How To Start A Vegan Diet
I don’t know why this always surprises me, but I get a lot of folks these days asking me how to start a vegan diet.
I guess it really isn’t an unreasonable question. We get pretty set in our ways where food is concerned and the moment we think about changing that, we suddenly have a million questions on how to make the change in question.
I think for me, it was more of a gradual thing, mentally speaking. I already ate clean, so it wasn’t a stretch to simply cut out all animal products.
HOW TO START A VEGAN DIET:
While I don’t believe in taking a “negative view” on a new way of eating, I think for those wanting to figure out how to start, it can be super helpful to know what to avoid. The list for that is far shorter!
The vegan world is filled with amazing foods and flavor combinations. I’m far more creative in the kitchen now then I was before I went vegan. So creating a list of what to eat can be difficult.
On the flip side, the list of what you should avoid is relatively short.
WHAT NOT TO EAT ON A VEGAN DIET:
- Anything that was alive at some point (Think: fish, cows, pigs, ducks, deer, chickens, etc.). If it had a face and a heart beat and had to be killed to be on your dinner plate, you don’t eat it.
- Anything that came from something that is/was alive (Think: eggs, honey, milk, etc.) If an animal made it or produced it, you don’t eat it.
See how short of a list that is? I know, I know. That alone can feel overwhelming. But I promise, if you turn to the plant kingdom for your food supply, you’ll never be left wanting!
WHAT TO EAT ON A VEGAN DIET:
For those of you who absolutely want a list of what you CAN eat, this is a very short synopsis to get you started. But just think about all the vaiety you can enjoy for each of these categories!
- Beans and legumes
- Grasses (like wild rice or wheat grass)
Basically, if it grew in the ground, on the ground, on a tree or bush, you’re good to go!
BUT WHERE DO I GET MY PROTEIN FROM?
Believe it or not, I’ve never been asked this! But this is the most common question vegans get asked. And be prepared because the second you go vegan, everyone around you will become an instant dietitian. They will all have an opinion on what you do and don’t put in your mouth. So brace yourself. But the science is there! A plant based diet is the most healthful approach you can take to food and eating.
So where does your protein come from? That’s easy! There is protein in vegetables, grains and beans! So as long as you get a good variety of those things in your diet, you’ll never be left wanting for protein. And while I’m not a dietitian, everything I’ve read says we don’t need as much protein to stay healthy as we think we do. There are plenty of vegan athletes and body builders out there to prove it! Even the guy who holds the record for the strongest man in the world is vegan! So please know that you don’t need to eat meat to get adequate protein.
WHAT ABOUT CALCIUM?
We’ve all be sold a bill of goods from the dairy industry. And guess what? They have a vested interest in making sure that we believe that we NEED milk to get enough calcium. But that’s simply not the case. Calcium is also in leafy greens and other vegan foods. And chances are, your body will absorb it better because it’s coming from food sources instead of from vitamin fortification. But at the end of the day, if you’re truly concerned, talk to your doctor about taking a simple multi-vitamin to cover all your bases.
HOW ABOUT VITAMIN B12?
It’s true, vegans do need to be sure they are supplementing with vitamin B. But you can still get it from food sources if you don’t want to swallow a pill. Nutritional yeast is amazing for that and it’s so crazy good on popcorn, in soups and on so many other things. Even on your morning toast!
The majority population of the vegan community became vegan because of their love and concern for animals. They don’t want an animal to die or suffer so they can eat or drink. Not when there are so many other foods they can eat that cause no suffering. I get it. I do. I love animals too.
But if I’m being completely honest, that’s not why I went vegan. In fact, there is a smaller but growing population of vegans out there who went vegan for the same reasons I did. To improve their health. End of story. Better animal welfare is just a side benefit of a choice they make for their own wellbeing. Maybe it’s selfish, but is there ever really a bad reason for going vegan? Ya, not really.
So regardless of your reasons for wanting to go vegan, just know you are doing good for your body, for the animals and even for the environment. And no matter which reason you choose as your motivation, you will still be eating a diet that benefits everything and everyone else in the process. So don’t ever feel bad or embarrassed about your reasons for wanting to choose a vegan lifestyle. There are a lot of very passionate animal welfare people out there and I respect them greatly for the work that they do. I simply have other priorities in my life at the moment. I won’t apologize for that and neither should you if you are feeling the same way.
SO WHERE DO YOU BEGIN?
For me, I went cold turkey. I went through my fridge, freezer and pantry and donated all the animal products I had to a friend who was very happy to have some extra food for her family. I then went shopping and was happy to find that although my first shopping trip was a little pricey because I stocked up on a lot of basics, every shopping trip thereafter was literally HALF of what I used to spend on food. Meat is expensive!! Even the cheap stuff can cost you more than a bag of beans or a box of tofu.
