Balanced vegan

Vegan Eatwell Plate

This colourful graphic explains what a balanced vegan diet looks like:

Balanced Vegan Eatwell Plate small
*Click on the image to download the PDF version



Eating a balanced vegan diet is important for good health

What is a balanced vegan diet?

A balanced vegan diet includes plenty of fruit and vegetables, wholegrain foods, pulses, nuts and seeds. You won’t be missing out on anything – in fact, much of what you already eat is probably vegan! With some simple swaps, you can enjoy a wide range of classic favourite dishes plus new and exciting ones! However, a vegan diet can still be unhealthy if it’s based on pies, biscuits and chips. If you follow some basic guidelines, with the occasional treat, you will soon reap the benefits.


What I need each day for good health

5-8 portions of fruit and vegetablesfresh, frozen, steamed, cooked, blended in smoothies or dried. The natural compounds that give foods their bright colours are also what protects your health. So, add some colour to every meal!
3-4 servings of cereals and grainsbrown rice, wholemeal bread, wholewheat pasta, oats and quinoa. Experiment with black rice and red quinoa for an added boost
2-3 servings of pulsespeas, beans, lentils, soya and products made from them (tofu, tempeh and edamame)
2 tablespoons or a small handful of nuts and seedsraw, lightly roasted, blended into butters or chopped in nut roasts
Small amounts of vegetable oilflaxseed, hemp seed or virgin olive oil used cold; rapeseed or soya oil for cooking

A daily dose of vitamins B12 and D (this applies to everyone regardless of diet)



Plant-based meat alternatives

Processed plant-based meats are not considered healthy as they tend to contain higher levels of fat and salt than wholefoods. However, they are still better for you than meat in terms of cardiovascular disease and cancer risk and some plant-based meats have been found to have a beneficial effect on gut bacteria which can provide significant and wide-ranging health benefits. They are often tasty, easy to cook and can be helpful for people transitioning to a plant-based diet. If you do eat meat alternatives, limit them to just once or twice a week. They also tend to be more expensive than wholefoods, so having them only sparingly makes financial as well as nutritional sense!


What the experts say:

British National Health Service (NHS):

“With good planning and an understanding of what makes up a healthy, balanced vegan diet, you can get all the nutrients your body needs.”

Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics:

“… appropriately planned vegetarian, including vegan, diets are healthful, nutritionally adequate, and may provide health benefits for the prevention and treatment of certain diseases.”

American Dietetic Association:

“… appropriately planned vegetarian diets, including total vegetarian or vegan diets, are healthful, nutritionally adequate, and may provide health benefits in the prevention and treatment of certain diseases. Well-planned vegetarian diets are appropriate for individuals during all stages of the life cycle, including pregnancy, lactation, infancy, childhood, and adolescence, and for athletes.”

Read more here.


Balanced vegan

The health benefits of a balanced vegan diet:

  • Diabetes is a major killer in the UK, but vegans have up to a 50 per cent lower risk of developing it and a low-fat vegan diet can also reverse type 2 diabetes.
  • Heart disease: high blood pressure, high cholesterol, narrowing of arteries and heart disease are considerably less common among vegans compared to meat-eaters and vegetarians. Not only can a healthy vegan diet help prevent these conditions, but it can also reverse them.
  • Cancer is a major threat to our health, but a vegan diet can significantly reduce the risk. Research shows that vegans have a 16-19 per cent lower risk of all cancers compared to meat-eaters.
  • Overweight and obesity: vegans tend to weigh less because it’s much easier to lose and maintain a healthy weight on a balanced vegan diet.
  • Gut bacteria tend to be healthier and more protective in vegans while meat-eaters have the most harmful bacteria, encouraging inflammation and producing toxins. We are only just discovering how important this is!
  • Athletes are discovering how a vegan diet is packed with complex carbohydrates that release their energy gradually and provide the perfect fuel for improving their performance and recovery.
  • Age better on a vegan diet! Studies show that vegans are healthier compared to the rest of the population well into advanced age. As a vegan, you’re less likely to die prematurely.
  • Dementia and Alzheimer’s disease are also increasing as the population ages but a wholesome vegan diet can lower your risk.


