Beginner’s Guide to the Vegan Diet

By Lauren Fischer

You are probably familiar with the vegetarian diet, which excludes all meat, poultry and seafood. Well, the vegan diet goes a step further than the vegetarian diet and excludes all animal and animal-based foods including eggs, dairy and bee products in favor of plant-based foods.

In the 2011 documentary “Forks Over Knives,” Dr. Terry Mason, commissioner of health for the city of Chicago, sums up the vegan diet by saying, “If it walked, hopped, swam, crawled, slithered, had eyes, a momma and a dad, don’t eat it.”

Colin Campbell, Ph.D., and Caldwell Esselstyn, M.D., are two prominent advocates of the vegan diet. Dr. Campbell is well-known for “The China Study,” which studied the diets of 6,500 people across 65 counties in China and ultimately concluded that a whole-foods, plant-based diet decreases the risk of developing chronic and degenerative diseases like cancer and coronary artery disease. Dr. Esselstyn conducted clinical research using a whole-foods, plant-based diet to halt and even reverse cardiovascular disease in patients with a history of coronary artery bypass surgery.

According to “The Kind Diet,” the adoption of a plant-based diet can lead to a, “total transformation in health and emotional well-being … including reversals in heart disease, diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, allergies, osteoporosis, lupus and more.”

Common criticisms of the vegan diet include a lack of protein, especially complete proteins, concerns about the large consumption of soy products, and possible B12, iron and calcium deficiencies.

Everyone’s dietary needs are different, so consider whether the vegan diet is right for you.

Foods to Enjoy

  • Whole grains – Enjoy all whole grains, including rice, quinoa, farro, millet, barley, oats, etc.
  • Beans – Enjoy all beans, including chickpeas, lentils, black, kidney, adzuki, etc.
  • Bean products – Tofu (made from soybeans) and tempeh (made from slightly fermented soy beans)
  • Seitan – Made from the gluten of whole wheat; high in protein
  • Vegetables – Enjoy all vegetables.
  • Fruits – Enjoy all fruits.
  • Nuts and seeds – Enjoy all nuts and seeds as well as nut and seed butters.

Foods to Avoid

  • Meat – Avoid all meats, including beef, pork, lamb, wild meats and organ meats.
  • Poultry – Avoid all poultry, including chicken, turkey, duck and quail.
  • Seafood – Avoid all seafood, including fish and shellfish.
  • Eggs – Avoid all eggs, including chicken, duck and quail.
  • Dairy – Avoid all dairy products, including milk, cream, cheese, yogurt, butter, ice cream, whey and casein.
  • Bee products – Avoid all bee products, including honey, bee pollen and royal jelly.
  • Gelatin – Avoid all gelatin as it contains beef, pork or seafood proteins.

Sample Menu


Oatmeal with strawberries and peanut butter


Almonds and dried apricots


Roasted eggplant, bell pepper, red onion and sweet potato over brown rice with tahini-lemon dressing


Smoothie with almond milk, frozen strawberries, spinach, avocado and vegan protein powder


Lentil stew with a salad of romaine lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers and Kalamata olives with a red wine vinegar and olive oil dressing

By Lauren Fischer


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Lauren has been a member of the Gainesville community since her freshman year at the University of Florida in 2001. She graduated with her master’s in nursing in 2008 and practiced as a pediatric nurse practitioner in Gainesville and Live Oak, Florida. Seeing patients, especially children, with compromised quality of life due to poor lifestyle choices sparked Lauren to seek additional education in holistic nutrition and wellness. She became certified as a Nutrition Therapy Consultant through the Nutrition Therapy Association in 2015. Lauren aims to provide accurate and actionable health and wellness information that will help people live happier and healthier lives.