Can Vegans Eat Fried Food?

A lot of people switch to a vegan diet to be healthier, so it might be confusing to see a vegan eating french fries or potato chips. You might think it’d be strictly against the rules of a vegan diet to eat fried food, but it’s actually not.

Can vegans eat fried food? Vegans can eat most fried food, but there are exceptions. Most foods are fried in vegetable-based oils, which most vegans are okay with eating. However, if the food is fried in butter, lard, or tallow (animal ingredients), most vegans do not eat it.

It’s actually kind of interesting to think about which fried foods vegans eat and which ones they don’t because you get a look into what veganism is really about for different people. You realize the reasons why foods are considered vegan or not, not just whether they are vegan.

So, let’s take a closer look into some of the details and the exceptions when it comes to vegans and fried foods.

What’s It Fried In? Vegetable oil? Butter? Lard? or What?

Falafel, often deep-fried, is vegan.

The biggest question to determine whether a certain fried food is vegan is whether it’s fried in vegetable-based fats or animal-based fats.

It seems more common for things to be fried in vegetable oils nowadays, so I’m tempted to say “most fried foods are vegan.” But this might be an over-generalization.

If you’re frying with butter, that’s not vegan. Butter comes from milk, which is an animal ingredient. So if you make hashbrowns with butter, that’s not vegan.

If you’re frying with vegetable oils, that’s vegan, whether it’s an unsaturated fat like canola oil or a saturated fat like coconut oil. So if you fried those same hashbrowns mentioned above in vegetable oil rather than butter, that’s vegan. (See below for the details on palm oil, a controversial ingredient for ethical vegans.)

Below I will also address the issue of whether it’s still vegan if meat is also cooked in the same vat of vegetable oil. I don’t think every vegan would agree about that, so it’s something to keep in mind.

Examples of Fried Foods Vegans Can Eat

Here are some examples of fried foods that vegans can typically eat:

  • Most french fries.
  • Fried “mock meats,” like fried “soy nuggets.”
  • Vegetable tempura: deep fried vegetables, available in Japanese restaurants.
  • Samosas and other fried dumplings, available in Indian restaurants.
  • Fried spring rolls, if the inside contents are vegan.
  • Many potato chips, depending on the flavoring
    • Many flavors like “sour cream and onion” contain milk and are not vegan.
    • Some flavors like “barbeque” vary by brand—some are vegan, some are not.
  • Some deep-fried novelty items like deep-fried Oreos.
    • Oreos are actually controversial due to the source of the sugar, but I consider them vegan.

Examples of Fried Foods Vegans Do Not Eat

Here are some examples of fried foods that vegans typically do not eat:

  • Any meats that are fried.
    • This includes fried chicken and fried fish.
  • Anything fried in lard or beef tallow.
  • Anything that includes another non-vegan ingredient.
    • For example, McDonald’s french fries, which include “natural beef flavor.” You can read more about this below.
    • Deep-fried ice cream would not be vegan due to the dairy in the ice cream being from a cow—unless it’s plant-based ice-cream, then sure, vegans can have deep-fried ice cream.

Can Vegans Eat French Fries?

Vegans can eat most french fries. French fries are most often fried in vegetable oil, so they are usually vegan. However, sometimes they are fried in animal lard or fat, in which case they are not vegan.

It depends on the restaurant in question. According to research done by PETA, all the fast-food chain restaurants in the U.S. have vegan french fries except McDonald’s.

When you go to a restaurant, you can ask whether they cook their fries in animal fat or vegetable oil if you want to be careful. I think most cook in vegetable oil.

The Famous Case of McDonald’s Non-Vegan French Fries

McDonald’s fries are the most famous example of non-vegan french fries. Back before the 1990s, they were cooked in beef tallow.

Due to complaints about the health impacts of saturated fat, McDonald’s switched to using vegetable oils. You may have heard that McDonald’s fries are vegan now since they’re cooked in vegetable oils.

But when McDonald’s switched to vegetable oils, they actually found that the beef taste everyone loved was missing. So they added “natural beef flavor,” which is apparently derived from wheat and milk ingredients.

