Depending on your diet, going vegan may be easy. Vegan recipes are often surprisingly simple, and the transition will not leave you wanting, if done wisely. The reasons to go vegan are seemingly endless–it’s a nutrient-rich, compassionate way of living. Despite these, the change in diet and lifestyle may seem overwhelming. Transitioning to veganism takes time and learning. Fortunately, it’s all worth it.
To someone accustomed to a diet heavy in animal products, going vegan may seem daunting. And rightly so; switching cold turkey can cause issues. The vegan diet is packed with fiber, something that animal-based foods lack. Fiber is indisputably good for you–however, suddenly consuming more than your body is used to may lead to digestive discomfort.
Begin by cutting out one thing at a time. Red meats are an excellent first choice; they are easy to spot and easy to avoid. After a week, remove all meats. Then, move on to dairy. This way, by the time you’ve removed all animal-based foods from your diet, cooking plant-based meals will be familiar to you.
Alternatively, you can focus on the “crowding, not cutting” method. Rather than completely removing your animal-based favorites, find new vegan foods you love. Try cooking one or two easy vegan recipes (or vegetarian recipes) each day. Look for new spices and ingredients that interest you, without necessarily worrying about letting animal-based foods go. Over time, you’ll develop new habits and favorites that will take the place of non-vegan ones. The goal is not to force yourself away from animal ingredients, but to smoothly–and happily–transition from them.
Find Vegan Alternatives
If succulent meats and creamy cheeses are your favorite foods, letting them go is arduous. After all, why go vegan if you can’t enjoy it?
Luckily, innovative companies and special ingredients have led to some pretty impressive substitutes. Thanks to many health food stores (as well as the gifts of the internet and fast shipping), finding plant-based “cheese” and “meat” has become relatively simple. If neither of these options are available, easy vegan recipes for these stand-ins are all over the web. That’s right–you can make your own veggie-based “hamburger” patty right at home.
Keep in mind that store-bought vegan alternatives are a bit more expensive than your usual pack of franks or ground beef. Additionally, many are processed and less nutritionally dense than one might hope. While many of these products are well worth the extra dollars, these stand-ins do not constitute most of the vegan diet. Focus on cooking with a variety of simple, whole food ingredients. Enjoy a slice of vegan cheese as you please, but indulge in moderation for the sake of your health and your wallet.
It’s also important to remember where flavors come from. Oftentimes, the taste we so adore in bold buffalo chicken wings and savory Italian sausage lies not in the meat, but in the spices. Keeping your cabinets stocked with herbs and seasonings is a sure way to make even the most effortless plant-based meal all the more exciting.
Focus On Whole Foods
A dietary regime of french fries, potato chips, and peanut butter technically counts as vegan.
Plant-based sugary snacks are tempting, but they should not be your go-to.
Just like the aforementioned vegan substitutes, these foods do not belong at the top of your grocery list. Whole foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, legumes, and leafy greens are the highest priority. Going vegan isn’t just about finding foods void of animal products, it’s about eating actual plants. The occasional side of french fries is perfectly permissible, as long as they are consumed in–you guessed it–moderation.
You may have heard the age-old question: “So, you’re going vegan? Well, what do you even eat?” The answer is this: a lot of different things. Unfortunately, the culinary potential of plant-based ingredients is vastly underestimated. In fact, there are thousands of vegan ingredients available to cook with, and even more ways to cook them. And you should try as many as you can.
Variety is key in any diet, but is especially so in the vegan diet. This is for two reasons. Firstly, the nutritional value of a varied diet is higher than one consisting of a handful of foods. Secondly, and more ominously, the vegan diet is boring without variety.
There are many ways to branch out in the kitchen, but they all begin with your groceries. Pick up a vegetable you’ve never seen before and find an easy vegan recipe for it. Use your usual ingredients in a brand-new style. Try a different type of rice, make a different sauce, stir-fry a new assortment of vegetables, toss a refreshing salad with fruits you may not have previously considered.
Creating variety in your meals while going vegan takes a bit of time and research. However, the energy and excitement it provides is well worth the effort.
Opt to Eat At Home
Cooking at home is a great habit to develop, especially for budding vegans. This is for many reasons, the most obvious of which is that it saves a great deal of money. More importantly, it helps to reinforce healthy plant-based habits.
Restaurants with vegan (or mostly vegan) menus are cropping up more than ever before. However, it’s still safe to say that non-vegan restaurants are far more popular. Dining out often provides less plant-based options, making it more difficult to avoid animal-based foods. Meanwhile, a home-cooked meal can be made however you like, with whatever vegan ingredients you choose.
Not only that, but cooking vegan meals in your own kitchen teaches you about the vegan diet. You get to find your favorites and tweak them as you please. Purchasing the fresh ingredients and preparing them yourself ensures that they are as healthy as can be. Plus, you can change up the menu anytime.
The convenience of dining out can be difficult to avoid. Fortunately, there are many strategies you can implement to cook more at home:
- Prep cook. Try taking two or three days out of the week to prepare meals ahead of time. This means less time spent in the kitchen each day, and more time enjoying your meal.
- Plan your meals. Create a grocery list around the meals you plan to eat. This way, you’ll waste less food. Best of all, you won’t have to wonder what to do for dinner–you’ll have everything you need.
- Focus on simple meals. Easy vegan recipes are often the tastiest ones, and there are more than you can count out there. Preparing a complicated meal every night can quickly become exhausting. Take your time and start small.
While the vegan diet promises nourishment, there are a few important nutrients that it can’t give you. The most important one to keep in mind is B-12. Skipping out on B-12 is dangerous and can cause long-term damage. Vegans often don’t get enough because it’s usually found in animal sources. While it’s also present in some fortified foods, like cereal, a supplement is the surest way to meet your body’s requirements. B-12 supplements are available online or in stores wherever supplements are sold. Plus, they’re quite affordable.
In addition to B-12, there are other supplements that vegans should consider. These include vitamin D, iron, and more.
Be kind to yourself and listen to your body. Going vegan is a kind gesture to the world around you, as well as one towards yourself. The transition takes a lot of effort, and your actions make a difference. Not only that, but your body will learn to crave what it really needs. If you can’t stop thinking about salmon, have some. If you’re still hungry after two bowls of veggie pasta, serve up another.
By definition, your focus on compassion towards living beings applies to you. Give yourself what you need, whether that’s positive thinking, or some more salad.
Joanna Davison is a tiny life enthusiast, plant-based advocate, traveller, and writer. From the desert to the forest, she’s always eager to explore new places. You can view her writing at joannadavison.com