Learn the Vegan Basics

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A vegan is a person whose diet is based entirely on plants. A vegan diet excludes all animal products, such as dairy, eggs, beef, poultry, fish, gelatin, and honey. Vegans enjoy a variety of foods, including vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, whole grains, and many foods made from plants. The staples of a vegan diet are 100% plant-based, although some dietary vegans do consume honey.

facts about vegan diet
Illustration: Ellen Lindner. © The Spruce, 2019

"Vegan" History

The term “vegan” (a contraction of the word “vegetarian") was coined in the 1940s by Donald Watson, who also co-founded the British Vegan Society. Veganism has grown considerably with the rise in understanding of human nutrition and the benefits of eating a plant-rich diet. Many popular books and movies have also helped increase awareness of veganism, such as The China Study (T. Colin Campbell) and Food Inc., which discuss the Standard American Diet and the benefits of a Plant-Based Diet. Currently, three percent of the population considers themselves vegan.

A Few Reasons for Vegan

People go vegan for a variety of reasons including ethical, environmental, and personal health. Ethical vegans extend their principles beyond their dinner plate and also abstain from animal use in other aspects of their lifestyles, such as with clothing, cosmetics, and medicines. Ethical vegans also avoid fur, leather, silk, wool, shellac, beeswax, and many other animal-based products as they view the use of animals for entertainment or consumption as unnecessary and cruel.

Environmental vegans feel that factory farming, the current standard method of meat, egg, and dairy production in the United States, causes irreversible environmental destruction, and a plant-based diet is a more sustainable choice for the health and wellness of Earth.

Vegan Health Benefits

A balanced vegan diet can offer many protective health benefits against common diseases such as heart disease and is regarded as an appropriate diet for all stages of one’s life when planned appropriately. Many Registered Dietitians and Nutrition experts recommend supplementing a vegan diet with a B12 or fortified foods, such as fortified cereal and soy milk, to obtain adequate amounts of this vitamin, which primarily comes from animal products.

A properly planned vegan diet can have many health benefits and is a good way to try out new foods. There are different sectors of veganism, including Raw Veganism and Macrobiotic Veganism. Vegan diets tend to be higher in fiber, many vitamins, and minerals, and lower in calories than the Standard American Diet. The growing popularity of veganism makes it easier than ever to go vegan, with countless resources and vegan replacement foods now available.

Article Sources
The Spruce Eats 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.
  1. Gallup. Snapshot: few americans vegetarian or vegan. August 1, 2018.

  2. Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Food sources of 5 important nutrients for vegetarians. April 9, 2018.