How to go vegan: Complete guide & tips
Wondering how to go vegan or get started on a plant-based diet? You’re in good company. A record 500,000 people signed up for Veganuary in 2021, a 25% increase from the prior year – and those numbers are only seeing to boom in the coming years.
Whether you’re looking to make the switch for environmental, ethical or health reasons, swapping out animal products for plants can feel like a huge challenge. But by knowing your vegan foods, getting clued up on nutrition and pre-planning your meals, making the switch can become much simpler.
This guide will teach you exactly how to go vegan, stress-free. You’ll learn what you can eat, what you can’t eat and shares the 10 essential steps to going vegan.
What is a vegan diet?
Vegan diets eliminate all animal products and animal by-products, such as meat, fish, eggs, dairy and honey.
The definition of veganism, according to The Vegan Society, is:
“Veganism is a way of living which seeks to exclude, as far as is possible and practicable, all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose.“
Want to transition to a vegan diet without necessarily eliminating all animal-derived products, such as leather and wool? In this instance, you’d typically refer to your lifestyle as plant-based, rather than vegan.
What you can & can’t eat as a vegan
When you’re new to a vegan diet, don’t make the mistake of focusing on what you can’t eat. Focus on what you can eat.
While the meat and dairy aisle may be off-limits, your shopping trolley will be packed with colourful whole foods from nature’s larder.
You’ll be surprised at how much variety there can be to a vegan diet, as long as you’re happy to try new things and get creative in the kitchen.
It’d be impossible to list every plant-based food on offer, but here are just a few to get you started:
- Fruits & vegetables
- Beans & legumes: Chickpeas, kidney beans, black beans, lentils etc
- Grains: Most bread, quinoa, wheat and rice
- Nuts & seeds: Almonds, walnuts, chia, flax, pumpkin & sunflower seeds etc
- Soy products: Tofu, tempeh, edamame (soy) beans
- Dairy alternatives: Oat, soy, nut & hemp milk, cream and cheese
- Healthy oils: Olive & avocado oils
- Natural sweeteners: Maple syrup and agave
Foods to avoid
- Red meat: Beef, pork, lamb etc
- Poultry: Chicken, duck and turkey
- Fish & shellfish
- Dairy: Milk, cheese, yoghurt, ice cream etc
Non-vegan ingredients to look out for
A key part of going vegan is knowing your labels. Here is a list of common animal-derived ingredients – that aren’t quite so obvious – to look out for:
- Casein: A milk protein Lactose: A milk sugar
- Whey: A milk by-product
- Collagen, elastin & keratin: From the skin, bones and connective tissues of animals
- Gelatine/gelatin: Obtained by boiling skin, tendons, ligaments and/or bones
- Aspic: Made from clarified meat, fish or vegetable stocks and gelatine
- Lard/tallow: Animal fat
- Shellac: Obtained from the bodies of insects
- Propolis: Used by bees in the construction of their hives
- Royal Jelly: Secretion of the throat gland of the honeybee
- Vitamin D3: From fish-liver oil or sheep’s wool
- Albumen/albumin: From eggs
- Isinglass: A substance obtained from the dried swim bladders of fish
- Pepsin: From the stomachs of pigs
Source: Vegan Food & Living
What happens when you go vegan?
You’re not going to see any drastic or life-changing effects after a few days, or even a couple of weeks, of being vegan. The health benefits associated with plant-based diets typically a result of long-term vegan or plant-based diets. However, you may notice a few small changes within the first few weeks.
Plant foods are typically lower in calories than their animal-counterparts, so you may experience some initial weight loss. However, it’s important to make sure you don’t accidentally cut your calories to an unhealthy low – otherwise, you might end up feeling tired and groggy.
On the flip side, if you pack your new-found diet with vegan junk food or get a little too carb-happy in place of meat and dairy, you could end up gaining weight. So aim for balance and make sure to cook with whole foods, rather than processed vegan foods, whenever possible.
You might also experience some digestive changes due to the increase of fibre in your diet, such as a change in bowel function and an increase in bloating. Don’t be put off, though — as your gut adjusts to the increased fibre, things will settle down!
10 steps to going vegan
Here are our top tips on how to go vegan, stress and pressure-free. You’ve got this!
