Have you been curious about taking advantage of the benefits of plant based living and just don’t know how to go vegan? First off, kudos to you for taking interest in such an audacious lifestyle that is so commonly misunderstood. It’s totally possible to go vegan and feel amazing without sacrificing the things that bring you joy in your daily life…. or losing all of your friends. If you’re looking for an easy guide on how to switch to a vegan diet & lifestyle, read on for a checklist on what you’ll need to consider and some tips that will help you adapt.
Top Benefits to Veganism
Living fully plant based comes with many perks you may or may not be aware of. It affects every part of your life from your weight, wallet and overall health. It also saves animals from suffering and the amount of earth’s available land from declining. Read below to learn more about the top benefits to veganism.
The top benefit to veganism is that it benefits the welfare of a variety of animal species impacted by farming, entertainment and consumer goods manufacturing. It saves lives and spreads awareness of the fact that we should show compassion to every sentient being. Boycotting animal products causes companies to reevaluate their methods and follow consumer demand for plant based alternatives.
Veganism has been shown to help lower cholesterol, blood pressure and support a healthy weight. Since vegans typically have a nutrient dense diet, they are at a lower risk for certain types of cancer, diseases and disorders. It has also been proven that a plant based diet has a positive impact on your mental health and can actually help you live longer. You can learn more about how it will affect your body in The Surprising Health Benefits of a Plant Based Living.
Factory farming contributes to deforestation, water contamination & waste and depletion of fossil fuels. It also produces greenhouse gas emissions which have been shown to have a negative impact on climate change. Want to know exactly how much land & how many animals you can save in just a year or two of making the switch to a plant based diet? Check out this handy vegan calculator to find out.
An often overlooked benefit to veganism is the amount of money you can save over the course of time. While plant based alternatives like “cheeze” or “nice cream” come at a higher cost, staples in your diet are conveniently cheap. The cost of animal products per pound, including meat, is significantly higher than plant based products (i.e., vegetables, fruits, nuts & seeds).
Is a Vegan Diet Safe?
In short, yes. A vegan diet is healthy as long as you maintain a proper balance and are not primarily consuming processed foods. There are many misconceptions when it comes to vegans and nutrition. The most common one being that vegans typically suffer from malnutrition or need to take excessive supplements to sustain their diet. The fact is that a well-balanced diet consisting solely of plant based foods can provide you with the vitamins and nutrients you need to fuel your body. This is becoming more well-known due to the rising number of vegan athletes and celebrities bringing it to the limelight over the past few years. You don’t have to be a health expert or make an extravagant income to pursue a vegan lifestyle, but there are a few things you’ll need to research and become well-versed with to ensure you have a proper balance on your plate. You might find some that surprise you. Next you can read below for the main areas of a diet that vegans should be aware of before making the switch along with examples of food sources in each. I would suggest trying to log your meals for the first month or two after switching to a vegan diet on MyFitnessPal to ensure you are reaching your nutrient goals.
Macronutrients Vegans Need To Be Aware Of
Macronutrients are the nutrients your body uses the largest amounts of. Your body needs them not only for energy, but also to maintain various systems & structures. The three main macronutrient groups are comprised of protein, carbohydrates & fats.
Vegan Protein Sources
Most commonly known for “the building blocks of growth”, protein also helps your body to repair tissues and protect your muscle mass.
Examples of Vegan Protein– Tofu, tempeh, seitan, soyrizo, vegan ‘cheeze’, plant based milk alternatives, beans, chickpeas, lentils, nuts, seeds, broccoli, spinach, kale, mushrooms, sweet corn, artichokes, green peas, pomegranates, guava, plantains, dried figs, shredded coconut, quinoa, brown or wild rice, oats, couscous, barley, teff, sprouted grain bread & whole grain tortillas.
