How to Go Vegan Diet Guide
How to Go Vegan Diet Guide
This guide is for general information purposes only. We are providing what we hope will be a helpful resource, not a guaranty of success. We are not providing medical advice. Please consult with a doctor if you need such advice.
You’ve probably heard of the various health benefits of going vegan, or perhaps you’re more interested in furthering animal rights by adopting this diet and lifestyle choice. Whatever your reason for going vegan, we’ve got you covered. This guide will give you a complete overview of veganism, from how to get started to actual vegan recipes you can try at home. Whether you simply want to try the vegan lifestyle or make it a permanent part of your diet, we’ll give you all the information you need to start.
What is Veganism?
The word “vegan” refers to anything free of animal products, and being vegan means avoiding using animal products whenever possible. That includes not only meat, milk and eggs, but also leather, honey and any products tested on animals. For many vegans, the exploitation of animals is the primary reason they’ve changed their diet and shopping habits, but others may simply become vegan to improve their health. Approximately two million people in the U.S. are vegan. U.S. cities where veganism is most popular include Portland, New York City, Los Angeles, Honolulu and Detroit.
Veganism shares its origins with vegetarianism, which can be traced back as early as 500 BCE, when the Greek philosopher and mathematician Pythagoras followed an essentially vegetarian diet. Similarly, Siddhartha Gautama (commonly known as the Buddha), discussed vegetarian diets with his followers. Vegan Society founder Donald Watson invented the word “vegan” much later, around 1944.
There are a number of myths and misconceptions surrounding veganism. For instance, many people believe that vegans don’t get enough protein. A proper vegan diet, however, includes plant proteins from various sources. Nuts, beans, quinoa, soy foods and seeds can all fulfill protein requirements. Eating a variety of these proteins will ensure that you’re getting everything you need.
For those of you concerned with weight loss, a vegan diet is by no means a guaranteed way to slim down. After all, French fries, Oreos and Fritos are all vegan—foods that you wouldn’t exactly call weight-loss staples. Yet, despite the obvious temptation to subsist solely on Oreos, vegans tend to be thinner and have a lower body mass index (BMI) than non-vegans.
With so much animal-reliant food and merchandise on the market, being vegan can seem like quite the challenge. It’s actually much simpler than you think. While this guide will primarily touch upon changing your diet, there are many ways you can be vegan that have nothing to do with food. From cruelty-free make-up to faux leather, nowadays it’s easier than ever to find products that fit the vegan lifestyle. A quick Google search and a willingness to try new things are all you need.
Vegan Nutritional Basics
The human body needs a variety of nutrients to survive and thrive including protein, various vitamins and minerals, carbohydrates and fats. The good news is that you can get nearly all of the nutrients you need by eating a balanced vegan diet.
Protein is an important nutrient that is needed for energy and for the structure and function of the body’s tissues and organs. When many people think of protein, they think of meat, fish and seafood, but there are many sources of protein in the vegetable kingdom as well. Sources include:
- Legumes and beans like lentils, black beans, peas, peanuts and chickpeas
- Soy foods like edamame, tofu, tempeh and many vegan meat substitutes
- Nuts and seeds
Omega 3 Fatty Acids
Consuming omega 3 fatty acids has been linked to a lower risk of cardiovascular disease and some types of cancer. While there are some omega 3 fatty acids in walnuts, chia seeds and flax seeds, little of this is able to be absorbed by the body. To be sure you are getting enough omega 3 fatty acids, take an algae supplement.
Vitamin A is used for vision, immune function and reproduction needs to be taken with fat in order to be absorbed into the body. You can get vitamin A from orange vegetables and fruits like cantaloupe, carrots and sweet potatoes as well as green leafy vegetables like kale, spinach and Swiss chard.
One of the only nutrients that is not available from any plant sources is vitamin B12. This is a vital nutrient that is used for DNA synthesis, many cell functions and neurological function. Vegans should take a high quality B12 supplement to meet these needs.
