1. WHAT IS VEGANISM?
Veganism is abstaining from all animal products in diet and lifestyle.
Foods avoided in a vegan diet include: meat (including fish and poultry), eggs, dairy, and honey.
Outside of their diets, vegans also avoid (as far as possible and practical):
- products tested on animals
- personal care products containing animal ingredients (beeswax, keratin, lanolin, etc.)
- leather, suede, down, and fur
- animal derived fabrics such as silk or wool
- animals as entertainment (circuses, rodeos, etc.)
2. WHAT’S THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN VEGANISM AND PLANT-BASED DIETS?
The term “plant-based” typically refers to a diet of plant foods (fruits, vegetables, beans, legumes, whole grains, healthy fats, etc.) which excludes animal products (meat, eggs, dairy, etc.) Typically the choice to abstain from animal products in diet won’t apply to a plant-based dieters overall lifestyle. Someone adhering to a plant-based diet might eat similarly to a vegan but they may use products tested on animals, or wear animal-derived fabrics.
Veganism is exactly what I outlined above, the key being that vegans abstain from animal products in both their diets AND lifestyles. Veganism doesn’t automatically = healthy. Vegans don’t necessarily abstain from unhealthy animal-free foods and can consume highly processed foods and ingredients. The vegan’s concern is typically “Does this contain any animal products?” instead of “Is this a health food?”.
Plant-based diets tend to have a focus on healthier foods, also excluding highly refined ingredients (like refined sugars, flours, and oils.)
What about plant-based vegans? It’s a safe bet to assume that they are vegan (in diet and lifestyle) and choose to eat mainly whole foods and avoid excess refined ingredients. Essentially, they’re “healthy vegans.”
3. HOW DO I KNOW IF A PARTICULAR FOOD IS VEGAN?
If the food is completely unprocessed, any fruit, vegetable, nut, seed, bean, or legume is vegan.
If it’s a packaged food, read the ingredients list. There are many by-products derived from animals which can cause some confusion at first, for example; whey powder, casein, and modified milk ingredients are all dairy products.
If you’re considering adopting a vegan diet, don’t let that scare you! You’ll be amazed at how quickly you learn what ingredients to avoid, it’s nothing to sweat over, you’ll learn it all in time!
A simple tip for quickly scanning ingredients lists: look at the very bottom of the ingredients list for the information on allergens. If the product contains milk ingredients, eggs, or shellfish it will plainly say, “Contains milk, eggs, shellfish”. This doesn’t work so well for meat products, but it really helps when scanning for dairy and eggs.
4. WHAT ABOUT ADD-ON LABELS LIKE OIL-FREE, HCLF, 80/10/10, AND RAW?
Disclaimer: I am not an advocate for any of the following lifestyles. I’m quite content eating plain old vegan, or tip-toeing into plant-based veganism to eat better. Veganism is a hefty label to bear on its own and I’m not comfortable suggesting that anyone limit their diet further if it’s not medically necessary (like in the case of some gluten-free vegans.) Further limiting yourself beyond veganism can lead to disordered eating habits and food-based obsessions, can lead to burn-out (a.k.a. quitting veganism all-together!) or nutritional deficiencies. This is based on my experience and anecdotal evidence from being a part of the vegan community for several years. Over-complicating veganism can make the lifestyle seem less unapproachable to potential vegans. Going vegan is SO awesome, you don’t need to take part in any competition for “best vegan award” and limit your choices further. Do what’s best for you and always listen to your body! If you’re a new vegan, take your time. There’s so much room to experiment with your diet by eating less oil or eating more raw foods but you don’t need to slap another label on yourself to do so!
These niche labels further limit a vegan or plant-based dieters food choice, beyond not consuming animal products.
Oil-free: Consumes no refined oils but does eat unrefined fats like avocados, nuts, and whole-foods.
HCLF (High Carb-Low Fat): Restricts fat intake and relies heavily on carbs for fuel. They may eat plenty of fruit (probably a lot of bananas), potatoes, rice, etc.
80/10/10: These number refers to the ratio of macro nutrients they strive for: 80% carbohydrates, 10% protein, 10% carbs.
Raw: Raw vegans don’t consume foods heated about 48 °C (118 °F), stemming from the belief that heating foods above these temperatures destroys macro-nutrients.
Raw till 4: Someone who eats a primarily raw diet but eats a cooked dinner (They eat “raw” until 4pm and then allow cooked foods.)
5. WHICH ANIMAL BY-PRODUCTS DOES A VEGAN NEED TO WATCH OUT FOR?
There are some very comprehensive lists of animal by-products and all their many names online. They’re a little overwhelming for someone who is new to veganism.
Here are some of the more common ingredients to watch out for (not including the obvious such as “eggs”, “milk”, “beef fat”, etc.)
Personal care products, cosmetics, etc.: beeswax, lanolin, keratin, musk, pearls, tallow
Food: albumen, bone char, butter fat, carmine, casein, gelatin, lactose, lard, l-cysteine, shellac, vitamin D3, whey powder
To add to the confusion there are many ingredients that could be plant-based or animal-based. For those ingredients you’ll often have to contact the manufacturer directly to find out where they source their ingredients, or check online, someone else may have already found the answer.
6. WHAT ABOUT PRODUCTS THAT SAY “MAY CONTAIN TRACES OF MILK PRODUCTS” OR “PROCESSED IN A FACILITY THAT MANUFACTURES MILK PRODUCTS”, ARE THEY SUITABLE FOR VEGANS?
This simply means that milk is not an added ingredient, but a very small amount may have come in contact with the food. This is really intended for people with severe allergies where even the tiniest amount of cross-contamination with an allergen could cause them to have an allergic reaction. Sometimes companies that don’t even use these ingredients but will add the “may contain “X” ingredients” to the package to cover their butts if someone were to have any adverse reaction. I do not avoid foods that contain only vegan ingredients but could be contaminated with non-vegan allergens.
7. I’D LOVE TO GO VEGAN BUT I LOVE CHEESE!
Going vegan doesn’t need to mean you need to leave cheese behind!
8. IS EATING VEGAN EXPENSIVE? I NEED TO STICK TO A BUDGET!
Just like any other diet, you can choose to eat an extravagant vegan diet, or a more budget conscious one. In my experience so far, I spend a considerable amount less to eat healthy and vegan than I did when I was eating healthy and vegetarian.