Have you decided to go vegan or plant-based? You’re in good company. According to The Food Revolution Network, the number of vegans in America has increased by 600% in recent years — and those numbers are set to boom in the years ahead.
But once you’ve decided to go vegan, how do you do it? Whether you’re looking to make the switch for environmental, ethical or health reasons, swapping out animal products for plants can feel restrictive and intimidating. Thankfully, by getting clued up on nutrition, pre-planning meals and experimenting with plant-based cooking, a vegan diet can actually be healthy, affordable and highly enjoyable.
So, whether you want to slowly dip your toes into a plant-based diet — or you’re ready to commit to a total shift to veganism — this guide is here to help you to ease in stress-free. We cover the need-to-know facts about veganism and finish with 10 handy tips to help you go vegan.
We’ll have you saying “please can you pass the tofu?” before you know it!
What is a vegan diet?
Vegan diets eliminate all animal products and by-products, such as meat, fish, eggs, dairy and honey.
The definition of veganism, according to The Vegan Society, is as follows:
“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 can you eat as a vegan?
Many new-found vegans make the mistake of focusing on what they can’t eat — but we think it’s best to focus on what you can eat.
While the meat and dairy aisle may be off-limits, your shopping trolley will be packed with colorful wholefoods 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 and vegetables
Legumes → beans, lentils and peas
Grains → bread, quinoa, wheat and rice
Nuts and seeds → including nut butters
Soy products → edamame, tofu and tempeh
Dairy alternatives → oat, soy, hemp and nut milk, cream and cheese
Plant-based oils → olive, rapeseed and coconut oil
Natural sweeteners → maple syrup and agave
Is a vegan diet healthy?
A well-planned vegan diet that takes account for all required macro and micronutrients and includes any necessary supplements is healthy and nutritious. However, an unplanned vegan diet can lead to nutritional deficiencies and can, therefore, be unhealthy.
The American Dietetic Association confirm this, stating that:
“Appropriately planned vegetarian diets, including total vegetarian or vegan diets, are healthful, nutritionally adequate, and may provide health benefits in the prevention and treatment of certain diseases.”
Again, the key phrase here is appropriately-planned. By eliminating numerous food groups from your diet, you are at risk of becoming deficient in certain micronutrients. This is because some nutrients are difficult to find — and are sometimes non-existent — in plants.
But don’t let that stop you. If you’re set on switching to a vegan or plant-based diet, it’s simply extra important to make sure that you consume enough of these nutrients through specific food sources and/or supplements.
Common vegan deficiencies
Let’s take a look at the nutrients that can be harder to find during a vegan diet transition — and how you can ensure you’re getting enough:
|NUTRIENT||FUNCTION||WHERE TO FIND IT|
|Protein||Builds and repairs muscles and tissues, keeps the immune system healthy and more||Beans, lentils, soy products, chickpeas, quinoa, garden peas, nuts, seeds, a glass of Purition|
|Vitamin B12||Keeps the body’s nerves and blood cells healthy and helps to make DNA||Fortified foods such as nutritional yeast, yeast extract (marmite), fermented foods and vegan spreads|
|Selenium||Creates antioxidant balance in our body’s cells and assists with thyroid hormone metabolism||Brazil nuts, mushrooms, barley and walnuts|
|Zinc||Helps the immune system to fight off viruses and bacteria and assists with immune and neurological function||Pumpkin seeds, beans, cashews, chickpeas, almonds, peas, mushrooms, tofu and spinach|
|Omega-3 & 6 fatty acids||Improves heart health and helps the body with growth and repair||Chia seeds, linseed, hemp seeds, walnuts, rapeseed oil or algae supplements|
|Iron||Helps to transport and store oxygen throughout the body, increases red blood cell formation||Soybeans, lentils, spinach, sesame seeds, kidney beans, potatoes, prunes, cashews and pumpkin seeds|
|Calcium||Forms teeth and bone, regulates muscle contraction, regulates hormones||Green leafy vegetables, broccoli, almonds, beans, turnips, tofu, rhubarb and calcium-fortified plant-based milks|
|Iodine||Required to make thyroid hormones||Fortified plant-based milks, potatoes, strawberries and seaweed|
Information source: The Essentials of Sport and Exercise Nutrition by Precision Nutrition
If you’re concerned about getting in all of the essential micronutrients into your daily routine, consider purchasing a high-quality vegan multivitamin.
