Experts say that eating vegan is one of the best ways to slow down climate change, and the plant-based meat market is booming — but what does the future look like?
Generation Z, who are in their pre-teens to mid-to-late 20s, are driving the vegan trend in the United States. But who exactly are they, what do they believe, and how do their opinions differ from the non-vegan Gen Z?
The Medical Inspiration Daily For Stronger Society (MIDSS) conducted a survey of Gen Z vegans and non-vegans to find out.
50% of vegans pursue this diet because of its health benefits.
More than 7 out of 10 vegans expect to continue their diet for the next 5 years.
More than 51% of vegans said that the most significant barrier to starting the diet was understanding the health benefits.
48% of non-vegans doubt the positive environmental impact of veganism, while 40% believe it.
73% of non-vegans and 52% of vegans don’t know what “flexitarian” means.
The biggest challenge for vegans is that 37% crave non-vegan foods.
60% of vegans say they educate those around them about the benefits of veganism with the hope that people will try the vegan diet.
More than half of non-vegans said meat cravings are their most significant barrier toward veganism.
Nearly 80% of non-vegans said they will not go vegan within the next five years.
In 2022, the market value of plant based-meat worldwide was estimated at more than $10 billion. This figure is estimated to reach almost $40 billion by 2027.
United States meat substitute consumption per capita 2014-2027
In 2022, Americans consumed an average of 0.7 pounds, or 300 grams, of plant-based meat substitutes, including those made with eggs or dairy. In the next five years, this consumption is forecast to triple.
United States meat substitute consumption per capita 2014-2027
Generation Z – or Gen Z – have become the new drivers of the vegan food market. Gen Z refers to those born between 1997 and 2012, who are currently in their pre-teens to mid-to-late 20s.
According to our data, more than half of Gen Z chose to go vegan because of the health benefits. Studies show that a vegan diet can promote better heart health and healthy weight management, and reduce the risk of chronic diseases such as type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
Interestingly, only 17% of Gen Z vegans follow the diet for environmental benefits, despite the amount of evidence suggesting the positive impact of a vegan diet on reducing deforestation and slowing the rate of climate change. That’s not to say they don’t believe in the benefits on the environment though — 40% of Gen Z vegans who took the survey believe that veganism has a positive impact on the environment.
Another surprising result is that only 17% of Gen Z vegans said they went vegan because they don’t want to eat animal products, suggesting that the majority of Gen Z vegans aren’t vegan for ethical reasons.
10% of Gen Z vegans stated ‘family factors’ as a reason for being vegan. Although it’s unclear what this means in practice, it could be that they’re vegan because their parents or other family members are. Most Gen Zs are children of Generation X, who were born between 1965-1980, and likely have less of an understanding of what a well-balanced vegan diet entails.
Finally, very few Gen Z vegans admit to being inspired by influencers, with just over 3%.
The two main challenges cited by a third of Gen Z vegans are that they crave animal products and feel they miss out on good food or meals. This is a surprising result due to the amount of plant-based meat alternatives on the market today.
Despite this, these products tend to be pricey, which can weigh heavily on their monthly expenses. Additionally, Gen Z could face challenges when it comes to acquiring or cooking appetizing alternatives to animal-based meals.
The next two challenges cited in equal measure by 10% of vegan respondents were a lack of nutrition and “social factors.” Indeed, getting the right balance of nutrients on a 100% vegan diet can be challenging — especially for growing adolescents. A vegan diet tends to be lower in several essential nutrients, including vitamin D, calcium, iodine, vitamin B12, omega-3 fatty acids, and iron. If Gen Z or their parents are not aware of the potential nutrient deficiencies and neglect supplementation, Gen Z vegans risk following a diet that is lacking in essential nutrients necessary for optimal health and sustainability.
Social factors likely include difficulties in eating out with friends or family in a social setting due to fewer vegan options, or others not preparing vegan-friendly foods. However, this is much less of a problem than it used to be 10+ years ago, which is likely why only a small fraction of Gen Z vegans cite this as a challenge.
Finally, only 8% of Gen Z vegans who said they found it challenging to stay vegan said that the cost was an issue. The cost of plant-based substitutes has significantly decreased in the last few years. Nevertheless, a considerable proportion of Gen Zers, particularly those who are still in school or starting their careers, may find it costly to afford delicious and nutritious vegan dishes.
Despite being vegan themselves, not all Gen Zs are happy about the vegan trend.