So McDonald’s fries are still not vegan in the U.S. I’m actually a little confused about whether they are vegetarian, but they certainly aren’t vegan. Some other countries do have vegan McDonald’s fries, though, maybe due to restrictions on certain ingredients in those places.

From the cursory research I did on this, it looks like the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, India, Czech Republic, Croatia, South Africa, Austria, Sweden, and Norway all have vegan McDonald’s fries!

What if the Fries and Meat are Cooked in the Same Oil?

At some restaurants, the french fries will be cooked in the same oil as the chicken nuggets or other meat. So, even though the oil is vegan and the potatoes are vegan, some vegans might consider this icky or “contaminated” in some sense.

For me personally, I don’t usually make a point to ask about whether the fries are cooked in separate oil from the meat. So I don’t know how common this is.

I usually just don’t even think about it. It seems like it would be inconvenient to ask all the time, so I don’t. But some vegans might take the precaution and ask.

I don’t actually have any strong ethical or rational opposition to eating fries that were cooked in the same vat as meat, but honestly, when I think about it, I do feel icky about it. No offense to any meat-eaters reading this, but as a vegan, I do think dead animals are kind of gross!

This is similar to an issue that comes up commonly at barbeques. Sometimes they will cook some vegan burgers or vegan hotdogs, but they will put them right next to the meat on the grill. The grill may also have some residue from previous times of cooking meat.

Some vegans will make a bigger deal about this than others. To me, it’s not a big deal unless the blood from the meat burger is visible dripping onto my veggie burger or something!

So it’s worth considering: Some vegans are going to feel grossed out by food cooked in the same oil as meat, even if they don’t always go to great lengths to ask about it. It’s something to be aware of. But there is no consensus among vegans about this.

Can Vegans Eat Foods Fried in Palm Oil?

Palm oil is an interesting ingredient for vegans because, although it is entirely “plant-based,” it is also typically harvested in very unsustainable ways that harm animals.

Orangutans, tigers, monkeys, and other animals in Africa, Malaysia, Indonesia, and elsewhere are losing their habitat because of land being cleared for palm oil production. Orangutans especially are becoming endangered as a species.

Because of this, many ethical vegans boycott palm oil. The idea is that, even though it’s a plant-based food, there are animals being hurt and killed by its harvesting, so it should be boycotted in the same way as animal foods.

Vegans Boycotting Earth Balance over Palm Oil?

Several years back, there were campaigns led by vegans to boycott Earth Balance, a company that makes a bunch of vegan butter-like spreads, because of their use of palm oil.

In 2015, Earth Balance committed to only use “sustainable” palm oil. This seems like major progress, but some people are still not happy, and they think these labels (“sustainable” palm oil) might be more about PR than actually changing the way palm oil is harvested.

Here is a full article about palm oil and veganism so you can get more background if you want. Personally, as a vegan of 12 years, I don’t take specific precautions to avoid palm oil. You can call me a bad vegan if you want to, but I don’t consider it a “must avoid” ingredient to be a vegan.

Sure, if I noticed palm oil listed in the ingredients for a product that I eat every day, then I’d consider sending a quick email to the company to ask about how their palm oil is sourced and whether it’s sustainable. But otherwise, I don’t usually worry about it.

So again, it’s up to you. It’s your choice whether you want to eat foods fried in palm oil. Different vegans treat the issue of palm oil differently.

Just Because It’s Vegan Doesn’t Mean It’s Healthy

Fried food is the perfect example of food being vegan but not healthy. Sometimes people mistakenly assume that all vegan food is going to be healthy food. Not true!

Fried foods are high in calories and low in micronutrients, so it’s easy to overeat fried foods and gain weight from them without getting all the nutrients your body needs.

If you’re trying to adopt a healthy plant-based diet, you should sign up for Nutriciously’s free e-mail course. You get 6 emails over the course of 10 days, and you get up-to-speed fast.

You’ll learn why to go vegan and how to do it healthy, with a meal plan, shopping list, tips for traveling, and more. I love Nutriciously’s guides—get this free e-mail course at the least!

