Travelling around, meeting and cooking for new vegans and the vegan-curious, reminds me how tough it can be at first. Many people ask me for some tips to get started, so here’s my top ten.
Changing the way we live and have eaten is not something that happens overnight for most of us. There are may ways of approaching this transition, but here are a few tips from my experience that can make things easier and result in a new healthy and positive lifestyle.
VEGAN FOR ALL
Eating a vegan diet has never been so accessible and popular. Many of us now realise that it can be such a healthy and vibrant way to feed ourselves and our loved ones. Eating vegan minimises the suffering of animals, drastically cuts pollution and can open up a lifestyle that is based on compassion and greater awareness. Yes, we do have to read the ingredients on packets and meal planning will take a little more thought at first, but these things seem minor when we take into account how much benefit we can do for animals, the planet and, with a balanced vegan diet, ourselves. Vegans generally have lower cholesterol, body fat, risks of type-2 diabetes, cancer and blood pressure. It’s a no lose situation and it doesn’t have to be difficult.
I was a vegetarian for years before becoming vegan and the transition was an instant thing. I watched a documentary and that was it. I was down to only occasionally eating cheese, but when I realised that there is no major difference between the meat and dairy industry as far as the cruelty to animals, I dropped the Christmas day Stilton for good. It just didn’t seem worth it. As things go, looking back, it was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made and I hope these tips help in your transition to a more peaceful and totally delicious way of living.
Going vegan seems to be infectious, I look around me, years later, and see many people I know and family members giving the lifestyle a go or at least cutting back on meat and dairy. I didn’t have to say anything, I just cooked!
So here’s my Top 10 tips:
1 – Easy does it… – I think it’s unreasonable to suggest that we all go vegan overnight. For most people, a transition period is needed. Start to incorporate vegan staples into your life and try out your new batch of vegan staple recipes, things that are quick, healthy, easy and filling that can replace all your favourites; things like lentil spag bol, shepherd-less pie, macaroni cheeze, bakes/ casseroles, stews, salads, soups, curries, omelettes, pizza, cakes and cookies. These are the old school favourites that are easy to prepare and we know, most people love. They are also awesome when made vegan, everyone loves them!
Also, try out some vegan staple ingredients like nutritional yeast flakes, tofu, tempeh, nut butters, sweet potato, hummus, seitan, jackfruit; these are all interesting new additions to anyones diet and with the correct cooking, are delicious and nutritious. Of course, who doesn’t love a bit of avocado on toast. Avocado is an ingredient I find most vegans love to use.
You’ll find over 200 of our vegan recipes here.
If you are struggling at first, maybe start with one day at a time and expand on that. Say, Tuesday I’m all vegan, see how it goes and if you run into issues, see how you could avoid them. Most people find it easy at home, but at work or when travelling/ eating out, slip up. Slipping up is cool, don’t beat yourself up about anything, but there are lessons to be learned there and it normally involves planning a little better. Calling restaurants in advance to check about vegan options, travelling with vegan snacks, taking out packed lunches/ dinners. It’s also sometimes a case of just being happy with whats on offer, if its only chips and a salad, no problems. By mentioning that you are vegan, the staff/ management will become aware of their growing need to adapt. Sometimes I may write an email if there are no vegan options and it’s a restaurant that I like.
2- Try a plan – I’m no great planner, but I know they can help and will certainly assist with your weekly shopping, as you begin to seek out and buy new ingredients. A vegan diet is in no way more expensive than any other, but you may need to gradually re-stock your cupboards with some new and exciting ingredients, keeping a good stock of fresh fruit and veg, dried fruit, nuts/ seeds, wholegrains and beans. Plan a little extra time for cooking vegan dishes, it will take time to learn new techniques and there can be a few more ingredients to play with in the kitchen.
You could think about trying out Veganuary, I know many people who have used it as a base to go vegan long term. There is loads of support and inspiration there. Also, the Vegan Society have a 30 day vegan pledge that is well thought out and has all the nutritional information you could need. For the record, a balanced vegan diet, based around fresh fruit and vegetables, pulses, nuts, dried fruits and whole grains is going to give your body and mind amazing nutrition, but I’d recommend your read more about vegan nutrition on the Vegan Society website. The information there is easy to follow and practical.
I don’t know about you, but I love to learn more about the foods that I eat, the fuel for my body, and how it affects my health. Nutritional deficiencies are an issue across the board, not just solely for vegans, there is a lot of misleading studies and articles out there; calcium, iron, omega fats and protein can all be readily found in a vegan diet. Read up on Vitamin D, Iodine and B12 would be my advice.
3- Fill up – When you’re getting used to a vegan diet, many people say that they feel hungry. This is where I’d say fill up on high protein and carb foods. Things like pulse/ legumes, nuts and seeds, tofu, tempeh, seitan, quinoa etc are all high in protein. I guess the idea is to not just drop the meat or dairy from meals, but replace it with something nutritious and plant-based.
If you feel fatigued and weak at first, this will pass, remember that many athletes are now vegan and praise the diet for enhancing their recovery times and overall performance.
If you eat a lot of dairy, meat, drink alcohol and coffee etc, then just drop it all, your body will go through a detox period that can lead to fatigue, nausea and generally feeling rough. Again this will pass, but unless you’re on a planned and even supervised detox, I wouldn’t recommend just dropping everything at once. Meat and dairy also contain lots of fat, your body may crave it, maybe up the plant fats in your diet for a while.
You will most probably get cravings, stay strong and satisfy them in plant based ways. After all, things like vegan chocolate, pizza, burgers and crisps are just as amazing as the other stuff. The cravings go, hang in there!!
