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Vegan food and substitute products at a glance

by Josephine Andrews
Published: Last Updated on 402 views

Fruit, vegetables, legumes: Plant-based foods are the focus of a vegan diet. In addition, there are now numerous vegan substitute products – for meat, fish and cheese, for example. We will introduce you to the various vegan foods and explain which nutritional values ​​you should pay particular attention to!

What are vegan foods?

Tofu, lentils and oat milk: Those who opt for a vegan diet only eat foods that do not contain any animal ingredients or additives . This means: All products made from fish, meat, milk and eggs are taboo.

According to Statista, around 1.13 million people in Germany were vegan in 2020, and the trend is rising. Accordingly, the selection of vegan foods in the supermarket has become ever larger. In addition to fruit, vegetables or legumes, there are also numerous substitute products made from tofu and seitan , various plant-based milks and vegan butter .

Learn more about a vegan diet here .

Vegan foods at a glance

Plant-based products are naturally vegan and play an important role in a balanced and healthy diet. Be careful with sweets and drinks. It depends on their ingredients and processing whether they are vegan or not.

Vegetable fruit

From pineapple to zucchini: fruit and vegetables are an essential part of a vegan diet. You can eat generously with these foods. Ideally, eat two servings of fruit and three servings of vegetables a day. As a result, you take important vitamins, fiber , phytochemicals and minerals .

Cereals & Potatoes

Grains and potatoes are important sources of protein and fiber for vegans. Whole grain products are particularly suitable because they provide complex carbohydrates and keep you full for a long time. So-called pseudo-cereals such as amaranth and quinoa also provide a lot of protein and are also gluten-free.

The following applies to processed products with grain: bread and rolls are usually vegan. However, sweet pastries often contain butter, milk and egg. Therefore, always ask the baker which products contain no animal ingredients.

Eggs are also sometimes found in noodles. This is usually noted on the list of ingredients.


Lentils, peas or beans: legumes provide valuable vegetable protein. Many vegans often use soy and the tofu made from it as a meat substitute. Lupins are also trending. These legumes are considered a local superfood. They are grown in Germany, have a high protein content and little fat and a lot of calcium.

Learn more about legumes and lupins here here .

Nuts & Seeds

Nuts and seeds contain valuable essential fatty acids and vitamins. One to two handfuls of it a day is ideal – for example as a topping on muesli or in a salad.

Vegetable oils & fats

Conventional butter is taboo on a vegan diet. On the other hand, all vegetable fats and oils are permitted – such as sunflower or rapeseed oil.

However, caution should be exercised with plant-based margarine. A look at the list of ingredients is advisable. Sometimes it contains whey, fish oil or the additive E 471, which is sometimes made from animal fats. It is best to pay attention to the labeling with a vegan emblem on the packaging.


With sweets from the supermarket, it is necessary to look closely at the product to see whether it contains animal ingredients. Except for eggs, butter and milk, these ingredients are taboo:

  • Gelatine
  • E 120 or carmine (obtained from scale insects)
  • beeswax
  • whole and skimmed milk powder
  • Butterreinfett
  • Lactose

Numerous manufacturers now have vegan sweets in their range – from fruit gums to biscuits and chocolate. They are usually labeled as vegan.


Water , tea and coffee are vegan. However, be careful with fruit juices. Sometimes whey is included here. In many cases, gelatine is also added to lemonades.

Alcohol occasionally contains animal additives and additives – such as cream, milk or eggs. The coloring E120 is also often contained in mixed beer drinks.

According to the animal protection organization PETA, the following can be stated:

  • Beer brewed in Germany is usually vegan. This is not always guaranteed for foreign products and depends on the product.
  • The following applies to wine, semi-sparkling wine, port wine and sherry: In order to filter out cloudy substances, auxiliary substances of animal origin are sometimes used. These include egg white, gelatin or isinglass. The latter is the dried swim bladder of the house sturgeon or catfish. These ingredients do not have to be labelled. It is therefore safest to use products that have a vegan label.
  • Spirits such as vodka, rum, fruit brandy and some liqueurs are vegan. This does not apply to liqueurs made with egg or cream. Some types of whiskey and rum also contain honey.

The vegan food pyramid Pyramid explains how much of each food group you should eat each day for a balanced and healthy diet.

Learn more about the vegan food pyramid here .

Is honey vegan?

A vegan diet is free from foods for which animals are exploited or slaughtered. Since honey bees are mass-bred, often killed or their wings and legs damaged, honey is not a vegan food either.

As the animal protection organization Peta reports, honey bees die prematurely and are exposed to enormous stress . In addition, the small insects need their products themselves in order to be able to take in the necessary nutrients in the winter months.

Vegan substitutes

Since more and more people are eating vegan, there are now numerous substitute products in the supermarket. When making your selection, however, always pay attention to the additives it contains. They often contain flavors, preservatives or a lot of salt.

We present popular vegan substitute products to you in more detail.

meat substitute

The selection of meat substitutes has grown steadily in recent years. There are vegan schnitzel, burger patties or sausages. They are made from soy or wheat protein such as tofu and seitan, legumes such as lupins and vegetables such as pea protein.