One in ten Gen Z vegans thinks that treating a vegan diet as a trend is “weird” and that “some people are faking it,” presumably to fit in and be cool “rather than for the actual benefits that come with being vegan.” Many also dislike vegan influencers, thinking that they “give it a bad name” and “make us look bad.”
Having said that, the majority of Gen Z vegans have a positive attitude toward the vegan trend, with less than one-third remaining neutral. Those who have a neutral attitude would prefer veganism to be a “lifestyle” rather than a trend and think that “the culture can be annoying at times,” but understand that “being vegan doesn’t suit everybody.”
On the plus side, two-thirds of Gen Z vegans applaud the vegan trend, saying “we are doing the right thing by preserving animals” and that more vegan food choices make it cheaper and easier for people to eat less meat, even if they don’t go fully vegan.
One-third of Gen Z vegans have been vegan for two years and just over 20% have been vegan for three years or more. However, almost half — i.e., most — have been vegan for two years or less.
Nevertheless, contrary to popular belief that Gen Z is always following trends, the majority say they will remain vegan for at least the next five years.
Cheaper vegan food
More variety and availability of vegan/meat alternative food choices
Raising meat price and reducing meat production
Show how harmful and cruel the meat-based industry is
cruel the meat-
based industry is
Cook and share
Encourage and support business
to have more vegan options
Encourage and support business to have more vegan options
Just keep being a vegan and believe people should follow whatever they like
about animal cruelty
A whopping 51% of Gen Z vegans think the health benefits of a vegan diet are the biggest incentive for people to make the switch. This matches the 52% of Gen Z vegans who made the switch themselves for health benefits.
But more than a third think that the cruel practices of the meat and dairy industry are the main incentive for people to switch to veganism, which is odd because this wasn’t cited as a reason for going vegan themselves, and only 4% aim to raise awareness about animal cruelty.
Only a small proportion of Gen Z vegans think that the main incentives could be environmental benefits, cheaper food, greater availability of vegan options, and raising meat prices.
In terms of how Gen Z vegans are helping to convert others to veganism, 65% are on a mission to educate people about the benefits of being vegan, while 20% aren’t trying to convince anyone, believing that people should be able to eat whatever they choose. 10% want to encourage businesses to increase their vegan options, while 5% aim to cook and share vegan food with others.
So, what about the non-vegan Gen Zs?
When asked why they wouldn’t go vegan, 51% of Gen Zs said they simply “can’t give up meat,” while just over 21% said they were worried about nutritional deficiencies.
Yelena Wheeler, a vegan Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN), agrees that deficiencies are a legitimate concern. However, it can be overcome by taking the right supplements or eating fortified foods.
For example, she says: “Vitamin B12 is naturally found in animal proteins such as meat, poultry, and dairy. However, since a vegan diet is devoid of those foods, it is important to obtain B12 from fortified foods or supplements.”
A significantly smaller proportion of non-vegan Gen Zs said that vegan food tastes boring (9%), they simply don’t want to be vegan (8%), a vegan diet costs too much (6%), or other cited other reasons, such as a lack of discipline or not having enough information.
In conclusion, we can encourage a larger number of Gen Z individuals, particularly those who are apprehensive about the inadequate nutritional value of a vegan diet, to transition towards this lifestyle by offering a wide range of meat alternatives and providing improved education on how to incorporate nourishing vegan meals into their diet.
According to 70% of non-vegans, the most “obvious” difference between vegan diets and omnivorous diets is the available food options (i.e., meat and dairy products vs. vegetables and nuts). This goes without saying, but, interestingly, only 16% of non-vegans thought there would be a difference in nutritional values between the diets. This seems odd considering that 21% of them said they wouldn’t switch because of a risk of nutritional deficiencies.
Apart from that, a minority of non-vegans said that they did not know what the differences are (8%), that there were significant differences in flavor (3%), and other reasons, such as morals.
When asked ‘Do you think veganism will help protect the environment?’ more non-vegans answered “no” (48%) than “yes” (40%). This is probably the most shocking result of our survey, considering it’s counter to the most recent data we have on the impact of eating meat on the environment.
12% of respondents answered “other,” with the most common different perspectives being that veganism helps and harms the environment simultaneously.
Yelena Wheeler, RDN, said: “Current practices of raising animals and slaughtering animals utilize and waste an exponential amount of resources such as energy and water. Additionally, it pollutes the environment with excess excrements and carbon monoxide.”
