10 Tips for Going Vegan

Thinking of trying a vegan diet? These tips will get you started

Anyone willing to acknowledge they know me will tell you two things about me: One, I’m not as funny as I think I am, and two, the chance of me staying on a diet for more than a week is as likely as Transformers winning an Oscar. So when I decided to become a vegan for a month, the consensus amongst friends was I wouldn’t make it to the end of the first day.

Their doubt was reasonable considering I consume cheese like it’s my second job and that my love of pork belly borders on obsessive. To everyone’s surprise, including my own, I managed to go without meat, dairy, and eggs well past the designated month. (Read the four-part series: Going Vegan)

Once friends and family saw that even a carnivore like me could stick to veganism and lose weight in the process, they asked for tips on how to adopt an animal-free diet. Some were curious for ethical reasons. Others were concerned about their health or the environment. Whatever your reason for choosing a plant-based diet, here are 10 tips to help you become a vegan.

 

1) Consider Going Vegetarian First

Since quitting cold turkey can be traumatic, consider slowly eliminating non-vegan foods from your diet. Start with meat and then gradually stop eating eggs and dairy. (Photo courtesy FlickrDan4th)

 

2) Clear Out Your Cupboards and Fridge

If you’re anything like me, the first few days of a new diet are more torturous than listening to Twilight fans discuss who Bella should really end up with. The cravings are intense and the desire to cheat is constant. Once you go vegan, avoid temptation by clearing out your cupboards and fridge of all non-vegan foods. Naturally, meat, fish, and dairy are out, but so are honey and almost all store-bought baked goods since they have either eggs or milk. Buy lots of whole grains like quinoa, bulgur, and farro. Also stock up on fruits, vegetables, lentils, nuts, and beans. Get whole-grain cereals and steel-cut oats for breakfast, use agave syrup as a sweetener, and replace your regular milk with hemp, rice, or almond milk. (Photo courtesy Flickr/waferboard)

 

3) Know Your Non-Vegan Foods/Drinks

Being a vegan is more than just avoiding meat, dairy, and eggs. A lot of foods have hidden animal products. Refined cane sugar is usually filtered through animal bone char. Soy yogurts and cheeses can have casein (a milk derivative), and cereals, chips, and crackers often have whey (another milk by-product). Also, wine and beer are often clarified with either albumen, casein, gelatin, or isinglass (fish bladders), although there are vegan wines and beers that are available. For an exhaustive list of animal ingredients that are found in food, check out PETA’s Animal Ingredients List. (Photo courtesy Flickr/ilovebutter)

4) Buy a Vegan Cookbook(s)

Even if you are the second coming of Thomas Keller, you should still buy a vegan cookbook for tips and ideas on how to adopt an animal-free lifestyle. While there are dozens of good vegan cookbooks available, the ones I like are Tal Ronnen's The Conscious Cook: Delicious Meatless Recipes That Will Change the Way You Eat, and Marie Simmons’s Fresh & Fast Vegetarian: Recipes That Make a Meal, which has lots of vegan recipes. (Photo courtesy Flickr/shutterhack)

 

5) Cook Meals Ahead

While vegan cooking can be incredibly delicious, it usually takes more planning than non-vegan cooking, so plan your meals ahead of time and cook extra food so you can freeze it for future meals.(Photo courtesy Flickr/elycefeliz)

 

6) Have Snacks Handy

Without animal fat in your diet, you will probably get hungry with more frequency, so make sure to always have snacks handy. Fruits (fresh and dried), vegetables, and roasted nuts are great for snacking. (Photo courtesy Flick/Dano)

 

7) Avoid Overly Processed Products

When I became desperate for meat, I decided to buy a lot of vegan meat to satisfy these cravings and they are more disappointing than the time I discovered that I was the last girl in my class to get a training bra. They are all highly-processed products that rely heavily on chemicals to poorly mimic the taste and texture of real meat (read vegan meat product reviews). I also avoid vegan cheese and energy bars for the same reason. If I wanted highly processed foods in my diet, I wouldn’t have given up my spray cheese addiction. Try to stick to whole grains, fruits, and vegetables. These choices are better for you and the environment. (Photo courtesy la vida veggiesara)

8) Plan Ahead When You Eat Out

While veganism continues to be an increasingly popular lifestyle choice for people, most restaurants still haven’t embraced the vegan consumer. If you are lucky enough to come across places that serve vegan-friendly food, the choices are usually more boring than Katie Holmes on the screen. (Read more about dining out as a vegan.) Try going to Japanese, Southern Indian, Chinese, or Thai restaurants. They usually have at least a couple of vegan options on the menu. Also make sure to call ahead to see if restaurants can accommodate you, or check out websites like VegGuide.org or VegDining.com for a listing of vegan-friendly restaurants in your area. (Photo courtesy Flickr/Founding Farmers)

 

9) Take a Multivitamin

Despite what some people think, vegans can get almost all necessary vitamins and minerals from a vegan diet. Beans and nuts provide plenty of protein and vegans can get iron and calcium from dark leafy greens. The only vitamin that vegans cannot get from a vegan diet is vitamin B, which is found in meat, fish, and eggs, and some fortified foods. Taking a multivitamin is necessary to avoid vitamin B deficiency, which can lead to anemia and a host of other health problems. When buying a multivitamin, make sure that it is gelatin-free. I take Deva Vegan Multivitamins, but there plenty of others on the market and they can be found in health food stores or online. (Photo courtesy Flickr/bradley j)

 

10) Don’t Be Hard on Yourself

I know I’m going to sound like an after-school special for saying this, but the most important thing to remember when you are taking steps to becoming a vegan is not to be so hard on yourself if you slip up and eat non-vegan foods. If you’re intentions are good, your willpower will follow. Just put down the pie made with lard crust and start over again. (Photo courtesy Arthur Bovino)

 

RECOMMENDED READING LIST

Going Vegan for a Month, Amanda Berne, San Francisco Chronicle

Iron in the Vegan Diet, Reed Mangels, The Vegetarian Resource Group

Calcium in the Vegan Diet, Reed Mangels, The Vegetarian Resource Group

Behind the Bean: The Heroes and Charlatans of the Natural and Organic Soy Foods Industry, The Cornucopia Institute

Vitamin B12 Deficiency Anemia, WebMD

Animal Ingredient List, PETA

PETA’s Vegetarian/Vegan Starter Kit, PETA

The Men’s Journal Guide to Going Vegan, Men’s Journal

Farro, Fine Cooking

Vegan Wine Guide, VegNews

7 Vegan Summer Beers, VegNews 

 

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