Vegan Carbohydrate Sources
Simple carbohydrates are converted to glucose which your body’s main source of energy. These are usually added to foods. Complex carbohydrates take longer to break down and are easier for your body to digest making them the healthier option between the two. Protein and carbohydrates also work together to help you maintain consistent bowel movements.
Examples of Simple Carbohydrates– Pop (or soda), baked goods, packaged sweets, fruit juice concentrate & breakfast cereals.
Examples of Complex Carbohydrates- Quinoa, oats, whole-wheat pasta, apples, bananas, broccoli, leafy greens, carrots, potatoes & beans.
Vegan Fat Sources
Fat helps you absorb fat-soluble vitamins, store energy, and supports cell membrane integrity. There are three main types of fats including saturated, unsaturated and trans fats. Saturated fat is best consumed in small amounts due to the fact that high consumption is linked to raising your cholesterol levels. Unsaturated fats are known as “healthy fats” because they help lower your risk for heart disease and are derived from plant sources. Trans fats should be avoided completely and are typically found in fried foods.
Examples of Vegan Saturated Fats: Usually found in processed foods. Typically, in palm oil & coconut products.
Examples of Vegan Unsaturated Fats: Nuts, avocado, chia seeds, cacao nibs in addition to olive, peanut & canola oils.
Examples of Vegan Trans Fats: Vegetable shortening, microwave popcorn (yes, even dairy free), fried fast foods, non-dairy coffee creamers. Some varieties of chips, pies, pizza, canned frosting & crackers.
Micronutrients Vegans Need to Be Aware Of
Micronutrients are comprised of vitamins and minerals. Vitamins are necessary for energy production, immune function, blood clotting among other essential functions. Minerals are vital for cell growth, bone health, fluid balance and other processes. While all micronutrients are important, below are a few those on a vegan diet (or any diet for that matter) should be paying close attention to.
Vegan Calcium Sources
Calcium helps with forming the structures and supporting the function of your bones & teeth. It also helps your muscles function and blood vessels contract.
Vegan Calcium Examples: Broccoli, kale, Swiss chard, spinach, cabbage, okra, edamame, tofu, tempeh, black beans, chickpeas, kidney beans, lentils, nuts, seeds & seaweed.
Vegan Iron Sources
Iron provides oxygen to muscles and helps create necessary hormones in the body.
Vegan Iron Examples: Lentils, tofu, chickpeas, kidney beans, black-eyed peas, nuts, seeds, spinach, kale, collard greens, potatoes, mushrooms, palm hearts, oats, quinoa, coconut milk, blackstrap molasses & dark chocolate.
Vegan Potassium Sources
Potassium helps with nerve transmission & muscle function. It also assists in retaining fluid in your body’s cells.
Vegan Potassium Examples: Kidney beans, lentils, tempeh, potatoes, dried fruits, squash, avocado, spinach, broccoli & bananas.
Vegan Iodine Sources
Iodine regulates your thyroid function, repairs damaged cells & supports a healthy metabolism.
Vegan Iodine Examples: Iodized salt, seaweed, green beans, kale, watercress, strawberries & potatoes.
Vegan Vitamin A Sources
Vitamin A supports your vision, heart, lungs, and kidneys to work properly. It also plays a critical role in your immune & reproductive systems.
Vegan Vitamin A Examples: Sweet potato, carrots, black-eyed peas, spinach, broccoli, red/orange/yellow bell pepper, cantaloupe, squash & kale.
Vegan Vitamin C Sources
Vitamin C helps grow, develop & repair your body’s tissues. It forms collagen, helps you absorb iron & is important in wound healing as well as your immune system functioning.
Vegan Vitamin C Examples: Oranges, green & red peppers, strawberries, broccoli, brussels sprouts, potatoes, spinach, turnip greens, tomatoes & winter squash.
Vegan Vitamin D Sources
Vitamin D supports calcium absorption, immune function as well as bone, muscle & heart health.
Vegan Vitamin D Examples: Sunlight, soy milk, mushrooms, fortified cereals & orange juice.
