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How to Become a Vegan
A Beginner’s Guide for an Easy Transition

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There is a lot of information on the Internet on how to become a vegan for beginners. Almost too much. I understand it can get overwhelming if you are new to veganism. There are a lot of things to consider.

I’m going to help you break down the process into a beginner's guide to going vegan. Along the way, I’ll share my personal tips for becoming vegan. 

Changing Your Mindset About Food 

One of the main concerns I hear from people about going vegan is wondering if there is anything to eat. If you were to take the non-vegan diet and remove everything that wasn’t vegan, then you might end up with a scarce-looking plate.

I promise you that there is still plenty of delicious food left in the world when you take out non-vegan foods. Instead of focusing on what you might be losing out on, focus on what you are gaining by eating a vegan diet.

Will you stop getting reactions to food allergies? Feel fulfilled by knowing that you are supporting animals and reducing your environmental impact?

It’s important to remember your “why” about going vegan. It helps support you when you are going through a hard transition.

Woman Looking At Fruit

The most ethical diet just so happens to be the most environmentally sound diet and just so happens to be the healthiest - Michael Greger, MD

Once you start making changes, you’ll see that you aren’t giving up your favorite foods. There are a lot of vegan alternatives to pretty much everything including pizza, cookies, chocolate, and more.

(Although, as always, you should have those in moderation).

Do You Need to Change Your Diet Overnight?

Woman Holding Fruit And Thinking

If you’re considering going vegan, I wouldn’t recommend for people to suddenly switch everything in one day. It’s hard on your body, and it’s also hard on a mental level too. 

You should feel free to take your time transitioning to a vegan diet. It’s okay to take things slowly and make mistakes along the way.

You need to take the time to re-educate yourself about food.

It includes knowing where you are getting your nutrients from your diet, how to modify your favorite recipes to be vegan-friendly, and more.

Plant-Based vs. Whole-Foods Plant-Based (WFPB) Diets

A plant-based diet means that you eat foods that are not animal products. Examples include meat, dairy, and eggs.

A WFPB diet is like a plant-based diet, but it goes a step further by only eating plant foods that are either whole, unrefined or have gone through little to no processing. 

There’s no one-diet-fits-all, and you will need to consider which one works best for your lifestyle and needs. 

I think the most notable difference between plant-based and WFPB diets is junk food options. Being vegan doesn’t necessarily mean no sugar or processed foods.

On a regular vegan diet, you can still have snacks like vegan ice cream, chips, and Oreos. If you’re having a WFPB diet, then these options don’t fit in with that goal. In fact, this is even recommended among osteoarthritis patients according to some studies (1).

Vegetables, Seeds, Nuts, Eggs, Meat Etc.

My diet is a whole food, plant-based or vegan diet. So, basically I want you to eat whole grains, legumes, tonnes of vegetables and fruits, nuts and seeds. No meat whatsoever, and no processed foods. It’s amazing what it can do for your body, and it reduces your risk for chronic disease.

Julieanna Hever

Registered Dietician

How to Jumpstart Your Vegan Journey

1. Start as a vegetarian.

Although vegetarians and vegans get viewed the same, there are key differences. Vegetarians focus on not eating the meat of an animal. Vegans go a little further and avoid any product that was made from an animal in any way. 

If you’re not already vegetarian, this might be a good place to start to transition to veganism. It’s a good introduction to learning how to discover alternatives and re-think the way you view food.

2. Look for meat alternatives.

Imitation meats are gaining popularity in recent years. There are imitation meat products that mimic the taste and texture of meat with varying success. Try these first to help you swap out meat in your diet.

Otherwise, there are other food products suitable for meat replacement.

Tofu

a. Tofu

Tofu is a popular substitute. You may want to use this in a recipe if it calls for pork, chicken, beef, or seafood. Tofu is made from soy, but it has the same firmness and chewiness of meat. It’s a great substitute because it is high in protein and calcium. 