Vitamin C is an antioxidant that is essential for collagen production and the immune system. Vitamin C also helps us to absorb iron, so it’s a good idea to pair foods rich in Vitamin C with those with iron. Vitamin C is common in fruits and vegetables, so it is usually no challenge for vegans to get enough of it. It is in citrus fruit, bell peppers, strawberries, cauliflower, tomatoes and white potatoes.
Vitamin D is a fat-soluble nutrient that helps the body absorb calcium. Most Americans, regardless of their diet, are deficient in Vitamin D and should probably be taking supplements. You can get it from enriched dairy and/or from the sun, but of course, vegans do not drink cow’s milk or any animal milk. However, most alternative milks (almond, soy, rice, oat) are also enriched with Vitamin D. Check the label to make sure yours has Vitamin D, since there is no requirement for alternative milks to be fortified with it. Although most Vitamin D supplements source it from animals, some Vitamin D supplements come from lichen. Most of the Vitamin D in alternative milk comes from irradiated yeast, so it is vegan-friendly.
Calcium strengthens our bones and is available in cow’s milk but also in a number of vegetables. Since the amount of calcium in vegetables is lower than in dairy, it is important to make sure that you are consuming enough servings to get the proper calcium intake. You can find it in collard greens, kale and figs as well as fortified products like fortified orange juice, plant-based milks and calcium-set tofu.
Iodine is important for thyroid health and while most people get their iodine from eating seafood, this is a no-go for vegans. Kelp and dulse (another sea vegetable) have iodine, but in relatively small amounts so you would have to eat several servings a week to get enough. Your best bet is to use iodine-enriched salt. Just a half a teaspoon a day is enough to meet your iodine requirement. Note: salt that is added to processed food is rarely iodized, so you would need to get this from iodized salt you use or cook with at home.
Iron is needed to help our red blood cells transport oxygen throughout our body. In addition to being in red meat, iron is in many beans and legumes like black-eyed peas, chickpeas and white beans. You can also get iron spinach, tofu, Swiss chard, fortified cereal and cashews. As mentioned above, Vitamin C helps the body absorb iron, so it is a good idea to pair the two. Avoid calcium-rich foods when eating things high in iron, since calcium blocks absorption.
Zinc is used for growth, metabolism and development and is often in protein-rich foods. Good sources of zinc include pumpkin seeds, fortified cereal, baked beans, wheat germ, peanuts and cashews. In smaller amounts, it is in quinoa, oatmeal, lentils and tempeh. Zinc is harder to absorb from plant sources than from animal sources, so make sure you are getting enough servings of these types of foods.
Pros of Going Vegan
Plant-based diets have a lot going for them aside from being cruelty-free. If you’re not convinced that you would benefit from becoming vegan, here are a number of physical, mental and ethical advantages to making the switch.
- Lower Body Mass Index (BMI). As mentioned earlier, people who follow plant-based diets tend to be slimmer and have a better BMI ratio than those who follow the standard American diet, according to a study published by the journal Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition. A high BMI is associated with high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes and certain cancers.
- Lower blood pressure. High blood pressure puts you at risk of a heart attack, stroke, heart failure and more. Studies show that even sedentary vegans have lower blood pressure than meat-eaters who exercise, according to the Journal of Geriatric Cardiology.
- High fiber intake. Eating more plants means more fiber, which leads to feeling fuller even after eating fewer calories. And hey, fiber’s also great for healthy number twos.
- Lower blood sugar. According to a study published by Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition, a vegan diet can help keep high blood sugar and diabetes at bay, even in those already affected by diabetes.
- Cancer risk. Vegans have a 15 percent lower risk of developing cancer, according to a study published by Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition.
- Arthritis. Vegan diets can reduce symptoms of arthritis such as pain and joint swelling, according to a study published in the journal Arthritis.
- Kidney function. Aspects of a vegan diet may help reduce the risk of poor kidney function in those who have diabetes, according to studies in the journals Diabetes Care and the Asia Pacific Journal of Clinical Nutrition.
- Energy. Animal protein takes a lot of energy to process through your body, while plant proteins are easier to digest and leave you feeling less sluggish.