When asked which factor most influences their opinion of veganism, almost a third of non-vegans said that protecting animals was most important, and another third cited health benefits. Besides that, 18% thought that protecting the environment was the most influential message.
A minority said that the media and influencers (7%) and the people around them going vegan (5%) are their main influencing factors. 10% said they were not influenced at all by veganism.
Compared to our vegan respondents, fewer non-vegans have a positive outlook on the vegan trend.
Only 35% of non-vegans thought that veganism is “a good movement and should be more popular.” Conversely, 38% had a negative view of veganism, with the majority stating that veganism is “pointless and unnecessary,” and a few claiming that veganism is just “a fad” and that people follow it “without being well-informed.”
A quarter of non-vegan Gen Zs felt neutral about the topic, saying that “people are free to choose the diets that suit them.” 2% of respondents said they believed veganism is “good” and that non-vegans are “cruel to animals and the environment” but that veganism still shouldn’t be forced on people.
When asked whether they want to become vegan within the next five years, a solid 79% of respondents answered “no,” with 13% answering “yes,” and 8% undecided.
This could be seen as disappointing, especially in light of the benefits of a vegan diet to human health and the environment.
“Much of the commercial animal proteins available in the U.S. contain high levels of hormones and antibiotics,” says Yelena Wheeler, RDN. “This can have a profound impact on the immune system and increase the prevalence of autoimmune diseases.”
Also, there’s really no excuse for not eating more plant-based nowadays. “Gone are the days that one needs to only eat tofu and rice every day as a staple of veganism,” says Yelena Wheeler. “There are countless new products on the market that are completely plant-based and mimic their animal counterparts well. These new alternatives are rich in flavor and nutrients, which should make them widely acceptable to this generation.”
Nevertheless, going fully vegan is challenging, and simply isn’t possible for many people.
“I do believe that incorporating more plant-based meal options into one’s diet can be beneficial for everyone,” says Yelena Wheeler. “However, it is also important to understand that the vegan diet can be challenging and one needs to be dedicated to make it healthy and successful.”
Hypocrisy or a stepping stone to Veganism?
A flexitarian diet is a predominantly plant-based diet that occasionally includes animal-based foods, such as meat, fish, or dairy.
The majority of vegan (53%) and non-vegan (73%) Gen Zs did not know the term “flexitarian.” Nevertheless, of those who did understand the term, most were positive about it. 27% of non-vegans — that is, all the non-vegans who understood the term — said that they “think it is a good idea,” while 34% of the vegans said they consider it “a great step to becoming vegan.”
However, 13% of vegans thought that flexitarianism defeats the purpose of veganism, with a small proportion believing that flexitarianism is a “glorified” term for those who cannot commit to the vegan cause.
Our registered dietitian disagrees. She says: “I think being flexitarian is a perfect way to start the vegan journey. It allows one to explore different vegan options, while still obtaining animal-based nutrients such as vitamin B12 and iron in the interim.”
Indeed, studies suggest that shifting to a flexitarian diet significantly reduces meat intake and could have a significant positive impact on greenhouse gas emissions. In fact, a dietary pattern such as flexitarianism, which allows moderate consumption of meat with an emphasis on locally-grown fruits and vegetables, has the benefit of not negatively affecting the planetary carbon footprint while being richer in nutrients than a strict vegan diet.
Vegan or flexitarian, it’s likely inevitable that we will end up eating less meat and more plant-based foods.
“I believe that plant-based diets — at least more incorporation of plant-based meals within our daily diet — will continue to increase,” says Wheeler. “Between the sustainability, environment, and costs of the current way, the trend to change is looming.”
When we asked those who were considering a vegan diet how they would want to start their vegan journey, 41% of respondents said they would be comfortable with eating vegan two days per week. One quarter said they’d be more likely to eat vegan one day per week, while one-fifth said they would start off eating vegan three to four days per week. The remaining 15% said they were not sure how they would start.
“The most common mistake is not doing their research or speaking with a nutrition professional prior to going vegan,” says Yelena Wheeler, “Also, many new vegans do not eat enough whole foods, tending to go for imitation animal products that are often highly processed and lack fiber and other essential nutrients.”
This all comes down to the same problem: many new vegans do not fully understand how to create a well-planned nutritious plant-based diet, instead relying on plant-based meat or dairy alternatives. Unfortunately, even the sample vegan and vegetarian menus provided by the 2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans were found to not provide enough vitamin D, vitamin E, choline, zinc, or iron.
