With ethical and healthy credentials, vegan diets are growing in popularity. But is going vegan as good for you as it sounds? Below, we take a look at the pros and cons of a plant-based diet, including the nutrients you may be missing.


Next, discover more about the benefits of a vegan diet and find out if a vegan diet is healthy for kids, where we look at research into weaning and vegan formula milks.

What is a vegan diet?

A vegan diet is a plant-based diet that includes vegetables, grains, nuts, seeds and fruits. Vegans do not eat foods derived from animals, including meat and meat-derived products like gelatine and rennet, as well as fish, shellfish, dairy, eggs and foods containing them, such as non-vegan Quorn products. Vegans also avoid honey.

What are the health benefits of a vegan diet?


Research has linked a vegan diet with lower blood pressure and cholesterol, and as a result, a lower rate of heart disease. This may be explained by the fact that a vegan diet is likely to be low in fat and rich in dietary fibre, as well as a good source of heart-friendly nutrients such as folate, vitamins C and E, potassium, magnesium as well as the healthier unsaturated fats. Staple foods such as nuts and wholegrains, are also heart friendly.


Vegans are more likely to have a lower body mass index (BMI), thanks, in part, to this fibre-rich and naturally satiating way of eating. As a consequence, vegan diets tend to be lower calorie and effective for weight management.

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Helps manage blood sugar

Following a balanced, whole-food vegan diet may reduce the risk of developing type 2 diabetes, while studies also demonstrate the value of a low-fat vegan diet for those with type 2 diabetes, including improved glycaemic response and lipid management.


A plant-based diet is naturally fibre-rich diet promotes a diverse and stable microbiome, which in turn creates compounds, known as Short Chain Fatty Acids (SCFA). These support the immune system, improve the resilience of the gut barrier and help regulate our digestive system.

May reduce the risk of cancer

A vegan diet typically includes more legumes, vegetables and fruit, and this may explain the findings that suggest a vegan diet confers a reduced risk of total cancers.

Which nutrients may be missing from a vegan diet?

Vegan diets are often criticised as lacking certain key nutrients and studies do show that vegans are at higher risk of having inadequate blood levels of vitamins B12 and D, long-chain omega-3 fatty acids, iodine, iron, calcium and zinc.

However, it is feasible to obtain all the nutrients you need from a varied vegan diet as long as you are prepared to include fortified foods and to supplement, where necessary. If you are concerned about deficiency or experiencing symptoms, speak to your GP.

Plant proteins

Which nutrients are important for vegans?


This macronutrient is one that people starting a plant-based diet are often concerned about, however, peas, lentils and beans are useful sources of plant-based protein. Anyone starting a vegan diet may also take comfort from the fact that there is no evidence to suggest vegans who enjoy a varied diet are likely to be deficient in protein.

Check out our 10 best vegan protein sources, and 20 high-protein vegetarian foods.

Vitamin B12

Plant foods do not supply vitamin B12, so vegans are at risk of deficiency unless they include fortified foods or take a supplement. Recommendations include fortified plant milks, yogurts and spreads as well as fortified breakfast cereals – have these at least two or three times a day with the aim of achieving at least 3mcg per day.

Some people are at greater risk of deficiency. These include the elderly, long-term vegans who avoid fortified foods, such as those following a raw or macrobiotic diet, and breastfed infants of vegan mothers whose own intake of B12 is low.

Check out more information in our what is vitamin B12 good for?

Vitamin D

Plays an important role in the health of our bones, teeth and muscles. Found in a limited number of foods, vitamin D can be made by the action of sunlight on the skin. A daily intake of 10mcg is recommended, although this is difficult to achieve through diet alone, and may be a particular issue in during winter months when we are exposed to less sunlight. For this reason, all adults and not just vegans, are advised to consider a daily supplement providing 10mcg from October to March. Be aware that not all vitamin D supplements are vegan-friendly so look for a product supplying vitamin D derived from lichen or in the form - vitamin D2

If you're still not sure about intake, check out our helpful guides: Am I getting enough vitamin D? and Is my child getting enough vitamin D.


Often associated with bone health, calcium is also necessary for nerve and muscle function and blood clotting. A vegan diet can provide your calcium requirements if you include calcium-set tofu, fortified plant milks and yogurts as well as leafy greens, including kale and pak choi, and nuts and seeds such as chia seeds and almonds.

Check out our guide, 'Am I at risk of calcium deficiency?,' and read up on the best vegan calcium sources.


Iron deficiency is common for both meat-eaters and vegans alike, especially among women of reproductive age. However, there are plenty of vegan food sources – these include lentils, chickpeas, beans, nuts, seeds and dried apricots and fortified breakfast cereals. Check out our expert guide for everything you need to know about iron in your diet.


Iodine is needed for thyroid hormones, these control our metabolism and, as such, determine how fast our cells work. Plant foods tend to vary in content and on the whole contain very low levels of iodine. This means a supplement may be the most reliable vegan source.

For further information check out our what is iodine? guide.