- Cruelty-free. A vegan diet ensures that your food choices won’t be contributing to animal slaughter and suffering. Even eating eggs and dairy contributes to millions of animal deaths per year.
- Helping the environment. Raising animals for food uses tons of resources and generates a lot of waste. Your carbon footprint is significantly reduced with a plant-based diet.
- Sustainability.Plant foods require only a third of the land needed to support a meat-based diet. With rising food and water insecurity worldwide, a vegan diet is a great way to adopt an eco-friendly way of life that benefits the entire community.
- Community. Whether you aim to be an activist for animal rights or simply want to get together and cook with other vegans, it’s easy to find like-minded people who care about this lifestyle.
Cons of Going Vegan
As with any dramatic lifestyle change, veganism is not without its downsides. Your body will react differently to a plant-based diet and it won’t be as easy to eat out at restaurants, for instance. Do the pros outweigh the cons? Read on and decide for yourself.
- Cost. If you’re not careful with your shopping, organic and meat-alternative food items can easily raise your grocery bill. You’re better off avoiding the packaged stuff if you’re worried about your budget.
- Vegan alternatives. Speaking of alternative food items, make sure you’re reading the labels on those pre-packaged veggie burgers—they may end up having more sodium and other undesirables than the meat version.
- Vegan junk food. Vegan food, especially pre-packaged food, can easily rack up calories, carbs and sugar, which could lead to weight gain and other health issues.
- Getting your nutrients. While it’s a bit of a pain, you must be careful that you’re getting all the nutrients you need, especially vitamin B12, calcium, zinc and omega-3 fatty acids. You may have to invest in a monthly regimen of supplements to maintain sufficient nutrient levels.
- Cooking. Because most pre-packaged foods are non-vegan or not very healthy, you’ll probably have to invest some time in learning how to prepare your own meals. And it might mean you’re going to be bringing your own vegan dishes to non-vegan social gatherings.
- Meal planning. Eating vegan can be a bit difficult if you’re not used to planning your meals. Vegans need to make sure they’re getting all their nutrients, which involves being hyper-aware of what’s in your food and how much variety you need. Planning your meals in advance can be helpful.
- Digestive issues. You may feel some discomfort as your body adjusts to plant-based sources of protein, which can lead to bloating and a slightly off digestive tract, albeit temporary. You’ll need to stay hydrated to accommodate these dietary changes.
- Eating out. The days of simply picking any old restaurant for a delicious meal are over as a vegan. You’ll need to call ahead or go online to find out about vegan options. Depending on where you live, there may be tons of vegan spots or none at all.
- Evangelizing. You may find yourself preaching to friends and family about the benefits of being vegan or the horrors of the meat industry. This will likely annoy them if you are pushy about it.
- You might miss meat and other animal products. There are vegan substitutes for meat and other items. Try different ones until you find one you like.
How to Go Vegan
If it sounds a bit difficult to go vegan, don’t worry – it doesn’t have to be. You don’t have to go cold turkey on day one. Like with any major change, it’s best to take things slow and make small diet changes that you can stick to easily. For example, you could start by removing dairy or meat one day a week. Or you could try changing one meal at a time—vegan dinners during the first week and slowly adding more meals as time passes.
How to Shop
Farmer’s markets and stores like Whole Foods are vegan favorites, but they can be a bit pricey for the budget-conscious. A simple tip to save money: shop at multiple stores like Costco and Trader Joe’s. Don’t be afraid to buy in bulk if you feel like you are going to use it all. Avoid packaged processed food, since vegan packaged food tends to be more expensive than just buying vegetables, fruits, legumes and whole grain products. If you’re feeling extra adventurous, you could even try your hand at gardening to grow some of your own veggies and fruits at home.
A New Shopping List
Make sure to stock your pantry with inexpensive basics like vegan pasta, rice and potatoes. Supplement the dry stuff with fresh or frozen produce, and you’ve got yourself a simple yet nutritious meal. Next, you’ll need substitutes for milk, cheese, butter and eggs.
