Vegan diet: what it is, principles, what to eat, benefits, example of menu, benefits and risks

Vegan diet: what it is, principles, what to eat, benefits, example of menu, benefits and risks

Vegan diet: in America more and more people are following it. This is confirmed by the Eurispes America 2020 Report, which shows that 2.2% of Italians have chosen a diet completely free of animal products. The reasons are ethical and health-related: people become vegan for health and well-being reasons (23.2%), but also out of love and respect for the animal world (22.2%).

Despite its growing success, the vegan diet is one of the most controversial diets, on the one hand praised for its positive effects on health, on the other strongly criticized for the high risk of nutritional deficiencies to which it exposes those who choose to follow it.

So? Vegan diet, yes or no? And, if so, how? We have tried to clarify, summarizing the principles of the vegan diet, an example of a vegan diet menu for weight loss, the benefits and risks and explaining why Tipsforwomens has chosen not to propose a vegan diet for weight loss.

Vegan diet: what is it

The vegan diet is a diet that does not include any food of animal origin (meat, fish, milk and derivatives, eggs and honey) and is based on the consumption of cereals, legumes, vegetables and fruit, both fresh and dried, vegetable oils, vegetable drinks, seeds.

It falls within the vegetarian diets, with the substantial difference that it does not only exclude the consumption of meat and fish, but provides for the complete elimination of all products of animal origin, including milk, derivatives and eggs.

What is the difference between a vegetarian diet and a vegan diet?

A diet can be defined as vegetarian if it excludes all types of meat (pork, beef, mutton, lamb, poultry, game), meat products (sausages, cured meats, pâtés, etc.), fish (including sushi), molluscs and crustaceans.

Based on the inclusion or not of dairy products, eggs and honey, it is possible to distinguish two basic types of vegetarian diet:

1. Lacto-ovo-vegetarianism (LOV). It excludes meat but includes dairy products, eggs and honey, along with a wide range of plant-based foods. The subcategories are lacto-vegetarianism (LV), which excludes eggs, and ovo-vegetarianism (OV), which excludes dairy products.2. Veganism (VEG). It excludes meat, dairy products, eggs and honey and is based on a wide range of plant-based foods.

The vegan diet is therefore defined as a “total” vegetarian diet, because it completely excludes products of animal origin, direct and indirect.

At the vegan food pyramid

The principles of this diet are summarized by the so-called vegan food pyramid, which schematically summarizes the food groups that must be present in the vegan diet, also indicating to what extent and how often to consume them.

The pyramid is divided into steps. At the base are the food groups to bring to the table more frequently and in abundance. Going up from step to step, those to be eaten to an increasingly lesser extent are represented.

There are numerous vegetarian-inspired food pyramid models, such as those from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetic or Loma Linda University. Some emphasize (and place the consumption of fruit and vegetables at the base), others that of cereals, as in the case of the vegan food pyramid developed by the Arizona State University Department of Nutrition, which we propose below.

In the table we illustrate, with some examples, which quantities correspond to the portions of each of the food groups included in the vegan food pyramid.

Number of servings per day

  • 2-3 tablespoons of oil.
  • 1-2- Nights and semi.
  • 3 Milk substitutes and derivatives (soy milk, tofu…).
  • 2-3 Legumes and other protein foods.
  • 2-4 Verdure.
  • 2-3 green leafy vegetables.
  • 1-2 Fruits.
  • 1-2 dried fruit.
  • 6-10 Bread, pasta, rice, fortified cereals.


8 cups (1-5/2 litres) per day (requirement increases as physical activity increases).


  • Vitamin B12: 2-3 g/day.
  • Vitamin D: 200 IU/day.
  • Calcium: 600mg/day.

Portion sizes by food group

  • Cereals: ½ cup cooked pasta, rice or other grains, 1 slice of bread.
  • Vegetables: ½ cup cooked vegetables or 1 cup raw vegetables.
  • Fruits: 1 medium-sized fruit, 1 cup of fruit salad.
  • Vegetable drinks: 1 cup.
  • Legumes: ½ cup cooked beans.
  • Nuts and seeds: ¼ cup of hazelnuts.

Note: 1 cup = 16 tbsp.

The Italian vegan food pyramid

In America, the principles of this diet are summarized by the PiattoVeg, a plate-shaped vegan food pyramid. A diagram that identifies the foods that are the basis of a plant-based diet and provides recommendations relating to the specific needs of certain nutrients, such as calcium, vitamin D, vitamin B12 and omega 3 fatty acids, in order not to run the risk of deficiencies.

