Vegan diets: everything you need to know

Vegan diets are a type of vegetarian diet, where only plant-based foods are eaten. They’re different to vegetarian diets in that no animal products are eaten. With good planning, you can get all of the nutrients you need from a vegan diet to be healthy.

Vegan diets include:

  • Fruit and vegetables
  • Breads, cereals and grains
  • Legumes (eg lentils, chickpeas, dried beans)
  • Soy foods like tofu and tempeh
  • Nuts and seeds.

Vegan diets don’t include:

  • Meat, poultry, fish and seafood
  • Dairy products
  • Eggs
  • Often honey, plus other animal-derived ingredients or food additives

People might follow a vegan diet for religious reasons, environmental and health concerns and for animal rights.

Like any eating plan that cuts out food groups, a vegan diet needs careful planning to make sure you’re covering all your nutritional bases. If you are following a vegan diet, there are certain nutrients that are a little more difficult to include. Follow these simple steps to make sure you’re getting in all you need:

  • Iron: Vegans can get enough iron through plant foods like legumes, tofu, nuts and seeds, wholegrains (especially amaranth and quinoa), dried fruits and dark green leafy vegetables. However, the type of iron in plant foods (non-haem iron) is not as easily absorbed as that in animal foods (haem iron). To boost the absorption of iron from plant foods, include a vitamin C-rich food with meals – e.g. berries, citrus fruit, kiwi fruit, capsicum, tomatoes or broccoli. Drink tea between meals instead of with the meal, as the phytates in tea can inhibit iron absorption. Read more about iron and anaemia.
  • B12: Vitamin B12 is only found naturally in animal products. Vegans will need to eat foods fortified with vitamin B12, or take a vitamin B12 supplement. Speak to your GP or an Accredited Practising Dietitian to find out more about supplements.
  • Calcium: As a vegan diet does not include dairy products, it is important to include other calcium rich foods. Some good plant sources of calcium are calcium-fortified soy or almond milks, hard tofu, almonds, unhulled tahini (sesame seed paste) and green leafy vegetables like Kale and Asian greens (e.g. bok choy, Chinese broccoli).
  • Omega 3: Sources for vegan diets include linseeds/flaxseeds and chia seeds (and their oils), walnuts, soy products and omega-3 fortified foods such as some breads. While some food products enriched with omega-3 use a derivative of seaweed as the source of omega fatty acids, vegans should check food labels for suitability.
Any diet that excludes food groups needs careful planning to make sure your needs are met. Whether you are currently following a vegan diet, or are considering changing to a one, it is a good idea to consult an Accredited Practising Dietitian (APD) with a special interest in this area. An APD will help to make sure you are getting in all the right foods to feel your best.