Vegan Staples and Replacements
There are many recipes that can be modified to become vegan by using plant-based items as substitutes. Other vegan products are used as stand-alone foods like eating a container of soy-based yogurt or having a tofu entree. Below are some vegan staples and substitutes:
- Tofu – Tofu is made out of condensed soy milk and is pressed into blocks. It is high in protein and has amino acids, fats, carbohydrates and vitamins and minerals. It is low in calories, at 70 calories for a 3.5 ounce piece. Tofu has isoflavones, natural plant compounds that mimic estrogen in the body. Tofu has a unique texture that can be solidified by pressing some of the liquid out. Since it does not have a strong taste, it can be seasoned or sauced to taste like nearly anything you want.
- Seitan – Seitan is a vegan protein made from rinsing the starch from wheat dough. Since its look and texture are similar to meat and it has a mildly savory taste, it is frequently used as a vegan meat substitute. It is primarily made from gluten, so it is not for people who are gluten-intolerant or gluten-sensitive.
- Tempeh – Like tofu, tempeh is made from soybeans but with a different process. To make tempeh, the soybeans are cooked and fermented, then pressed into a block. Sometimes other types of beans, whole grains or flavorings are added. It is high in protein and fiber as well as vitamins and minerals, and packs about twice the calories as tofu. Tempeh has a tang like sourdough and the flavor is also somewhat nutty; the texture is chewy.
If you miss the taste of meat, there are plenty of vegan meat substitutes available. They are frequently soy-based, but some veggie burgers are made from whole grains, legumes and other vegetables. You can find them in styles mimicking beef and chicken and shaped as burgers, nuggets, strips and crumbles. These ready-made products are highly processed and have varying ingredients and nutritional profiles, so it is a good idea to read the labels carefully. Here are some popular brands:
- Beyond Meat
- Impossible Burger
- Morningstar Farms
Other meat stand-ins include portobello mushrooms, jackfruit, beans and legumes.
- Earth Balance vegan butter
- Country Crock plant butter
- Miyoko’s Classic Fresh Organic vegan butter
- Applesauce as a butter substitute
- Pureed pumpkin as a butter substitute
- Vegan egg replacers – Ener-G Egg Replacer, or Follow Your Heart’s VeganEgg, Bob’s Red Mill Egg Replacer, Organ No-Egg Replacer, the Vegg, or the Neat Egg
- Flax or flax seeds soaked in water to substitute for eggs
- Mashed banana as egg substitute
- Aquafaba – The liquid from a can of chickpeas, used as an egg substitute
- Soy milk/yogurt
- Almond milk/yogurt
- Oat milk/yogurt
- Rice milk
- Coconut milk and cream
- Kite Hill cream cheese
- So Delicious dairy-free ice cream
- Vegan cheese made from nuts, seeds, soy, coconut, starchy flours
- Nutritional yeast – Used as a parmesan cheese substitute and as a flavoring
- Dates and date syrup
- Agave syrup
- Maple syrup
- Brown rice syrup
- Coconut nectar
- Monk fruit sweetener (sugar free)
- Sweet potato nectar
Preparing for the Vegan Life
Going plant-based will very likely improve your health, but there may be some mild discomfort at first. Suddenly adding a lot of plant fiber to your diet will create a new bacterial ecosystem in your gut, which may cause gassiness, discomfort and bloating. This usually gets better over a few weeks, but in the meantime you may want to drink more water, eat smaller meals and eat more slowly. Avoid too much coffee, alcohol and certain teas.
If you’re public about your newfound veganism, people will have a lot of questions and opinions about your choices. They may be concerned about your protein intake or will ask whether you miss meat. It’s annoying, but inevitable. Evaluate your reasons for going vegan, get informed and be patient with those who have questions. You’re going against the standard way of doing things, and people will naturally be curious.
- Use lots of herbs and spices – This will give some flavor to your vegan protein and will make your other dishes more interesting.
- Explore international cuisine – There are a variety of international cuisines that have vegan dishes. Some to try include Indian, Thai, Ethiopian, Mediterranean (Italian, Greek, Turkish, etc.) and Mexican.
