Veganism looks more glamorous than ever! Stars like Beyoncé and Kylie Janner make vegan lifestyle seem not only right but also attractive. Are you considering crossing the line? Then you should know that your love for animals is not enough to become vegan.
The transition to veganism is not easy and doesn’t happen overnight. You’re not just quitting meat; you’re quitting all animal-derived products. Your organism will react and demand ‘regular’ food. I will hit you with cravings and wake you up in the middle of the night with severe hunger pangs.
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The first step towards veganism is gathering information. Unlike celebrities, you (probably) don’t have a personal chef to cover all your vegan needs. That is why you will need answers to essential questions like:
– What to eat?
– Where to buy vegan food?
– How to cook vegan food?
This post will cover not only these basic questions but also turn your attention to issues like avoiding vegan junk food, as well as finding suitable sources for proteins and vitamins.
What is Veganism Exactly?
Veganism is a type of vegetarian diet that excludes meat, eggs, dairy and other animal-derived products such as honey. However, the term ‘vegan’ can have a much broader meaning.
Many vegans also avoid foods that are processed using animal products like white sugar (contains animal bones) or foods that are grown in a way that endangers certain animal species like some types of coffee.
In addition, most vegans refuse to use products tested on animals, as well as animal-derived products that are not food, such as fur, leather, and wool.
What Do Vegans Eat, Actually?
What is left after you get rid of meat, eggs, and dairy? A vegan diet includes fruits & veggies, as well as all grains, beans, and legumes.
In addition, there are many vegan versions of popular foods like vegan cheese, meat, ice cream, burgers, hot dogs, and mayonnaise, which allow an infinite number of variations.
Let’s not forget to mention soy products (especially tofu and soy milk) which are widely used among vegans. Furthermore, most breads and pasta are vegan, as is rice and French fries!
How to Become Vegan?
So, you’ve made up your mind about becoming vegan. Where to start from
#1 Find your own pace
Experienced vegans claim that going vegan overnight is the worst way to do it. Start small and go step by step. You can remove one animal product at a time or start off as a vegetarian before switching to vegan. Another option is to first become reducetarian, i.e. start reducing the intake of animal-derived products or restrict their use to weekends only.
Allow your organism to adjust to vegan foods before you make the final cut. For instance, have a vegan smoothie before your regular breakfast or eat an apple after dinner. Next step, start substituting animal products with vegan versions.
Even if you have made a complete transition, it’s OK to give yourself a break from time to time. Don’t feel guilty if you have an occasional slice of cake or fried chicken. Forgive yourself and be patient.
#2 Expect lots of questions
Many people will regard your change of lifestyle as a threat to theirs. You will be asked lots of questions and hear many dissuasions. There are two options here – you can either state clearly that you’re doing this for your own reasons or simply make the transition quietly. This second option will reduce the stress and allow you to focus your energy on adjusting to the new diet instead on explaining why on earth did you go vegan.
#3 Find good protein sources
Speaking of people asking questions, the most frequently asked one is “Where do you get your proteins from?” Proteins are extremely important for our bodies. They’re the building blocks of life. However, despite popular belief, animal products are not the richest sources of proteins. Natural soy, seitan, tofu, beans, lentils, nuts, hemp seeds, and quinoa are perfect plant-based protein sources.
Moreover, vegetables like cauliflower, asparagus, and broccoli also provide a lot of proteins. Let’s not forget about the various vegan protein powders you can use. To conclude, the large number of vegan athletes out there is the best proof that vegans DO consume enough proteins on a daily basis.
#4 Find good calcium sources
Knowing that dairy products are the best sources of calcium and vitamin D, there seems to be another problem you need to solve. Well, first of all, we get most of vitamin D from the sun so that’s covered.
Here is another fun fact: the pasteurized milk most of us consume is not that rich in calcium. When scientist insists on drinking milk for calcium, they mean raw milk in which high heat hasn’t destroyed most of the nutrients.
Finally, how to make sure your bones remain stronger if your switch to a vegan diet? The list of naturally calcium-rich foods includes leafy greens like kale and bok choy, soy beans, almonds, and figs. Add calcium-fortified foods like plant-based milk, cereals, and tofu to your shopping list as well. All of the above mentioned foods are also rich in vitamin D, which helps your body absorb calcium.
#5 Avoid the trap called “Vegan junk food”
What’s the point of going vegan if you eat only French fries, rice, pasta, and white bread? These four starchy food items are the most common choices for newbie vegans, along with processed foods with low nutritional value. Eventually, you will end up being hungry and overweight.
Focus on ingredients that will provide enough proteins, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. Translated into simple words, eat more fruits and veggies!
