If you have been thinking of starting a vegan diet, or getting back on a vegan diet, you may be wondering where to start. Taking the first step is often the hardest, and the most intimidating, part of making any kind of lifestyle change.
First, know that you are not alone! An ever-growing number of people eat a plant-based diet. According to a study conducted by the Vegetarian Times, about 7.3 million people follow a vegetarian based-diet in the U.S., and 1 million of those are vegans. In addition, 22.8 million people say they follow a largely vegetarian-inclined diet. Beginning, and sticking to, a vegetarian or vegan diet can be done.
Tips for Getting Started on a Vegan Diet
1. Find your "Why"
What is your reason for eating a vegan or vegetarian diet? Many people have different reasons for cutting animal products out of their diets, and those reasons can range from concerns over animal cruelty, environmental concerns, to personal health, disease prevention, and to feel more energetic.
Once you know what your primary reason is for eating a meat-free diet, use that to propel you forward. When you have moments of doubt or struggle in your transition to a different lifestyle choice, use your "why" to drive and motivate you.
2. Transition Slowly
Some people may find that they can just wake up one morning and start eating vegan, never looking back and never faltering. But for the rest of us, a slower transition may be just the ticket. Look at your fridge and write down the animal products that are inside it. For some, a vegetarian diet that allows dairy and eggs is fine for their health and lifestyle. Others want to avoid all animal products entirely. Whatever your personal choice, there is a wide selection of substitute products available at your local market that can help you ease into your transition. Swap out scrambled eggs for scrambled tofu for breakfasts, replace dairy in your cereal and coffee with soymilk, almond milk, or hemp milk, and exchange hamburgers for veggie-burgers or black bean burgers. Vegetable soups and pastas with roasted vegetables may have been side dishes for you before, now try making them the main attraction on your dinner table instead.
It's better to do something simply than do nothing perfectly.
3. Focus on Nutrition
Once you have successfully swapped out your animal products for vegan-friendly substitutes, it is time to start focusing on nutrition. Vegans and vegetarians have different nutritional needs than others. Give your body some time to adjust to your new lifestyle change. It can take up to 3 weeks to get used to your new diet. After that adjustment period, check in with yourself. Keep a journal of what you are eating, and how you are feeling. Are you tired? Feeling low in energy? You may need more calories. If you are used to eating a plate full of steak and potatoes, and now you are eating a plate full of potatoes, broccoli, and salad - you are not getting the same amount of calories in that meal as before. Include more calorie-dense foods into your meals by adding nuts, seeds, and nut butters.
Are you eating a variety of foods? If you are living on only salads, or eating nothing but vegan hot-dogs, you are denying yourself both the nutrition you need as well as the wide variety of flavors, foods, and textures available to you.
So what should you be eating with a varied and wholesome vegan diet?
- Legumes and Soyfoods: 3-4 servings per day
- Whole Grains and Starchy Vegetables: 4 servings per day
- Nuts & Seeds: 1-2 servings per day
- Vegetables: 5 + servings per day
- Fruit: 3 + servings per day
You can get nutrients like calcium, vitamin B12, vitamin D, iron, and essential fatty acids from your diet, but you may also want to include a supplement to help you maintain healthy levels of these crucial nutrients.
4. Join the Community
The easiest way to get started, stay motivated, and be inspired on your vegan or vegetarian lifestyle is to seek out people just like yourself who have traveled the road. Vegan bloggers can guide you, entertain you, and offer recipes that you may have not thought of. Vegan nutritionists can advise you to be sure you are getting the nutrients you need. There may even be a group of vegans in your local town that meet-up on a regular basis to eat out at vegan-friendly restaurants. Staying involved in the vegan community can help remind you of your "why", give you inspiration when you need it, and help you overcome roadblocks.
Want to learn more?
Vegetarian Times offers a vegetarian starter kit as a free download.
Check back with us as we feature raw and vegan recipes for you to keep you inspired, and check out our selection of raw and vegan superfoods that includes greens, superfood powders, raw nuts and nut butters, exotic dried fruits, healthy oils, and more to keep you eating well.
Melissa Zimmerman, Live Superfoods