I am SO happy you are here and ready to take the next step in going vegan or becoming a plant-based eater. Not only is this lifestyle good for YOU, but it’s also good for the animals and the planet!
Eating this way doesn’t have to be complicated or isolating or expensive. You don’t need to buy special cookbooks or weird ingredients (most can be found at your local supermarket). Being vegan can be EASY!
I hope you find this guide encouraging and motivating on your journey. I truly believe that the more people WE can inspire to eat this way, the happier and healthier this planet will be.
“The most ethical diet just so happens to be the most environmentally sound diet and just so happens to be the healthiest.” — Dr. Michael Greger, M.D.
KNOW YOUR WHY
Understanding all the reasons why you want to be vegan is really important. Remembering your “why” is what will keep you eating this way!
And there are a lot of reasons people go vegan, but the three main reasons are for ethical reasons, health reasons, and concern about the environmental impact of animal products.
Do you love animals and have decided you don’t want to eat animal products anymore? Maybe you want to be a voice for animals because you find it upsetting that 10 billion animals are slaughtered for food each year (in the US alone!).
You might even wonder why dogs and cats are treated differently than cows, pigs, lambs, and chickens. Through a vegan diet, you can make a HUGE difference in the lives of animals!
Plant-based vegans for health
Are you choosing to eat vegan for your health? Eating plant-based can prevent AND reverse many lifestyle diseases – including heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, and some types of cancer.
You will likely lose weight, and lower your blood pressure and cholesterol by eating this way! People might also tell you “your skin is glowing!” or think you discovered the fountain of youth.
You love our planet and have learned that one of the best ways to reduce the impact of climate change, save water, and help fight pollution is through a vegan diet.
And you probably know that raising animals for food contributes to more greenhouse gas emissions than all of our forms of transportation – cars, trucks, planes – combined!!
Maybe you want to go vegan for ALL the reasons (like me!)? Understanding all the reasons why you want to be vegan is really important.
Read books and magazines DAILY that remind you of your “why”. Join a community that supports your “why”. Make vegan friends – in person or virtual! Always thinking about your “why” is what will keep you eating this way!
This may surprise you, because it surprised me when I found out, but the single biggest thing an individual can do to combat climate change is to stop eating animals. – James Cameron
SO WHAT TO EAT?
Pretty much anything non-vegan food can be made vegan – or vegan-ized! Vegan foods have come a long way in just a few short years, as this lifestyle has grown exponentially!!
GREENS – Lettuces from Romaine to Boston to Red Leaf but especially leafy greens, such as kale, collards, and Swiss chard (these are the most nutrient-dense). Eat them in a salad, or add to soups, stews, or even marinara sauce to serve over pasta!
VEGETABLES – the sky is the limit!….carrots, broccoli, cauliflower, eggplant, cabbage, sweet potatoes, peas, asparagus, onion, tomato, cucumber, bell peppers…..eat all the veggies you enjoy!
FRUIT – the sky is the limit here as well! Berries, cherries, citrus fruit, pomegranates, bananas, pineapple – you name it! Just try to avoid fruit JUICE; although it is high in vitamins and antioxidants it is also high in sugar and low in fiber.
BEANS AND LENTILS – You can use them in soups, stews, burritos, or salads….or enjoy them as a side dish! Hummus (made with garbanzo beans/chickpeas) is delicious on a sandwich or as a dip for vegetables or crackers.
WHOLE GRAINS – Make sure that the word WHOLE is in front of wheat or rye in the ingredient list. If not then it is just white flour with all its nutrition removed. Ezekiel makes sprouted grain products (sprouted grain can be easier to digest) and is available in the frozen food section of most grocery stores. Dave’s Killer Bread brand is also delicious! Use white whole wheat flour, whole wheat pastry flour, or barley flour in baking instead of white flour. When choosing tortillas, look for whole-grain tortillas or corn tortillas (just check for added oil and fats!)
OATS – choose Steel-cut or Old Fashioned rolled oats over sugary packaged oatmeal. Oats help lower cholesterol and blood sugar and reduce artery inflammation.
HEALTHY FATS – Unlike the fat found in animal products, plant-based fats are healthy for your body and brain! Nuts (including almonds, walnuts, peanuts, cashews, etc), seeds (chia, flax, hemp, sunflower, sesame, etc), and avocados (yum!!) are packed with protein, omega 3s, vitamins, and minerals!!
Plus healthy fats are satiating….so you stay full longer. (If you are trying to lose weight, watch your portion size – although healthy, nuts and seeds and avocado are high in fat and calories!)
MEAT SUBSTITUTES – there is a huge variety of meat substitutes to be enjoyed. Here are a few to start with…
- Tofu – Please don’t be afraid of tofu!. It comes in a variety of textures, and despite its myth that it’s bland and tasteless, tofu absorbs the flavor of whatever it’s cooked in, or how it is seasoned – so its deliciousness is entirely up to the cook! Firm and extra-firm tofu can be baked, grilled, sautéed, and used in salads, on sandwiches, or as the main course. Soft or silken tofu can be used in salad dressings, sauces, or smoothies. Tofu – which is usually made of soybeans – is also good for you! (To learn more about soy and why it’s healthy, check out this post!)