#6 Go easy on soy
You will miss meat and that’s OK. Just don’t make soy a central ingredient in your diet. No matter how bad red meat might be for your heart, eating too much soy is worse. Soy-based meat substitutes are often highly processed and contain lots of sodium and preservatives. The best sources of soy are the fermented soy products like tempeh and natto. Besides being rich in vitamin K and probiotics, these products facilitate the digestion and absorption of soybean proteins. Again, be cautious; no matter how healthy they are, fermented soy products are quite high in calories so make sure to consume in moderation!
#7 Consider supplements
Vitamin B12 occurs naturally only in animal foods, so you’ll need to invest in B12-fortified foods and supplements. This vitamin keeps the nervous system and blood cells healthy. Deficiencies can lead to fatigue, weakness, constipation, too much weight loss, nerve problems, and mental disorders like depression. Consider stocking up on some nutritional yeast. It usually comes fortified with B12 and has multiple uses in the kitchen. It adds flavor & saltiness to various dishes (think vegan mac and cheese) but is also used as a thickener for soups and stews.
Another nutrient you’ll need to supplement is iron. Unlike animal-based iron which is easily absorbed by the body, plant-based iron is less readily absorbed. That is why in addition to iron-rich foods like sunflower seeds, legumes, dried raisins, and leafy greens, you should also take supplements, as well as vitamin C-rich foods (citrus, red peppers, and broccoli), which facilitate iron absorption.
Consult your doctor before you include supplements in your diet or even better before you even start the transition to a vegan diet.
#8 Shop like a vegan
Be prepared to change the entire way of doing shopping. You’ll be visiting regular grocery stores and supermarkets less and spend more time touring health food stores & farmer’s markets. Don’t be shy to talk to the staff and ask for advice, new products, or lower prices.
No matter what you might have heard, veganism is not an expensive way of life. Many staples like grains, beans, and nuts are quite cheap, especially in health food stores where they’re sold in a bulk. Most fruits and veggies are also affordable, especially if you buy them frozen.
To save a few more bucks, you can shop at farmers’ markets an hour before closing, join a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture), or search for daily deals and discounts online.
You will also need to develop a habit of checking the product labels. Some products may seem vegan but contain animal-derived products. For instance, many breads and granolas contain whey, which is made from milk, whereas gummy bears contain gelatin! You never know what’s hiding in your food, so do your homework and learn all the tricky substances before you go shopping.
#9 Cook like a vegan
Remember that you’re not alone. If you have no vegans or vegetarians in your immediate surroundings, join some vegan/vegetarian groups on social media. You can ask the members for tips, advice, and vegan recipes anytime.
Buying a vegan cookbook can also be of great help. Alternatively, browse for vegan cooking websites and apps. Go through various vegan recipes and save the ones that seem interesting, but make sure to gather a number of quick and easy recipes as well.
You can also take your favorite dishes and transform them into vegan meals. For instance, make spaghetti sauce without meatballs or replace the meatballs with a vegan substitute. If you are the only vegan in the family, the thought of cooking two meals every day might sound discouraging. There’s no need to worry! You can cook the same meal in two separate pans. For instance, cook pasta and meat stir-fry separately. Add the meat to the pasta just before serving for your family and cover your own pasta in a store-bought, meat-free spaghetti sauce. However, be prepared that the vegan versions of your favorite dishes will look and taste differently.
Some of the vegan recipes you make might taste less than delicious the first time. It is wise to lower your expectations when eating a veggie burger the first time. Don’t give up. Give these foods another chance once you get accustomed to new tastes. Or try preparing the same recipe using different product brands or cooking techniques. Try replacing the quinoa in your burger patty with rice or try grilling the burger instead of frying it.
Don’t be afraid to explore. In the course of becoming vegan, you’ll discover a range of new ingredients. Make it your goal to buy a new vegan product every time you go shopping and incorporate it in a new vegan recipe. Eventually, you’ll find your diet richer and more varied than ever.
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#10 Eat out like a vegan
Today’s vegans live in a vegan-friendly world. Not only is there a large number of exclusively vegan restaurants, but even regular restaurants include vegan items on their menus. Even fast food places and cafeterias offer vegan options! Turing vegan is a great excuse to tour the restaurants in your city. Check out ethnic restaurants like Indian, Chinese, Middle Eastern, and Thai to taste the various vegan dishes they offer. Veggie tacos? Sure. Indian curries? They’re vegan too. Italian pasta? You got it!
Going vegan is an adventure where you get to learn new things every day. Enjoy it!
I’m in love with food and everything about food! Blogging is my way of celebrating that love and MyGreatRecipes made it all happen. If you, too, are into great food and interesting reads, you will enjoy reading my posts!