1. Take it slowly… if you want to
If your diet currently includes lots of meat and fairy, going fully-fledged vegan overnight is a huge change. You might find it easier to slowly ease into a vegan diet, rather than doing things all at once.
There are a few different ways to do this:
- Do it in stages: Start by cutting out meat for a few weeks, then follow with fish, then dairy products, and then eggs.
- Go veggie first: Try a vegetarian or pescatarian diet for a few weeks or months before going fully vegan.
- Choose vegan days: Set 2, 3 or 3 days a week to go vegan – and build up the days gradually.
- Work on one meal at a time: Start by making your breakfast vegan. When that becomes natural, move on to lunch – and so on!
Of course, you might find that going fully vegan suits you better – and that’s fine too! Choose what suits you best and be flexible with yourself until things feel natural.
2. Prioritise whole foods
It’s understandable to feel excited about all the new vegan foods (think vegan sausages, burgers, cheeses and faux chicken) out there these days.
But processed foods are still processed foods, whether they’re vegan or not. To feel your best and support your long-term health as a vegan, it’s important to prioritise whole foods when you can.
“Don’t base your protein intake on heavily processed mock meat alternatives. These, just like meat-containing originals, are highly refined and full of additives. Of course, they are fine in moderation, but trying to meet all your protein needs from ‘fake meats’ is not a healthy way to go.
Eating plenty of minimally processed and unprocessed vegan whole foods like vegetables, tofu, tempeh and legumes will mean that your body will get all the macronutrients (protein, fats & carbohydrates) as well as most of the micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) it needs.”
Barbara Usak, Registered Associate Nutritionist (ANutr, BSc Human Nutrition and PGDip Clinical & Public Health Nutrition)
3. Replace your protein sources
It’s a myth that vegans can’t get enough protein. According to official statistics, all age groups and genders in the UK are exceeding protein recommendations – yep, even vegans.
With that said, it’s likely that meat and dairy were key protein sources in your pre-vegan diet. To keep your protein intake healthy, you’ll need to replace them with high-protein vegan foods.
Here are some of the best:
- Legumes (lentils, chickpeas, beans, peas)
- Nuts & seeds
- Soy milk & yoghurt
- Wild rice
- Purition Vegan
- Vegan protein powders
Just aim to include 1 or 2 vegan protein sources with every meal. By doing this, you’re likely to meet – and probably exceed – your protein requirements.
4. Know your omega 3s
EPA and DHA (two types of omega-3 fatty acids) are readily found in oily fish. As you won’t be eating fish, your main source of omega 3 will come from ALA, a type of omega 3 that is found in plant food sources like nuts and seeds.
Health authorities recommend that vegans should aim for 2g of ALA intake every day. This can be as simple as:
- 1 tablespoon of chia seeds or ground flax seeds
- Two tablespoons of hemp seeds
- Six walnut halves
Why not add them to your breakfast? Nuts and seeds make a great addition to healthy vegan breakfasts like protein oats or yoghurt bowls.
You might also want to consider algae oil supplements, which can provide a great plant source of EPA & DHA.
A 40g serving of Purition Vegan also provides over 90% of your daily ALA needs – a fantastic source of omega 3 fat to support a healthy diet for anyone!
5. Be aware of vitamins & minerals
If you eat a wide variety of healthy vegan whole foods, you’re likely to get most of the nutrients you need through food alone. But there are a few vitamins and minerals you need to pay more attention to, especially when you’re new to a vegan diet.
Here’s a summary of the nutrients you’ll need to consider, as well as the best vegan sources:
- Vitamin B12: Fortified foods like marmite, nutritional yeast & dairy-free milk
- Calcium: Green leafy vegetables (such as kale and okra), tofu, almonds, beans, fortified flour/bread/dairy-free milk
- Iodine: Seaweed & fortified dairy-free milk
- Iron: Beans & pulses, tofu, quinoa, nuts & seeds, green leafy vegetables
- Selenium: Nuts & seeds, especially brazil nuts
- Zinc: Beans & pulses, tofu, quinoa, chia seeds, nuts & seeds
- Vitamin D: An issue for everyone, not just vegans – supplementation is recommended
Find out more about how to get the nutrients you need in our complete guide to vegan nutrition.