Omega-3 fatty acids

These are essential fats that have to be obtained from the diet. They're crucial for the brain, hormonal balance, nerves, eyes and the immune system. There are three main types - ALA, EPA and DHA. The most active forms EPA and DHA are typically found in fatty varieties of fish, whilst ALA is sourced from plant foods but must be converted by the body to EPA and DHA. This conversion is influenced by a number of factors including your gender, with females enjoying a better conversion efficiency. It is possible to supplement a vegan diet with EPA and DHA from microalgae and this may be useful for infants, expectant mums and those who are breastfeeding.

Vegan food sources which supply ALA include chia, hemp and flaxseeds as well as walnuts. Rapeseed oil is a useful omega-3 option for cooking.

Check out our guide on the best omega-3 sources.

Vegan sausage rolls

Are processed vegan foods healthy?

With the growth in popularity of plant-based diets comes a market of vegan-friendly ready meals, ‘meat’ alternatives and other convenience foods. Many of these have salt, sugar and fat added to improve their palatability. Of particular note are trans fats or hydrogenated fats, which are commonly present in processed ready-meals and have been linked to heart disease. These foods are also likely to include additives, such as emulsifiers, which may have a negative impact on our gut bacteria and promote intestinal inflammation.

For more information check out our guide on is vegan 'meat' healthy?

It’s important to remember, however, that not all processing is bad. Nutrient fortification is important because it increases the accessibility of nutrients such as vitamins B12 and D, calcium and iodine and plays an important part in establishing a balanced and nutritionally adequate vegan diet.

Can a vegan diet reverse the signs of aging?

A recent Netflix documentary (‘You are what you eat – a twin experiment’) covered an eight week study that examined the impact of a purely plant-based diet versus a healthy omnivorous one on age acceleration in paired twins. The study reported aging benefits to a vegan diet, however, this was a short study of only 8 weeks, with only 22 sets of twins, the study was not restricted in terms of calorie intake, did not include supplementation and has not been subject to a peer review. Therefore, until further research is conducted, we are unable to validate these claims.

Is a vegan diet healthy while pregnant or breastfeeding?

Although plant-based diets may be low in certain nutrients, evidence shows that a well-planned, supplemented vegan diet is considered safe during pregnancy and breastfeeding. One important nutrient to consider at this time is choline, richest in animal foods like egg yolks, choline is essential for the brain chemical acetylcholine, which helps sharpen our memory, and plays a key role in liver function, muscle development and even cholesterol management. Expectant mums are thought to have a greater need for this nutrient because it may be important for the baby’s brain development. Mums will also need it for their own liver and placental function.

Vegans won’t fall short of choline as long as their diet includes a wide variety of foods, such as beans, soya and quinoa, as well as green veggies, nuts, seeds and grains, including wheat. It's worth bearing in mind that choline is a water-soluble nutrient, so if you are boiling green vegetables, make use of the cooking liquid in sauces and soups.

Find more information on the NHS website.

Wholegrain foods

Tips for eating a balanced vegan diet

Whether you are a long-term vegan or just starting out, obtaining a balanced diet is achievable with the right planning and a little know how. First off start by aiming to:

  • Eat a wide and varied selection of vegetables and fruit (a minimum of 5 portions, with the emphasis on vegetables) every day.
  • Base your meals on wholegrains, include a variety such as wholegrain wheat, rye, barley, rice, quinoa, buckwheat as well as starchy vegetables, like potatoes.
  • Choose fortified plant milks, yogurts and spreads and include them daily, to support your intake of nutrients like vitamin B12, calcium, vitamin D and iodine.
  • Include beans, peas and lentils for their protein contribution.
  • Choose unsaturated oils and spreads and consider cooking with cold-pressed rapeseed oil for its omega 3 contribution.
  • Drink 6-8 glasses of water or other hydrating fluid daily.

Overall, is a vegan diet healthy?

Those who follow a well-planned, vegan diet, that limits processed foods and replaces them with whole, nutrient dense ones as well as includes the appropriate fortified foods and supplements should meet their nutritional requirements.

However, children, pregnant or breast-feeding mothers and the elderly have greater needs and should seek advice accordingly.

Who can I speak to for advice?

If you have concerns about the nutritional adequacy of your diet, you are pregnant, breast-feeding, are young or elderly or have an underlying medical condition, refer to your GP or a registered dietitian for advice and guidance.

Get inspired with these delicious plant-based ideas:

Healthy vegan recipes
High-protein vegan recipes
Low-carb vegan recipes
Gut-friendly vegan recipes
Healthy vegan lunches

Now read...

Top 10 health benefits of a vegan diet
The best 22 milk alternatives to try
Which milk is healthiest?
The best vegan calcium sources

This article was reviewed on 21st March 2024 by Kerry Torrens

Kerry Torrens BSc. (Hons) PgCert MBANT is a Registered Nutritionist with a post graduate diploma in Personalised Nutrition & Nutritional Therapy. She is a member of the British Association for Nutrition and Lifestyle Medicine (BANT) and a member of the Guild of Food Writers. Over the last 15 years she has been a contributing author to a number of nutritional and cookery publications including BBC Good Food.


All health content on bbcgoodfood.com is provided for general information only, and should not be treated as a substitute for the medical advice of your own doctor or any other health care professional. If you have any concerns about your general health, you should contact your local health care provider. See our website terms and conditions for more information.

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