You’d need to have been living under a rock to not notice the influx of new vegan food that’s hit UK shelves in recent years, so let’s talk about what vegans eat.
It might be easier to talk about what vegans can’t eat, because very little is off the menu these days. Of course, dairy products, animal products and animal-derived ingredients are a solid no-no, but there appears to be a substitution for basically everything, in addition to the plethora of fabulous foods that we’ve always eaten (pasta and bread, we’re looking at you).
Regardless of whether a plant-based diet is embraced for health, compassion or the environment, turning your back on eating meat is a positive step that reduces the risk of certain health problems, offers distinct health benefits and doesn’t have to mean a boring menu either. The bottom line is: your vegan diet can be as tasty and exciting as you want it to be, if you are willing to put in a little time.
Let’s talk about nut butters
We could write a sonnet about our favourite nutty spreads. They taste great, come in a huge range of flavours and are good sources of protein and healthy fats, when you choose a natural version with no nasties added.
Great for having on toast, in curries or baked goods, they are a versatile and cost-effective store cupboard essential that can transform a meal. We all know about peanut and almond butter, but if you’re feeling fancy, don’t skip by the pistachio or seed options too. Sunflower seed butter is out of this world.
Fruits and vegetables
It shouldn’t be news that vegans tend to eat a lot of fruits and vegetables, but we know that not everybody is wholly enamoured with whole foods. In reality, fresh produce should be the main source of nutrition for anyone choosing to eat plant-based foods, as they are low in calories and fat while being high in essential vitamins and minerals. Adding portions of something less health-focused and more indulgent seems like less of a ‘cheat’ when your plate has more greenery than anything else.
It might surprise you to learn that some vegans avoid eating fruit and vegetables because they just dislike them so much. If you’ve ever heard the term ‘junk food vegan’, this is usually who is being referenced.
All the cheeses
In the bad old days, vegan cheese was, let’s say, not quite here yet. Sure, there were some attempts to bridge the gap between ethics and mature cheddar but they weren’t exactly amazing. That’s all changed now though, with everyone taking on the challenge of creating tasty cheese alternatives that stop the yearning for dairy products. There are cheeses for every budget, with supermarkets offering their own lines, as well as stocking big brands such as Violife. And don’t forget about the seriously fancy artisan goodies out there too. Yes, they cost more, but if you’ve ever longed for an authentic blue cheese taste without any of the cruelty, the fancy-schmancy cheeses are where it’s at.
Nuts and seeds
Butters are great, but not as portable as we’d all like, which is where sneaky little Tupperware boxes of nuts and seeds come into play. If you’ve never wondered why there is always a rogue pumpkin seed or half a walnut kernel somewhere at your workplace or at home, if you live with a vegan, this is the reason.
Chia seeds — though super good for us and an amazing plant-based source of omega-3 fatty acids — are a blooming nightmare in terms of finding every nook and cranny to hide in. Take our advice and store yours in an old nut butter jar that’s been washed out and has a screw-top lid. It’s the only way to contain the mayhem and makes them easier to pour onto porridge or smoothie bowls.
Meat the alternatives
Plant foods are delicious and we can all feel good about choosing healthy meals, but there are times when a hunk of something cruelty-free but meaty is the only option.
Mostly designed to appeal to omnivores or those thinking about moving towards a vegan diet, alt-meats emulate the taste, texture and even the ability to ‘bleed’ that traditional animal-based products are known for.
Basic staples, such as mince, sausages and chicken-style pieces have been around for a long time, but the newer products are as imaginative as they are tasty. Kievs, steaks and fish fingers have all joined the ranks and it’s not just vegans eating them anymore. We are all for these alt-meats, if they can reduce — even just by small amounts — the number of animals being killed.
We all scream for ice cream
Gather ’round people, we want to share a secret with you. Vegan ice cream is amazing. Swedish Glace was always pretty good, but you knew it wasn’t dairy, didn’t you? Suddenly, we are being bestowed with Ben & Jerry’s, gelato-filled mochi balls and all manner of other frozen delicacies, and you know what? They’re so good, we can’t even remember what all the fuss was about with milk-based products. It might not be a health food, but most vegan freezers will have a tub or two of something tasty in, just as a treat.
There has been some fantastically clever branding put out into the world with Oatly leading the way and proclaiming that it makes “milk, but for humans”. But fun jokes aside, the array of vegan-friendly milks to choose from now is incredible.
Gone are the days of soy only, with oat, almond, macadamia and everything else under the sun to choose from. Honestly, if you can imagine it, there’s milk made from it! Avocados? Yep, there’s milk made from them. Tiger nuts? Yes, them too (side note: it’s delicious) and plenty of vegans are having a bash at making their own milks too.
What do vegans eat? The short answer is everything. The longer and more involved response goes into detail about the use of plant-based alternatives for traditional foods. What you choose to focus on is entirely up to you and your tastebuds.