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The vegan diet

A vegan diet is based on plants (such as vegetables, grains, nuts and fruits) and foods made from plants.

Vegans do not eat foods that come from animals, including dairy products and eggs.

Healthy eating as a vegan

You can get the nutrients you need from eating a varied and balanced vegan diet including fortified foods and supplements. 

For a healthy vegan diet:

  • eat at least 5 portions of a variety of fruit and vegetables every day
  • base meals on potatoes, bread, rice, pasta or other starchy carbohydrates (choose wholegrain where possible)
  • have some fortified dairy alternatives, such as soya drinks and yoghurts (choose lower-fat and lower-sugar options)
  • eat some beans, pulses and other proteins
  • eat nuts and seeds rich in omega-3 fatty acids (such as walnuts) every day
  • choose unsaturated oils and spreads, and eat in small amounts
  • have fortified foods or supplements containing nutrients that are more difficult to get through a vegan diet, including vitamin D, vitamin B12, iodine, selenium, calcium and iron
  • drink plenty of fluids (the government recommends 6 to 8 cups or glasses a day)

If you choose to include foods and drinks that are high in fat, salt or sugar, have them less often and in small amounts.

See The Eatwell Guide for more information about a healthy diet. 

The Eatwell Guide applies to vegetarians, vegans, people of all ethnic origins and those who are a healthy weight for their height, as well as those who are overweight.

The only group The Eatwell Guide is not suitable for is children under the age of 2, as they have different needs.

Getting the right nutrients from a vegan diet

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 do not plan your diet properly, you could miss out on essential nutrients, such as calcium, ironvitamin B12, iodine and selenium.

Vegans who are pregnant or breastfeeding

During pregnancy and when breastfeeding, if you follow a vegan diet you'll need to make sure you get enough vitamins and minerals for your child to develop healthily.

Find out more about a vegetarian and vegan diet while pregnant.

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.

Vegan sources of calcium and vitamin D

Calcium is needed to maintain healthy bones and teeth.

Non-vegans get most of their calcium from dairy foods (milk, cheese and yoghurt), but vegans can get it from other foods.

Good sources of calcium for vegans include:

  • green, leafy vegetables such as broccoli, cabbage and okra, but not spinach (spinach does contain high levels of calcium but the body cannot digest it all)
  • fortified unsweetened soya, pea 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

A 30g portion of dried fruit counts as 1 of your 5 A Day, but should be eaten at mealtimes, not as a snack between meals, to reduce the impact of sugar on teeth.

The body needs vitamin D to regulate the amount of calcium and phosphate in the body. These nutrients help keep bones, teeth and muscles healthy.

Good sources of vitamin D for vegans include:

  • exposure to sunlight, particularly from late March/early April to the end of September – remember to cover up or protect your skin before it starts to turn red or burn
  • fortified fat spreads, breakfast cereals and unsweetened soya drinks (with vitamin D added)
  • vitamin D supplements – everyone should consider taking a daily supplement during autumn and winter, because it's difficult to get enough from food alone

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

Vegan sources of 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

Vegan sources of vitamin B12

The body needs vitamin B12 to maintain healthy blood and a healthy nervous system.

Many people get vitamin B12 from animal sources, such as meat, fish and dairy products. Sources for vegans are limited and a vitamin B12 supplement may be needed.

Sources of vitamin B12 for vegans include:

  • breakfast cereals fortified with B12
  • unsweetened soya drinks fortified with vitamin B12
  • yeast extract, such as Marmite, and nutritional yeast flakes which are fortified with vitamin B12

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.

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. But you can help to ensure a balanced diet by eating rich plant sources of omega-3 fatty acids.

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

  • ground linseed (flaxseed) oil
  • vegetable (rapeseed) oil
  • chia seeds
  • shelled hemp seeds
  • walnuts

You can also look after your heart by eating at least 5 portions of a variety of fruit and vegetables every day, eating plenty of fibre, cutting down on food that's high in saturated fat, and watching how much salt you eat.

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Page last reviewed: 31 May 2022
Next review due: 31 May 2025