcoholic Beverages on a Vegan Diet

Some alcoholic beverages, such as beer, wine, or cider, might not be vegan due to products used during the filtration process or flavorings added during production.

Types of Vegan Diets

There are many variations to veganism, some of which are more strict. Many people may develop their own vegan eating pattern without restrictions in cooking methods, meal timing, or percentages of carbohydrates, protein, or fat.

Or, they may adopt some popular types of vegan diets that follow various restrictions, such as:

  • Raw
  • Raw till 4
  • High carb, low fat (HCLF) 80/10/10
  • Whole food
  • Starch Solution
  • Thrive diet


A raw vegan diet combines a vegan diet with a raw diet. Followers of a raw diet eat only raw foods or foods heated at temperatures below 104 to 118 F (40 to 48 C). Add that to a vegan diet to only eat plant-based foods. 

Raw fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and some sprouted legumes and grains are the staples of a raw vegan diet. Instead of cooking, food preparation methods include juicing, blending, soaking, sprouting, and dehydrating.

Raw Till 4

The raw till 4 diet is a high-carbohydrate, low-fat, low-protein vegan diet. This diet is sometimes called a fruitarian diet.

Followers of a raw till 4 diet consume whole, minimally processed plant foods only, with fruit making up most of their meals. After 4:00 p.m., they may consume one heated meal consisting mainly of high-carbohydrate/starchy plant foods. However, it’s recommended to eat no cooked food 95% of the time. 

High water intake (3 liters or more per day) is strongly encouraged on the raw till 4 diet. Calories are unlimited at every meal, with the majority coming from fruit. Oils and salt are discouraged, as well as not eating fruit after consuming your cooked meal.

HCLF (High-Carb, Low-Fat)

A high-carbohydrate, low-fat (HCLF) vegan diet focuses on eating high-carbohydrate starchy plant-based foods. Approximately 80% of calories come from carbohydrates on this diet, though this may vary slightly depending on your source of information. These carbs include grains, fruits, vegetables, beans, peas, and lentils. 

About 10% of calories come from fat on an HCLF diet. Oils are discouraged, while nuts, seeds, and other higher-fat plant foods are allowed only in moderation.

An HCLF vegan diet is also low in protein, with around 10% of your daily calories coming from protein. Because of this, an HCLF diet is sometimes called an 80/10/10 diet. 

Whole Food 

A whole-food vegan diet is an eating pattern based on whole, minimally processed plant foods. This includes fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes. Refined oils, sweeteners, and flour are limited or avoided, as well as highly processed vegan alternatives such as imitation meats and cheeses. 

Starch Solution

The Starch Solution diet was developed by John A. McDougall, M.D., and is a high-carbohydrate, whole food, plant-based diet with starches as the main carbohydrate.

The diet consists of approximately 70% starches, 20% vegetables, and 10% fruits. Starches encouraged include whole grains, unrefined flour, root vegetables, winter squash, and legumes.

Animal products, vegetable oils, simple sugars, and processed foods are avoided. Dietary fats such as those in avocados, nuts, and seeds are also limited. 

Thrive Diet

The thrive diet is a raw, vegan eating pattern developed by Brendan Brazier, a former professional athlete. Like the raw diet, foods may be blended, soaked, sprouted, juiced, or dehydrated instead of cooked. Foods are mainly uncooked and minimally processed.

Several small meals are consumed throughout the day with no restriction on calories. Foods encouraged on the thrive diet include fruits, vegetables, beans, seeds, cold-pressed oils, and whole grains.

Health Benefits of Eating Vegan

Following an eating pattern full of plant-based foods is sure to contribute vitamins, minerals, and other beneficial nutrients to your diet and help improve overall health. Health benefits reported from following a vegan diet include weight management, blood sugar control, and heart health.

Weight Control

Eating more whole plant foods and less highly processed foods may aid in weight management, especially if they replace highly processed foods high in added sugars, sodium, and saturated fats.

Many of the foods included in a vegan diet, such as fruits and vegetables, are naturally lower in calories than many ultra-processed foods, leading to an overall lower calorie intake.

A study looking into the health benefits of following a low-fat vegan diet for 16 weeks showed that it resulted in more weight loss compared to the control group (no change in their diets). Another study researching the effects of a low-fat vegan diet in individuals considered overweight found that a vegan diet resulted in greater weight loss compared to the control group.

