Vegan diets have become more popular recently. A vegan diet is plant-based and doesn’t include any foods or ingredients that come from animals, including dairy and eggs.
Eating a diet containing plenty of minimally processed plant foods such as fruit, vegetables, legumes, nuts, seeds, wholegrains and healthy oils like olive oil is great for your health, as they contain healthy nutrients and tend to be high in fibre which promotes good gut health.
The food industry (including fast-food chains) has jumped on board the vegan train and has started producing a range of vegan products to capitalise on the plant-based trend. However, in some cases, these products are not necessarily a ‘healthier choice’.
If you want to start eating more plant-based products, here are three things you need to know.
1. Don’t be fooled into believing everything you read!
Just because a food product is labelled ‘vegan’ doesn’t mean you have a free pass to eat as much as you want or that it’s necessarily a healthier option. Let us give you some examples:
Biscuits – some famous chocolate biscuits are vegan, however this doesn’t mean they are a healthier option to munch away on as they are still high in sugar and kilojoules.
Ice cream – a well-known ice cream brand has released their ‘vegan’ version, however the calories and nutrient profile are similar to the non-vegan versions so there are no extra health benefits from eating it.
Savoury snacks – crisps and hot chips are still considered discretionary* (sometimes) foods even if they are labelled ‘100% vegan’ as they are high in fat and sodium.
Vegan burgers – fast-food chains are promoting their vegan products as being better for you however they still contain a whopping amount of energy, fat and sodium.
Vegan meat lookalikes – tend to be highly processed to help the taste, appearance, and the texture of the food. This increases the sodium, saturated fat and refined carbohydrate content of the food. The ingredients in these type of products are also low in nutritional value.
* Discretionary foods tend to be high in energy, saturated fat, sodium and sugar and provide little nutritional value – that’s why they should only be eaten in small portions and only occasionally.
2. Check the ingredients list
To help you decipher healthier vegan products, check the label!
Look for an ingredients list that has simple, natural ingredients that are as close to the plant’s original state like this:
Following a vegan diet might require you to top up certain nutrients.
Vitamin B12 is not usually found in plants and is found mostly in animal products like meat and eggs. Therefore, when following a strict vegan diet, it’s essential to include plant-based products that are fortified with vitamin B12 such as plant-based milks and breakfast cereals.
Calcium and vitamin D work together and increase the strength of bones and teeth. When lacking in one, the other doesn’t normally work as well. It’s important to find plant-based products that are fortified with both nutrients in good amounts. Some examples include fortified plant-based milk and yoghurt.
Check the Nutrition Information Panel on products and choose products that provide a good percentage of your Recommended Daily Intake (RDI) in each serve.
Vitamin B12 (µg)
1.0 (50% RDI)*
Vitamin D (µg)
5.0 (50% RDI)*
400 (50% RDI)*
So if you are following a vegan diet or just choosing to include more plant-based foods, make sure to include a wide variety of minimally processed foods such as vegetables, fruit, wholegrains, nuts, seeds, legumes, healthy oils and dairy alternatives fortified with calcium, Vitamin D and Vitamin B12. Limit those discretionary foods.