Nutrition essentials

Variety is key to any healthy diet, including a vegan diet. Aim for a varied, colourful diet – eat the rainbow! It will provide you with all the nutrients you need and protect your health. The drop-down menu below lists key nutrients and all the important facts you need to know. To find out more, see our comprehensive A to Z of Nutrients.


One of the most common questions vegans are asked is: “Where do you get your protein?” Providing you eat a varied diet – containing enough calories – you will get plenty of protein. On average, adults need 45-55 grams a day. Most people in the UK get much more than that and too much protein, especially animal protein, can be harmful. All plant-based foods contain some protein, unless they are extracts such as oil or sugar. Good sources include pulses, wholegrain foods, nuts and seeds.

Vitamin B12:

Vitamin B12 helps maintain healthy nerve cells and plays a central role in the production of red blood cells and DNA. It’s produced by bacteria that live in the soil. Traditionally, humans and animals would have got B12 by eating foods from the ground. Food production is now so sanitised, we need a supplement. Farmed animals are given B12 supplements for the same reason meaning that meat, eggs and dairy are not a ‘natural’ source of B12 as the meat industry likes to claim. Cut out the middleman and take your own. We suggest a supplement providing 50 micrograms daily or 2,000 micrograms a week. You can top up with B12-fortified foods (eg fortified plant milk, breakfast cereal and low-sodium yeast extract).

Vitamin D:

We need vitamin D for healthy bones, teeth, muscles and many other essential functions. It’s made by the action of sunlight on our skin and most people can get enough during summer by daily exposure of five to 25 minutes – ‘little and often’ is best. In winter in the UK, the sunlight isn’t strong enough; so, a supplement is recommended for everyone, regardless of diet. Vitamin D can be obtained from fortified foods including plant-based milks, margarine, vegan breakfast cereals and ‘vitamin D mushrooms’ that have been exposed to UV light. The safest option though, is to take a supplement, 10 micrograms a day is recommended. You may need to take this all year round if you mostly stay indoors or cover up during the summer. Too much may be harmful so make sure you don’t take more than 100 micrograms a day. Vitamin D2 is always vegan whereas D3 is usually of animal origin (derived from sheep’s wool) but can also be obtained from algae or mushrooms. If it just says ‘vitamin D’, on fortified products, it tends to be D3 of animal origin.


We need calcium for healthy bones, muscle function, nerve transmission, signalling within cells and hormone formation. Calcium is the building block for bones but can only build bones properly if you get enough vitamin D to help you absorb it. A healthy, varied vegan diet, rich in wholegrain foods, leafy greens (eg kale and broccoli), pulses, nuts and seeds (tahini is a great source) and calcium-fortified plant milks and calcium-set tofu (check ingredients for calcium sulphate) will cover your needs.


Omega-3s are a type of polyunsaturated fat that we need to stay healthy. They are an essential part of our cell membranes; a key component of several hormones and they help regulate inflammation. They may also reduce cholesterol levels and help protect heart health. The main three types are called ALA, EPA and DHA.

  • ALA is an essential fatty acid; our bodies can’t make it, so we need to get it from food. Nuts, seeds and their oils (especially walnuts, chia seeds, ground flaxseeds and flaxseed oil) are good sources. One or two teaspoons of flaxseed oil, or a handful of walnuts plus a tablespoon of ground flaxseeds, can provide all you need.
  • EPA and DHA are found in oily fish but can also be produced in the body from ALA. Fish don’t produce their own omega-3 fat, they get it from the algae they eat. If you want to take a supplement containing these, you can take a sustainable, vegan one produced from algae that won’t contain the toxic contaminants found in fish oils.

We need iodine for normal thyroid function and to help regulate how energy is produced and used in our bodies. The seaweeds arame, wakame and nori are all good sources (kelp provides excessively high levels which can be harmful, so best to avoid). You should be able to get all you need by eating a varied vegan diet, with some occasional seaweed and/or iodised salt – used sparingly. Some plant milks contain iodine now too. The dairy industry likes to promote cow’s milk as a source of iodine but it is not  a natural component of cow’s milk; it comes from supplements added to animal feed, medication and from sterilising teats and udders with washes containing iodine.


Selenium is a key part of our cell defence mechanism and acts as an antioxidant – protecting cell membranes and DNA from damage. The best plant sources include Brazil nuts (a couple a day will help you meet your needs), sunflower and sesame seeds, wholegrains, tofu, asparagus and mushrooms.


