Tips and Recipe Videos for Transitioning to a Vegan Diet (June 2020)
Veggiecurean Newsletter — Vol. 9 — June 2020
Vegetarians and vegan lifestyles started to become popular during the 1960s counterculture movement when hippies were fighting animal cruelty. Now both are completely mainstream and endorsed by celebrities and other high-profile individuals. Food products made from chickpeas and cauliflower are extremely popular, and some of the best restaurants in the world are featuring more and more vegetable-forward menus. People have several reasons for going vegetarian or vegan – environmental effects, animal welfare, health, etc. – and the trend has brought on a flurry of vegan cookbooks, YouTube tutorials, festivals, documentaries, and even business startups, all vying for the attention of this fast-growing demographic.
No matter what your reason is for going vegetarian or vegan, transitioning may seem difficult, especially if you’ve grown up eating a dairy- and meat-heavy diet. As you slowly progress into the new diet, though, you’ll start to become accustomed and won’t even miss eating animal products. Here is a helpful beginner’s guide to help you structure your diet plan and transition to veganism!
WHAT IS A VEGAN?
First, let’s familiarize ourselves with the definition of veganism. Unlike vegetarians, who eat dairy and eggs, a vegan diet excludes all animal products with the objective of reducing harm to animal lives. Animal products include meat, seafood, dairy, eggs, and honey. Many vegans also don’t eat foods that could potentially be cross-contaminated with and/or processed with animal byproducts, which includes wine, refined white sugar (it’s processed with bone char), marshmallows, jello, candy that contains gelatin, products enhanced with vitamin D (sourced from sheep’s wool), chips that contain BBQ flavor, and many other items.
For many, being vegan encompasses an entire lifestyle in which they eliminate all forms of animal exploitation in the making of clothing, cosmetics, cleaning supplies, entertainment such as the circus and zoo, and products tested on animals.
WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN VEGAN AND PLANT-BASED DIETS?
We’ve all heard of “plant-based” and “whole-food” diets; both have become almost synonymous with veganism. Plant-based diets have become popular partly due to food manufacturers and restaurants adopting the term to evoke the ethical considerations the term “vegan” tends to bring about. Plant-based usually refers to a product or diet that has a foundation derived from plants but may allow for the inclusion of cheese or fish. But something can be plant-based and not vegan, and vice versa — there are highly processed vegan foods that contain very few, if any, plants!
WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS OF GOING ON A VEGAN DIET?
As it relates to personal health reasons, a whole-food vegan diet has garnered respect for its ability to improve cardiovascular health, fight cancer and disease, and lower cholesterol levels and the risk of diabetes. In addition to these significant health benefits, a vegan diet tends to be high in antioxidants and fiber and low in trans and saturated fats, according to vegansociety. On the other hand, many people are drawn to a vegan diet because of the effect it has on the environment and animal welfare. Reducing your ecological footprint means refusing to support mass factory farming — where animals are kept in abusive conditions — and demanding change for the degradation of natural resources and pollution of the air and water. So, let’s explore how we can start to make the transition to a vegan diet/lifestyle!
HOW TO BECOME VEGAN
Whether you’ve had a health scare or are worried about global warming and animal cruelty, there are many good reasons to begin a vegan diet. Some people struggle to fully commit to this new diet, but being vegan does not mean sacrificing delicious foods that you’ve spent your entire life enjoying. Once you fill your plate with balanced, plant-based foods such as veggies, fruits, nuts, beans, and grains, your consumption of non-vegan items such as dairy and meat will quickly become a thing of the past, and you may not even miss it!
Start by educating yourself on plant-based alternatives by using this beginner’s guide.
Find vegan food bloggers, cookbooks, and other informative literature that aligns with your taste preferences.
Slowly start omitting certain animal products from your diet. This can be done by easing into a pescatarian diet, where you remove meat but still eat fish. You can also start with a vegetarian diet and then over time start to remove eggs and dairy.
Be open to trying new whole foods — pick up that random vegetable that you’ve never heard of and try to incorporate it into your meals at home!
Experiment with spices to add flavor to your new vegan meals. You can use my Beginner’s Guide to Spices to familiarize yourself with different kinds of spices and how to use them.
Make it enjoyable — try vegan versions of your favorite dishes such as mac and cheese, shiitake bacon, coconut ice cream, cookies, veggie burgers with vegan cheese and more. The options are endless!
Stock your pantry and refrigerator with vegan items so that you have them on hand when experimenting with new recipes.
HOW LONG DOES IT TAKE TO ADJUST?
