New to veganism?
Going vegan for beginners
Everything you need to know.
1. What does vegan mean?
First, let’s go over what being vegan actually means. Many people think that veganism is only food related, but it is so much more than that! Veganism is a lifestyle that excludes, as much as possible, animal cruelty and exploitation.
I think it’s great if anyone attempts to eliminate animal products from their diet or life, even if the changes are small. It still means a lot for the World!
2. Why should you go vegan?
There are many benefits that may make you consider veganism!
FOR THE ANIMALS
When you go vegan, you are reducing the number of animals that are being harmed and exploited. It may not seem like one person is making a difference, but you are!
FOR THE PLANET
Animal agriculture uses more water and produces more greenhouse gases than the production of plant foods. I’m no expert on this topic, but you can read about even more ways that veganism can have a positive impact on our planet here.
FOR YOUR HEALTH
A common misconception is that all vegans are healthy. While eliminating meat and dairy can improve your health, there are plenty of unhealthy vegan processed foods out there. These are great for people who are transitioning and for treats every once in a while, but they aren’t health-promoting.
The health benefits of veganism come from eating a mostly whole foods plant-based diet which eliminates not only animal products, but also processed foods including oil and sugar.
Eating a whole foods plant-based (WFPB) diet has been proven to prevent and reverse various illnesses and chronic conditions including diabetes, heart disease, and obesity.
3. Top tips for going vegan
As mentioned, going vegan for beginners is challenging. Here are some tips to keep in mind while you transition to veganism:
1. Don’t worry about what other people think. Veganism is becoming more and more popular, but some people still think it's extreme and/or unhealthy. Some people may make fun of your decision, while others may be concerned that you aren't going to be getting all the nutrients you need. You can try to explain your decision to them, but I find it easiest to not argue, and just try to block out any negativity. You know that you are doing what you want to do, and that's what matters.
2. Stock your pantry. Once you know what food items you can eat as a vegan, it's a good idea to stock up on plenty of vegan foods so that you always have food available when you're hungry. If you are fully committed, you may even want to get rid of the non-vegan foods you have. If you choose to do this, I recommend giving it away to friends or family members so that you don't waste any food. If you live with someone who isn't vegan, it may be more challenging for you, but if you have all your vegan food stocked, it will be easier to stick with it.
3. Plan your meals. Some people do just fine without planning their meals, but in the beginning, this could really help you stay on track. Even just writing down a rough idea of what you're going to eat would be helpful. For example, tofu scramble for breakfast, collard wraps for lunch, veggies and hummus for a snack, and chickpea curry for dinner. Then you can buy everything you need at the beginning of each week and batch cook some meals.
4. Don’t be too hard on yourself. If you do happen to get off track and eat some non-vegan food, don't beat yourself up. Many people who are vegan now, tried going vegan and failed at some point.
Read up on plant-based nutrition. A lot of people dive into being vegan without knowing what nutrients they need and what supplements they should take. It you aren't eating well-rounded meals, you could end up with deficiencies no matter what kind of diet you eat.
5. Supplement what you lack. A lot of people wonder what supplements they should take when they are vegan. You will likely need a B12 supplement, but you won't know if you need anything else unless you get blood work done. If you have any deficiencies, start taking supplements and get your blood checked again in 3 months or so, to ensure that the supplements are working.
4. Diet - do vegans get enough protein?
A common concern for vegan beginners is whether or not you will be able to consume enough protein without eating any meat. Rest assured, it is definitely possible to get enough protein from plant-based foods.
How much protein you need depends on many individual factors, but there are several high-protein plant-based foods to help you reach your daily protein goals. If you need extra protein for working out or any health reasons, you can always supplement with some vegan protein powder.
Protein can be found in any plant-based foods you eat, but here are some of the higher plant-based protein sources:
- Other beans
- Vegan protein powders
- Hemp seeds
- Chia seeds
- Flax seeds
- Nut butters
- Brown rice
You can also get high amounts of protein from certain packaged vegan foods such as vegan burgers, sausages, and other “fake meats.” I recommend that you enjoy these sparingly, as they are not very healthy. So have them sometimes, but don’t rely on them as an everyday protein source.