As underlined by the Scientific Society of Vegetarian Nutrition in the brochure “Let’s learn to eat healthy with vegetable foods”, the Veg Plate represents a proposal of Italian Guidelines for a correct vegetarian diet and a useful scheme for those who want to start following a vegetarian or vegan.

According to the indications of the VegPlate, the vegan diet is based on 6 food groups, namely:

  • cereals.
  • Protein foods (legumes and other protein-rich foods, excluding all protein foods of animal origin, i.e. meat, fish, eggs, milk and derivatives).
  • Vegetables.
  • Fruit.
  • dried fruit and oilseeds.
  • Grassi.

Food groups

Let’s see in detail which foods make up the 6 food groups of the vegan food pyramid and which nutrients they provide.


This group includes bread, pasta, rice, breakfast cereals, wheat, corn, millet, barley, oats, rye, spelt, buckwheat, kamut, quinoa, bulgur, couscous, rusks, breadsticks and crackers.

Rice milk also falls into the cereal group. Each meal should be built around a good plate of cereals, preferably whole grains, rich in fibre, complex carbohydrates, proteins, vitamins B, E, iron and zinc.

If you are interested in the topic, discover our in-depth study on cereals.

Protein-rich foods

Among the foods rich in vegetable proteins, there are legumes, all soy-based products (milk and soy yoghurt, tofu, tempeh, restructured vegetable proteins) and wheat gluten-based products (seitan) and their combinations (burgers and vegetable meatballs, vegetable cold cuts, etc.).

In addition to proteins, these foods also provide mineral salts, dietary fiber, vitamins and essential fatty acids.


It is important to include large portions of vegetables in the vegan diet, varying them as much as possible. Indeed, they represent a source of:

  • vitamin C
  • Beta carotene.
  • lycopene.
  • Ferro.
  • Soccer.
  • Dietary fibers.

Vegetables are particularly rich in these nutrients dark green leafy vegetables and cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower).


Fruit is rich in fiber, vitamin C and beta-carotene. According to the VegPlate, those who follow a vegan diet should eat at least one portion a day of fruit rich in vitamin C (citrus fruits, melons, strawberries), preferring whole fruit to juices, which lose much of the fruit’s fiber content.

Dried fruit and oilseeds

The vegan diet must also include dried fruit (walnuts, hazelnuts, almonds, etc.) and oil seeds, such as pumpkin, sesame, sunflower, flax seeds, which have nutritional characteristics similar to those of dried fruit.


This group includes a number of high-calorie foods that should be eaten in moderation. Among these, the oils: it is important to favor those of flaxseed and olive, sources of respectively polyunsaturated fatty acids of the omega 3 family and monounsaturated.

All solid fats at room temperature (such as tropical coconut and palm oils and margarines) instead contain high quantities of saturated or transhydrogenated fats harmful to health and must therefore be used in a very limited way, and only if absolutely necessary.

Portions of various foods

For each food group, the Veggie Plate also indicates how much a portion corresponds to. The minimum number of portions to be consumed depends on the individual daily calorie requirement.

Nutrients to include in the vegan diet


The foods of the first 5 groups are rich in calcium: at least 6 servings a day should come from this sort of transversal group that includes all 5, to ensure the right amount of calcium.

Vitamin D

Vitamin D should preferably be taken in supplement form, in the recommended doses.

Vitamina B12

Vitamin B12 is present only in foods of animal origin, therefore a vegan diet must include the use of fortified vegetable foods or supplements.

The dosages and methods of integration must be defined on the basis of personal needs with the help of the doctor or a nutrition specialist.

Omega 3 fatty acids

The vegan diet must include 2 portions of foods that provide omega-3 fatty acids (legumes, dried fruit and fats) every day.

discretionary calories

The Veg Plate also includes a portion of “discretionary” calories, i.e. calories that do not necessarily have to provide nutrients.

They can therefore be represented by so-called “empty calories”, for example processed foods such as snacks and sweet drinks. However, it is preferable to obtain this portion of calories from healthy foods belonging to the Veg Plate.

Vegan diet for weight loss

Monday200ml oat milk, 3 wholemeal rusks, 10g peanut butter.Fresh seasonal fruit (1 peach)Mixed quinoa salad 50 g, 3 green olives, cherry tomatoes, rocket, tofu flakes4 almondsLegume soup (celery, carrot, onion, borlotti beans, chickpeas and chard
Tuesday1 cup of green tea, 3 vegan quinoa and chocolate biscuits3 nightsBrown rice 50 g, with pumpkin cream,…