Another big problem is a lack of variety. “Many new vegans eat the same foods every day,” says Wheeler, “probably due to thinking that there’s a lack of options on a vegan diet.”
She also adds: “A renewed scientific interest in the health benefits of a well-balanced gut microbiome has triggered an increased public interest in plant-based foods that are full of fiber and prebiotics.”
In agreement, gut health expert Dr. Tim Spector recommends that we should eat at least 30 different whole plant-based foods weekly to support our gut microbiome, immune health, and general well-being. He himself aims for 30 different plant-based foods per day. And no, processed meat alternatives do not count towards your 30 foods — they have to be whole foods.
Studies show that a vegan diet is often deficient in certain essential nutrients, especially vitamin B12, calcium, and iodine. Vegans also tend to have a lower intake of protein, vitamin D, zinc, potassium, and selenium compared to all other diet types.
“Vitamin B12 is needed for the maintenance of a healthy nervous system, DNA replication, and blood count,” says Yelena Wheeler.
Unfortunately, the intake of vitamin B12 among vegans is significantly lower than the recommended daily value of 2.4 micrograms per day. Without supplementing, vegans tend to get between 0.24-0.49 micrograms daily.
What’s more, new research suggests that the current recommended intake for vitamin B12 does not adequately take into account the deficit in a vegan diet.
To ensure you’re getting enough vitamin B12, take a daily supplement.
“Calcium is vital for the maintenance of healthy teeth and bones,” says Yelena Wheeler.
Studies suggest that vegans have a higher risk of bone fractures, likely due to a lower intake of calcium and vitamin D. Sadly, studies suggest that the calcium intake in the majority of vegans is significantly below the recommended daily value of 750 milligrams per day.
Since vegan diets are free of dairy products, which are the main calcium-rich foods, other sources of calcium need to be consumed as part of a balanced vegan diet.
“Green leafy vegetables such as broccoli and bok choy are great sources of calcium,” she says, “Dried fruit such as raisins and prunes are also great sources of calcium and fiber.”
Vegan diets tend to be lower in protein than all other diet types, but they are not deficient in protein. Nevertheless, protein is the most satiating macronutrient, and we need all nine essential amino acids in the right proportions as they are the building blocks of our own body’s proteins.
While individual plant-based foods often do not have all of the essential amino acids, you can meet your essential amino acids by eating a variety of protein-rich foods such as legumes, nuts, seeds, and grains throughout the day.
It’s not necessary to get all the essential amino acids in one meal, but it’s good practice to combine protein types to achieve a “complete” protein meal.
“Examples of complete protein combinations include beans and rice, hummus and pita bread, and wholewheat bread and nut butter,” says Yelena Wheeler.
Iron is vital for the production of red blood cells. However, vegans tend to be at a greater risk of iron-deficiency anemia than non-vegans.
Since iron from plant-based sources — otherwise known as non-heme iron — is not as easily absorbed as iron from animal sources — otherwise known as heme iron — it is important to get iron from multiple plant-based sources throughout the day.
“Breakfast cereal fortified with iron, dark green leafy vegetables, nuts, and dried fruit such as figs and prunes are all great sources of iron.”
Premenopausal women are the most at risk of inadequate iron intake and iron deficiency, so this population should be particularly careful to get enough iron on a vegan diet, which might involve supplementation.
Omega-3 fatty acids are essential fats important for cardiovascular, heart, and brain health.
“Omega-3s are predominantly found in fish,” says Yelena Wheeler. “However, since fish is not part of the vegan diet, other sources of omega-3 include flaxseeds, chia seeds, and walnuts.”
However, these plant-based sources must be converted to the type of omega-3 your body can use. You can also supplement omega-3 with algae oil, which provides the same type of omega-3s found in fish: EPA and DHA.
Vegans not supplementing omega-3 might be more prone to deficiencies in DHA, which have been linked to Alzheimer’s disease.
vitamin B12 daily
Eat plenty of calcium-rich plant-based foods
Eat at least one tablespoon of flax or chia seeds daily
Make sure to eat a source of protein with every meal
Opt for fortified foods, such as plant-based milk alternatives
Between March 20 and March 26, 2023, we surveyed 3112 respondents, comprising two separate groups, which were:
The two groups were asked to answer separate sets of questions to explore differences in opinions and attitudes toward veganism and flexitarianism.
Both multiple-choice and open-ended questions were used in the survey. The answers to the open-ended questions were standardized later on using qualitative analysis. Any unqualified responses, such as nonsensical answers, were excluded from our results.