Vegans take things one step further than vegetarians, removing not just meat, but animal products like eggs and milk, out of their diets. Initially, making the move into veganism may feel more like losing a religion than gaining a lifestyle—after all, what about the charcuterie? But you may have also heard of the touted benefits. People cite different reasons for going vegan and as it turns out, there’s research to back it up. Adopting a vegan diet has been associated with a lowered risk for developing certain cancers, heart disease, and diabetes, while also reducing your environmental impact.
Making the transition from barbecue to baba ghanoush can feel hard at first—you’d be surprised by the near bottomless list of foods that contain animal products in our modern food chain—but after you pass the initial learning curve, you may actually find the lifestyle to be simpler. This is your practical roadmap to taking the plunge into becoming entirely plant-based, from the nutrients you’ll need to focus on to the staples to stock in your pantry.
Know Your Macros
“But where do you get your protein?” may be the most common question you’ll be asked, but it’s not the only one you’ll want to answer. The food we eat is made from one or more of the three macronutrients—carbohydrates, proteins, and fats—and balancing them is essential to our health. Although satisfying your macronutrient needs on a vegan diet is doable, it’s helpful to know which foods are the best sources of each one and learn how much of each your body needs. Individual guidelines are based on factors like sex, age, activity level, and weight, so visit a trusted site like ChooseMyPlate to calculate your macronutrient ratios or consult a licensed professional.
Know Your Micros
Micronutrients are the vitamins and minerals in our diets and although you’ll rarely hear someone ask you, “But where do you get your B12?”, it’s important to get enough of them. In particular, vegan diets are prone to missing vitamin D, zinc, iron, vitamin B12, iodine, and omega-3 fatty acids. Taking a vegan supplement is a good way to address this gap, but it’s best to also eat whole foods that naturally contain these nutrients. Take for example, this fragrant cinnamon and date chia seed pudding, which serves up omega-3’s aplenty. Or, you can enjoy a forkful of a raw vegan kale and orange salad to ensure your iron levels stay strong. The vegan diet is chock-full of micronutrients.
Focus on Whole Foods
Whole foods are those that have been minimally processed, containing only one or a few ingredients. As a result, they usually outscore processed foods on both nutritional content and budget friendliness. But what takes this solution from a double to a triple win? Cooking with whole ingredients means you can mix and match recipes and substitute flavors and textures. To kick things off, buy a few varieties from each of the whole food categories: grains and legumes, nuts and seeds, and fruits and vegetables. Eating vegan naturally means letting go of the bacon n’ eggs brekkie, so ensure you put something just as tasty in its place, like an easy tofu scramble or chocolate peanut butter quinoa breakfast cookies.
Get Creative With Substitutes
No one will blame you for missing the creaminess of Brie in your pommes tarte or the savory chew of carne in your taco, but if you don’t make use of vegan substitutes, you can only blame yourself. It’s surprisingly easy to enjoy vegan versions of your favorite non-vegan foods; all it takes is an open mind and a little kitchen savviness. Some of the most versatile foods are soy and seitan products, nuts, seeds, coconuts, and various starches and gums. To forget about your Brie nostalgia, ladle this vegan cashew cream in your harvest bowl and curb your inner carnivore with seitan tacos.
Use the Right Tools
We’re big believers that a good chef needs little more than a sharp pair of knives and a stove, but being vegan is made loads easier with the right toolkit. A good blender can whirl up a bevy of vegan sauces, dressings, spreads, and soups, while a proper food processor will make your Asian slaw a lunch break classic. Other tools we’d suggest? A spiralizer, sous vide machine, and a few quality pans. Of course, you can feel free to pick and choose what’s right for you, but if you start to have dreams of zucchini noodles, well then, maybe that’s a sign.
Try a Vegan Meal Kit
Of course, you can easily make bowls of hummus, but that doesn’t take care of breakfast, lunch, and dinner, seven days a week. If you feel a little lost on how to meal plan with your new dietary needs, consider a vegan meal delivery service. There are many to choose from so whether you’re short on time, inspiration, or simply motivated to lessen your environmental impact, you can find one that fits your needs and give going vegan a try.
Le LT, Sabaté J. Beyond meatless, the health effects of vegan diets: findings from the Adventist cohorts. Nutrients. 2014;6(6):2131-47. doi:10.3390/nu6062131
Rogerson D. Vegan diets: practical advice for athletes and exercisers. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2017;14:36. doi:10.1186/s12970-017-0192-9