Vegan Vitamin E Sources
Vitamin E contains antioxidant properties and plays an important role in your visual, reproductive, blood, brain & skin health.
Vegan Vitamin E Examples: Sunflower seeds & oil, peanut butter, nuts, beet greens, spinach, pumpkin & red bell pepper.
Vegan Vitamin K Sources
Vitamin K helps your blood clot and aids in wound healing. It also supports bone health.
Vegan Vitamin K Examples: Kale, spinach, collard greens, romaine, parsley, brussels sprouts, broccoli, cauliflower & cabbage.
Vegan Zinc Sources
Zinc plays a critical role in your body’s immune system and its ability to fight off bacteria & viruses. Zinc also makes up proteins & DNA.
Vegan Zinc Examples: Beans, lentils, nuts, seeds, peas, mushrooms, spinach, broccoli, kale garlic & soy products.
Vegan Folate Sources
Folate helps the body produce healthy red blood cells. In pregnancy, this is key to helping the baby’s brain, skull & spinal cord develop properly and prevent neural tube defects.
Vegan Folate Examples: Broccoli, brussels sprouts, cabbage, kale, spinach, peas, chickpeas, kidney beans & fortified breakfast cereals.
What Supplements Do Vegans Need?
There isn’t a need to take excessive supplements as a vegan with a healthy, balanced diet. As you may have noticed, many of the plant based nutrient sources share the same benefits leaving you with a nutritious combo when you choose a variety for your meal. However, one common deficiency that vegans and even meat/dairy consumers alike may suffer from is Vitamin B-12. It is primarily found in animals because they are fed and exposed to manure in their living environments. It is also commonly injected into the animals to supplement what they are not consuming in their diets.Vegans can bypass that system by incorporating B-12 into their diet and taking a supplement. Vegans may also need to take a probiotic to help regulate your gut health as they make the transition from an animal-based diet or try new foods that may upset their stomach.
Vegan Vitamin B-12 Sources
Vitamin B-12 plays a role in your body by assisting in protein breakdown, forming red blood cells containing oxygen & your nervous system regulation.
Vegan Vitamin B-12 Examples: Mushrooms grown in B12-rich soils, nori, spirulina, chlorella & nutritional yeast.
Vegan Probiotic Sources
Probiotics help keep the balance of friendly bacteria in your digestive system. They also support a healthy immune system.
Vegan Probiotic Examples: Fortified dairy-free yogurts, kimchi, sauerkraut, kombucha, pickles and sourdough bread.
Examples of Probiotic Supplements: Mary Ruth’s Liquid Probiotic and Garden of Life Dr. Formulated Probiotics.
Tips for Making Vegan Food at Home
Cooking as a vegan will produce a few challenges for those new to cooking in general. If you’re like me and love to experiment in the kitchen, you’ll find it fun discovering new methods & swaps while adapting to a plant based diet. Grocery trips may take a little longer at first since you’ll find yourself checking labels more often for safe foods to eat. Here’s a list of tips that can help you when making vegan food at home.
Look for Vegan Certified Labels
As you become more familiar with brands and scanning labels for animal products, you’ll start to notice your grocery trips becoming shorter. Here’s a list of common animal ingredients that are hidden in foods. You can look for vegan certified labels for quick reference to help you find items that contain no trace of animal products. It’s important to support brands that have a vegan certified label as it helps drive up the demand with consumer support for more products like it. You can also use vegan apps like Is It Vegan? to help you check whether a product contains animal ingredients or not.
Find Plant Based Recipes That Excite You
It might be a little intimidating trying make foods at home as a new vegan, especially if cooking isn’t your forte. However, there are plenty of resources for you to find step-by-step recipes for all skill levels across the internet. You can check out the Recipe Blog on this site for budget-friendly recipes for beginners or surf Pinterest for more ideas. Below is a list of cookbooks that can also help you get started.