- Plan your meals – Planning your meals in advance can make eating vegan easier. Cook larger portions and have dinner leftovers for lunch later in the week.
- Bring a dish when dining at a friend’s house – To avoid awkward situations where you go to dinner at a friend’s house and can’t eat anything, it is best to bring a vegan dish with you. This also takes some stress off your host and shows off your vegan cooking skills.
- Avoid vegan junk food – Just because a food is vegan doesn’t automatically make it healthy. Many processed vegan foods have lots of added fat, salt and sugar (French fries, we’re looking at you).
- Take it slow – It will be easier to transition to vegan eating if you do it gradually. Introduce vegan eating a couple of times a week and then increase it as you get used to it.
- Have an open mind – Some vegan foods are an acquired taste, so you may need to try something multiple times or prepared in different ways before you like it.
- Be kind when questioned – When other people hear that you are vegan, some will be supportive, others judgmental and others just curious. Try to be kind and patient when explaining what you are eating now and why.
A Day in the Life of a Vegan
Eating vegan can be way more fun than simply eating steamed veggies or endless salads. Hundreds of delicious dishes are just waiting to be discovered and shared with family and friends. While you will have to put in a little more effort than simply popping something in the microwave, the recipes below are simple enough that even a first-time vegan can whip them up.
Breakfast: Vegan breakfast sandwich
- English muffins.
- Scrambled tofu.
- Tempeh bacon.
- Leafy greens.
- Green bell pepper.
- Red onion.
- Condiments (hummus, vegan mayo, guacamole or sriracha).
- Make a batch of scrambled tofu, set aside.
- Sauté the tempeh bacon according to package instructions. Set aside.
- Spread one side of your English muffin with a condiment of your choice.
- Add tofu and tempeh bacon to the sandwich.
- Add the fresh veggies and a pinch of salt and pepper.
Lunch: Vegan tacos with mango pineapple salsa
- Black bean tofu scramble (for the taco filling):
- 1 tbsp olive oil.
- ¼ of an onion, thinly sliced.
- 2 cloves of garlic, diced.
- ½ bell pepper, thinly sliced.
- 1 package (350 g) extra firm tofu, drained and dried.
- ¼ tsp turmeric.
- ½ tsp cumin.
- ½ tsp chili powder.
- 1 cup kale leaves.
- 1 cup cooked black beans.
- Salt and pepper, to taste.
- Mango pineapple salsa:
- 1 shallot, diced.
- 1-2 tsp minced garlic.
- ⅓ cup diced tomatoes.
- ½ cup diced pineapple.
- ½ cup diced mango.
- 1 tbsp cilantro.
- Juice of ½ a lime.
- 1 jalepeno, seeded and diced (optional, but recommended).
- Salt & pepper to taste (heavy on the pepper).
- 4 small soft tortillas or two large ones.
- Extra lime and cilantro for garnish.
- Cilantro-lime avocado dressing (optional).
For the taco filling:
- In a small bowl, mix together the turmeric, cumin and chili powder along with 1-2 tbsp water and set aside.
- Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat, then sauté the onion and bell pepper for 2-3 minutes.
- Add the garlic and continue to sauté for an additional 2-3 minutes until the veggies have softened.
- While the veggies are cooking, crumble the tofu into bite-sized pieces, using a fork or your fingers.
- Add the tofu to the skillet and sauté for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.
- Pour in the spice mixture and stir in immediately until everything is evenly coated.
- Add in the black beans and kale and continue to cook until the kale has wilted and the tofu is slightly brown (about 5 minutes).
- Season with salt and pepper to taste.
- Serve immediately with salsa and avocado.
For the tacos and salsa:
- Throw all the ingredients for the salsa into a bowl and mix well. Adjust seasoning to taste.
- Cover with plastic wrap and set aside in the fridge while you prep the tofu scramble.
- When the tofu scramble is done, warm the tortillas in a skillet over medium heat for about a minute on each side.