Blood Sugar and Type 2 Diabetes

Some studies have shown a positive effect of a vegan diet on blood sugar (glucose) levels. One 12-week randomized clinical trial in people with type 2 diabetes showed a greater reduction of A1c levels (average blood sugar over the past two to three months) and overall glycemic control in those following a vegan diet compared to a traditional diabetic diet.

A 16-week study in overweight individuals showed increased insulin sensitivity in the vegan group, meaning the body is better at using available insulin (a hormone that helps regulate blood sugar levels) compared to the control group. With increased insulin sensitivity, the risk of developing diabetes decreases and blood sugar management improves.

Heart Health

Many vegan diets tend to be lower in saturated fat and sodium than the standard American diet, which may lead to improvements in heart health. A 2020 review of studies found that a primarily plant-based diet (not specifically vegan) provides heart-health benefits, such as improved blood cholesterol levels, and may reduce the risk of cardiovascular (heart) disease.

Other Potential Health Benefits

In addition to the health benefits listed above, following a vegan diet may offer additional health benefits such as:

  • Lower risk of cancer 
  • Reducing arthritis symptoms
  • Reduced risk of poor kidney function
  • Reduced risk of developing Alzheimer’s 
  • Reduced risk of high blood pressure

Lower Risk of Cancer 

The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) classifies processed meat as a carcinogen (a substance or agent that causes cancer) and red meat as a probable carcinogen (something that probably causes cancer).

In 2015, more than 800 studies were reviewed by the IARC and found that a daily intake of 50 grams of processed meat (about one hot dog) increased the risk of colorectal cancer by 18%.

A 2022 study found that an increased amount of plant-based foods reduced the risk of some forms of prostate cancer, especially at age 65 or older.

A meta-analysis looking at over 3 million subjects and the relationship between a plant-based diet and the risk of digestive system cancers found that vegan and other plant-based eating patterns were protective against digestive system cancers.

Reducing Arthritis Symptoms

Eating more whole foods and less highly processed foods is often associated with an anti-inflammatory diet.

A four-week randomized controlled trial compared a vegan diet to a diet that includes meat in healthy individuals. The researchers found that people in the vegan group experienced decreased inflammatory markers compared to the meat group.

One 2021 meta-analysis found that anti-inflammatory diets, including Mediterranean, vegetarian, and vegan diets, reduced pain in individuals with rheumatoid arthritis. Similarly, a review article published in 2018 found benefits of anti-inflammatory diets (such as the Mediterranean diet and a vegan diet) on disease activity in rheumatoid arthritis.

However, some of the studies researched were small and had a risk of bias. Further research is needed in this area to determine how diet affects the development and management of arthritis.

Reduced Risk of Poor Kidney Function

The National Kidney Foundation says that plant proteins, when consumed in a varied diet, are a great source of protein for people with kidney disease. In addition, when animal protein is consumed in excess, it produces high amounts of acid in the blood that can be damaging to the kidneys, and may lead to acidosis (when the kidneys can’t remove acid quickly enough).

One 2023 study looking at over 3,600 people with hyperuricemia (elevated uric acid levels in the blood)—a risk factor for chronic kidney disease (CKD)—and compared their different diets in relation to CKD risk. The researchers grouped the diets into three groups: vegan, lacto-ovo vegetarian (allows eggs and milk products but not animal flesh), and omnivore diet (includes plants and animal products).

The study found that people following a vegan diet had a 31% lower risk of developing CKD compared to lacto-ovo vegetarians and omnivores.

Reduced Risk of Alzheimer’s Disease

There are very few studies examining the vegan diet in relation to Alzheimer's disease, and they do not have clear conclusions.

One review study looked at the risk of Alzheimer's disease when following a vegan diet. The researchers found that while a vegan diet is rich in many health-promoting nutrients, there is not enough data to state that following a strict vegan diet is more beneficial for Alzheimer's disease prevention when compared with vegetarianism or other diets.

However, another review study looking at plant-based diets in general suggested that following a plant-based diet may be beneficial for brain health and cognitive function. Nevertheless, more research is needed to address the risk of Alzheimer’s disease in relation to a vegan diet.

Lowered Risk of High Blood Pressure

A 2021 review study comparing a vegan diet’s effects in people with metabolic syndrome (a group of conditions that occur together, increasing your risk of heart disease, stroke, and type 2 diabetes) found that a vegan diet has not been associated with a significant change in either systolic (the first number, measuring pressure against artery walls when the heart beats) or diastolic (the bottom number, measuring the same pressure when the heart rests between beats) blood pressure when compared to less-restrictive plant-based diets.

