The vegan diet

A vegan diet contains only plants, such as vegetables, grains, nuts and fruits, and foods made from plants.

Vegans don't eat foods that come from animals, including dairy products and eggs.

Healthy eating

You should be able to get most of the nutrients you need from eating a varied and balanced vegan diet. 

A healthy vegan diet contains:

See the eatwell plate for more information about a healthy diet.

Getting the nutrients you need

With good planning and an understanding of what makes up a healthy, balanced vegan diet, you can get all the nutrients your body needs.

If you don't plan your diet properly, you could miss out on essential nutrients, such as calcium, iron and vitamin B12.

Vegans who are pregnant or breastfeeding

During pregnancy and when breastfeeding, women who follow a vegan diet need to make sure they get enough vitamins and minerals for their child to develop healthily. 

See vegetarian and vegan mums-to-be for more information.

If you're bringing up your baby or child on a vegan diet, you need to ensure they get a wide variety of foods to provide the energy and vitamins they need for growth.

See vegetarian and vegan babies and children for more information.

Getting enough calcium and vitamin D

Calcium is needed for strong and healthy bones and teeth. Non-vegans get most of their calcium from dairy foods (milk, cheese and yogurt), but vegans can get it from other foods.

Good sources of calcium for vegans include:

  • fortified soya, rice and oat drinks 
  • calcium-set tofu
  • sesame seeds and tahini
  • pulses
  • brown and white bread (in the UK calcium is added to white and brown flour by law)
  • dried fruit such as raisins, prunes, figs and dried apricots

The body needs vitamin D to absorb calcium. Vegan sources of vitamin D are:

  • exposure to summer sunshine – remember to cover up or protect your skin before it starts to turn red or burn (see sunlight and vitamin D)
  • fortified fat spreads, breakfast cereals and soya drinks (with vitamin D added)
  • vitamin D supplements

Read the label to ensure the vitamin D used in a product is not of animal origin.

Getting enough iron

Iron is essential for the production of red blood cells. A vegan diet can be high in iron, although iron from plant-based food is absorbed by the body less well than iron from meat.

Good sources of iron for vegans are:

  • pulses
  • wholemeal bread and flour
  • breakfast cereals fortified with iron
  • dark-green leafy vegetables such as watercress, broccoli and spring greens
  • nuts
  • dried fruits such as apricots, prunes and figs

Getting enough Vitamin B12

The body needs vitamin B12 to maintain healthy blood and a healthy nervous system. Vitamin B12 is only found naturally in foods from animal sources. Sources for vegans are therefore limited and a vitamin B12 supplement may be needed.

Sources of vitamin B12 for vegans include:

  • breakfast cereals fortified with B12
  • soya drinks fortified with vitamin B12
  • yeast extract such as Marmite

Vegan sources of omega-3 fatty acids

Omega-3 fatty acids, primarily those found in oily fish, can help maintain a healthy heart and reduce the risk of heart disease when eaten as part of a healthy diet.

Sources of omega-3 fatty acids suitable for vegans include: 

  • flaxseed (linseed) oil
  • rapeseed oil
  • soya oil and soya-based foods, such as tofu
  • walnuts 

Evidence suggests that plant sources of omega-3 fatty acids may not have the same benefits in reducing the risk of heart disease as those in oily fish.

However, if you follow a vegan diet you can still look after your heart by eating at least five portions of a variety of fruit and vegetables a day, by cutting down on food that is high in saturated fat and watching how much salt you eat.

Page last reviewed: 15/10/2013

Next review due: 15/10/2015

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Comments

The 7 comments posted are personal views. Any information they give has not been checked and may not be accurate.

FarnellGardener said on 11 July 2014

I'm baffled as to how, on a vegan diet page, your link to the "eatwell plate" is for omnivores. It would be much more helpful if you had a vegan plate.

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nancykane said on 07 April 2014

@papaleach: while I don't doubt your figures, I wonder if measuring nutrients of a food "per 500 calories" is really appropriate? Using your figures from below, 500 calories equates (very roughly) to:
200g steak
300g chicken breast
200g pork chops
2,700g tomatoes
2,100g spinach
435g lima beans
620g peas
650g potatoes

Clearly not all of these are realistic portion sizes. I'm not trying to discount veganism as a healthy diet (it clearly can be healthy, just like most diets), just pointiing out that there are likely better ways to mesure nutrient density.

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papaleach said on 09 March 2014

I do not understand the warnings you give about the risk of lack of calcium and iron in a vegan diet. Even accounting as you say, for absorption from animal foods being better than from plant foods, the sheer greater amount in plant foods is huge.
The belief that fibre, which occurs in the plant foods but not in the animal foods, slows absorption of these nutrients is out of date; haemoglobin levels in the blood (indicating higher iron content) increase with fibre intake.
Using US Department of Agriculture figures, a typical range of plant foods has way more calcium and iron content than a typical range of animal foods. The figures are as follows:
Per 500 calories of equal parts of: beef, pork, chicken, whole milk:
Calcium 252 milligrams
Iron 2 milligrams
Per 500 calories of equal parts of: tomatoes, spinach, lima beans, peas, potatoes:
Calcium 545 milligrams
Iron 20 milligrams
This means that these plant foods contain double the calcium and ten times the iron!
So what’s the problem?

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nerdywordy said on 01 November 2013

The information about vegetarian omega 3 is out of date!!! You don't have to sacrifice your dietary EPA and DHA intake (the two forms that all the fuss is about regarding vegetarian omega 3 deficiency) to stand up against the killing of fish. There are now many vegan sources of both of them, just google it. Too many brands to mention now. They have the advantage of not being contaminated by mercury or dioxins as well, because they're made from algae grown in a laboratory.

Edible purslane is also an excellent source of EPA, if you don't like swallowing capsules.

Please could the NHS rectify this error as soon as possible.

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mindthefood said on 05 January 2013

Green leafy vegetables are an excellent source of calcium, plus they contain very good amounts of other minerals and especially vitamin K, which has an important role in bone health.
"Any healthy diet containing a reasonable amount of unrefined plant foods will have sufficient calcium without milk. Fruits and vegetables strengthen bones. Researchers have found that those who eat the most fruits and vegetables have denser bones."

And iron gets absorbed better when paired with vitamin C, ex lentil salad with fresh parsley, green salad with orange dressing etc.

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User658418 said on 21 March 2012

Mushrooms are not a sufficiently rich nor reliable source of vitamin D.

Relying on sun exposure to skin for Vitamin D is likely to be an insufficient source through 3 months of the year and unless working outside, may not be enough as a stand-alone source during the summer months.

We therefore recommend consuming sufficient fortified products or taking a supplement as vitamin D deficiency is a serious risk to many in the UK oblivious of diet.

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gella said on 09 August 2011

I would like to add that some mushrooms, notably chanterelles are also a rich source of vitamin D.

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