But if you prefer to make the transition a little more gently, that’s okay too! Finish off whatever you have in your kitchen a little at a time and then simply replace those things with plant based foods as you go shopping each week. Eat the last of the chicken? Buy tofu next time! Use up the last bottle of honey? Try buying maple syrup on your next trip to the store. It doesn’t have to break the banks or be a mass exodus of food from your fridge for you to go vegan. It’s perfectly okay to make the switch in a way that is friendlier to your wallet.
DO VEGAN FOODS TASTE DIFFERENT?
Okay, so here’s the low down on vegan foods. You can buy fresh, real foods and then you can buy vegan food products. If your taste buds are having a hard time with the idea of this change, focus on the real foods first. Because I’m here to tell you that when you are used to animal based product, vegan food products DO taste different. And not always in a good way.
This is probably where you will notice the biggest difference. While plenty of vegans have gotten used to some of the plant based vegan cheeses on the market, somebody who is new to this will generally not enjoy vegan cheese. I’m not saying there aren’t exceptions to that rule, but in general, most folks will not find that particular transition to be a pleasant one.
So what do you do? First, open your mind to trying new foods and different flavors. Know that some things will absolutely taste different. But it doesn’t have to be a negative experience. I have tried a few different brands of vegan cheese. Most of them truly made me gag on the spot. But I did eventually find one that was tolerable and had a good melting factor for things like pizza or grilled cheese sandwiches. Does it taste different? Of course. But over time, I’ve learned to love it and now I can’t imagine eating regular cheese. I actually crave vegan cheese from time to time now. So allow yourself some time to try different things, experiment and give your taste buds a chance to make the switch. It will happen, I promise.
So far, my favorite brand of cheese is the Choa brand. I love their plain, sliced cheese. It melts great and the flavor has really grown on me over time.
VEGAN MEAT PRODUCTS
Firstly, as a clean eater, I do try to avoid these. I prefer to get my protein from unprocessed sources. That being said, I’m not immune to the conveniences of our food supply. So on occasion, I do buy a vegan meat product just to make life easier. But I do mean that it’s OCCASIONAL. These products cost more and they aren’t always the best thing for my health. So it’s not an everyday thing.
And yes, of course they taste different then meat. The main connection they have with meat is in texture. But even that will be just slightly different. But again, this way of eating can be a drastic change for some people and you absolutely have to give your body and your taste buds time to adjust. Don’t expect to buy every vegan product on the market and love it any more than you would expect to love every single meat based product on the market. We all have our preferences and those preferences can change over time. So at the end of the day, it’s important to experiment, keep an open mind, and allow your body to have it’s adjustment period.
So far, I love field roast and seitan. I find that they are the closest thing to meat I can get and they have pretty good flavor. I’m also developing a love for tofu which I never thought would be possible. But a big part of that is understanding how to work with tofu. Something I’ll be writing a separate article on. And if you’d like to learn more about seitan, here’s a pretty comprehensive article about it.
WHAT IF I WANT TO GO VEGAN BUT MY FAMILY DOESN’T?
I’m in that situation right now actually. It will feel impossible at first, but with a little time and effort, you’ll find that it’s really not that complicated at all.
We all need to feed our families plenty of fruits and veggies. Add in a few beans to that and all you need to do is allow them a side of the protein they choose. It’s obviously not ideal, but if that’s your situation, just know that is is workable. You may have to figure out a few logistics in the beginning, but it’s absolutely not impossible. At the end of the day, you can rely on being a shining example of health and healthy eating for those around you. So don’t give up. Make it work for your own situation.
In my experience, it helps to cook individual foods. So for example, you might serve a side of baked beans and rice with veggies for everyone and then some meat for everyone else. You’ll still get your protein from the beans and rice and nobody will be the wiser just because you are not partaking in eating meat. Avoid recipes like casseroles where you can’t separate out what you are eating. At least until you get the hang of this. Think of it as eating “family style”. Put a few options on the table and let everyone pick what they want.
At the end of the day, if you’re going to make a change to the way you eat, you have to keep an open mind and a willingness to try different foods. Not just once, but several times before you decide you don’t like something.
Check out the growing number of recipes on this site or do a google search for easy vegan recipes and collect a few that you think you could easily make at home without creating a panic in yourself or others you also feed.
And know that there is a huge community of vegans out there who are extremely passionate about this lifestyle and they will always support you in your choice to be vegan. Join an online support group, find a facebook group, anything that helps you feel connected to the vegan world. Because our numbers are growing and you are truly never alone in this journey.
You can do this!