4- Find alternatives – This is becoming ever easier. Cheeze, sausages, burgers, pizzas, yoghurt, milks, mayo, single cream, even creme fraiche are all available in most supermarkets. You can also make your own if you have time, that is of course, our way, but the vegan diet is now convenience friendly for sure. We all need a little convenience sometimes and this can help make things more sustainable in the long run. Once you’ve found where everything is in your local shops, there will be vegan options in most places now, you can get into a new routine and whizz around in no time.
You’ll find that substituting the vegan options into your favourite recipes works. There is cheese now that melts, cream that is creamy and mayo that hardly anyone can tell the difference between. With the increased vegan market, there has been a general increase in vegan food quality.
Check out cereals and milks fortified with vitamins and minerals, these can be a great source of what we need. Most new vegans I speak to mention how much more they think about their diet and the choices they make revolving around food, for me, this is one of the added bonuses of going vegan. Educating ourselves and eating in new ways, it’s all fresh and creative.
5 – If at first…. – You think tempeh and seitan are uurgh and tofu is not your thing, all is well. These things need to be cooked right, and when they are, I find that most people love em! However, a vegan cooks options are huge and they don’t need to be based around the classic vegan staples. There are so many ways of making plant-based ingredients shine and you will get the hang of it. Tastes change with time and who knows, maybe soon you’ll be digging seitan?!
6- Hit the umami – The big, savoury flavours, that we are used to in a meat/ dairy diet may not always be there for you when you are learning your new vegan recipe repertoire. I say, go umami! Giving up our favourite foods is not easy, we’ve enjoyed them all our lives. Things like mushrooms, yeast extract, olives, balsamic vinegar, fermented foods (kimchi!), sun dried tomatoes, tamari/ soya sauce, miso are high in umami and vegan cheeses are packed with it, like cheddar/ blue-style and Parmesan.
We can’t just rely on one big piece of roasted meat for flavour, we need to be creative, layer our flavours, tantalise our palate in new ways and be more conscious of pairing textures and colours. Roast things, fry them up, get out a griddling pan or even better, a barbecue, use big and bold sauces and dressings. The options for amazing vegan food are endless. All of this is can be a challenge, but a great one, we’ll become better cooks and no doubt, more connected with the food we eat.
7- Vegan on the road, no probs! – Check out local vegan restaurants, Happy Cow is a great source of info, and keep your eyes out for Lebanese (see above). Indonesian and Indian restaurants especially, there will be many vegan options there. I find that most countries I travel to have a wide range of traditional dishes that are already vegan. Of course, some countries are easier than others. Also, always keep plenty of snacks on you, just in case.
8- Be gentle and kind with yourself – If you slip up, that’s normal. If you are persistent, you will get there. If you miss your daily kale smoothie hit, no problems. Our diets have to be flexible and fun. Having positive intentions is the key thing and not being disheartened when you first start out. Your body, and digestion especially, may take a little time to get used to the shift, but after a few weeks, you’ll be flying!!
I believe that anyone can be vegan and very healthy, regardless of body type. Many of the difficulties that arise in the transition period are in the mind, stay positive, join friendly and supportive local or on-line vegan groups and remember that you are joining a family of people, millions strong, who live well all over the world. You’re not alone, but some people around you may be critical, which is their stuff entirely. Stay true to the ethical reasons you chose to go vegan and spread your new lifestyle by communicating positively, not being drawn into arguments (which can be tough) and living the vibrant potential that a vegan diet offers.
9- Supplements are fine – I was a little put off at first about taking supplements, but they can really help us get what we need. Many vegans take iron, omega fat, iodine and B12 supplements. Also, maybe some vitamin D unless you live in a sunny place. These are all good ideas and something that many people need a boost in, not just vegans. There are fortified foods out there which will help with keeping us shining and well.
10- Stay positive and open – If you want to do it, you will. If you stay positive, the whole process will be much more enjoyable. This is not a punishment in anyway. Going vegan should be a enjoyable thing, where you can learn and grow, meet new liked-minded people and gain new insight. There will be times when people question your choices, you don’t have to go into detail or in at the deep end all the time, you can say you like the food or just change the subject. Sometimes we don’t have the energy or resolve for a full-on debate and that is fine, many people hold strong views about a vegan lifestyle, but in my experience, most people are curious and open minded about it all, asking questions in good faith.
Just simple answers can work; good for animals, good for the planet, good for us. Keeping our positive energy topped up is so important, conflict is draining, we need to take good care of ourselves physically and emotionally if we’re going to be at our best. If we want to be shining lights for a brighter future for us all, we need to charge up! If we are empathetic, and let’s face it most of us were not born vegan, we will have a much better platform for talking about veganism and a better chance that our message will be understood and considered.
We should never feel bad or shy about speaking about veganism, but should be sensitive and constructive at the same time. Again, these sometimes challenging conversations are an aspect of being a vegan that we can get used to with a little experience and support. Ask fellow vegans for advice and don’t judge others. If I communicate clearly and with sincerity, I find most people are open and receptive. My approach is, preach from the plate, cook amazing food and enjoy it! Good vegan food is a powerful message in itself.
If after, say a few months, you are no closer to being fully vegan, maybe revisit your original reasons for choosing this path. Remind yourself of the motivation, ethical or otherwise, that stirred you into wishing to make a change.
I’d love to hear your thoughts about your vegan adventures and any challenges you faced. What were the best bits? I think one thing is clear, there is no one way, but there is always your way! I feel that going vegan is not giving up anything, we’re actually gaining so much. Peace and Good luck!
Here’s our vegan cooking group on facebook if you’re looking for inspiration and support.
I also like the group Vegan Food UK, lots of like minded, friendly vegans over there.
Carnage by Simon Amstell is brilliant and the Okja movie on Netflix I enjoyed.