What Does Vegan Mean? Exploring the Definition and Benefits

A vegan follows the practice of veganism, meaning they abstain from eating or using animal or animal-derived products. Therefore, unlike vegetarians, vegans will also not consume eggs or milk, nor will they eat foods containing gelatine and rennet. They will also not wear or use leather.

While looking for the term “what does vegan mean,” the Merriam-Webster Dictionary informs us that vegetarian has been used since 1839. Meanwhile, people began using the word fruitarian for those eating only fruits in 1893. It was only in 1944 that vegetarians who ate no animal or dairy products started calling themselves vegans.

What Does Vegan Mean?

Vector image of a vegan emblem in the form of heart, crown and wreath of leaves, with a banner “Vegan” on a white background. Made in monochrome style. Vegetarianism, veganism. Tattoo.

The Vegan Society defines veganism as a philosophy and way of life that excludes—as far as practically possible—any exploitation of and cruelty to animals for food, clothing, or any other purpose. What does vegan mean? Besides following a diet that dispenses any foods derived wholly or partially from animals, vegans also promote the development and use of animal-free alternatives to ensure the benefit of animals, humans, and the environment.

Donald Watson founded the first vegan society and defined the vegan diet in 1944. Until then, the six like-minded members of the society in London were calling themselves “non-dairy vegetarians.” A few years later, Leslie J Cross, one of the founding members, suggested they lacked a proper definition of veganism. Over the years, they have rephrased, clarified, and rephrased their definition to ensure more clarity about the exploitation of animals.

What Do Vegans Eat?

Since vegans eat no animal products or by-products, they avoid meat, poultry, all marine animals, dairy, eggs, honey, and all animal-based products used as additives in food processing. If you are unsure, they include gelatine, lactose, omega-3 fatty acids derived from fish, carmine, shellac, etc.

On the other hand, what does vegan mean when choosing what to eat?

The consumption of animals continues to worsen numerous global problems. Additionally, it could be better for our health.

A plant-based diet addresses both problems simultaneously and can help to resolve them, making a plant-based diet and lifestyle a rapidly growing movement. Besides saving the lives of animals, it allows you to avoid several health problems.

Therefore, eating grains, legumes, vegetables, and fruits becomes the source of vitamins, minerals, fiber, proteins, carbohydrates, and phytonutrients required to sustain a vegan.

Getting Valuable Nutrients on a Vegan Diet

These are some examples of how vegans can get all the valuable nutrients required in their diet:

Vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients—These include vegetables and fruits like apples, bananas, beetroot, berries, broccoli, cabbage, garlic, melons, nectarines, olives, oranges, peaches, pumpkin, etc., to ensure they get all the vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients required to stay healthy.

Protein – Legumes or pulses are a rich source of protein. Vegans include beans, lentils, lupins, peas, and soya beans in their meals.

Complex carbohydrates, fiber, and phytochemicals – Wholegrains and cereals like barley, millet, oats, rice, rye, spelt, and wheat are essential to the vegan diet. Other pseudocereals included in this list are amaranth, buckwheat, and quinoa, which also play a vital role in the vegan diet.

Protein and valuable fats – Nuts and seeds (hemp, sunflower, flax, etc.) provide protein and healthy fats for vegans. They also contain fiber, vitamins, and minerals.

Vegans also have the option of meat alternatives made from plant-based ingredients like soy, seitan, etc. These foods include tofu and other meat alternatives that they can use to substitute meats in their meals. Plant-based dairy alternatives include milk, cheese, and yogurt made with almond, coconut, oat, soy, or other nut milk.

Read more about the essential nutrients like vitamin B12, calcium, iron, iodine, and omega-3 fatty acids required in a vegan diet in this article by ProVeg.