Tofu has an unnecessarily bad reputation for being tasteless and bland. I’ve found that seasoning helps with this.

It easily absorbs other flavors, so you should experiment with spices and marinades to create a tasty tofu option for your meals. Some studies even concluded that it can reduces the risk of breast cancer (2).

b. Tempeh

Tempeh is similar to tofu, but it has a grainy texture. It’s also made from soybeans. Instead of being tasteless, it tends to have a nutty flavor. Along with protein, tempeh is packed with fiber, calcium, and vitamins.

I use tempeh when I want to replace fish in a recipe. I also like it as a substitute for ground beef. It also has a high amount of Lactobacillus which is good for the body (3).

tempeh

c. Seitan

Seitan is processed wheat gluten which has a meat-like texture. It’s a great source of protein and can easily replace chicken, beef, or pork. It’s dense and chewy, which is great for grilling, braising, or frying.

d. Textured Vegetable Proteins (TVP)

TVP is usually a cheap alternative for meat. It’s another soy-based product. It’s a great replacement for ground beef or burger meat.  This is also sometimes called Textured Soy Proteins (TSP).

e. Lentils

Lentils are a great choice as a meat alternative. It’s a hearty dish, and it’s easy to replace ground beef with lentils. They are simple to cook and are pretty cheap. There are a lot of varieties of lentils, but they are all a great source for protein.

A lentil-based high protein diet, which is less expensive, may be useful for nutritional rehabilitation of moderately malnourished children, as cited by some studies (4).

Here are some other ways to replace meat in your diet:

Lentil
  • Instead of bacon, use tofu or coconut
  • Instead of beef patties, use portobello mushrooms
  • Instead of ground beef in tacos, use lentils
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    Instead of chili beef, use cauliflower rice

3. Search for protein replacements.

Concern about getting enough protein is one of the main objections I hear about going vegan. There’s a lot of protein sources besides meat. Some sources include nuts, seeds, beans, edamame, and quinoa. 

If you are physically active, then you might need more protein than the average person. You may discover that you need a plant-based protein powder to get enough of the nutrient.

There are several vegan-friendly protein powders in the market, so it’s easy to find a supplement.

tofu on a white bowl

a. Choose one meal to always be meat-free.

Even though I recommend going vegetarian first, it’s important to make that transition slowly too. There are a couple of ways of trying this.

  • Pick one meal to be meat-free
  • Pick one day of the week to always be meat-free (Hello, Meatless Mondays)

Once you start getting comfortable with that, then continue to pick other meals or days of the week to be meat-free. It’s a simple way to transition without feeling overwhelmed.

Once you’re comfortable with the vegetarian lifestyle, you can start moving to other animal-based products.

You could pick milk and do the whole process over again. You can then continue doing that with cheese, eggs, and other products until you have slowly transitioned to veganism.

The whole process might take you weeks or it might take you months. Regardless, the main idea is to transition at a rate that is comfortable with you.

Dairy Alternatives to Make Meals Vegan

During the transition process, you’ll discover how to make the food you always make into something vegan-friendly. Here are a few of my quick tips on making vegan-friendly meals.

Homemade - There are a lot of store-bought options for dairy alternatives. From sour cream to whipped cream. Even if you can’t find it, it’s easy to make a homemade version with ingredients like tofu, cashews, and coconut milk. 

Cheese - Surprisingly, vegan cheese is easy to find in-stores, and it tastes like the real thing. 

Mayonnaise - If you can’t find the vegan version of mayonnaise, avocados usually do the trick in replacing them. 

Milk - However, I think cow’s milk is probably the easiest thing to replace in the dairy spectrum. There are numerous options from nut milk like almond or soy milk. 

soy milk

Eggs - Some other dairy products are a little harder like eggs. The most popular options for replacing eggs are using flax eggs, bananas, applesauce or soft tofu. It depends on what you are making. 

