Last updated on January 27th, 2023 at 12:04 pm
So, you've decided to transition to a vegan lifestyle. Nice! We don't have a secret handshake - how cool would that be?! - but I would like to give you a giant cyber hug. Now, If you're wondering how to go vegan - you're in the right place, my friend.
This post was originally posted in 2019 and updated with new references and images on June 23, 2022.
Deciding to adopt a vegan lifestyle is a brave and compassionate thing to do. But what does it mean?
What is a Vegan?
"Veganism is a philosophy that promotes reverence for life and promotes compassion for all living things...a vegan lifestyle excludes as far as possible all forms of animal exploitation." (Brenda Davis & Vesanto Melina).
What Does Plant-Based Mean?
You might hear the terms "plant-based" and "vegan" used interchangeably but they are different. Plant-based refers to an animal-free diet while being vegan means to omit, as much as practicable, all animal products including food, clothing, toiletries and cleaning products.
Either is an amazing and positive choice.
Is Going Vegan Hard?
The answer is...yes...and no.
I'm not going to lie, being vegan can be hard. Not just on a practical level but also an emotional one.
Becoming a vegan means giving up some of your own comforts for the benefit of another creature; a creature you will most likely never meet. It also means taking a stand on some deeply rooted customs and traditions many of which, your loved ones still practice.
It can sometimes feel isolating and some of the people you love may not understand your choice. Some may mock it, judge you or feel that you are judging them.
On the other hand, you'll have friends and family that celebrate your choice! And those that don't, well, they tend to get over the initial shock pretty quickly and move on.
Veganism is becoming increasingly demystified through social media and non-vegans are more open to trying vegan meals occasionally. My gorgeous friend Michelle from The Last Food Blog calls it being "v-curious." I love that.
Vegan Is Trending, Baby!
Here's the good news. It has never been easier to be a vegan than it is right now. The vegan community is growing and as such, the demand and supply of vegan products is growing too. According to The Vegan Society, demand for meat-free food increased by 987% in 2017 alone!
Meanwhile, 5% more Americans identified as vegan in 2017 (6%) compared to 2014 (1%). Between 2014 and 2016, the number of food products launched in Australia carrying a vegan claim rose by 92 per cent, according to The Food Revolution Network (SBS News).
Besides being awesome for our bellies, this growth means that you have more support from a larger vegan community than ever before.
I'm proof. Here I am, sitting in my home, writing to you.
You don't know me and I don't know you but I know something of your journey and I want to help. And I'll tell you this for nothing...
My friend, you got this...
OK, here we go. My top 10 tips to help you begin your vegan journey.
How To Go Vegan
1. Experiment First
Start experimenting with vegan dishes and plant-based ingredients before you make the transition to a vegan diet and make note of those you like.
Knowing which plant-based foods you enjoy means you can stock your fridge and pantry with these foods making the first few weeks easier. Try tofu, tempeh, veggie nuggets, beans, seitan, lentils...try it all.
There are a tonne of vegan food recipe resources online so you can experiment with all your favourite foods, veganised. You can still eat pancakes, burgers (check out the big list of awesome burgers), pizza, curries and more on a vegan diet. Start experimenting!
Psst...I also have a post on how to stock a vegan pantry you might find useful.
Extra Tip: I also keep a list of iron-rich, plant-based foods on my fridge to remind me to add them to my rotation.
2. Embrace Transitional Foods
With veganism on the rise, marketers and food producers are investing heavily in creating plant-based versions of our favourite non-vegan foods.
Think "burgers, nuggets, pizzas, melty cheese." Mmmmm, melty cheese. While you are finding your footing use these products to support your transition.
Yes, they are processed and like all processed foods they are best enjoyed in moderation. However, if you need a little help staying your course, by all means visit your friendly freezer aisle.
Over time you will build up your own vegan food recipe game and won't need to rely on packaged foods...wait, I've got vegan game and I still demolished three Impossible Burgers on my holiday Stateside. No judgment.
3. Ditch the Haters
This is one of my favourite tips to going vegan.
Ironically, I am not talking about vegan haters here, I am talking about haters within the vegan community.
Perhaps "haters" is too strong a term - we'll call them somewhat judgemental holier-than-thou-types. For every truckload of kind and supportive vegans, there is a single, angry one.
Remember this: There isn't a prize for being the "most vegan."
Like all communities, the vegan one is not immune to militant members. Do vegan your way and if you find yourself needing support, the internet is filled with supportive vegan bloggers and individuals to help you on your path.