Oil-Free Vegan Diets

Some vegans eat what they call a “whole-food plant-based diet” (WFPB diet). This diet excludes all processed foods along with all animal foods, so it typically excludes all processed oils. This is typically a very healthy diet.

Proponents of a WFPB diet say that it can reverse heart disease, meaning that clogged arteries can become less clogged over time.

Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn Jr. is one of the plant-based physicians who recommend an oil-free diet. In the video above, he explains why he promotes an oil-free diet to his patients. For more, see his book, Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease (Amazon link).

Other vegan-friendly doctor-authors like Dr. Joel Fuhrman, Dr. John McDougall, and Dr. Michael Greger promote a similar avoidance of vegetable oils in the diet for similar reasons.

Balancing Your Fats: Omega-3 and Omega-6

Another reason why vegan fried foods are unhealthy is because of the specific types of fat found in vegetable oils.

You may have heard about the health benefits of omega-3 fats. Well, the health benefits actually come from getting a good ratio of omega-3 to omega-6.

The American diet tends to have too much omega-6 and not enough omega-3. So when you take an omega-3 supplement, you’re improving your ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 fats.

Recommended Vegan Omega-3 Supplement: I recently switched from taking an individual omega-3 supplement to taking the Future Kind multivitamin (link to my review post). Future Kind is an all-vegan company, and their multivitamin includes exactly what you need as a vegan.

It includes the most bioavailable types of omega-3’s (DHA and EPA), and it’s taken from algae, so it’s fully vegan. The multivitamin also includes vitamin D and vitamin B12, which vegans also often lack. It’s the best vegan multivitamin by far, in my opinion. Check it out here.

Unfortunately, most vegetable oils contain a lot of omega-6 fats. So when you eat vegetable oils, such as in fried foods, you’re worsening your ratio of omega-3 to omega-6. This can increase inflammation in your body, which can lead to all kinds of health problems.

It’s advisable for all vegans to take an omega-3 supplement (like the Future Kind multivitamin)—but it’s more important as you consume more oils.

More Resources to Learn What Foods Are Vegan

There are so many lists online of which foods are vegan and which are not. These can be very helpful because someone else has put in the time to look at all the food labels or put together a list for you based on their knowledge. But…

One word of caution: You can find long lists of “animal ingredients” or “animal byproducts” online. They can seem overwhelming! I remember the first day I went vegan 12 years ago, I printed out a huge list of alphabetical animal ingredients. It was 21 pages long. Over time, I realized this isn’t necessary.

Most of the “animal byproducts” on those lists do not make up a major percentage of the products you’re buying. They may just be additives or flavorings used in very small quantities.

Many of those non-vegan ingredients are also very uncommon (I’ve never seen most of them listed on actual products). And boycotting them is not necessary for your veganism to have a positive impact on the world and your own health.

So, Can Vegans Eat Fried Foods?

In closing, yes, vegans can eat most fried foods. But there are a fair number of exceptions we’ve covered, depending on how strict you are about your veganism and how healthy you’re trying to be.

It’s also best to balance your omega-3 and omega-6 fats by taking a vegan DHA/EPA supplement like the Future Kind multivitamin.

Something I want to do with this site is to answer these kinds of practical questions and push back against the dogma you might receive from someone saying that you’re a bad vegan or that you’re not vegan at all because you ate some fried food or something.

Veganism means different things to different people, so not all vegans will share your values or reasons for doing it. Be a vegan however it most makes sense to you. Once you have all the information, make your own decisions about how you want to eat and live.

Two More Recommendations for Your Plant-Based Journey

1. This is the best free video training I’ve found on plant-based nutrition. You’ll learn how to reduce your risk of cancer, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, Alzheimer’s, and obesity—all with plant-based food. Watch the free “Food for Health Masterclass” here.

2. This is the best vegan multivitamin I’ve found in my 14 years of being vegan. It has vitamin B12, vitamin D, omega-3—and nothing else. Translation: It only has the nutrients vegans are actually low in. Read my full review of Future Kind’s multivitamin here (with 10% discount).