Types of Vegan Diet

Vegan diets also have several differences based on ethical reasons and dietary purposes. Here are some of the most common vegan diets:

Raw vegan diet – Vegans following this diet eat raw plant foods to avoid breaking down food’s nutrients. Their diet will include uncooked vegetables and fruit, nuts and seeds. They only eat cold-pressed oils, sprouted or soaked grains, and fermented foods like miso or kimchi. Cooking does reduce some nutrients, especially vitamins and antioxidants, and increases fiber intake, but in some cases, like cooking tomatoes, it increases the levels of lycopene, an antioxidant.

Vegan keto diet – The keto diet means a low-carb, moderate protein, and high-fat intake. Even though many people do this diet on animal foods, it’s easy to adapt it to a vegan diet. The diet requires that most calories come from fat (up to 80%), then protein (up to 20%), and only up to 10% carbs. That means vegans must eat high quantities of nuts, seeds, avocados, and vegetable oils. Grains and starches are restricted, as are high-sugar fruits. The vegan keto diet is very restrictive and requires careful monitoring to avoid nutrient deficiencies.

Vegan diabetic diet – Diabetics must follow a low carbohydrate diet and avoid refined carbs that quickly raise blood sugar. Whole grains, beans, tofu, nuts, seeds, and legumes are high in fiber, helping to control blood sugar and provide proteins. Vegans diabetics can also get healthy fats from avocado, nuts, seeds, and vegetable oils to help keep their blood sugar stable.

High-protein vegan diet – The vegan diet may lack protein. However, some vegans, particularly athletes and bodybuilders, focus on getting enough of this vital nutrient by eating more nuts, seeds, beans, tofu, oats, peas, seitan, and quinoa. They can also take supplements to help support their muscle growth and repair.

Alkaline vegan diet – The alkaline diet ranks foods consumed based on pH value. Acidic foods have a low pH, and alkaline foods have a high pH. People on an alkaline vegan diet eat less acidic foods to help them lose weight, increase their energy, and avoid long-term chronic illness. High-pH vegan foods include fruits, leafy vegetables, whole grains, nuts, and seeds. They avoid starchy vegetables, lentils, and soy products. The benefits are yet to be proven.

Vegan anti-inflammatory diet – Inflammation has been linked to common ailments, including heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and cancer. A balanced vegan diet will naturally be anti-inflammatory, mainly if eating fresh, whole foods and limiting inflammatory foods like sugars and highly processed foods.


Mediterranean vegan diet—The vegan version of the popular Mediterranean diet is rich in fruits, vegetables, grains, beans, nuts, seeds, and unsaturated oils while omitting fish, dairy, and eggs. It’s a safe vegan diet as long as it includes variety to ensure enough protein, vitamins, and minerals.

Low-carb vegan diet—Plant foods often have more carbohydrates than animal foods, making it challenging to follow a low-carb vegan diet. However, to ensure a low-carb vegan diet, include non-starch vegetables, high-fat fruits (olives and avocados), low-sugar fruits, nuts, seeds, soy products, and oils like coconut, olive, and avocado. As with all vegan diets, variety is vital.

What Makes Food Vegan?

Vegan food doesn’t contain any animal products. Therefore, it excludes meat, poultry, fish, dairy, eggs, and honey. Instead, it relies on plant-based ingredients like fruits, vegetables, grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds. People eat vegan for various reasons, including ethical concerns for animal welfare, environmental sustainability, and health benefits. By opting for vegan food, individuals reduce their contribution to animal exploitation, decrease their ecological footprint, and enjoy a diet rich in nutrients and fiber.

What does vegan mean, and what makes food vegan:

Ethical Concerns for Animal Welfare

Many people adopt veganism out of ethical concerns about animals and their treatment in the food industry. They believe that animals have the right to live free from exploitation and suffering. Factory farming practices, which often involve unsanitary and cramped conditions, routine use of antibiotics, and inhumane slaughter methods, are significant concerns for these individuals. By avoiding animal products, vegans aim to minimize their contribution to these practices and promote a more compassionate lifestyle.

Environmental Sustainability

Animal agriculture significantly contributes to various environmental issues, including deforestation, greenhouse gas emissions, water pollution, and habitat destruction. Livestock farming requires vast land, water, and resources to produce feed crops and support animal populations. Additionally, the methane emissions from livestock contribute to climate change. Veganism offers a more environmentally sustainable alternative, reducing animal agriculture and the ensuing environmental impact.