Learn About Easy Vegan Swaps
Vegans don’t need to resort to using animal products in their favorite recipes because there are so many swaps for common ingredients like animal meat, milk, eggs and even cheese. Over time, you’ll find more ways to veganize any recipe you come across. You can find a list of common ingredients used in cooking & baking and what items serve as the best vegan substitutes here.
Follow Vegan Influencers for Inspiration
Social media has become the prime place for people to share new recipes and ideas surrounding veganism. There are plenty of Facebook groups you can join to connect with other like-minded people and ask questions. Following top vegan influencers on social media is also a great idea they post frequently and their connections can also be helpful to you. Here are a few accounts you can follow on Instagram for more plant based recipes & information on your feed.
How Do You Dine Out as a Vegan?
Going out to eat on a plant based diet doesn’t have to be anxiety inducing. There are many options at local and nationwide restaurants you can choose from. The best thing you can do to set yourself up for success and feel confident about where you dine is to do your research beforehand. Over time, modifying items when ordering will become like second nature to you. Here are a few tips to help you get started.
Research & Check Reviews for Vegan Friendly Places
Many places will have their menus posted to their website or you can simply call ahead to find out what their options are. You can also find this information in their reviews sometimes. Almost every restaurant will have at least one vegan friendly option and if the staff isn’t familiar with veganism, you can give them a simple criteria of no meat, dairy, eggs or fish. I find that Mexican, Asian, Indian and Mediterranean restaurants are all very accommodating but have found great options at American restaurants too.
Download Vegan Apps to Help You Discover More Places Near You
When you want to save time and discover vegan or vegan-friendly options nearby, it’s helpful to use mobile apps and sites like HappyCow and Vanilla Bean Plant-Based Food. They were created for vegans/vegetarians and include helpful reviews & photos from restaurants close to your location. If you’re looking for a quick list of national chains restaurants, you can visit Vegan Options at Fast Food and Restaurant Chains to Try Around the United States.
Learn About Cooking Methods That Use Animal Products
Be aware that many restaurants are still using animal products during the cooking process. Common foods that contain animal ingredients are French fries or tortilla chips made in beef fat, onion rings made with milk & egg binding, chicken broth used in cooking rice, bread brushed with butter and fish oil as a base in many stir fry dishes. If you ask ahead, your server should direct you to items on the menu that can be more easily modified.
How Do I Remove Animal Products in All Areas of My Life?
Aside from food, one of the most impactful ways you can make a difference is by taking control of your power as a consumer. Vegans abstain from supporting products & brands that contribute to the exploitation of animals whether that be through using animals directly or by-products. It also means they do not purchase from companies that test their products on animals. Here are some of the core areas you can focus on as a new vegan. It’s your choice on whether you want to get rid of non-vegan items in your household or continue to use them until they wear out (i.e. leather belts, shoes, wool sweaters). I personally found that I was lucky enough to not have any of these products in my wardrobe but would have either donated or used the items until they no longer served a purpose to not be wasteful. Also, even though I grew to despise the leather seats in my car that I had purchased before making the switch, I realized it was not possible or practical to purchase another one. In my opinion, it’s more important to make more conscious decisions moving forward now that I’m properly informed on the impact to myself, the earth and animals. Here are some vegan friendly options you can opt for moving forward with your life as a vegan.
Vegan Shoes & Clothing
Products containing leather, wool, silk, animal glue, feathers, fur, skin & suede are not vegan. Instead opt for materials like faux leather, waxed canvas, linens, polyester, cotton, viscose, rayon, tencel, acrylic, microfibre, bamboo, hemp, nylon, rayon & satin.