The meat imitations usually contain high-quality vegetable protein, less fat and saturated fatty acids than the animal originals and are cholesterol-free. However, artificial additives and flavors are often included.

Learn more about meat substitutes here here .

plant milk

There are different types of milk substitutes. The basis is an extract. It consists, for example, of legumes, nuts, cereals or seeds and is diluted with water. Products from the supermarket often contain additives and flavorings. But vitamins are also sometimes added.

Oat, soy and almond milk are popular. Its appearance and texture hardly differs from cow’s milk. They can also be used in almost the same way – for example for coffee, muesli or when cooking.

However, there are differences between the individual varieties in terms of sustainability and nutrients. Almond milk, for example, often has a worse ecological balance than oat milk. As for nutrients, it depends not only on the variety, but also on the manufacturer. It is therefore always advisable to take a look at the packaging.

Learn more about plant milk here .

Vegane Butter

Vegetable butter (vegan butter) is usually made by combining water and a vegetable oil such as olive, avocado, coconut, palm kernel, or a combination of oils. In a vegan butter there are usually less saturated fatty acids and more monounsaturated fatty acids than in the normal variant.

Note: These vegan products often contain additional ingredients like salt, emulsifiers, coloring and artificial flavorings to more closely resemble the taste and texture of real butter. So pay attention to the list of ingredients.

Overall, plant-based butter is a high-calorie food that contains few essential nutrients. Therefore, only consume this vegan product in moderation. There are also plant-based alternatives that are good butter substitutes.

As a spread, for example, are also suitable:

  • Guacamole
  • Tahin
  • Pesto
  • Hummus

Butter can be substituted in baking in the following ways:

  • applesauce
  • mashed banana
  • pumpkin puree
  • vegetable oil

Vegan Cheese

The vegan cheese market has exploded in recent years. There are now a large number of varieties that are produced in different ways and taste different.

Several manufacturers offer vegan cheese made from tofu or soy protein. Various vegetable oils are often added to mimic the texture and flavor of real cheese. However, some soy-based varieties contain casein, a milk protein. You are then no longer vegan. It is therefore useful to take a look at the packaging.

There is also vegan cheese based on nuts such as macadamia, cashews or almonds. Sunflower and pumpkin seeds or root vegetables are also suitable ingredients for vegan cheese. Nutritional yeast is a good substitute for parmesan. They also provide a lot of vitamin B1, vitamin B2, B5, B6, folic acid, phosphorus and zinc .

In summary, it can be said: For a healthy vegan diet, when buying vegan cheeses, always pay attention to how much the products have been processed, what additives and nutritional values ​​they contain.

Vegan Fish (Fish)

Vegan fish fingers, caviar or sushi: the selection of fish substitute products, also known as visch, on the supermarket shelves has also grown. The vegan fish alternatives often mimic the originals in both shape and taste.

The basis for vegan fish is often tofu or wheat protein. Ground yam is often used for shrimp . Algae provide the typical fish aroma. What is missing, however, are the important nutrients. Only a few products contain omega-3 fatty acids or vitamin B12 , for example .

Another minus point: many products are heavily processed and contain additives. They are therefore rather unsuitable for a healthy diet. If you want to replace the nutrients in fish with vegan foods, you better grab:

  • linseed oil and linseed
  • walnuts
  • Chia seeds

A healthy alternative is also vegan salmon based on marinated carrots. To do this, carrots are placed in a mixture of oil, vinegar, algae and liquid smoke for several hours. The result looks and tastes similar to salmon. The carrots are also rich in provitamin A.

Vegan Hey

Eggs serve as a moisturizer, binder, and flavor enhancer. There is now a substitute product for these needs too: industrially produced vegan egg powder.

However, if you want to replace eggs with natural foods, these alternatives are suitable for cooking and baking:

  • apple pulp
  • Aquafaba (boiled chickpea water)
  • ground or soaked flaxseed
  • Chia seeds
  • oatmeal
  • tomato paste
  • chickpea flour
  • Tapiokastärke
  • bananas

Vegan foods with important nutrients

There are some nutritional values ​​that you should pay particular attention to when following a vegetarian and vegan diet. We introduce them to you.


Iron deficiency is the most common nutrient deficiency worldwide. Iron from animal foods is present as so-called heme iron, which the body can absorb better than plant-based non-heme iron. With a vegan diet, it is therefore important to know the possible contribution of individual foods to the iron supply. Because there are foods that promote or inhibit iron absorption.

Iron-boosting foods include:

  • Vitamin C , for example from lemons, papaya and peppers
  • Beta-carotene, for example, from sweet potatoes, carrots, kale and spinach
  • sulphurous plants such as onions and garlic
  • organic acids, for example, from citric acid in raspberries , kiwis, oranges and lactic acid from fermented foods
  • fermented products such as tofu, tempeh , miso and sauerkraut

On the other hand, inhibit iron absorption:

  • Polyphenols, for example, in coffee and black tea, cocoa, wine and legumes
  • Protein and phytates in soy, milk and egg protein and grains
  • Calcium salts as well as high amounts of zinc
  • certain drug

Phytate levels can be reduced by soaking, grinding, heating, sprouting, or fermenting legumes, soy, and grains.