Purition vegan also makes for a great way to boost your daily micronutrients. Our real food plant-based shakes take just seconds to prepare and are packed with naturally occurring vitamins and minerals including iron, calcium, selenium and zinc.
What are the health benefits a vegan diet?
Research has linked varied and well-planned vegan diets to a wide range of health benefits, including:
- Boosted heart health and lowered risk of heart disease (2019 study)
- Increased weight loss and better weight management (2015 trial & 2017 review)
- Decreased risk of several types of cancer (2017 review)
- Improved blood sugar and decreased risk of type-2 diabetes (2019 review)
- Improved health of the gut microbiome (2019 review)
Bear in mind that being vegan is not automatically synonymous with better health. A vegan diet packed with processed and starchy food is highly unlikely to reap the benefits mentioned above. It’s important to nourish your body with healthy whole foods and the right nutrients, by planning and supplementing meals appropriately.
What happens when you first go vegan?
Wondering what the immediate benefits of transitioning to a vegan diet are? The truth is, 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 mentioned above are 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.
You might also experience some digestive changes due to the increase of fiber 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 fiber, things will settle down.
How to go vegan: 10 essential tips
Keen to get started? Here are our 10 essential tips for going vegan — stress and pressure free…
Get clued up
The single most important factor to a successful vegan transformation is simply knowing your stuff. Before you even think about making the switch, get reading, watching and learning. The more you know about plant-based diets, the easier the transition will feel and the more likely you will be to make it a success.
The single most important thing to get clued on? Vegan nutrition. Try to gain a thorough understanding of which vegan foods contain each of the essential vitamins, minerals and macronutrients required to stay in optimal health.
It can be helpful to track your nutrients, in the beginning, using an app like My Fitness Pal. This way, you’ll be able to see if you’re lacking any specific nutrients and then add in the appropriate foods or supplements to your routine.
Add before you subtract
If you’re not used to eating vegan food, it may be easier to slowly incorporate vegan meals and snacks into your existing routine at first. Forget about taking anything out of your diet for now.
Start by adding a vegan meal or two per week and increase the frequency over time. Try to include lots of beans, legumes, nuts, seeds and tofu into these meals and learn how to prepare, cook and store them effectively. Begin picking up vegan alternatives, too — such as plant-based milk, spread and yogurt — and see which brands and flavors you like best.
This will help you to find your groove with plant-based eating, without it being too much of a drastic change.
Veganize your favorite meals
There’s no need to miss out on all of your favorite meals when you transition to a vegan diet. Nowadays, there’s an alternative vegan recipe for pretty much any meal under the sun! While you’re still in the adding-not-subtracting phase, why not start ‘veganizing’ your favorite meals?
Here are some of our favorite veganized meal ideas:
Spaghetti bolognese → Lentil bolognese
Chili con carne → Bean chili
Scrambled egg → Scrambled tofu
Beef burgers → Bean burgers
Fish & chips → Tofish and chips
Chicken curry → Chickpea curry
Try out the Veganize It cookbook or simply use Google to find vegan recipes for your favourite meals.
And remember to have an open mind here. It will take some time for your taste buds to adapt and meals won’t taste exactly the same as they did before. However, they can sure help to satisfy the craving and are often equally (or more) nutritious.
Go at your own pace
When you are ready to start eliminating animal products from your diet, don’t feel pressured to do so all at once. Most people will find a gradual transition to a vegan diet much easier to adapt to.
You could cut out dairy products for the first month, cut out fish the next and follow with meat for the third month. You could be pescatarian or vegetarian for a few months before going vegan. Or, to start with, you could go plant-based on alternative days or weeks.
Set yourself some goals and milestones and work to them over a period of time that suits you. This could be as fast or as slow as you like. Everyone is different and there’s no pressure to get it right straight away!