Vegan Bath, Body & Cosmetic Products
Many beauty brands use animals & their by-products in manufacturing like beeswax, honey, silk powder, shellac (lac bugs), guanine (dead fish scales), carmine, squalene (shark liver oil), propolis, lanolin (sheep wool), allantoin, glycerine (animal fats), casein (cow’s milk) and stearic acid (pig, cow & sheep stomach acid) & alpha-hydroxy acids. They also condone and exercise the testing of their products on animals regardless of the danger to their health. It should go without saying, but products containing animal hair (boar, fox, goat, mink & squirrel) are also out of the question. Much like food products being certified vegan, you can look out for items that are cruelty free and vegan with the Leaping Bunny Logo which is always helpful. Opt for plastic bristles in your next hairbrush and more ethical brands that do not have these items listed. To take it a step further, you can research companies to see whether their cruelty-free stance is only in the US, or if they are complying to required animal testing for exports to countries like China.
Vegan Cleaning & Household Products
Common household detergents & cleaning products contain animal-based items like caprylic acid (cow’s milk), tallow (rendered beef fat), animal glycerol & steric acid (animal fats), animal lecithin (waxy nervous tissue) and oleyl alcohols (derived from fish). They also may participate in animal testing, so it’s important to check before assuming a product is vegan. There are many plant based detergents on the market like Ecos, Seventh Generation, Meyer’s, Method, and more. As for other cleaning products, I prefer to take it old-school and keep it all natural with white vinegar, baking soda, apple cider vinegar, lemon, & castile soap. I also use Enjo products for a chemical & waste-free solution in my home. The cleaning cloths last for years saving you both time & money while harming no animals in the process.
Many brands use materials like wool, suede, leather, silk, fur, down and other products derived from animals. You can opt for faux leather, polyurethane and plant-based materials.
Best Advice For How to Go Vegan
Do Your Research & Set Realistic Goals
You don’t have to do everything all at once, but if you do… more power to ya! I started with a goal to eliminate animal products and by-products from my diet. Next came bath & body products. Clothing came soon after and finally household supplies (i.e. everything from cleaning and candles). It took time to do the research to discover things I had previously thought were 100% vegan, were in fact the product of the hard work, or even the flesh of an animal! 🙁 Don’t beat yourself up if you feel overwhelmed by overlooking things in the beginning. It’s about making a difference one day at a time and doing what you can as an individual.
Understand That You’ll Make Mistakes
Even if you try your best to ensure a meal or product is vegan, it’s totally possible that you might mess up from time to time. Restaurants may accidentally serve you a dish with dairy because they assume it’s vegan if it doesn’t contain meat… You might have overlooked the fact that a bag of chips might have milk even though you were confident at the time you bought them… Your favorite candy might even contain carmine (made from bugs) …. What’s important is that you learn from those experiences and use them to make more informed decisions in the future.
Make a Commitment
Halter your support industries and causes that bring suffering to animals. If that’s not one of your primary reasons for going vegan, you may not stick with it. If you want to learn more about why you should make the switch, you can watch documentaries like Cowspiracy, Seaspiracy, What the Health, The Game Changers, and Blackfish.
Tell Your Friends & Family
While society generally frowns upon many things outside the “norm”, your friends & family are there to support you in what you’re truly passionate about. It’s important to let them know you’re making the switch so you can start to plan family meals a little differently. You might be surprised what they’re willing to try and how accepting they can be. If they are harassing you about your decisions as a vegan, it might be because they aren’t informed enough or feel judged for continuing to consume & use animal products themselves.
Be an Advocate
You have a greater influence than you might think. Most of us are active on at least one type of social platform online or participate in some of group in-person that allows us to connect with others. You can make a difference one conversation at a time by sharing why you’re passionate and the facts you’ve learned by going vegan. I choose to advocate through my blog and social media by sharing recipes, health benefits, tips & animal advocacy posts because I realize that I can use my voice to reach a larger audience. It also helps me connect with like-minded vegans and learn from them.
I hope you find this guide to be helpful as you start your vegan journey. Feel free to share it with others you think might be interested in going vegan but aren’t sure where to start. If you have any questions, leave them in the comments section below!
As always, thanks for your love & support.
‘Til next time!
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