4. Those Toot'n Beans
Legumes play a big role in a vegan diet being rich in fibre, plant protein, carbohydrates, iron, folate and other goodies. They are also downright delicious.
However, legumes also contain unabsorbed short-chain carbohydrates called galacto-oligosaccharide (GOS) and fructans. These sugars are poorly absorbed and are rapidly fermented by gut bacteria in the large bowel, resulting in gas (Huffington Post Australia). You know...the toots.
Some of us are affected more than others. Legumes are best introduced slowly to avoid any gassy "unpleasantness" and bloating.
Legumes also contain phytic acid which prevents the absorption of vitamins and minerals in to the body. This may be an issue for those who have absorption issues but for the rest of us...not an issue.
Soaking or sprouting legumes before cooking means all the goodies are free to do you good.
5. Be Curious
Vegan cooking is full of weird and wonderful ingredients - don't be afraid to jump into the proverbial melting pot and try them. Aquafaba - the brine from cooked chickpeas - has completely revolutionised plant-based cooking and it took someone playing with their food to discover it.
We can now enjoy meringues and other egg-white creations like the rest of the world. Be curious. Be positive.
Before you turn your nose up at an ingredient, remember this...you used to eat eggs that came right out of a chicken's ass. Enough said.
I am not a doctor, nutritionist or health professional. It is important to know what your body needs and how to feed it. Talk to your GP to ensure you are nourishing your body as needed.
Nutritionists recommend supplementing a vegan diet with B12, iron and calcium. Chat to your doctor about which you might need and why.
While vegans often rely on B12 supplements, it can be found in B12 fortified foods including some plant milks, soy products, cereals and nutritional yeast - check the label to make sure it's fortified (The Vegan Society).
Iron is in abundance in the plant-based world and over time you will find your favourite sources. Try lentils, chickpeas, cashews, tofu, hemp seeds, spinach, dried apricots, raisins, quinoa...combining iron with a vitamin C source will aid absorption.
Personal Note: My body doesn't absorb iron well - even before going vegan- and my levels have always measured on the low end of the scale. I regularly check in with my doctor and adjust my iron intake as needed. I have taken supplements and had an iron infusion. It is important to know your body and nourish it accordingly.
Calcium can be found in leafy green vegetables, nuts and seeds and calcium fortified dairy-free milks and tofu.
7. Be A Cup Half-Full Person.
When the doubts set in and you begin to think about all the foods you can't have, sit down, get out a pen and paper and write a list of all the foods you can have.
It is a pretty long and compelling list.
If that doesn't work, go on a virtual food porn tour of all the wonderful plant-based blogs available to you. The internet is filled with decadent chocolate desserts, meatless but meaty homemade burgers and an abundance of plant-based, drool worthy recipes.
8. Keep it Simple
My very clever and wise friend Gena Hamshaw at The Full Helping is wonderful at taking the guesswork and mystery out of vegan cooking. In her cookbook Power Plates Gena says:
"The next time you sit down to eat, ask yourself whether you have a source of protein, a good source of healthful fat, and some high quality, complex carbohydrates. If the answer is yes, then you’re working with a strong foundation."
It really can be that simple. If you are unsure, jump online and visit the 1000's of vegan recipe blogs and nutritional resources at your fingertips. You are not alone in this journey. Keep it simple, slow and steady.
Remember, the Hare never did win that race.
9. Give Yourself a Break
Confession time...when I started out, I was a terrible vegan. I didn't set out to cheat but I hadn't prepared (see tip no.1) and my body simply couldn't adjust. I was tired, bloated (see tip no. 4) and pretty hangry. No lie, I ate a mother load of peanut butter sandwiches. It wasn't pretty.
Fast forward 7 years and I am a fully functioning vegan.
It took a little time for me to find my vegan groove but I got there. Forgive yourself the fails. Return to your why and keep going.
10. Return to your Why
Sometimes it's not about how to go vegan but why are you vegan?
I am because I love animals and could not go another day knowing that I was contributing to their pain.
Whenever I waiver - and it happens - I return to my "why." I mentally look in to the eyes of a cow and my resolve returns. When in doubt, return to your why.
So, that's it. My top 10 tips to answering the question, how to go vegan.
Some will resonate with you; some won't. Being vegan doesn't come with a roadmap - this is your journey. Embrace it and know that you are not alone. x
If you have your own tips to going vegan leave a comment. I'd love to hear them.