Welcome to my guide to help you understand how to go vegan. It has information on lifestyle, nutrition, practical tips and much more. You can use the buttons below to navigate to a particular section. Feel free to ask any questions in the comments at the end.
What does vegan mean?
Hopefully, you already have a vague idea of what it means to go vegan. Simply put - veganism is the act of abstaining from all animal products. This is predominantly involved in diet but can also stretch to other products that are either sourced from animals or even tested on animals.
The motivations for becoming vegan are complicated and every person is unique in this sense. The increased scrutiny on the global meat trade has been illuminating, and for many, surprising. New documentaries help the average citizen to understand these complex issues and get behind the facade of the meat trade that has for so long painted a rosy picture of meat production.
But alongside this people want to live purer, healthier lives. The global trend towards wellbeing and clean eating are well documented. But for the average person, doing their bit for the environment and feeling good about their diet is important.
So let's dig into that definition a bit more.
Veganism is a way of living that abstains from the use, exploitation or cruelty to animals or animal products for any purpose.
Sure, there's the textbook definition of not using animal products or causing harm to animals. But veganism is more a way of life, it's about compassion, lifestyle, health and wellbeing. That's why it's different for every person.
There are a few sneaky ones in there that often get missed:
Beeswax, honey etc
A lot of beer and fermented alcohols
An important part of becoming vegan is understanding and defining to yourself why you are doing it. This might sound silly, but it's important to understand and surround yourself with these reasons.
Immerse yourself in materials and understand the lifestyle. Learn how others have to make the switch and look at the benefits that they have seen since becoming vegan.
Successful veganism requires a strong motivation, at least in the beginning. Making the switch as a fad is generally a bad idea. But there are some great resources out there. Countless films and books are available to help educate about the issues involved in the meat trade and can help you to understand the benefits of becoming vegan.
There are some films that are much more accessible and I'd recommend watching all of these before making the switch. For a full list head down to the resources section.
- Supersize Me
- Food, Inc
- King Corn
- Fast Food Nation
- Forks Over Knives
Of course, books can take a little longer but can be extremely helpful in educating yourself on the health and nutritional changes involved in going vegan. Here's some recommendations:
- The Original Fast Foods by James and Colleen Simmons
- The China Study by T. Colin Campbell
- Fit For Life by Harvey and Marilyn Diamond
- Eat More, Weigh Less: Dr. Dean Ornish's Life Choice Program for Losing Weight Safely While Eating Abundantly by Dr. Dean Ornish
This will also get you super excited and be looking forward to moving onto a plant-based diet. It will also help you to get a good idea of the benefits.
What are the benefits of a vegan lifestyle?
A healthy vegan diet can provide many health benefits over a meat diet. A full plant-based diet can still provide the vital nutrients needed for a healthy and prosperous life.
No animal fats
Countless research has linked animal fats to a number of different illnesses and conditions. These include diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, hypertension, heart disease, and various cancers.
As well as this, animal fats make up 13 of the 15 top sources of cholesterol-raising fats. Switching to a plant-based diet can greatly reduce these health risks. Oils and fats derived from plants make a great substitute without contributing to higher cholesterol.
Low cancer risk
A plant-based diet consists of more vitamin C and fiber - these are thought to help protect against a large number of cancers.
Vegans generally take in fewer calories than those on a meat-based diet. This means less obesity. It also means that there's less chance of strokes and heart problems.
The increase in vegetable consumption can have an improved benefit on the skin. Vitamins A and E help keep skin healthy and glowing, and vegans have this an abundance.
Of course, there are the ethical benefits of going vegan. People often say that what difference will one person make. But that's looking at it the wrong way.
Animals won't suffer
Going vegan means that you'll do your bit in ensuring that animals don't suffer. This can be a stand against animal conditions, animal welfare or the meat trade in particular.
Going vegan will have a positive effect on the environment. The meat trade has a big effect on the environment, helping to contribute to greenhouse gas emissions amongst other things. Plants require far fewer resources than aminal produce, and you can also grow them in your own garden.
You'll feel happier
Veganism will make you feel better about yourself. You'll feel better and know that you are helping with global issues and be saving animal lives will help you to spring out of bed in the morning.