- Tempeh is also made from soybeans and can be used as a “ground beef” replacement when crumbled into tomato sauce, or it can be mixed with different seasonings and spices and used as a taco filling or in sloppy Joe’s. Tempeh can also be used as a bacon substitute with the proper marinade!
- Seitan – also known as “wheat meat” or Mock Duck (in Asian restaurants) is the most “meat-like” of the vegan meat substitutes – and can be used to replace beef, chicken, or pork in most recipes. It’s easy and inexpensive to make at home but its main ingredient is gluten – so if you have celiac OR any sensitivity to wheat, you do NOT want to eat seitan.
- Jackfruit – Jackfruit is a tropical fruit from trees grown in Asia, Africa, and South America. It has become very popular as it has a stringy texture that makes it a good vegan substitute for pulled pork or chicken, You can find jackfruit in the can to use in recipes at home, or already seasoned, prepackaged, and ready to heat and eat!
- Grocery store meat substitutes – there are also AMAZING brand name grocery store and restaurant vegan meats, such as the Beyond Burger, Impossible Burger….and too many more to mention them all!! (The traditional veggie burger has come a long way!). Gardein is another popular brand! Gardein is found in the freezer section of most U.S. grocery stores and offers such items as vegan chicken filets, vegan meatballs, vegan fish fillets, and vegan burgers.
VEGAN DAIRY SUBSTITUTES – as with meat substitutes, there is a huge variety of vegan dairy substitutes to be discovered!
- Plant-based milk – these have all but taken over the dairy milk aisle. Almond, oat, and rice milks are the mildest in flavor (so they are great for new vegans just starting out), while soy and coconut-based milks tend to have a little more noticeable flavor but tend to be a little creamier. Most of these milks also come as sweetened or unsweetened _ and some are flavored (such as “vanilla soy milk”), so make sure you choose the right milk for how you plan to use it. And if you enjoy creamer in your coffee, you’ll find a vegan cream substitute you are sure to enjoy.
- Vegan cheeses – vegan cheese has really come a LONG way in just a few short years! Brands such as Follow Your Heart, Violife, and Daiya brands (and many more!!) offer a large variety of vegan cheeses to pick from. Whether you are looking for mozzarella, cheddar, parmesan, cream cheese – you name it, there is probably a perfect vegan cheese for you.
- Vegan butter – there is also a wide variety of vegan butters to be found! Miyoko’s is one really popular brand, and grocery stores – such as Target, Whole Foods, and Trader Joe’s – even have other very own brands of plant-based, vegan butters.
- Vegan ice cream – you won’t be missing out on delicious and creamy ice cream when you go vegan. Vegan ice cream comes in an assortment of varieties and flavors. You won’t ever have to miss out on Ben & Jerry’s!
- Vegan eggs – there are lots of vegan egg substitutes for baking, easily found with a Google search! But if you looking for a more traditional breakfast egg, there are quite a few to be found!! My favorite vegan eggs are made by JUST Eggs. JUST has come out with some pretty amazing vegan egg substitutes – including vegan scrambled egg liquid (so you can make omelets, etc), and a frozen folded egg – that could convert any egg lover over!!
“People eat meat and think they will become as strong as an ox, forgetting that the ox eats grass.” – Pino Caruso
Eating out can be easy as a vegan….and gets easier the longer you’ve been vegan! I love eating out and always find SOMETHING I can eat! Here are some tips to enjoying ANY restaurant!
1) If you get to pick out the restaurant, google “vegan restaurants” in your city, or check out vegan restaurant websites such as happycow.net or www.vrg.org which include lists of vegan (or vegetarian) restaurants, as well as vegan-friendly restaurants by city.
2) Often the easiest restaurants to eat at for vegans are ethnic restaurants, including Chinese, Indian, Italian, Mexican, Middle Eastern, and Thai. Some restaurants mark their vegan dishes on the menu, while many have vegan or vegetarian sections in their menus, and some even have separate vegan or vegetarian menus!
3) Never assume a restaurant server knows what “vegan” means (many people don’t – I can’t tell you how many times people have confused being vegan with not being able to eat gluten!). It’s sometimes best to say, “I do not eat meat, dairy, or eggs, will you please recommend something?”
4) If someone else is choosing the restaurant, plan ahead by checking out the menu online. It’s often easy to “veganize” menu items – for instance, you could order the “BBQ Chicken chopped salad with NO chicken and NO cheese, but extra tomatoes and black beans”. Or order a few different side dishes – beans, rice, salad – and create your own meal.
5) If you know there will be few choices for you at a restaurant, have a small meal in advance and then you won’t be hungry or feel deprived. A small salad or a baked potato will satisfy you and allow you to enjoy time with your family and friends! OR ask if the chef can make something special for you….oftentimes they will!
