Veganism has been in the news a lot lately, with articles from such mainstream establishments such as Readers Digest and Business Insider on the benefits of eating a totally plant-based diet. Even the New York Times has been talking about veganism, with several articles on the subject on their website last month. With all of this new-found press, veganism has quite a lot more converts to. 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!
As a vegan health and lifestyle coach, I help people go vegan every day. Here are my top 10 tips for people making the plunge:
- 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, and 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.
- Get Support. 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. Check out MeetUp.com and look for vegan groups in your area, or look for online vegan communities.
- 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 I’ve heard that 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 and make sure you’re consuming lots of leafy greens.
- 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.
- Answer the Protein Question. Make peace with “where do you get your protein?” because you’re going to hear it a lot. The last time someone asked me I laughed at him because I thought he was joking. (He wasn’t.) Try not to get angry when asked and just answer politely. You can say something like “From beans, tofu, tempeh, seitan, broccoli, kale, brown rice, etc.”, or “Protein is prominent in so many foods that I don’t worry about it.”
- 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! 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!