Tips for going vegan – from veganizing your favorites to treating yourself to a bit of chocolate. If you've decided to try plant based eating for Veganuary or you want to start eating more vegetables, I have your dietary transition needs covered with my top 10 tips for going vegan.
Veganism has gone mainstream! I took the vegan plunge in 2001, when people had no idea what it meant. I was offered countless fish dishes at events and workplace lunches, and was asked where I got my protein so many times I started to carry pamphlets around with me. (No, joking – I really did!) Once, while buying rice milk at a small grocery store, the cashier asked me why I would need to buy special milk to cook rice.
Vegan food is super easy to come by these days, and people have more of an understanding of what it is. And of course, there are a lot more vegan converts. Completely changing diets can be a bit tricky in the beginning, but after a while it becomes second nature. I've been vegan for so long now that sometimes I forget that not everyone eats this way! For those of you who are new to it, I've put together a list of my top 10 tips for going vegan.
Tips for Going Vegan
Take Your Time.
You don't need to go totally vegan overnight. When I went vegetarian many years ago I gradually weaned myself off meat. When I decided to convert to veganism 9 years later I changed my diet pretty slowly. The vegan police aren't going to come after you if you still have dairy products in your fridge or wool sweaters in your closet. Take your time and go at your own pace.
Finding a support system is pretty crucial to new vegans, especially those who are switching diets alone. Chances are that your family and friends will think you're a little crazy, so you'll want to find some people who will understand how sane your decision is. It's also good to have someone there who's already made the transition so you can ask questions. As a vegan health and lifestyle coach, I help people go vegan every day, and I'm here to support you.
Use Transition Foods.
I don't advocate loading down your vegan plate with soy meats and cheeses, but I do think they are good transition foods. If you're used to eating hamburgers and chicken nuggets, try veggie burgers and soy "chick'n". There are quite a lot of tasty meat alternatives on the market now. Gardein is a favorite of mine, and Beyond Meat is really close to tasting like the real thing.
Eat Your Veggies.
I've met vegans who don't eat very many vegetables. It can be pretty easy to make it through a day without eating very many if you have a bagel with tofu cream cheese for breakfast, a veggie burger for lunch, and spaghetti with marinara for dinner. Yes, all of that food is vegan, but it's not very healthy to eat that way. If you want to go vegan and feel good about what you eat, load your plate up with many brightly colored vegetables. Make sure you're consuming lots of leafy greens, too.
Learn to Read Labels.
When buying packaged goods, label reading is crucial. It’s even important to read labels for products you’ve bought in the past, as companies change their recipes often. There was a certain brand of vegan chick’n nuggets I bought for years, so I never bothered to check the package, but if I had, I would have realized that they had “improved” their recipe with eggs. Some hidden animal ingredients in packaged foods are carmine, casein, gelatin, lactic acid, albumin and lactose.
Veganize Your Favorites.
Going vegan doesn’t mean going without. It’s possible to veganize just about any dish these days, so if you have a favorite that you’re afraid you’re going to miss, look for ways that it can be veganized. If it’s something that’s usually smothered in cheese, try some vegan cheeses like Follow Your Heart or Daiya. If it’s a meaty dish, substitute with tempeh or Beyond Meat.
Take Your B12.
B12 is the one nutrient that's not found in vegan food. It's actually the bi-product of bacteria, so it's only found in animal products because of the unsanitary conditions the animals life in. There is some B12 in nutritional yeast, but a supplement is a good idea, because a deficiency can lead to pernicious anemia. In his book How Not to Die, Michael Greger, M.D. recommends a daily dose of 250 mcg per day for adults under 65, with the recommended amounts increasing to 1,000 for those who are 65 and older.
Don't Get Angry.
It's common to get angry at the non-vegan world once your eyes have been opened to the horrors of the factory farming system. Being angry doesn't help the vegan cause and turns omnivores off to our way of living, so try to stay calm when dealing with those outside your vegan circle.
Arm Yourself with Cookbooks.
Don't know how to cook vegan? Just buy a few cookbooks and follow the directions! (My beginner's cookbook Eating Vegan is a good place to start!) When feeding omnivores, make sure you cook them something really tasty. I find that good food can be the best way to win others over to veganism.
Chocolate is Vegan.
Okay, not all chocolate is vegan, but there are a lot of good quality, non-dairy chocolates out there. Veganism isn't about deprevation - it's about compassion and celebration of life. Have a treat and enjoy yourself!
Do you have any tips for going vegan to share?