During the first few weeks when you start to experiment with new foods, you may feel cranky and irritated while your body and mind fight off withdrawal symptoms. Once you remove excess salt and sugar, processed and fried foods, refined oils, and heavy amounts of animal protein, and replace them with fruits, vegetables, and plant-based protein, you’ll start to feel the difference in your overall well-being. Try cutting out certain ingredients for 3-4 weeks at a time and assess how you feel as you go. You may find yourself craving animal ingredients from time to time, which is completely normal; as you start to eat more consciously, it will become easier to fully commit to a vegan diet.
WHAT CAN YOU EAT ON A VEGAN DIET?
“Where do you get your protein from?” “How do you live without cheese?” My non-vegan friends good-naturedly ask me these types of questions all the time. There’s definitely a misconception that vegans are not able to fill their nutritional needs by eating a plant-based diet. While it’s true that on average vegan diets tend to be deficient in three nutrients, omnivore diets tend to be deficient in seven nutrients, according to nutritionfacts.org. For those who only eat plant-based foods, it’s important to pay attention to a few nutrients that are difficult to obtain on a vegan diet: iron, B12, omega-3 fatty acids, iodine, calcium, and vitamin D.
With careful planning, eating a well-rounded vegan diet is easy! Foods such as soy milk, tofu, tempeh, seitan (wheat protein), seeds (chia, flax, pumpkin, sunflower), and nuts (cashews, walnuts, pecans, almonds) have high amounts of protein. Plus, virtually all grains (quinoa, rice, millet, etc.) and legumes (beans and lentils), when properly combined, provide a complete amino acid profile to fill your daily protein needs.
Other minimally processed and healthy vegan foods to include are:
Fresh fruits and vegetables: The produce aisle is never going out of style! Stock up on leafy greens like spinach, kale, bok choy, and collard greens to increase your iron and mineral intake. Choose fruits low in sugar like blueberries, green apples, kiwi, avocado, and cranberries.
Sea vegetables: You may have heard of nori since it’s the most common ingredient used in sushi, but other sea vegetables include wakame, kombu, kelp, spirulina, and chlorella. Eat these to boost your iodine levels.
Fermented foods: Sauerkraut, tempeh, miso, kimchi, kombucha, and some vegan yogurts are chock full of probiotics, which aid in digestion and restore healthy gut bacteria.
Vegan yogurt: Various brands are often fortified with vitamin D and calcium to help achieve your daily recommended value.
Nutritional yeast: A small serving of this deactivated yeast helps to boost your B12 intake, which is a necessary vitamin for proper neurological function. If you need/want an additional daily supplement, I highly recommend Garden of Life B12 spray.
(For a comprehensive list of vegan pantry staples, check out my recent blog post on the topic!)
WHAT’S THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN A STANDARD VEGAN DIET VERSUS A WHOLE-FOODS VEGAN DIET?
As previously mentioned, we know that you can be vegan while still eating a diet of beer and French fries. Relying on ultra-processed foods, desserts, and mock meats and cheeses, among many others, is a sure-fire way to throw your health off track, even if you’re technically following a vegan diet. Instead, try focusing on eating whole grains such as quinoa, millet, and sorghum. Go for the brown version of basmati rice – a fluffy, fiber-filled counterpart to white rice, packed with B vitamins and the minerals magnesium and manganese. Brown basmati also contains the grain’s nutrient-rich bran and germ, which are removed from white rice.
Try to incorporate 6-13 servings of fruits and vegetables into your meals per day. This may seem like a lot, but each serving usually adds up to half a cup of cooked veggies, or one piece of fruit, or one cup of salad greens. When baking, leave all-purpose flour in the dust and experiment with healthy, unrefined alternative flours such as garbanzo bean flour, brown rice flour, almond flour, whole wheat flour, and more.
Lastly, minimize consumption of processed food products and aim to cook more of your meals at home so that you don’t cave and get last-minute takeout. A simple whole-foods meal can be as simple as a salad with lots of greens, raw veggies such as cucumbers, carrots, and cucumbers, beans, and a handful of nuts and seeds.
Click below for helpful how-to videos on a couple of my fun vegan recipes. Wishing the entire Veggiecurean community a safe and fun — and maybe even vegan — summer!
These homemade jam-filled vegan cookies are comforting delights that come in the perfect size: bite-size! They are great for an afternoon snack with tea or a light dessert.
This soup is the perfect meal for any season. It has it all – carbs, fat, protein, AND it’s loaded with vegetables, but shhh…Don’t tell the kids!