Nevertheless, a prior meta-analysis study, from 2019, had concluded that a vegan diet had similar effects on blood pressure as diets recommended by medical societies to help improve blood pressure.

Risks (and How to Minimize Them)

A vegan diet may be beneficial for some, but it isn’t without risks. With no consumption of meat (a main dietary source of protein), getting enough protein is often a concern with vegan diets. Vegans must be intentional in getting enough plant protein each day.

Additionally, the proteins in many plants are not considered complete proteins—meaning they do not provide all the essential amino acids needed for optimal health. Because of this, it’s important to vary sources of plant-based protein to ensure all essential amino acids are being consumed on a regular basis.

Another concern of following a vegan diet is the exclusion of food groups (meat, fish, and dairy products) that often provide critical nutrients to our bodies. Some nutrients of concern are vitamin B12, vitamin D, iodine, calcium, zinc, and omega-3 fatty acids.

Each of these nutrients has a vital role to play in the body and, when deficient, may lead to health consequences, such as an increased risk for anemia, bone fractures, sarcopenia (gradual loss of muscle mass, strength, and function), and depression.

Because of this, vegan diets are not recommended for people with certain health conditions, such as osteoporosis (a disease in which bone mineral density and bone mass decreases, or when the structure and strength of bone changes).

If you have a medical condition, consult with your healthcare provider before changing your diet or taking a new supplement.

Supplements to Consider

Supplements may be recommended if you are following a strict vegan diet. Discuss adding supplements to your diet with a nutrition professional (such as a registered dietitian nutritionist) or a healthcare provider. Supplements that may be needed and the sources of these nutrients in a vegan diet include:

  • Vitamin B12 is not found in any plant-based foods, with the exception of nutritional yeast. 
  • Vitamin D can be made in the body after exposure to sunshine, but that may not be enough (especially during winter months). Consuming a supplement or vegan foods fortified with vitamin D is important. The vitamin is also found in mushrooms treated with ultraviolet (UV) light.
  • Iodine sources include algae, whole grains, and some fruits and vegetables, but levels are not high and may vary depending on the iodine content of the soil.
  • Calcium from a reliable source is needed when excluding dairy products from the diet. Supplements, soy foods, fortified foods, chia seeds, broccoli, and bok choy are among the vegan sources of calcium.
  • Zinc is abundant in meats, but it may be hard to get enough on a vegan diet. Some vegan food sources include beans, lentils, seeds, and nuts.
  • Omega-3 fatty acids can be found in vegan sources, including chia and flaxseeds, walnuts, algae oil, or Brussels sprouts, though diet alone may not provide enough.

What Is Vegan vs. Vegetarian-Friendly Food?

A vegan diet is one of the most strict plant-based diets, as it excludes all animal foods and products. Some other plant-based eating patterns are less restrictive while still being primarily plant-forward.

Other Types of Plant-Based Diets

Vegetarianism is a more flexible plant-based diet compared to veganism. Variations of vegetarian diets include:

  • Lacto-vegetarian (includes dairy products)
  • Lacto-ovo vegetarian (includes dairy and eggs)
  • Ovo-vegetarian (includes eggs)
  • Pescatarian (includes fish and seafood)
  • Flexitarian (mainly plant-based but includes some meat and other animal products in moderation)


A vegan diet is one that excludes all animal products and foods and beverages made with animal-derived products. There are many variations to a vegan diet, including raw, raw till 4, HCLF, whole food, starch solution, and the thrive diet.

Foods to eat on a vegan diet include any plant-based food such as fruits, vegetables, grains, legumes, plant-based dairy alternatives, soy products, plant-based oils, and algae. Foods to avoid include meat, poultry, fish and seafood, dairy, eggs, bee products, animal-based ingredients, and some alcoholic beverages.

A vegan diet may confer health benefits such as weight management, improved blood sugar control, and heart health. Other health benefits may include reduced risk of some cancers, arthritis, kidney disease, Alzheimer's disease, and high blood pressure, though more studies are needed in many of these areas of research.

Due to the risk for nutrient deficiency, adding certain supplements should be considered, such as vitamin B12, vitamin D, iodine, calcium, zinc, and omega-3 fatty acids. Other risks of a vegan diet include not consuming enough protein and detrimental effects for people with certain health conditions.

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Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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By Brittany Poulson, MDA, RDN, CD, CDCES
Brittany Poulson, MDA, RDN, CDCES, is a registered dietitian and certified diabetes care and education specialist.