Plant-based diets are much cheaper than meat equivalents. Many people have the idea that it's expensive to become vegan, but that's just not true. The increase in veganism in recent years has led to many more supermarkets stocking reasonably priced ingredients for a vegan diet. So your wallet will be happy as well.
Timing and planning
Timing is important when going vegan. Make sure that you have clearly defined goals but understand that there's no rush to meet them right away.
Different strategies work for different people. Some people can make the switch overnight, others take a bit longer with some intermediate steps in between. Whatever the strategy, just make sure you have come up with a timeline.
Some example timelines:
The overnight vegan
This is for the more extreme out there. If you're completely set on turning vegan, do your research and know what it takes, then this is for you. Sometimes it can be beneficial to go vegan all at once. A good example is a new year's resolution.
The one-by-one approach.
This approach is what a lot of people choose. It involves taking away one animal-based product at a time. The time period is for you to decide - it can be over a period of weeks or even month. Do what's comfortable for you.
The benefits are that you can learn in your own time each individual supplement or alternative to what you are taking away. It's also beneficial if you are concerned about how veganism will affect you and your body. By taking baby steps you can see and identify the changes that veganism will have on you. Set a time period throughout which you will be able to slowly phase yourself into a vegan diet.
The veggie stepping stone
This was how I did it. Going from a meat based diet to a vegetarian diet first can help you get accustomed to what a vegan diet will be like. You can even add in pescetarianism as well if you want to be sure that a fully plant-based diet is for you.
This makes veganism for accessible and allows you to make the step from veggie to vegan quickly and you'll already be accustomed to the social and practical issues that are similar to veggies.
Whatever your strategy make sure it's clearly defined before you start. Moving onto a plant-based diet can be too much for most people to attempt overnight. Whatever your approach, it doesn't matter. Do what you feel comfortable attempting.
This is an important step to veganism. In our busy lives, we often forget to take a step back and understand how what we eat affects our bodies. It's important that you can understand how your body feels if you are going to become vegan.
It's hard to remember everything that you eat, but becoming aware involves you making the link between what goes into your mouth and how your body feels.
Should you keep a food diary?
A food diary helps you to keep a good understanding of what you eat and how this affects you. If you are moving to a vegan diet then this is especially important as it will help you to understand how your body reacts to certain foods.
In truth, you don't need to keep a food diary to become vegan. But a food diary is a step towards understanding how you feel and being able to assess how what you do affects how your body works. It's impossible to identify patterns without a food diary, it's just too difficult to remember everything that you ate and at what point.
If you do want to become fully aware of how moving to a plant-based diet will affect you, then a food diary is fully recommended.
Nutrition and information
Now onto the important stuff for most of you. If you're at this point then congratulations - you're ready to start planning vegan meals and your vegan diet is beginning to take shape.
I'd just like to go through a few important things about becoming vegan. Namely, nutritional information and a few important things that you should know about vegan diets and vegan alternatives from a nutritional perspective.
This area is where myths are commonly spread. I hear crazy things all the time after telling someone that I am vegan. There's just so much terrible information out there. So I'd like to take this opportunity to clear up a few things that you might hear from your meat eating friends and family.
Overview of what makes a healthy vegan diet graphic here.
let's have a look at some of the most important nutrients that you'll need to look at when you go vegan.
"Bro how are you going to get your protein"
Protein is an important part of any diet. The truth is that a lot of meat contains protein. But despite what many people think, there is actually so many plant-based sources of protein.
The average person is expected to consume between 46g-56g grams of protein per day (depending on gender). It's important as protein is broken down into amino acids - this helps promote cell growth and repair. They are better for you than carbs as they take longer to digest and help you to feel full for longer.
Meat eggs and dairy
this really is the king of protein sources. Grains are great sources of protein but none is as beneficial to you as quinoa. It contains all 9 amino acids that the body needs but can't produce on its own.
Beans are every vegan's best friend. They come in so many different varieties are a great source of protein. They are versatile, quick to cook and add something to a wide variety of dishes. You can buy them in cans or fresh and soak them yourself - either is fine.