Health Benefits

Adopting a well-planned vegan diet can offer numerous health benefits. Plant-based foods are generally rich in vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and fiber, essential for overall health and well-being. Studies show that those following a vegan lifestyle lower their risk of getting certain chronic diseases. They also, on average, have lower body mass index (BMI), cholesterol levels, and blood pressure than non-vegans. However, vegans must ensure adequate nutrients such as protein, iron, calcium, vitamin B12, and omega-3 fatty acids through a varied and balanced diet.

What Are Vegan Products?

Now that you know “what does vegan mean,” you may still feel confused about vegan products. Even though some are very clear because they are fruits, vegetables, grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds in their natural form, others may seem slightly more confusing.

Here are the rest of the vegan product categories:

Plant-Based Protein Sources

While vegans don’t consume meat, they obtain protein from various plant sources, including:

  • Tofu
  • Tempeh
  • Seitan (wheat gluten)
  • Textured vegetable protein (TVP)
  • Legumes and beans
  • Quinoa and other grains
  • Nuts and seeds

Dairy Alternatives

Vegan substitutes for dairy products from plant-based ingredients such as nuts, seeds, grains, and legumes. These include:

  • Plant-based milk
  • Vegan cheese has various flavors and textures
  • Dairy-free yogurt
  • Vegan butter made from plant oils like coconut, olive, or soybean oil
  • Egg replacements for cooking and baking like aquafaba (the liquid from canned chickpeas), tofu, flax or chia seeds with water, and commercial egg replacers

Other animal-free foods

  • Meat substitutes copy the taste and texture of meat but are made with plant-based ingredients. They include treats like plant-based burgers, sausages, meatballs, and deli slices.
  • Convenience foods, such as frozen meals, canned foods, snack bars, and baked goods, are available when you’re rushed. These are all made with vegan-friendly ingredients.
  • Various condiments and spreads are naturally vegan or have vegan versions, such as nut butter, mustard, mayonnaise, hummus, and guacamole.

Following a vegan lifestyle has become easier than ever. If you explore “What does vegan mean?” and decide to follow this lifestyle, you will know more about its meaning, ethics, and foods. This knowledge is enough to guide you as you enter the vegan régime and provide the knowledge to explore further ways to live, avoiding any exploitation of animals or further degradation of the environment.

How to Transition to a Vegan Lifestyle: Tips for Beginners

Switching to a vegan lifestyle can be a rewarding yet daunting challenge, especially if you’re new to the concept. Here are some practical tips to help you make a smooth transition:

  • Start Gradually: Don’t feel pressured to eliminate all animal products overnight. Begin by incorporating more plant-based meals into your diet and gradually phase out animal products.
  • Learn to Read Labels: Animal products can be hidden in unlikely places. Learn to read food labels carefully to avoid ingredients like gelatin, whey, and casein.
  • Explore Plant-Based Alternatives: Experiment with plant-based alternatives to your favorite foods. There are vegan versions of almost everything, from cheese to meat and dairy.
  • Nutrient Awareness: Pay attention to nutrients that are harder to obtain from a vegan diet, such as Vitamin B12, iron, calcium, and omega-3 fatty acids. Consider supplements if necessary.
  • Get Creative with Cooking: Discover the variety of vegan recipes available online and in cookbooks. Cooking your own meals can help you control ingredients and explore new flavors.
  • Join Vegan Communities: Connect with other vegans online or in your community for support, tips, and friendship. Sharing experiences can make your transition smoother and more enjoyable.
  • Focus on Whole Foods: For better health and easier adaptation to vegan eating, base your diet on whole, minimally processed foods like fruits, vegetables, and grains.

Transitioning to a vegan lifestyle involves changing what you eat and embracing a philosophy that respects animals and the environment. Take it one step at a time, and don’t be too hard on yourself during the process.

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