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What Does It Mean to Be Vegan?

By HERWriter
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Being vegan means choosing a diet that does not include any meat or animal products. But being vegan extends beyond just food. Many vegans also avoid using any animal products or anything that requires animal products during the manufacturing process. The word vegan can correctly be used to refer to the vegan diet or to a person who chooses to live the vegan lifestyle.

Many people confuse veganism and vegetarianism. Vegan is one of several types of vegetarian diets. So while it is true that all vegans are vegetarians, not all vegetarians limit their foods as strictly as vegans.

The vegan diet eliminates all meat products including fish and chicken. It also excludes all ingredients that come from animals including milk and other dairy products, and eggs. Many vegans also eliminate foods that are processed using animal products or that are made by animals, including processed sugar, certain wines, and honey.

The Vegan Society website describes veganism as “promoting ways of living free from animal products for the benefit of people, animals and the environment.” In addition to limiting foods, many vegans choose not to use any products that are tested on animals or that come from animals including:

• Leather
• Fur
• Wool or lanolin which is made from wool
• Gelatin (made using meat by-products)
• Beeswax (made by bees)
• Silk (made by silkworms)
• Rennet (an animal enzyme used to make cheese)
• Catgut (made from animal intestines and used for strings on musical instruments)
• Down (feathers in pillows, sleeping bags, coats, etc.)

People who choose to eat a vegan diet need to be attentive to the nutritional content of their foods to make sure they are eating well-balanced meals that contain all the nutrients their bodies need.

Research shows that eating a vegan or vegetarian diet can have some health benefits including lower cholesterol, lower blood pressure, and a healthier body mass index which is an indicator of a healthy weight. Eating a vegan diet can also help decrease the risk of heart disease and cancer and can help control diabetes.

Like any diet, it is important in the vegan diet to maintain a healthy balance of protein and other foods. A vegan diet can be safe and healthful for people of all ages and life stages as long as nutritional needs are carefully monitored.


The Vegan Society. Lifestyle & Nutrition. Web. January 8, 2012.

About.com: Vegetarian Food. Vegan – What is a vegan? What do vegans eat?. Jolinda Hackett. Web. January 8, 2012.

Medline Plus. The Mainstreaming of Vegan Diets. HealthDay. Web. January 8, 2012.

Kids Health. Vegan Food Guide. Web. January 8, 2012.

Reviewed January 10, 2012
by Michele Blacksberg RN
Edited by Jody Smith

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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.

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