Another versatile and protein-rich treat for vegans. They are cheap in cans, or you can get them raw and soak them in water overnight. They can be boiled, added to curry or even blended to make some wonderful hummus. They are also high in fibre and low in calories - making the perfect plant-based ingredient for vegan diets.
Tofu is probably most famous for being the veggie and vegan protein source. For those that miss the texture of meat, they make a suitable replacement. The important thing is that they are high in protein and you can use them in most recipes. Depending on how you cook it, they take on a wide range of textures. They can also be marinated and absorb tastes and flavours well.
Assorted nuts and nut butters
Almond, peanut and even cashews and pistachios. These butters make a great protein source for vegans. Just be careful to watch out for calories as some can be high in this area. Also be sure to check the ingredients list. Less is more - avoid lots of added oils and added sugar.
Green peas - around one cup contains about 8g of protein, so it makes a great side dish. They can be added to many dishes for an extra boost of protein or even made into a pesto-style paste.
High in protein, these little babies make a great addition to all three meals of the day. Add them to cereal or blend them in with your morning smoothie. Toss them in with your salad for a protein-based crunch. You can even soak them in water or another liquid to create a protein fillet gelatinous vibe.
These guys are wonderful for a protein source. Add them to any homemade baking treat or simply sprinkle them over your cereal to get an easy protein hit. They are low in calories and even come in the form of milk.
There are many of these to help you get your protein. I recommend pouring a protein-rich non-dairy milk over your cereals in the morning. Soy is best in terms of protein.
Another important nutrient that you need in a healthy diet is iron. Iron deficiency is one of the most common in the world. That's not a worry though because iron is readily available in tonnes of different plants.
There are two types of iron - heme and non-heme. Heme is more easily absorbed by the body and is more readily available in meat. However non-heme is perfectly suitable as an iron source, you just have to plan ahead.
It's also good to know that vitamin C helps the body to absorb iron. So try and have this in conjunction with iron-rich foods. Vitamin C can be found in red peppers, citrus, and broccoli, to name a few.
Foods high in Iron are as follows:
a great staple to always have in your stock cupboard. These beauties are high in iron and taste great as well.
Many breakfast cereals are fortified with iron - check the label.
This is a staple of mine and I love adding it to most things. It's rich in iron but difficult for the body to absorb. I have a powerful blender that helps grind this down. Combining the spinach with citrus fruit to make a smoothie is a great source of iron.
This can be grown in a small garden and it's lovely stuff. Try using it as the base of your salads. Goes perfectly with walnuts in a salad and it's a great source of iron for your vegan diet.
I never understood why this was hated by so many children. It's high in iron and it tastes great. It's also pretty cheap.
Actually many people believe that B12 occurs naturally in animal flesh. But it is important to help keep your blood cells healthy and helps make DNA. If you don't get enough it can lead to tiredness, weakness, and depression.
B12 deficiency is common amongst both meat-eaters and vegans. But don't worry you just need to get yourself a supplement to help keep your levels consistent.
If you really don't want a supplement then you can get fortified foods. These are usually milk-based products or cereals.
These fats are essential in helping boost your immune system and keep your brain and heart health. There's a lot of research in this area, and whilst you can get some omega 3 fats from plant sources, it's thought wise to have an omega 3 supplement as well as topping up on the following:
Get your seeds and nuts in
Flax seeds, chia seeds, pumpkin seeds and sunflower seeds are a good source of omega 3 fats. You can also get oils derived from these and it's a great idea to cook with them and add them to salads.
Walnuts are great as well in this area. As are dark green vegetables. There are supplements available that are derived from seaweed. We recommend getting yourself some of these as well as increasing the above.
Planning ahead - tips and advice
Now we've got the nutritional information down it's time to look at some practical advice to help you make the switch to a plant-based lifestyle.
How to shop the right way
Buy in bulk
Some people claim that vegan ingredients are expensive. Whilst it's true that some seeds and grains can be pricey, it's still cheap in comparison to the average cost of animal produce.
One solution to help save money on vegan ingredients is to buy them in bulk. Larger supermarkets often stock vital vegan ingredients in bulk, but if you can't find them you can always go to bulk buying options and larger outlets.
Look out for health stores that stock organic grains, beans, and seeds that you can fill your own containers with. I use nice jars and fill them to the top. Not only are you saving by buying in bulk, but at these places, you are helping local businesses and saving on packaging.
