Thinking of transitioning but daunted by the change? Here is our Ultimate Guide to enjoying a new healthy vegan diet.
Transitioning to a plant-based way of life might seem complicated at first, but by following a few simple tips — compiled by long-term adopters — you will find a healthy vegan diet simple to achieve and rewarding.
Here are eight tips for getting started with a plant-based diet:
1. Embrace fruits and vegetables
It’s no secret that fruit and vegetables are good for you and you can’t eat too many of them, but don’t get hung up on the varieties that you find distasteful. Naturally, if you choose to think about all the leafy greens you didn’t like as a child (although some of us did), you’ll be put off, but a healthy vegan diet doesn’t have to comprise of anything you don’t like. Not keen on spinach? Leave it out! There are other vegetables that supply iron and all the other vitamins and minerals that spinach does.
Also, if you’re worried that ‘rabbit food’ won’t leave you full for long enough, gravitate towards the starchier veggies, as they will offer slow energy release and make you feel far more satiated. Potatoes, particularly sweet potatoes, are fantastic for when you need to feel full. Forget what you think you know about carbohydrate-rich vegetables, as they are good for you and can be a staple in plant-based diets, whether vegetarian or vegan.
2. Reinvent your favourite dishes
If you are hesitating in adopting a diet free of animal products, perhaps it’s because you’re worried about not being able to enjoy the meals that you have always savoured? The joy of both vegan and vegetarian diets is that they leave a lot of room for creativity and thanks to a plethora of new products on the market, such as fortified plant milks and faux cheeses, few dishes are beyond being made as plant-based food.
Italian dishes are a good opportunity to flex some culinary imagination, as even the most dairy-rich recipes, such as lasagne, can be made vegan, just without the risk of heart disease that the traditional beef ragu includes. You can even take these recipes as opportunities to create healthy vegan alternatives, by using things like nutritional yeast, a B12 supplement, to create ‘cheese’ sauces.
3. Get niche later
There can be a temptation to try and transition to a more niche version of plant-based eating immediately, but this can make everything a lot tricker. Start by making the all-important big changes, like cutting out meat and dairy and looking to plant sources for all of your nutrition first. You can then start to hone your skills by looking to add fortified foods, shopping organically and locally and even sourcing omega-3 fats from food alone.
The important thing is to make the change as natural and uncomplicated as you can. Trying to go from being a meat-eater to vegan that only buys organic food and loves macro-counting will be extremely difficult and could lead to your efforts stalling.
4. Observe the health benefits
You’re making amazing change, so don’t forget to step back and appreciate all those subtle little health benefits that start to become everyday bonuses. Maybe the scales show a smaller number and you’ve wanted that for a while. Losing weight is certainly a happy side-effect to eating more whole foods.
Or perhaps it’s something less obvious for you, like being able to beat a personal best time when running, or maybe your diabetes has started to reverse. All of these are your personal victories and you must take the time to celebrate them.
It stands to reason that when you dramatically cut the amount of saturated fat in your diet — that both meat and dairy are full of — that you will start to see and feel improvements in your general wellbeing. Revel in them.
5. Use existing nutrition resources to create your own healthy vegan diet
The Eatwell Guide is a handy NHS resource that shows how your daily food intake should be divided between fruits and vegetables, starches, dairy and protein sources. You can use this for guidance when planning your new vegan meals, as there are viable alternatives to dairy and animal-based proteins.
You’ll even discover a whole new world of alternatives for things such as vital omega-3 fatty acids — traditionally found in fish — in the form of cost-effective chia seeds. These can be sprinkled on top of food, added to smoothies or baking.
6. Get involved
It’s one thing to want to embrace a healthy vegan diet and it’s quite another to go down a more activism-based route, and nobody has ever said that the two have to be mutually exclusive. That being said, it can be really useful to connect with people that have similar ethics to you or those who have completed the transition you are hoping to make. A good source of information and support is The Vegan Society, which you can join for a small fee to enjoy magazines, recipes, information and even a member’s area on the website too.
You don’t have to be a card-carrying member of the vegan tribe to get connected though. Social media has made it so easy to feel part of a wider group, with Instagram being particularly popular. You can even follow hashtags rather than individual accounts now, so anything tagged as ‘#vegan’ or ‘#plantbased’ can be shown in your regular feed.
7. Travel sensibly
There are plenty of countries in the world that are now fantastically vegan-friendly, so when planning your next holiday, make life easy and look to visit one of them. Arriving in a new destination that has yet to embrace healthy vegan diet options will only cause you unnecessary stress and potentially, malnutrition.
Some of the best countries for vegans include Germany, Japan, Italy and Jamaica, and of course, certain US states are all about plant-based living.
8. Encourage others — gently
Finally, when you’ve gotten to grips with veganism and have found both your groove and your niche, you can start telling those closest to you about the benefits you are enjoying. It’s important to be supportive, patient and respectful, though. The old stereotype of vegans being a bit pushy regarding their beliefs is something we are all trying hard to shirk off, so tread lightly and offer information as and when asked for it.
You’ll find that as more people begin to show interest in your progress, you’ll be spurred on to continue with your efforts. You might even want to experiment with unusual branches of veganism, such as raw eating.
Take your time, focus on adopting a healthy vegan diet and your new lifestyle will be fantastic.