Going vegan can seem like a daunting task. People go vegan for all different reasons, one of the main being their health. As a registered dietitian, I can say that is my favorite. Where, oh, where to begin? Here are six tips on going vegan that will make your journey a breeze.
Starting a vegan diet is a unique journey for all of us. Depending on your motivation and expectations, your experience starting your vegan diet may vary from others. Factors that may also influence how you adjust can include your experience cooking or grocery shopping. Here is what you need to know.
A vegan diet is the most dedicated form of vegetarianism. A vegan diet excludes:
Meat, poultry, or fish
Animal by-products like gelatin
Instead, a vegan diet embraces plant-based foods. Examples of vegan-friendly foods include:
Fruits and vegetables
Nuts and seeds
Beans, legumes, and soy
& so much more!
How to become vegan step by step
There is no “best” pace for going vegan.
If you’re just starting a vegan diet for ethical reasons: give yourself patience as you might miss some animal products at first. This is normal and your taste buds will adjust as you try new and different meals. I don’t recommend putting yourself under pressure to stick to a vegan diet immediately, 100%.
Starting too fast will simply put pressure on yourself which is unrealistic. This lifestyle change includes learning new skills. Would you be upset with yourself if you weren’t ready to host a concert after only two guitar lessons? Of course not – that wouldn’t be realistic.
The same is true with changing your eating habits, slow and steady wins the race! Give yourself the time and space to learn new skills, and learn which new foods and recipes are your new go-to favorites!
You might find it easier to slowly replace your usual non-vegan items, one at a time, as you finish them at home. For example, you eat your last cup of dairy yogurt and so you get two different non dairy brands to try and compare next time you grocery shop.
Another way to start a vegan diet is to focus on one meal at a time. For example, getting comfortable with a 100% vegan breakfast, before worrying about lunch or snacks. Forward is forward, no matter which route feels best for you.
Next topic: maintain comfort by not having too much fiber all at once.
Fiber tips: less is more at the beginning
Chances are: your new vegan diet is higher in fiber than what you’re used to. Starting a vegan diet slowly will give your digestion time to adjust to the higher fiber load.
Starting with a diet high in fiber can also help prevent constipation – which many vegans are prone to, at first. Build-in those high-fiber foods slowly, especially beans and lentils: they’re tasty, healthy and inexpensive, but offer a giant fiber boost.
As you transition to higher fiber plant-based foods (I see you, whole grains and raspberries) – be sure to drink water throughout the day. If you have a lot of fiber and are dehydrated, you’re brewing up a recipe for constipation.
Include processed foods, but not all processed foods
While there are more ready-to-eat processed vegan foods than ever before, some of the choices are healthier than others. Plan and prepare as much food as possible yourself to ensure the healthiest vegan diet. Vegan “junk food” is still junk food; tasty, and totally enjoyable once in a while, but not always healthy.
In a nation where all-American burgers, chicken wings, grilled cheese sandwiches, and more contain animal products (eggs, milk), leaving them out of your diet – at least initially- can cause feelings of loss before a successful transition to veganism takes place.
For those who are vegan beginners, you might find that vegan alternatives help the transition to be more smooth. You may be loving oat milk, veggie hot dogs, and dairy-free cheese. Most grocery stores have a range of good options; just be sure to read labels carefully to ensure that you’re meeting your vegan eating goals.
There are also specialty stores that sell vegan options that you might really love as a tasty alternative for those non-vegan favorites. They’re convenient but also tend to be a bit pricey.
For some foods, you might prefer an alternative instead of a substitute. For example, instead of having tacos made with a ground beef substitute, you’re delighted to discover that Cauliflower and Walnut Tacos are your new favorite meal for Taco Tuesdays.
There is no right or wrong answer here, it is just important to find foods and drinks that you truly enjoy.
Chat with friends and family
While you’re under no obligation to explain or defend your vegan diet to anyone, it can be helpful to give friends and family advance notice if you’re going to be spending time together in person. We often gather around the table, right?
Most of your friends and family do want to support you, but they might need a little help and guidance about what following a vegan diet actually looks like. Sometimes, when you tell them the list of foods that are excluded from a vegan diet, they honestly don’t know what is left.
Offer to bring food, provide examples, help find restaurants that accommodate all needs/preferences, or enjoy buffet meals together where everyone can make their own perfect meal.
For example, let your family or friends know that you’ll be skipping the traditional cheese ball appetizer but let them know that you’ll be bringing chips and guacamole instead. Or instead of a grill-out with burgers, have a burrito bowl buffet with vegan-friendly options along with the usual favorites.
Or if this becomes too complicated or overwhelming, have social time virtually or not over mealtimes. Meet for coffee or wine, play board games, and have a virtual happy hour instead of trying to have a meal together. No reason to get stressed over things!
Don’t forget a backup plan
No matter what, sometimes life simply doesn’t go according to plan, even with starting a vegan diet. Maybe the restaurant you were planning to meet your friends at was closed unexpectedly. Or the lunch your work had catered wasn’t actually vegan.
For minimum frustration, have backup plans whenever possible. This could include frozen vegan-friendly dinners for when that recipe flop happens, a high-protein vegan snack in your backpack in case traffic delays your drive home, or even having a vegan app to help locate restaurants nearby in a pinch.
For lots of tasty vegan snacks to make or buy, check out this round-up: Summertime Vegan Snacks at the Grocery Store.
Work with a dietitian
While a vegan diet can be a very healthy (not to mention, delicious) way to eat, it can be tricky to eat well without some support especially when you are just starting a vegan diet. Most registered dietitians are not vegan themselves, so working with one that has experience in this area can help to ensure you’re getting complete nutrition.
A vegan registered dietitian can help you to avoid nutrient deficiencies, recommend tasty products and new recipes as well as help you to navigate and avoid common pitfalls.
Maintaining a vegan diet may also be easier if you join a community of like-minded people. The support and encouragement you get from others on the same path will likely make your transition much more successful. Join my local vegan club or an online community to connect with people who aren’t going to grill you on your protein intake when they find out your eating habits.
Have fun! No one is judging
While you may be challenged as you learn new skills and seek out new restaurants and groceries, the good news is that you’re doing all this because you want to. A vegan diet can be a lot of fun, and as long as you remember what’s on the line—your health and your ethics—you’ll find that making it work is easy.
Take your time, get support, and have a backup plan. You’re well on your way to starting a vegan diet that you’ll love.
Key Takeaways: Starting a Vegan Diet
Starting a vegan diet is smooth sailing with the right tools and support.
Take the hassle and headache away with this guide; it was made for you! A 4-month guide that leads you week-by-week on exactly what to do. This guide is full of tips and tricks for a successful launch into vegan eating. And bonus? It was made by yours truly, a vegan dietitian who loves tasty food.
What are you looking forward to the most with starting your vegan diet? Comment below!