If you made it this far, you are probably considering switching to a vegan diet, or perhaps you have already started. If that’s the case: well done! There are lots of exciting things ahead and you’re not only doing yourself but also mother Earth a huge favour by making the switch.
As with everything new, it can feel a little daunting when you first start off, but there is no need to worry. We will cover five useful tips and topics which will give you all the confidence you need to get started on a vegan diet:
1. The benefits of switching to a plant-based diet
One of the most impactful changes we can make starts with the food we eat. The meat, fish and dairy industries are some of the most destructive to our planet. They are responsible for huge amounts of water and land use, greenhouse gas emissions and destroying ancient forests and habitats.
A WWF report has found that meat-based diets are the cause of 60% of the world’s biodiversity loss, so going vegan is one of the best things we can do for the environment. Moreover, it doesn’t only benefit the environment, but it is also one of the most powerful things we can do for our own health. Research has shown that a vegan diet can reduce the chances of getting certain diseases such as cancer, type 2 diabetes, as well as heart disease.
2. So what do you eat on a vegan diet?
People often presume that food choices on a vegan diet are very limited and it’s not uncommon to get strange looks, followed by: ‘’But what can you eat then?’.
But the truth is there is a vast array of options available to us. Nuts, seeds, legumes, vegetables, fruits, whole grains… you name it. Because meat and cheese are a lot more calorie-heavy than vegetables, you don’t have to stick to the same servings you were used to having before. It is completely normal to have larger portion sizes in order to feel full. Do make sure to not just leave foods like meat out of your meals without replacing them. Here are some ideas:
3. Why whole foods are the way forward
A common error people make when they first start off on a vegan diet is assuming that everything is automatically healthier, but don’t be tricked by thinking that all things labelled ‘vegan’ are good for you.
Some of the products out there are heavily processed (such as meat or cheese replacements). It’s perfectly fine if you want to eat these every once in a while and they can help you transition if you miss meat and cheese, but they shouldn’t become a cornerstone of your diet.
Processed foods often contain added sodium, sugar, fats and preservatives so it is best to eat them in moderation. A rule of thumb is that the less processed, the more whole foods you eat, the better it is for you, as they will be a lot more nutrient and vitamin dense. Here are some examples of vegan whole foods:
- Fresh fruit and vegetables (as well as frozen fruit and vegetables)
- Legumes (such as chickpeas, lentils and beans)
- Grains (such as rice, oats and quinoa)
- Nuts and seeds (such as pumpkin seeds, chia seeds, cashew nuts and walnuts)
Processed foods we should consume little of, are things like:
- Fruit juice
- Canned fruit in syrup
- Vegan cheese and ice-cream
- Meat substitutes
- Fried foods
4. Take one step at a time
Just because you’ve told your family or friends that you’re switching to a vegan diet, doesn’t mean you have to go all-in straight away in order to prove yourself. It’s about finding what works best for you. It can be a little scary to give everything up at once, so go easy on yourself and take things step-by-step.
Some might want to start with a vegan breakfast, whilst others will try and completely cut out animal foods on certain days. It might be useful to set yourself some goals and once you’ve achieved them, you can take it a step further. Either way, there is no right or wrong, but starting small and building it up is often the easiest way to go.
5. Nutrients to pay attention to
There is no doubt that eating a balanced vegan diet is one of the best things we can do for our health. We should always try to get all the nutrients we need from our food and supplements should never be a substitute. As long as you eat a well-planned and varied vegan diet, this is entirely possible.
Some specific nutrients to keep an eye on are vitamin D, omega 3 fatty acids, iodine, zinc, vitamin K2 and last, but certainly not least, vitamin B12. B12 is an essential vitamin that definitely shouldn’t be overlooked. It helps the body maintain proper brain function, healthy nerve cells and it is needed to make use of protein. It assists in the production of both DNA and RNA and it is essential for energy as it helps the blood carry oxygen.
If for whichever reason, it is proving to be a little tricky to get adequate amounts of a certain nutrient (such as B12 or vitamin D for instance), or you suspect you may have a deficiency, supplementation can definitely be helpful.
A multi-vitamin is not the best supplement to choose, as the quantities of each vitamin are minimal, so it’s better to take them separately. A good way to check whether you’re lacking any vitamins or minerals is to have an occasional blood test done at your doctor’s. This should be very easy if you let them know you are vegan!
Hopefully, by now you feel ready and confident to get started on a vegan diet! Fortunately, there are plenty of tools out there to give you that extra bit of support along the way. To learn more about how to successfully transition to a vegan diet, check out our Vegan Starter Course here.
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Co-Founder of Veano