Some estimates place the umber of those choosing a vegan lifestyle at as much as two and a half percent of the U.S. population, and virtually all agree that the number is growing daily. Vegans differ from vegetarians in two ways. First, while most vegetarians consume animal products such as eggs, honey, and dairy products, none of which harm animals, vegans avoid all animal-sourced foods and ingredients. Secondly, vegans tend to not utilize products derived from animals such as leather goods, including shoes and handbags, a choice not typically shared by vegetarians. Being vegan is more of a lifestyle choice than a dietary restriction.
In a society where the government-recommended food groups for a balanced diet include 20 percent protein (a word change from meat), it is often difficult for vegans to ascertain what a healthy, balanced diet consists of. Most of the time individuals tend to work out for themselves what makes them feel good while maintaining energy levels and a healthy weight. For most, that is sufficient, primarily because vegans tend to more closely examine food products and concern themselves with ingredients.
As an aid to those seeking a healthy plant-based diet that includes sound nutrition, several variants of a vegan food pyramid are available with a simple internet search. Modeled after the USDA food pyramid in use in various forms since 1943, the groups all contribute to a balanced, animal-free diet. Most of the items featured in groups are available in mainstream grocery chains, although careful scrutiny is necessary due to the inclusion of ingredients not acceptable to a vegan lifestyle. Many are forced to limit food choices or to patronize health food chains, whose prices are typically much higher than those in mainstream stores.
Change is coming to the food marketplace, however. The San Francisco-based company Hampton Creek has begun producing an extensive line of plant-based products and has successfully marketed them to such large retail chains as Walmart, Target, and Costco. With 45 different products slated for 2016 and another 500 in various stages of test and development, the face of food is slowly changing to reflect the rise in diet-conscious consumers. Many who either did not have access to or could not afford health food store prices can now enjoy vegan products at acceptable prices.