Plan your meals for a week
If you're looking to go vegan then you'll need to look at planning out your meals. I don' think of this as a chore, but I actually love doing it now. My weekly trip to the shops is super efficient and it allows me to plan everything that I'm going to make. It also means no last-gasp trips to the shop and wandering around looking for inspiration.
This is also the worst way to shop - you'll forget about crucial ingredients and you'll shop with your stomach.
One of the other reasons to plan ahead is that you'll find lovely recipes to try. There are thousands of fantastic vegan recipes available for free. Try something a bit more out there and you can really start to develop your cooking skills.
Have your staples
You'll learn very quickly when becoming vegan that there are some staples that are just great to help you get the nutrients that you need. Make a list of these and always be aware of how much you have at home.
I have a digital notes app that is great for shopping lists. At the top of this list, I have my staples and this helps me to remember what to always have in stock.
Here's a quick list of the main items that I make sure to always have at home:
Various types of beans
A huge stock of seeds (flax, chia, sunflower) to name a few.
If you keep these correctly then they will last for a significant amount of time. It means that you can quickly plan other meals around these staple ingredients.
Learn your labels
There are logos that help us vegans to quickly understand which products are vegan. There are some examples below. Not all products have these so in some cases you'll have to check the ingredients on the label.
Frozen isn't all bad
Often frozen food gets a bad press. But they can be useful in many ways for the average vegan. It also helps you to reduce waste and ensure that always have useful stock at home.
My favourite is frozen fruit. It's much cheaper than fresh fruit. I also save fruit and veg for the freezer when it is about to go off. I then use the frozen produce to make smoothies (fortified with seeds and other nutritious goodies). The best thing is that the drink it instantly ice cold and fresh.
Grow it at home
You know what one of the best things about switching to a plant-based diet is? You can grow a lot of it yourself.
Reading the label and understand what you're buying - I mean you should be doing this anyway
This is a biggie. You should be doing this anyway, no matter if you are a vegan or a meat eater. Understanding what goes into your food is important.
For vegans, this can be more important and a lot of ingredients that seem vegan-friendly actually come from animals.
Check this guide for the common ones. But that doesn't mean you can stop checking. Reading the back of what you buy allows you to understand the nutrients that you are missing or having too much of.
Get to know your vegan substitutes
A common mistake amongst new vegans is to think that all vegan products are automatically healthier. This is not the case. Just because a food is labeled with the vegan label, doesn't mean that it automatically healthy.
For example, a lot of vegan-friendly meat alternatives are often processed and contain a huge number of artificial ingredients. Other can have a lot of added sugar as well.
If you do use these alternatives to help make the transition then that's okay. Just be sure to balance them with nutritional food.
Hopefully that's a good start for those of you looking to switch to a vegan lifestyle. Just in case we've got you a list of some other resources that will help you live a vegan life.
- Forks Over Knives
- Wat the health
- The True Cost
- The Cove
- Food Matters
- Why We Love Dogs, Eat Pigs, and Wear Cows by Melanie Joy
- The World Peace Diet by Will Tuttle
- Vegan.com - great advice and resources for a vegan lifestyle
- Sprouted kitchen - great recipes, some vegan
- Naturally Ella - nice collection of vegan recipes
- Tofuture - great place for tofu-centric recipes and news
- Running on Real Food - Fantastic collection of plant-based recipes
- London vegan - Great place to find all things vegan in London
- The Elated Vegan - Fantastic information hub on how to live an ethical vegan life
- PETA - people for the ethical treatment of animals - info and news on animal welfare and similar news
- Threads for Love - Some lovely vegan threads
- Vegangela - wonderful collection of vegan recipes
- Veganuary - helpful content around becoming vegan
- Vegan Society - information for vegans
Instagram can be an incredible resource for vegans. Following relevant hashtags and getting beautiful looking recipes has never been so easy. It's also a great platform for you to share any of your creations.
Pinterest is a must for any vegan. You can search for recipes, get nutritional advice and see what others in the space are doing. Once you like the look of something you can save it along with any other image that you see on the web. I like to use it as a place to collate recipe ideas.