Tips on How to Create a Vegan Meal Plan

1. Have the staples in your pantry.

  • Fruit: Reaching for fruit when you want a snack is a great alternative to processed foods. I also like keeping orange juice available for smoothies.
  • Vegetables: I like to keep leafy greens on-hand to make an easy salad
  • Nuts: Peanut butter is always in my pantry. I like to spread it on apples for a nutritious snack
  • check
    Spices and Herbs: I’ve slowly built a large stockpile of spices that help me add flavor to meals even if I don’t have a lot of ingredients
  • check
    Dairy Substitutes: I use avocados instead of mayonnaise, and I like having soy milk available to make protein shakes
  • check
    Protein: Tofu and tempeh are staples for me, so I can have enough protein in my diet
  • check
    Whole Grains: I keep whole grain bread and pasta in my pantry for simple meals

2. Have a grocery list or meal plan.

I’ve found the most success with sticking to a healthy vegan diet when I make an effort to plan my meals and go grocery shopping once a week. Most people I know designate one day of the week for this. They plan their week, what meals they want, and go grocery shopping. 

It helps tremendously on the days that you get home exhausted from work, and you don’t have to worry about if you have the ingredients to make a delicious dinner.

If you're looking for a cheap vegan grocery list, check this video below.

3. Prepare your own meals.

People also make time for meal prep. It’s a process that involves preparing your meals in advance, and it will help you stay on track. 

You don’t have to prepare the whole meal if that’s not a good option. You could also chop vegetables and freeze them until you’re ready to use them.

It saves you a lot of time during the week, and it makes it easier to cook at home instead of going out to eat.

shopping list

Where Do You Find Vegan Recipes?

The Internet is your friend when it comes to finding vegan recipes. There are numerous food bloggers that post delicious vegan recipes. Take the time to choose a few that you like and bookmark those websites when you want to look for meal inspiration.

Cookbooks are another great source. I like to go to my local library to check out any vegan cookbooks they might have available. If there’s one that I like, I go out and buy the book. 

Is It Hard to Find Vegan Foods at Your Local Grocery Store?

Vegan foods are more common in most local grocery stores these days. However, the variety might be lacking.

I would recommend looking at health food stores, Trader Joe’s, Target, and other stores to get to know what kind of vegan-friendly products they offer.

You’ll also want to check food labels to ensure that the ingredients are appropriate for a vegan.

Is It Expensive to Be Vegan?

Eating plant-based is not as expensive as you think. If you take a look at your last grocery receipt, then you’ll notice that meat, eggs, and dairy are more expensive or cost the same as plant-based foods. 

Even if some products are expensive, you should consider it an investment in your health or the environment (It depends on the “why” that you chose during the mindset section earlier).

Will You Need to Take Supplements?

supplements

If you have a whole-foods plant-based diet, then you will probably get all of the nutrients that you need through food. Eating all the colors of the rainbow will help you with obtaining proper nutrition.

If you are unsure, then you might want to reach out to a nutritionist or dietician to help you.

Some popular supplements that vegans take include protein and Vitamin B12. 

What’s the Best Way to Transition to Veganism?

This vegan beginner's guide only scratches the surface of how to start your vegan journey. I’m sure you still have a lot of unanswered questions about picking vegan-friendly restaurants and what to do when a non-vegan friend invites you over for dinner.

I was impressed when I discovered the Vegan Starter Kit created by vegan bloggers, Lars and Alena. Their main goal is to make the transition as easy as possible. They share a vegan diet for beginners and share some of the best becoming vegan tips I’ve seen online.

References:

  1. Retrieved Sep. 28, 2019: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4359818/
  2. Retrieved Sep. 28, 2019: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18791919
  3. Retrieved Sep. 28, 2019: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24053022
  4. Retrieved Sep. 28, 2019: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19329389
Rafid Nassir is a health and fitness fanatic, with the main aim of maximising muscle mass and minimising body fat, with as little time investment as possible.