Veganism is considered an “extreme” form of vegetarianism, but it’s more than that. While vegetarians put restrictions on their diet, vegans change the way they live, from what they wear to the bags they carry. But there’s little doubt that diet is the biggest and most challenging aspect of veganism. Easily half of all commercial foods, if not more, will not make the cut.
So what can vegans eat? It’s easy to say what they can’t: anything that contains animal products, whether meat or dairy or animal-based food dyes and thickeners. Many vegans replace common “main dishes” with meat replacements such as tofu, textured vegetable protein, and tempeh. These are usually made to taste and feel like meat, and provide much of the protein in the diet. Some mushrooms, such as Portobello and porcini, are known for their meaty taste and often take their place in soups and sandwiches.
Greens are also a big part of the vegan diet. The health-conscious are particularly drawn to dark leafy greens, as they pack a large dose of nutrients with a small number of calories. Kale, broccoli, and arugula are among the most popular. They are often paired with grains, particularly whole grains such as spelt, millet, or barley. They add volume and make a light yet filling alternative to rice and pasta.
Many vegans also load up on eggplant, potatoes, carrots, pumpkins, squash, and tomatoes–root crops and fruits that are often mistaken for vegetables. What makes these “vegetable fruits” useful is that they add the bite that’s often missing in vegan meals. If you’re coming off an omnivorous diet, you’ll notice that meat-free dishes tend to be texture-free as well–but the right ingredients can take care of that. The same goes for legumes, beans, and pulses. These are particularly useful for their iron content; while most people get their iron from red meat and liver, vegans get theirs from plant-based sources.
Some vegans take it even further and go on a raw diet, which, as the name implies, only allows whole, raw foods. The idea is that cooking takes away some of the food’s nutritional value and creates free radicals, a precursor for a wide range of diseases. Raw food diets include lots of fruit and vegetables and natural fruit juices. It’s more than a little limiting and some doctors doubt that it’s good for the health, but it does keep you away from preservatives and keeps your calorie intake down.