Zinc is important for making new cells and enzymes that enable vital reactions in the body. We need it for wound healing, a healthy immune system and it’s crucial for male reproductive health. The best plant sources include tempeh (fermented soya beans), wholewheat pasta, tofu, quinoa, pumpkin seeds, lentils, wholewheat couscous, brown rice, cashew nuts, sesame seeds and tahini. A healthy, varied vegan diet, containing the foods listed above, should cover your needs.


The detrimental health effects of meat, fish, eggs and dairy

  • You don’t need to eat meat. In fact, cutting meat out of your diet can do you a lot of good because humans are not true carnivores and meat-eating has a wide range of detrimental health effects.
  • Cow’s milk and dairy products are not natural foods for us either – we are best suited to drinking breastmilk as babies only. Consuming dairy products made from the milk of a different species is not just unnatural, it’s also unnecessary and can harm your heath.
  • Regardless of confused media messages, the facts remain that egg consumption has been linked to heart disease and stroke, type 2 diabetes, cancer and food poisoning.
  • Fish is not a health food by any means. Widespread pollution makes fish and shellfish so dangerous to eat that the Government recommends limiting their consumption.


The drop-down menu below describes, in more detail, how animal products harm health.


Meat contains harmful saturated fats, animal protein and haem iron and is not an essential part of a healthy diet. In fact, even at low intakes, it’s positively unhealthy. People who eat meat tend to have higher cholesterol and blood pressure levels which increase the risk of heart disease. They are more likely to be overweight or obese and have a higher risk of type 2 diabetes – by up to 74 per cent. The World Health Organisation class processed meat, including sausages, bacon and hot dogs, as a Group 1 carcinogen (known to cause cancer) and red meat, they say, probably causes cancer too. Research links meat to cancers of the bowel, stomach, lung, kidney, bladder, pancreas, thyroid, breast and prostate. Meat, especially chicken, is also a main cause food poisoning and the widescale use of antibiotics in livestock is driving the emergence of antibiotic-resistant superbugs – that can cause life-threatening disease untreatable by any medicines. No one ever suggests sausages and bacon should be part of your five-a-day!

Read more here


Cow’s milk is a perfect food – for calves! It is not natural for humans to drink milk after weaning – and certainly not that of another species. Cow’s milk naturally contains hormones and growth factors designed to help a calf grow quickly – in human adults, they have been linked to cancer, in particular prostate, ovarian and breast cancer. The hormones in milk and whey protein powders may also cause acne, especially in teenagers and young adults. High-fat dairy products can contribute to high cholesterol levels, high blood pressure and increase the risk of heart disease. The fact that around 70 per cent of the world’s population are lactose intolerant and can’t digest the milk sugar lactose, shows that we don’t need milk for healthy bones – plant foods contain plenty of calcium. Soft cheese and unpasteurised milk products can contain Listeria – bacteria that cause food poisoning, which is why pregnant women are advised to avoid them. Bacteria in cow’s milk have also been linked to Crohn’s disease. Milk proteins may also play a role in type 1 diabetes development in some people, while fatty dairy products can contribute to type 2 diabetes. If that’s not enough to put you off, because dairy cows commonly suffer with mastitis, a painful infection of the udder, a teaspoonful of cow’s milk can contain up to two million pus cells.

Read more here.


All the world’s oceans are contaminated with toxic pollutants such as methylmercury, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and dioxins, and many act as damaging neurotoxins. They can accumulate as you move up the food chain, especially in oily fish, cancelling out any supposed beneficial effects of omega-3s. This is why the Government recommends limiting how much fish people eat. No other food carries a government health warning! Cooking fish at high temperatures produces yet more toxic compounds that may increase the risk of cancer. Farmed fish are not the answer as they contain more pollutants than wild fish. There’s no evidence that fish oil prevents heart disease, in fact, it may increase the risk in some. Like meat, fish is also a source of food poisoning – especially raw shellfish and the overuse of antibiotics in farmed fish is also driving the emergence of antibiotic-resistant superbugs. Commercial fishing and fish farming are not sustainable, they seriously damage and pollute the environment and decimate ocean ecosystems that we rely on.

Read more here or here.


