Interested in going vegan or just wanting to learn more about what your hipster neighbor is probably eating? Well you've come to the right place. It has been eight years since I first went vegan, and while I'm definitely no expert (for real, see a dietitian if you're worried about your health/diet), there are a few tips and tricks I've learned over the years when it comes to this lifestyle.
Living without meat, eggs, or dairy is drastically easier nowadays versus nearly a decade ago. Those were the days of dry veggie burgers and plastic soy cheese. Now we're seeing vegan restaurants breaking out in markets that are usually all about meat and even Ben & Jerry's is going dairy-free to satisfy the vegan sweet tooth. It's a much friendlier food market for vegans to navigate now.
Whether you're choosing to go vegan for animals, health, the environment, or all three, almost everyone who abstains from animal products faces similar situations and challenges.
Here are just a few simple things to know about when going vegan:
Slow and Steady
How you transition to a vegan diet really depends on what type of person you are. For me, I went vegan overnight. I was already vegetarian and it felt right to take the plunge.
Others may need to take smaller steps towards their goal. Some people like to eat some of their meals vegan and eventually change their entire diet. Many people will eliminate animal-products one at a time over a longer term. Start with eating no red meat, then no meat at all, cut out dairy, drop eggs, etc.
It's all really just about what works for you as an individual and makes you most comfortable with your new diet.
Know Your Needs
Vegan nutrition is something that there's a swirl of myths surrounding. Do you have to always pair beans and rice? Will your bones turn to dust if you don't drink milk? Won't guys grow boobs if they eat soy?
I'm happy to say that (for the most part) these are not an issue in veganism. If you vary your diet, you'll have no problem getting amino acids from proteins. There's a plethora of plant-based calcium sources. And just as many studies show the benefits of soy as those who tout risks.
The one big thing you will see over and over again is about B12. It's the only vitamin that you can't get naturally from plants, so it's essential that you eat foods that are fortified with it like non-dairy milks, nutritional yeast, or cereal. It's made with lab-grown bacteria, so thankfully any supplements or fortifications can still be vegan-friendly.
My suggestion is that to get a good overview of vegan nutrition you should take a look at the Plant Plate and visit The Vegan RD for some easy info breakdowns that make things seem a lot less daunting.
Get Ready for Dumb Questions
Some people like to say "There's no such thing as a stupid question." and I'm here to dispute that. Be mentally prepared to get both reasonable questions ("How do you get your vitamins?") and those who will make you wonder how the human race made it this far ("Are potatoes vegan?").
Family gatherings will involve people asking why you're not eating the meat-centric dishes and where on earth you're going to get enough protein to survive the winter. And in between cramming protein-packed legumes, greens, and grains into your mouth, you can explain to your concerned relatives how a varied vegan diet can meet (and usually surpass) any nutritional needs.
Honestly, usually most questions are good natured, so try to be patient with people's confusion over a vegan diet. And ignore those whose favorite lines include "I love animals... on my plate!" or "Can you eat animal crackers?" It's not worth the assault charge.
Don’t Become a Junk Food Vegan
It may be a great temptation during the switch to rely on frozen waffles and accidentally vegan Doritos, but don't do it!
It's fine to use convenience food or indulge in fast food on occasion, but missing out on all the fresh and delicious vegan food that's available is a real shame. And you will also feel like garbage instead of gaining the energy boost that many vegans proclaim after changing their diet.
A good way to avoid picking up the phone for take-out is to have a well-stocked pantry (see below) and a small stash of easy and reliable vegan recipes (see even further below).
Stock Your Pantry
Having a well-stocked pantry means having the ability to whip together a quick dinner from staples and less grocery store trips. Win-win. Below are just suggestions and don't feel like when you go vegan you must immediately buy a variety pack of vinegars or every firmness of tofu. Of course, if you hate something (looking at you, celery) leave it out and try something different that might meet the same nutritional needs.
- Baking (baking powder, baking soda, chocolate chips, cocoa powder, cornmeal, cornstarch, extracts, whole-wheat flour)
- Beans, canned or dried (black, chickpea, Great Northern, pinto)
- Breads (pitas, tortillas, whole-wheat bread)
- Canned (diced tomatoes, tomato sauce, vegetable broth)
- Condiments (jelly, curry paste, hot sauce, mustard, salsa, soy sauce)
- Fortified Cereal
- Fruits & Vegetables
- Grains (barley, brown rice, bulgur, oatmeal)
- Herbs and Spices (see our guides to herbs and spices)
- Jarred items (capers, dill pickles, olives, roasted red bell peppers)
- Natural sweeteners (agave nectar, brown sugar, dried dates, maple syrup, molasses, turbinado sugar)
- Non-Dairy Milks (soy, almond, cashew, coconut)
- Nuts (almonds, cashews, nut butters, pecans)
- Oils (coconut, olive, sesame, sunflower)
- Pasta (rice, soba, whole wheat)
- Protein packers (hummus, seitan, tempeh, tofu, veggie burgers)
- Pulses (brown lentils, red lentils, split peas)
- Seeds (flax, pepitas, quinoa)
- Snacks (chips & salsa, dried fruit, popcorn, pretzels, trail mix)
- Vinegars (apple cider, balsamic, red wine, rice wine)
- “Weird” Vegan Ingredients (agar-agar, miso, nori, nutritional yeast)
Once you get in the mind-set of not eating animal products, a vegan diet is fairly simple to cook for. Super easy meals include smoothies, seasonal salads, pastas with tomato sauce or pesto, grain bowls, stir-fry, sandwiches, and more! It doesn't have to have a huge list of ingredients or require a trip to the health food store to be delicious. Below are just a few suggested meal options that might inspire you when it comes to building a weekly vegan menu.
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I sincerely hope this guide answered some questions about veganism for you and that a plant-based diet is in your future. For more vegan inspiration check out our 50 Vegan Meals. Happy (vegan) Cooking!