It’s pretty amazing to wake up every morning, knowing that every decision I make is to cause as little harm as possible. It’s a pretty fantastic way to live.” – Colleen Patrick-Goudreau
TIPS FOR NEW VEGANS
Friends and family: Consider your approach when discussing your new lifestyle with friends and family. You can explain to them that you’ve decided that you love and care for animals too much to eat them anymore, and this might open up the conversation to let them learn more about your concern for the treatment of animals. Or you might say you are trying to eat a more whole foods diet for your health (most people will not challenge this). Or, if you’re not ready to discuss your “why”, you can simply say you’ve “decided to try out a new healthier way of eating you’ve learned about”. Communicate your decision in the way that feels most comfortable to YOU!
Try to make healthier choices most of the time: To feel your best (and to help make this lifestyle sustainable!) be careful not to rely only on processed vegan food. Ethical vegans can sometimes rely too much on vegan “junk food”. Yes, Oreos and french fries ARE vegan, but that does not mean you should eat them every day. Try to focus on whole foods – such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, and lentils, and minimally processed proteins like tofu, tempeh, and seitan.
Un-Vegan Ingredients: Learn to read food labels. There are often hidden animal-sourced ingredients in packaged foods. These include Whey, Castoreum, Carmine, Lanolin, Rennet, Gelatin, Casein, and Isinglass.
Whole food, plant-based vegans: Eating plant-based is a FAST growing trend. There are numerous esteemed physicians supporting this lifestyle, including Doctors T Colin Campbell, Caldwell Esselstyn, Michael Greger, Joel Fuhrman, and Neal Barnard – to name a few! On occasion, they might slightly have slightly differing opinions on some foods, for instance, some might encourage you to eat nuts or use olive oil, for example, other plant-based doctors might say any fat – even from avocados or nuts – is unhealthy. Read all the research for yourself and choose the plant-based plan YOU are most likely to stick to. See how your body responds after a few weeks and adjust your eating plan from there.
Plant-based doctors: Try to find a plant-based physician….they are out there! Unfortunately, physicians learn very little about nutrition in medical school – they are trained to TREAT not PREVENT illness, so there is not a lot of emphases given to nutrition. You must be your own advocate when it comes to nutrition….so learn as much as you can and try to find a doctor or nurse that supports you. (A good resource to search for a plant-based doctor near you is plantbaseddocs.com.)
Some people think the “plant-based whole foods diet” is extreme. Half a million people a year will have their chests opened up and a vein taken from their leg and sewn on their coronary artery. Some would call that extreme.” – Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn
“People may hate you for being different and not living by society’s standards but deep down, they wish they had the courage to do the same.” -Anonymous
FAQs AND COMMON CONCERNS
1) Where will I get my protein?
This is probably the number 1 most asked question. Have you heard of Kwashiorkor? That is the medical term for protein deficiency, and it is extremely rare in the United States. Yes, we DO need protein, but you will get more than enough if you eat a healthy plant-based vegan diet. So where do vegans get their protein? The same place the largest and strongest animals on the planet (elephants, giraffes, rhinos, gorillas…) do…PLANTS! (Think about it….a cow doesn’t eat a chicken breast for protein?….it eats PLANTS for protein!) The plant foods highest in protein are beans, lentils, peas, peanuts, and soy (such as edamame or tofu)….but protein is found in most vegetables. and fruits!
2) Will I be able to get enough calcium if I don’t drink milk every day?
Did you know that vegans and vegetarians tend to have stronger bones than meat-eaters and milk drinkers? This is because diets high in animal protein actually cause calcium to be leeched from bones and lost through the urine. This is not the case with plant proteins. And a whole foods plant-based diet along with a regular exercise program (particularly weight-bearing workouts) strengthens your bones and helps protect them.
3) Isn’t being vegan expensive?
Being vegan is no more expensive than eating animal products. Just as meat and cheese can be expensive, so can vegan meat and vegan cheese. However, if you stick to a more whole foods plant-based diet – with a focus on whole grains, vegetables, beans, and fruits – a vegan diet can be very inexpensive!
FINALLY…KEEP IT SIMPLE
If you live alone OR if your entire household is going vegan, remove all animal products from your home – give to non-vegan friends, family, or neighbors, or donate unopened packages to a food shelf.
Learn how to “veganize” your favorite recipes – by simply swapping any animal products for their vegan substitute! If you love Spaghetti Bolognese, try making it with beef-less crumbles from the grocery store instead of ground beef. If you love Chicken Parmesan, learn how to make your favorite recipe vegan, by using vegan chicken cutlets and vegan cheeses!
Don’t feel the need to buy a bunch of vegan cookbooks. Yes, there are fun and amazing vegan cookbooks to explore, but a lot of non-vegan cookbooks have “accidentally vegan” recipes as well! And there are SO many vegan recipes online for your to discover!! Start a Pinterest board of those you’d like to try!
Don’t think of going vegan as giving up foods – think of it as opening up your tastebuds to a vast assortment of NEW foods and flavors you might never have tried!
Veganism is not a “sacrifice.” It is a joy. –