Congratulations for making the decision to eat healthier and feel better! We are going to explain in detail in the coming weeks why a vegan diet is so important and healthy for you, but we wanted our first real post to be about how to go vegan. This is going to be a longer, more information-heavy post than what we plan on regularly writing, but it is all relevant and important, especially for newbies. We know from experience that the process of eliminating animal products from your diet can be overwhelming. It’s hard to know exactly where to start, so we want that process to be as smooth as possible for you. Here are some basic steps and resources to get you started on this path.
ONE SMALL STEP AT A TIME
Most people cannot eliminate animal products from their diet entirely all at once. It takes some pretty major will power and determination to do it. Not saying that you can’t or won’t be able to – but you may find the most lasting success by making one small step at a time. How you choose to go vegan will depend largely on your own personality and how you’ve usually been able to transition change in the past. Only you will know what will work best.
Cutting out meat is going to be the easiest step for most people. You can start by partaking in Meatless Mondays; it’s a great way to experiment making meat-free dishes and to figure out what meat substitutes you and your family will enjoy the most. Gradually make more and more days of the week meat-free until you have worked up to a full week. When you use up the meat you currently own, do not replace it when you grocery shop. It will make it easier to resist the temptation of eating meat when it comes time for meal planning.
Eliminating meat will be easier than you think. It helps that there are such great meat substitutes on the market. There really is a great tasting meat-free version of anything you love. Bacon? Try marinated tempeh strips. Steak? A grilled portobello mushroom cap is ridiculously good. Burgers? There are fantastic veggie burgers on the market. Brands like Tofurkey even make meat-free roasts and deli slices. The best meat substitute I’ve found to date is Gardein’s Crispy Tenders – to me they taste better than the chicken strips I used to love.
SAYING BYE TO THE REST
The hardest elimination for most people is going to be dairy, cheese, and eggs. Milk and milk derivatives are in so many foods, so you will have to carefully read food labels when grocery shopping. I still find foods (especially non-dairy cheese) labelled “vegan” when they contain casein (a milk protein) or other milk products.
There are many different kinds of non-dairy milk – soy, almond, coconut, hemp, rice. Depending on your tolerance and taste for non-dairy milk, you might want to start out drinking sweetened soy or almond milk, and then work to unsweetened. I found soy milk very similar in taste to the lactose-free milk I used to drink, so that was the easiest transition milk for me. I now enjoy almond milk in my cereal and smoothies. Try out different brands and flavours to see what you like best.
There are also cheese and egg substitutes on the market. Try Vegg or tofu scramble to sub for an omelet or scrambled egg. In baking, mashed banana or applesauce work amazingly well. For fake cheese, I love Daiya. It resembles, tastes, and melts the closest to real cheese that I’ve been able to find. I put Daiya cheese on pizza (yes, you can have vegan pizza!), nachos, salads… anything you used to put cheese on before, you can put faux cheese on now. The best thing to do is print out a list of common animal ingredients to take grocery shopping with you, so you know what to look for and avoid. Or download a smartphone app to help. An easy tip I recently learned for vegan shopping – if there is cholesterol in the product, it contains animal ingredients.
Where to buy everything? Most grocery stores now have a “natural food” section, and most towns and cities now have at least one natural food or bulk food store. You should be able to find meat, dairy, cheese, and egg substitutes, as well as all your pantry basics, in these stores. Speaking of the basics…
STOCK YOUR PANTRY
If you have vegan recipe basics in your house, it will be easier to make healthier choices when it’s time to plan meals and eat. This following list is a good place to start for the basics:
- veggies and fruit, fresh or frozen – this will be largely based on what you like! the greater the variety, the better
- grains – couscous, quinoa, barley, buckwheat, rice (brown, wild), rolled oats, millet, kamut, amaranth, spelt
- legumes, uncooked or canned – lentils, beans (kidney, black, navy, pinto), split peas, chickpeas
- nuts and seeds- cashews, almonds, pecans, walnuts, sunflower, pumpkin, hemp, chia, flax
- vinegar – balsamic, apple cider, rice, red wine
- oil – olive, grapeseed, safflower, sesame, coconut
- sweeteners – agave, maple syrup, stevia, xylitol, organic sugar, coconut sugar, dates
- nut and seed butters, hummus
- tofu, tempeh and edamame (if no soy allergy)
- non-dairy milk and cheese
- meat and egg substitutes
- nutritional yeast – great for adding a cheese-like flavour to any dish
- vegetable broth
- tamari sauce
- vegan pasta and bread products
- spice – again, largely based on what flavours you enjoy
It takes some time to get rid of all the food in your house containing animal ingredients and build up a solid base of staples, especially if you’re not used to buying these type of foods. You do not have to buy everything on this list; if you’re on a budget, pick and choose a few from each category and work from there.
PLAN YOUR MEALS
This goes along with stocking your pantry; if you plan your meals in advance, it will be easier to stick to your vegan diet. If you get to the point where you’re hungry and haven’t planned out what you’re going to eat, you run the risk of eating something processed or unhealthy. Planning ahead also saves money by not wasting any food or fresh produce that may go bad if you don’t use it in time. Choose one day a week to sit down with an empty schedule and decide what you’ll eat for main meals and snacks. From there, you can create a list of groceries and produce you may need to buy for the week. This great article by Matt Frazier of No Meat Athlete describes how to simplify your meal planning by picking one main ingredient a day for your dinner. There are a ton of vegan cookbooks, blogs, and recipe sites to get ideas from. I never lack for inspiration – I literally have hundreds of recipes bookmarked on my computer from vegan blogs. One of my personal favourite sites for recipes is Finding Vegan. Prepare and/or chop food ahead of time so it’s ready to use when you’re ready to eat. If you’re cooking rice, beans, or pasta, make extra and freeze individual portions for future use.
If you’re leaving the house to eat, do a bit of research ahead of time if possible to figure out what options you may have. Check out Veg Dining or Happy Cow, which will list local vegetarian and vegan dining options where you live.
BUILD A SUPPORT SYSTEM
Choosing a vegan lifestyle can be lonely at times, especially if you live in a small town with limited veg options, or have friends and family who aren’t overly receptive to your change in eating habits. Luckily there is a thriving online vegan community, with beginner and veteran vegans who will be more than willing to support you. The best way to get involved is to find a few vegan blogs or forums that you enjoy and begin sharing comments. There also may be local vegetarian or vegan meet-ups where you can meet people that share a vegan lifestyle. If you’re close to a big city, there will more than likely be a health/wellness, vegetarian, or vegan expo there at some point in the year. These are great for sampling new vegan food and products.
DON’T SWEAT THE SMALL STUFF
Transitioning to veganism can take time. Don’t beat yourself up if you accidentally or purposefully eat animal products. After deciding to go vegan, there were still two incidents where I willfully ate meat and dairy. Both times were outside of the house at wedding-related functions; one of the hardest parts about being a vegan is having choices to eat outside of your own meals. I resolved to stay true to my decision, and haven’t consumed animal ingredients that I know of since June. It can take a while to get there. The important thing is that you’re trying. Every day or meal that you don’t eat animal products is a benefit to yourself, the animals, and the environment. It took three months before I really started noticing a big difference in how my body felt. When you start noticing these differences, it makes it so much easier to stay on the path. Good luck – you will get there!
How did you go vegan? What obstacles did you face along the way and how did you overcome them?