Making a transition to veganism

Veganism is on the rise and people are interested in it for many reasons: health, animals, environmental, economic, political, and more. Here’s a list that might make your vegan transition smoother.

Find your groove.

hearty salad

For some, Meatless Mondays is a good start. Others might have fun with being Vegan Before 6 (breakfast and lunch). Lean into veganism when it feels right. But if you wake up tomorrow and want to be a full-fledged vegan, go for it! You don’t have to do it in phases. Push yourself but don’t set yourself up for failure.

It’s a journey.

You’re going to slip up. Maybe by accident (“whey is an animal product?”) or on purpose (“I couldn’t resist the pizza.”) That’s not a reason to quit. After a lifetime of developing food habits, you’ll find some are hard to break. Don’t beat yourself up about it. Being vegan isn’t about being perfect.

Eat out.

A good vegan restaurant (or restaurant with vegan options) is really helpful. If you’re at a regular restaurant, look for ways to veganize a dish. Hold the cheese. Substitute a Portobello for a hamburger. Ask the wait staff. They’re usually more than happy to help customers with dietary needs.

Learn to cook.

There’s nothing like taking your health into your own hands. Cooking at home means you know exactly what goes into your meal. Find some recipes online or get a few cookbooks and experiment. My first vegan cookbook was How it all Vegan. I still use it because the recipes are simple and delicious.

Find replacements.

If you crave cheese, bacon or ribs, look for vegan versions like Daiya, Upton’s, or Morningstar so you can still eat your favorite foods. Mock meats (or analogs) are a lifesaver when you’re not sure what to eat and you haven’t found a new way of eating yet.

Don’t live on processed foods.

That said, it’s easy to become a junk-food vegan. Mock versions of your old favorites can be healthy, but they aren’t always. The best vegan food plan includes lots of natural, whole foods. When it comes to health talk, you might hear “whole-food, plant-based” instead of “vegan,” because chips and soda are usually vegan, but they’re not healthy.

Introduce color.

A colorful plate of whole, plant-based foods is bound to be rich in lots of vitamins. Even my salads are hearty, and include lots of things like quinoa, garbanzo beans and seitan.

mango saladSpeaking of seitan.

Try new foods. You won’t like them all, but you’ll find new favorites and you’ll likely end up eating a more varied diet than the typical meat-and-potatoes American. I like to explore a variety of foods from around the world–and I’m always pleasantly surprised.

Expect change.

Meat is calorie dense. I don’t count calories but I know it takes a lot more plant-based food to match the calories of animal-based foods. You might find yourself snacking more (healthy snacking is fine). Maybe you pile your plate higher. If you’re eating whole foods, go for it! If you swap a 3-oz. steak for 3 ounces of hummus you’ll probably still be hungry! If you aren’t full, eat more. If you’re eating processed foods though, be careful. Oils and refined foods are fattening and offer very little nutritional value.

Don’t worry about protein.

Yes, it’s absolutely important, but if you eat enough food (meaning you’re not starving yourself), you’ll get enough protein. And a big surprise to many people is that plants have protein! Tomatoes, potatoes, bananas–they wouldn’t grow without it. Beans, nuts and such have more than fruit, but there’s protein in all of it. A plant-based diet provides 8-10% of calories from protein, which is the exact amount the RDA (recommended daily allowance) recommends. I’ll write a separate post about it soon.

Supplements.

Vitamins are a multibillion dollar industry but nothing comes close to whole foods–it’s what we really need. We get vitamin D from the sun, but if you don’t get a lot of sun, that’s one supplement you could take. Dairy is fortified with it, and fortunately, almond, soy, and other milks have it added too. There’s B12 in organic soil (that’s where the cows get it from) but since so much produce is grown with pesticides and other chemicals, soil isn’t what it used to be. A B12 supplement is probably wise. For the record, a lot of omnivores are low in B12 too–it’s not just a vegan thing.

Remember why you’re doing this.

For me, it’s was all about the animals (I say was because it’s about health now too). What’s your motivation? Remembering why you’re going vegan will help you stick with it. You can eat whatever you want; you choose not too. It’s not limiting if you think of it as a choice.

Resources:

  • Forks Over Knives – This documentary drives home the value and sound nutrition behind a whole food, plant-based diet.
  • Engine 2 Diet – This website links to books, recipes, and lots of resources for your plant-based journey.
  • The China Study – A comprehensive look at the 27-year study that Dr. Campbell undertook that led to finding on the superiority of whole food, plant-based diets.
  • Whole: rethinking the Science of Nutrition – This is Dr. Campbell’s latest book and explores a new way to look at how–and what–we eat.
  • PCRM – The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine portal has tons of health and nutrition information.
  • Vegan Outreach – This site links to videos, a free vegan starter kit, and lots of resources about why to be vegan (from factory farm cruelty to environmental nightmares).

As an aside, I’m in the middle of taking the Plant-based Nutrition course through eCornell. I’ve learned a ton in the course, but I’m not a medical professional, nor do I play one on TV. The course is amazing but doesn’t qualify me to dispense medical advice. Then again, most doctors aren’t trained in nutrition either!

Vegan readers, do you have other tips on going vegan? Best cookbooks? Favorite recipes?