Eating eggs may increase your risk of heart disease by up to 75 per cent and eating them daily puts you at a higher risk of dying from cancer – by up to 50 per cent. Eggs have, for example, been linked to ovarian and prostate cancer. Eating one egg a day may double your risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Salmonella food poisoning from eggs is still a risk with British eggs infecting dozens of people every year. Eggs and egg products from other countries may carry an even higher risk. Poultry farms are not environmentally friendly and cause pollution as well as much suffering. They are also responsible for the spread of bird flu – which poses a serious pandemic threat.

Read more here.

The positive food choices you can make for your health, the planet and the animals

Healthy salad circle


A well-balanced vegan diet provides all the nutrients you need while lowering the risk of obesity, diabetes, heart disease and some cancers. It gives you energy, supports your immune system, reduces the risk of dementia, early death and may even improve your mood!

Planet earth circle


A vegan diet requires much less land and water than diets containing meat and dairy. You can also halve your food emissions by going vegan. Animal agriculture is the biggest driver of deforestation and wildlife loss. Help combat the climate crisis and protect biodiversity by going vegan.

Cow icon


Over one billion animals are killed for meat each year in the UK. Despite claims that Britain has the best welfare standards, Viva!’s investigations show how most farmed animals spend their lives imprisoned, suffering in squalor – a vast contrast to the freedoms and joys they experience in the wild.


vegan planet
Go vegan to save the planet

We are already experiencing a climate crisis. The atmosphere and oceans have warmed, ice has melted and sea levels are rising. We are experiencing the planet’s sixth mass extinction and one million species are at risk. Meat, fish, eggs and dairy lie at the heart of it.

UN Secretary-General, António Guterres, says: “Enough of brutalising biodiversity, killing ourselves with carbon, treating nature like a toilet, burning and drilling and mining our way deeper.”

He warns: “We are digging our own graves.”

The cow in the room is diet and animal agriculture, including animal feed crops. Governments are turning a blind eye to an industry that is responsible for a fifth of all global greenhouse gas (GHGs) emissions and is the leading driver of deforestation and wildlife loss.

Meat means heat – in 2018, the top 20 global meat companies combined produced more GHGs than either Germany or Britain – Europe’s biggest emitters. Grass-fed beef is not the answer as it requires even more land and there simply isn’t enough space; grass-fed cattle produce up to four times more methane than grain-fed livestock.

Joseph Poore, a researcher at the University of Oxford, says: “A vegan diet is probably the single biggest way to reduce your impact on planet Earth.” Poore’s research shows that meat, fish, eggs and dairy use 83 per cent of farmland, produce around 60 per cent of agriculture’s emissions yet provide a paltry 18 per cent of the calories we eat. The meat industry says it’s unrealistic to expect people to stop eating meat, but scientists say it is entirely feasible to imagine a future world in which the consumption of meat is rare.

We need to challenge these barriers, lift the lid on the self-interested industries and put changing our diet at the top of the climate agenda.

Read more here.


Pigs in silhouette

Around 80 billion land animals are killed every year for meat and trillions of fish and shellfish – an astonishing number of individuals. In the UK alone, over a billion land animals are killed.

Most of these are confined in factory farms – a modern system of farming animals which uses highly intensive methods and prioritises profit. Animals are kept in cramped, overcrowded conditions with a lack of environmental enrichment, poor hygiene standards and low animal welfare.

Although exact conditions vary between countries and species, there is one unifying factor in all factory farming and that is that it is wholly unnatural. Over the past century animal farming has developed into a ruthless profit-driven machine – an industrialised, fast-moving production line that prioritises profit over the welfare of animals, humans and our planet.

Instead of grazing on fields, animals are now often confined in their thousands, and sometimes millions, in giant metal sheds; condemned to a life where they will never feel the grass under their feet or the sun on their face. Viva! have been into these hellholes and exposed what really goes on behind the firmly closed factory farm doors.

Selective breeding for maximum production causes animals immense suffering as they struggle to move under the weight of their oversized bodies or udders. Disease and injury run rife meaning that animals need to be propped up on a cocktail of antibiotics and drugs just to keep them alive long enough to slaughter or take their milk. It’s a miserable existence simply for a taste of meat or milk. There are so many vegan alternatives available, please stop the suffering and go vegan.

Read more here.

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