5. D0 vegans need to take supplements?
Vegans can get most of the necessary vitamins and minerals through foods if they are eating a well-balanced diet. However, some supplements may be necessary for you.
I recommend that you get blood work done regularly to check your levels of certain vitamins and minerals. That way you will know exactly what you need to eat more of or supplement if you struggle to get it through food. Everyone is different and some people absorb less than others, so what someone else might be able to get through food, you may need to supplement.
Getting your blood tested is the only way to know for sure what YOU need. And if you do buy supplements, always check the amount of vitamin or mineral per serving. For example some people may need to supplement 25 mg of iron per day, while someone else may need 100 mg per day to get up to a normal range.
Here are some common supplements that vegans take:
Most vegans need to take a B12 supplement. Some foods are fortified with B12, such as certain brands of nutritional yeast and plant-based milks, however it is difficult to get enough B12 from fortified foods.
Vegan B12 Supplements:
Live Well Maximum Strength Vegan B12
Naturelo Vegan B12 Infused with Spirulina
Lunaki Methyl B12 Gummies
It is difficult to get enough vitamin D through foods, whether you are vegan or not. A lot of people are deficient in vitamin D and have no idea, which is why I recommend getting a blood test to see if you need more, and also to find out how much you need. You may get enough vitamin D from the sun if you live in a sunny climate, but it’s good to check just in case. Keep in mind that most vitamin D3 pills are not vegan, so make sure you check the bottle to see if it is vegan.
Vegan D3 Supplements:
Doctor's Best Vegan D3
Naturelo Vitamin D3
Garden of Life mykind Organics Vegan D3
Mary Ruth's Vitamin D3 Gummies
Omega-3 fatty acids
There are three essential types of omega-3 fatty acids: ALA, EPA, and DHA. ALA can be obtained through several plant-based foods such as walnuts, chia seeds, flax seeds and hemp seeds.
ALA is converted into EPA and DHA in the body, but the conversion rate is low and many people will need to supplement EPA and DHA in order to get enough.
Vegan Omega-3 Supplements:
Sapling Vegan Omega-3
Ovega-3 Plant-Based Omega-3
Amala Vegan Omega-3
Nature's Way NutraVege Omega-3 Plant
You can get plenty of iron on a plant-based diet, but many people are iron-deficient even on an omnivore diet, so it’s a good idea to get your iron checked in a blood test.
Even though you will likely get plenty of iron through vegan foods, some people don’t absorb it well, so you may need to supplement. But again, you’ll have to get a blood test to know for sure. To increase the absorption of iron, consume it with foods that are high in vitamin C.
Vegan iron supplements:
Naturelo Iron with Vitamin C
PlantFusion Vegan Complete Iron
Garden of Life Vitamin Code Healthy Blood, Gentle Non-Binding Iron
To ensure that you are getting adequate amounts of certain vitamins and minerals, you may want to take a daily multivitamin.
DEVA Vegan Multivitamin and Mineral Supplement
Garden of Life mykind Organics Women's Multi
Mary Ruth's Liquid Morning Multivitamin
Naturelo One Daily Multivitamin for Women
3. Share the message with compassion
As much as we wish otherwise, there's a lot of judgement and criticism in the world of plant-based nutrition. For example, we might hear or read, "If you eat fish then you should really call yourself a vegetarian." Or, "if you eat honey then you aren't a vegan." According to strict guidelines, this may be true, but if we do our best, especially when we're early in our journey, that's all that matters. Transitioning to a plant-based lifestyle is a rewarding process and a majority of the time is a clear win compared to doing nothing at all.
For those already following a plant-based lifestyle: we challenge you to offer compassion to all individuals, plant-based or not. Be open and honest in answering questions. Lead by example, and avoid pressuring others or making them feel inadequate.
Those that are inspired will eventually follow.