Whether it be for ethical, health, or environmental reasons more and more people each day are converting to a vegan lifestyle. But, going in blind and expecting to become an expert overnight on how to maintain a proper vegan diet is completely unrealistic, which is why a lot of people end up falling off the wagon completely.
I know after watching slaughterhouse videos or reading about all of the carcinogens and antibiotics found in meat and dairy or watching documentaries about the environmental damage caused by animal agriculture that it's tempting to go vegan on the spot. For the record, veganism is a plant-based diet that eliminates the consumption of all animal products including meat, seafood, dairy, eggs, honey, and gelatin (essentially crushed up animal bones/ cartilage commonly found in marshmallows and gummy candies). So, yeah, going vegan cold-turkey (no pun intended) is not going to be easy. If you think you're up for the challenge, great, but I believe gradually eliminating certain foods from your diet and reading up about your new nutritional needs are much more effective strategies in order to stay vegan long term.
Going vegan was one of the best choices I've ever made, so hopefully, these next few tips and tricks are able to help out anyone looking to try a new diet that is both healthy AND delicious!
1. Gradually eliminate certain non-vegan foods
It's hard to give up some of your all-time favorite foods, trust me, I know. What helped me transition into veganism so seamlessly was the fact that I cut out certain foods when I felt ready. I went pescatarian (no meat except fish) before I went vegetarian and it took me two and a half years of vegetarianism before I felt ready to become fully vegan. Take your time and do things at your own pace. If you rush this process, it's tempting to just revert back to an omnivorous diet because you made too big of an adjustment too quickly.
2. Find vegan replacements
While I was vegetarian I ended up doing a lot of research and trying out a lot of vegan replacements for non-vegan foods, so that when I went fully vegan I already knew what to reach for. Turns out you don't have to give up your burgers, chicken nuggets, or scrambled eggs anytime soon. It's a process of trial and error and not every product you try from your supermarket's vegan section is going to be amazing, but there are some amazing brands and products out there that taste even better than their non-vegan counterparts. My personal favorites include the entire Gardein line, Quorn's vegan line (their spicy "chicken" patties are my all time favorite), Amy's vegan soups and burritos, Annie's fruit snacks, Kite Hill's yogurts, and any brand of non-dairy ice cream (really, I've never met a vegan ice cream I didn't absolutely love).
3. Go to local vegan restaurants
Besides having an entire delicious menu of foods you are able to choose from as a vegan, vegan restaurants (or restaurants with extensive vegan menus) also are great ways to get inspiration for vegan recipes you can make at home. Most vegan restaurants don't serve meals that are overly complicated to make and they are always coming up with creative new ways to prepare plant-based meals.
4. Read menus ahead of time
If you are planning to go out with your non-vegan friends for a bite to eat, check out the menu of the restaurant you are going to or call ahead of time to make sure there's something on the menu that you are able to eat. The vast majority of restaurants these days have at least a couple of vegan options, and if not, they are almost certainly willing to accommodate your needs to the best of their abilities, just be sure to check first. As a college student, this also includes checking out your dining halls for vegan options and getting in touch with a school nutritionist if you're not seeing any vegan options. If you're really in a bind, one of my favorite apps of all time is called Happy Cow and it essentially alerts you of restaurants that have vegan options within a 25-mile radius of your location so that everyone in your friend group is able to get food that satisfies them no matter where you are.
5. Don't get upset if you mess up
Every single vegan has accidentally eaten something containing animal products at some point or other. If you realize that you ate something non-vegan by mistake, don't beat yourself up over it. It happens to everyone and it doesn't make you somehow any less of a vegan.
6. Learn how to cook
Honestly, this is a tip that any young person should pick up. Sure, convenience meals and frozen dinners are necessary every once in a while (and, yes, plenty of great ready-made vegan meals do exist), but they're downright unhealthy and are high in fat and sodium. Frozen dinners are also ridiculously expensive. Look up recipes online or buy a vegan cookbook. You would be amazed at all the ways fruits, vegetables, grains, starches, legumes, and fungi can be combined to make meals and snacks that both taste good and are good for you.
7. Make sure you're eating enough
This is probably the number one biggest problem new vegans struggle with. Literally, in every single YouTube video where people try to go vegan, they complain about "being hungry" or "feeling lethargic," and that's simply because they aren't eating enough. Meat and dairy are far more calorically dense than fruits and veggies, so you need to eat more to make sure you're taking in enough calories. Incorporate more grains, starches, and beans into your diet so that you feel full after eating and stay satisfied until your next meal. Obviously, if you have any concerns, speak to a certified nutritionist about your diet to make sure you are eating enough and are getting enough nutrients out of the food you are eating.
8. Get enough vitamin B12
Vitamin B12 is one of the most important vitamins for you to have in your body as it helps you absorb other vitamins and minerals, especially iron. B12 also prevents certain types of anemia which can leave your body feeling weak and tired. B12 is typically found in animal products as bacteria in the gastrointestinal tract of animals produce it. Because of modern farming practices, B12 is hard to come by produce, and thus is difficult to obtain through a vegan diet. Good sources of B12 for vegans include nutritional yeast (a great substitute for Parmesan cheese because of its cheesy flavor), some plant milks, some soy products, and some breakfast cereals. If you're still worried about your B12 intake, talk to your doctor about possibly taking B12 supplements or multivitamins containing B12.
9. Start reading food labels
Seriously, this is something everyone should do anyway because it's good to know what exactly you're fueling your body with. Reading nutrition facts ensures you know if you're getting enough calories and vitamins and reading ingredient lists ensures you know whether or not a product is vegan or not. Milk and eggs have to be listed in bold at the bottom of ingredient lists as they are common allergens, but if you suspect a product may contain traces of meat or gelatin, you may have to read through the ingredients a little closer. On the flip side, you would also be surprised at the number of snacks that are actually accidentally vegan as well, so don't rule out your favorite treats before reading the label!