Create a vegan scrapbook
Whilst you’re testing the waters with a plant-based diet, you’ll be trying out all sorts of new products, brands, ingredients and recipes. Sometimes, you might come across a real winner — something you’d happily cook, eat or buy on a regular basis.
It makes sense to keep all these new finds in one place, so why not create your own vegan cookbook or scrapbook? Create a list of your favorite vegan alternatives, jot or stick down any recipes you enjoy and make of a note of anything you feel you need to remember.
It doesn’t need to be fancy — a simple notebook will do — but it’ll mean you have something to flick through if you’re lacking ideas or need some inspiration.
Plan your meals in advance
At the moment, you’ve probably got your shopping and meal routine down to a fine art. But going vegan is likely to turn all this upside-down — and it’ll take a while to get settled into plant-based eating.
This is where meal planning comes in! Planning your meals in advance is one of the best ways to ease into any dietary change.
Sit down once a week with some cookbooks and decide what meals you’ll eat — and what ingredients they require — for the week ahead. It’ll make it shopping far more efficient and allow you to double-check that your nutrient needs are being met.
Fill up your store cupboard
Before you decide to go 100% vegan or plant-based, your kitchen cupboards or pantry will need a refresh. Stocking them with lots of non-perishable vegan essentials means you’ll always be able to whip up a tasty vegan meal at a moment’s notice.
Here’s our pick of the top vegan store cupboard essentials you’ll need before going vegan:
Proteins → Canned kidney, cannellini and black beans, chickpeas, dried lentils
Fats → Nuts, seeds, natural peanut and almond butter
Grains → Oats, barley, quinoa, couscous, brown rice, bulgur wheat
Canned veg → Garden peas, jackfruit, chopped tomatoes, sundried tomatoes, olives, pickles
Sources of omega 3 & 6 → Chia seeds and linseed/flaxseed
Sources of vitamin B12 → Nutritional yeast and marmite/yeast extract
Cooking oils → Coconut, olive and rapeseed oil
Dairy alternatives → Long-life soy, oat, almond, coconut and/or rice milk
Herbs and spices → Turmeric, chili & garlic powder, garam masala, oregano, rosemary, paprika, cumin
Sauces and flavorings → Vegetable stock, vinegar, tahini, soy sauce, miso paste, mustard
Your initial vegan shop might seem pricey, but lots of these items (such a herbs, spices and sauces) will see you through recipe after recipe.
Bear in mind that we’ve only listed non-perishable items here. For a balanced diet, you’ll also need to have a variety of fresh foods — especially fruit and vegetables — stocked in the fridge for your weekly meals.
Focus on wholefoods
One of the most common mistakes while transitioning to a vegan diet? Becoming a ‘junk food vegan’. A junk food vegan’s diet is packed with highly-processed vegan alternatives, such as mock meats, vegan sweets and biscuits and vegan pizzas.
There’s a common misconception that vegan junk food is healthier than meat or dairy-based junk food. But the truth is, junk food is junk food. Eating too much processed food is bad for your health — whether it’s vegan or not.
Instead, focus on eating as many minimally-processed, unrefined vegan whole foods as possible. This way, you’ll consume a far wider range of nutrients, feel fuller for longer and have much more energy and vitality.
Aim for progress, not perfection
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.
Do what’s right for you and aim for slow and steady progress — not perfection.
Concerned about having enough time to prepare nutritious plant-based meals? Purition dairy-free vegan can help you through your vegan diet transition.
Made with whole ground seeds and nuts paired with a premium plant-based protein blend of pea, sunflower and protein, Purition provides a small vegan meal when you’re pushed for time. A glass of Purition takes seconds to prepare but provides 20g of plant protein alongside fiber, natural fats and naturally-occurring vitamins and minerals — a perfect breakfast or lunch for busy vegan lifestyles!
Going vegan to reduce your impact on the environment? You’ll be happy to hear that we source locally wherever possible, create very little finished-product waste and do everything we can to reduce our unnecessary plastic footprint.