Protein is essential for building body tissue. This requires 20 different amino acids, eight of which are essential – meaning the body cannot produce them itself. They must therefore be ingested through food.

Protein from plant foods is not as digestible for the human body as protein from animal foods. However, by combining different vegetable protein sources, the value of the protein increases. A good combination is legumes and grains – for example, a whole grain bread with hummus.

According to the German Society for Nutrition (DGE), cooked legumes contain up to 15 grams of protein per 100 grams. This makes them one of the most protein-rich plant foods.

Also rich in protein are:

  • Edamame
  • Tofu
  • Tempeh
  • Soja drink
  • hemp seed and flaxseed
  • sunflower seeds and pumpkin seeds
  • almonds


Zinc is a trace element and is involved in wound healing, among other things. It is mainly found in animal foods, but can also be found in nuts, wheat or rye germs and legumes.

It should be noted that the intake from plant-based foods is only 30 percent. Have a positive impact on:

  • Peptides and proteins such as cysteine ​​or histidine found in sunflower seeds and walnuts
  • organic acids like those found in fruit

have an inhibiting effect:

  • Phytates in grains, fiber and legumes
  • Polyphenols such as tannin (in black tea)

With regard to phytates, the same applies here: the content can be reduced by processing.


Selenium is also a trace element and, as an enzyme component, has a positive effect on thyroid function, male fertility, protects against free radicals and keeps skin and hair healthy.

According to the DGE, the requirement is around 1 μg per kilogram of body weight per day. The maximum amount of 300 μg should not be exceeded. Brazil nuts and porcini are good sources of selenium. However, their salary is subject to strong fluctuations. Cabbage, garlic, onions , mushrooms, asparagus and legumes also have a high selenium content.


Calcium plays an important role in bone health, blood clotting and muscle contraction. According to the DGE, an adult needs 1000 milligrams per day. Calcium-rich foods are:

  • Mineral water
  • Plant drinks such as soy milk
  • Kale
  • Broccoli
  • Spinach
  • Rocket
  • seeds and nuts

The absorption of calcium is promoted by vitamin D , lactose, lactic and citric acid. On the other hand, avoid combining foods rich in calcium with foods rich in oxalic acid, such as rhubarb or spinach. Because oxalic acid binds calcium. If vitamin D is missing, a good supply of calcium is also not possible.

Omega-3 fatty acids

The polyunsaturated omega-3 fatty acids have an anti-inflammatory and vasodilating effect in our body. Therefore, consume omega-3 rich or enriched oils and seeds regularly, sth

  • Linseed oil for salad dressings, pestos and dips
  • Chia oil for dressing, porridge and hummus
  • Rapeseed oil for vegetables and for baking
  • Flax, chia, hemp seeds or walnuts as a topping for salads, soups and muesli

Vitamin B12

Vitamin B12 – also known as cobalamin – must be included in a vegan diet through foods or dietary supplements fortified with it. It is not possible to cover the daily requirement of 4 μg per day with a plant-based diet alone.

There are many options when it comes to supplementation – drops, tablets or nasal spray. You can also cover the need with toothpaste enriched with vitamin B12 . It is best to talk to your family doctor about this.

Vitamin B2

The water-soluble vitamin B2 ( riboflavin ) can be taken in sufficient amounts with a vegan diet. The requirement is 1.1-1.4 milligrams per day. Vitamin B2 is found in the following foods:

  • Mushrooms, especially button mushrooms and oyster mushrooms
  • broccoli and kale
  • almonds and pumpkin seeds
  • legumes (soybeans)
  • The yeast flock

Animal ingredients in food

There are some foods that contain animal additives. This includes:

  • E120: Carmine (Lice pigment)
  • E 441: Gelatin (protein from cows and pigs
  • E 901: beeswax
  • E 904: shellac (excretions of the lacquer scale insect)
  • E 913: Lanolin (Sebaceous secretion from the sebaceous gland of sheep
  • E 966: lactitol (derived from lactic acid)

Therefore, always pay attention to the list of ingredients for processed foods. They are often included in

  • vegetable soups
  • Asian spice pastes and fish sauce
  • barbecue sauces
  • fruit jelly
  • popcorn and chips
  • Pasta
  • Violation
  • wine and beer
  • Apples
  • dark chocolate
  • Fruits like tangerines are often coated in shellac to make them “shine” in the supermarket

Checklist for purchasing

When shopping vegan, keep these things in mind:

  • The more unprocessed the food, the better.
  • Pay particular attention to seals such as the V label or the vegan flower for processed foods.
  • Shop regionally and seasonally.
  • Prefer organic quality
  • Store your groceries properly at home. Check what needs to go in the fridge or what should be kept in the dark, for example.

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