Until you’re a seasoned vegan who knows how to get all the nutrients you need quickly, it’s best to take a good quality vegan multivitamin like Purition’s Multi Nutrient.
6. Use PFF to build a balanced meal
Finding it difficult to put together healthy vegan meals without a complicated recipe? Use ‘PFF’ to build a balanced plate.
- Include a serving or two of quality protein
- Fill half of your plate with fibre (vegetables)
- Add a small serving of healthy fats
Prioritising this powerful nutrient trio at each meal will help to regulate your appetite and ensure your body gets the nutrients it needs to stay healthy.
- Protein: Tofu, tempeh, legumes, pulses, soy milk/yoghurt, quinoa, buckwheat, nuts & seeds etc
- Fibre: Green leafy vegetables (kale, spinach, cabbage, lettuce, rocket), aubergine, courgette, broccoli, cauliflower, mushrooms, asparagus, leeks, cucumber, butternut squash, berries etc
- Fats: Nuts, seeds, nut butter, coconut milk/yoghurt, extra virgin olive oil, avocado oil, avocado, olives
7. Start meal planning
Planning your meals in advance is one of the best ways to ease into any kind of dietary change, especially one as big as going vegan.
Meal planning can be as simple as sitting down with a coffee and deciding what meals you’ll eat for the next few days, as well as which ingredients you’ll need to make them. You’ll save time – and probably money, too – whilst ensuring you always have the right ingredients to whip up a healthy vegan meal.
You don’t need to invest in loads of vegan cookbooks (unless you want to). A good old Google search for ‘healthy vegan recipes’ or a quick look on Instagram will provide a ton of inspiration.
Find out more in our guide to meal planning, which includes our vegan nutritionist’s sample vegan meal plan!
8. Get involved in the vegan community
The vegan community is ever-growing and a great place to gain tips and learn new recipes. There are so many seasoned vegans who’ll be happy to help you out, as well as countless other newbie vegans in the same boat as you.
With that said, why not join some vegan Facebook groups, where you’ll discover lots of extra help, guidance and a thriving community of like-minded people? Here are a few of our favourites:
There are lots of local vegan Facebook groups too, so make sure to search ‘Vegan + your town/city’ on Facebook.
9. Don’t stress about slip-ups
Change doesn’t happen overnight. Transitioning to a vegan diet is a huge challenge. It’ll take time to adjust your habits, get into the swing of veganism and feel fully comfortable with your new plant-based diet.
You might lose willpower a week or a month in and fall off the bandwagon. Perhaps you’ll misread a label and accidentally eat something non-vegan. Maybe you’ll choose a non-vegan meal at a restaurant. And guess what? All of those predicaments are totally fine.
Don’t beat yourself up over small mishaps or pressure yourself to be perfect from the get-go. Learning how to become a vegan can feel like a minefield, so don’t put too much pressure on yourself to get it right straight away. Do what’s right for you and aim for slow and steady progress, not perfection.
10. Try Purition
Worried about having enough time to prepare nutritious plant-based meals? Purition Vegan can help you ease through the vegan diet transition!
Made with seeds, nuts and premium plant-based protein, Purition is a nutritious, balanced vegan breakfast – even when you’re pushed for time. You can make it into a:
- Vegan shake: Blend 40g Purition with 250ml nut/oat milk
- Vegan yoghurt bowl: Stir 40g Purition into 200g coconut/soy yoghurt
- Vegan instant porridge: Add a dash of hot water or nut milk to 40g Purition and stir
You’ll get 15g+ (25g+ if prepared with soy milk or yoghurt) of plan protein alongside fibre, natural fats and heaps of naturally-occurring vitamins and minerals to keep you in good health!
Hopefully, our vegan diet guide has told you everything you need to know about how to go vegan. Wondering if Purition Vegan could help you on your transition to a vegan lifestyle? Order a Vegan Discovery Box and try out some samples or get in touch with us on firstname.lastname@example.org. We’d be happy to help!
Complete guide to vegan nutrition
Best vegan protein sources
A nutritionist's top 10 tips for a healthy vegan diet
Vegan breakfast ideas that take minutes
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