- Transfer to a plate and top with tofu scramble, avocados, mango pineapple salsa, extra lime juice and cilantro-lime avocado dressing (if desired).
Dinner: Summer veggie rolls with spicy peanut lime sauce
For the filling:
- Spring roll wrappers (at least 8-10).
- 1 block firm or extra-firm tofu.
- 1/2 English cucumber, julienned.
- 1 red bell pepper, julienned.
- 2 medium carrots, peeled & julienned.
- 2 green onions, chopped.
- 3-4 lettuce leaves, julienned.
- 1/4 cup fresh Thai basil leaves, minced.
- 1/4 cup cilantro, thick stems removed and minced.
- 1/3 cup roasted & salted peanuts.
- Herbamare or sea salt, to season.
For the peanut lime sauce:
- 1-2 garlic cloves.
- 2 tbsp sesame oil.
- 1/4 cup natural roasted peanut butter.
- 1/2-1 tbsp peeled & roughly chopped fresh ginger.
- 3 tbsp fresh lime juice.
- 2 tbsp low sodium tamari.
- 2 tsp sugar.
- 1-3 tsp water, to thin out as needed.
- Press the tofu while you prepare the filling and sauce.
- For the filling: Julienne the vegetables. Set aside, along with peanuts.
- For the sauce: In a mini processor, process the sauce ingredients until smooth. Adjust to taste. You may prefer more sweetener, tamari, oil or lime juice. Or mince everything by hand and whisk.
- Slice pressed tofu into long thin strips. You likely won’t need the entire block.
- Set up a roll-making station and gather all of your ingredients in one area. Place a tea towel on the counter and fill a very large bowl with hot water. Dip one rice paper wrapper into the water and carefully submerge it once it gets soft. Hold it underwater for about 10 seconds, or until soft, and remove from water carefully. Place it onto the tea towel and unfold any corners that may have rolled up.
- Add the filling ingredients in the center of the wrapper. Be careful not to overfill or the wrappers will tear. Sprinkle with peanuts and a sprinkle of salt.
- Roll the two sides of the rice wrapper inward and then flip the bottom over top the filling and roll forward. Place roll on a plate and cover with damp paper towels. Repeat for the rest.
- Serve the rolls with the peanut dipping sauce. If you have any leftover vegetables enjoy them dipped in the sauce on the side. The sauce should keep for at least a week in a sealed container in the fridge. Rolls will keep for 1-2 days in the fridge.
Oreos! Just kidding, there are way better options than that. Try some hummus with pita chips, dried fruit or honey almond popcorn (recipe below).
Honey almond popcorn
- 1/4 cup coconut oil or walnut oil.
- 2 tablespoons honey.
- 2 tablespoons of organic cane sugar.
- 1/2 cup popcorn.
- 1 cup roasted almonds.
- 1/2 teaspoon sea salt.
- Heat oil over medium-low heat with 3-4 kernels. When the oil and kernels begin to sizzle, add the remaining kernels and toss to coat. Once coated, sprinkle the honey and sugar on top and cover with a lid.
- Every few seconds shake the pot back and forth so that no kernels burn. Continue to do this through the popping. About halfway through popping, carefully crack the lid and add in the almonds.
- Once the popping has slowed (hardly any sound), remove from heat, sprinkle with sea salt and serve.
Beverage suggestions: Soymilk, tea, coffee (with a vegan sweetener), kombucha.
Finding Delicious Vegan Recipes and Restaurants
As more people become vegan, the resources for vegan cooks have expanded. There are tons of websites where you can find vegan recipes. Here is a couple:
- World of Vegan – https://www.worldofvegan.com/recipes/
- Forks Over Knives – https://www.forksoverknives.com/recipes/vegan-menus-collections/27-healthy-vegan-recipes/
- Feasting at Home – https://www.feastingathome.com/vegan-dinner-recipes/
You can also find plenty of vegan cookbooks at your local bookstore or e-commerce store.
To find vegan restaurants, just do an Internet search or use one of these sites:
- Happy Cow – https://www.happycow.net/
Vegan.com – https://vegan.com/food/restaurants/