Going vegan – a beginners guide
A vegan diet is becoming increasingly popular, particularly due to environmental concerns. It has even been called “the future of food”. A vegan diet can offer benefits to our health as well as for the environment. But not all vegans eat animal products for ethical reasons – many people become vegan because they want to improve their health by giving up dairy, meat and eggs.
What is a vegan diet and why should you consider it?
A vegan diet is one that consists of only plant-based foods. That means no meat, dairy or eggs. People who follow this type of diet may replace meat with plant-based alternatives with plenty of vegetables, fruits, nuts and grains.
A vegan diet can be higher in certain nutrients and has been said to lower risk of heart disease and potentially some cancers. However, like all diets, this will rely a lot on your choices. A healthy vegan diet will include plenty of whole foods, not highly processed meat alternatives.
True vegans do not use any animal products so you won’t find them wearing leather shoes or using cosmetics that have been tested on animals. If you’re not quite ready for a full lifestyle change you can add a few meat-free or vegan days into your week to reduce your carbon footprint.
What you can eat as a vegan?
As a vegan, you won’t eat any meat or dairy. This means no eggs, milk, cheese, yoghurt or ice cream. Some vegans may also avoid honey because beekeepers have been known to use inhumane methods when producing it. You can still eat all the vegetables and fruits you want and there are countless recipes online to find tasty recipes.
Vegan foods include beans, lentils, whole grains, potatoes, rice, pasta and fruit. Vegans can still enjoy delicious foods without meat or dairy, sometimes including special substitutes made with soy or wheat protein. These substitutes are designed to have the same flavours as meat or dairy products so you won’t feel like you’re missing out.
What to buy at the grocery store
When you start a vegan diet, there are certain staples that would be good to add to your groceries shop.
- Soy products like tofu and soy milk make great substitutes for meat and dairy.
- Dark green vegetables and colourful fruits and vegetables will give you lots of vitamin A and C.
- Whole grains and beans are also great sources of protein.
- Milk alternatives can be used for hot drinks and cooking, such as oat milk, nut milk, soya milk. Many brands offer barista options to ensure you get a good froth on your coffee.
Two steps to get started
If you’d like to try the odd vegan meal, a day a week, or even go fully vegan, here are some ways you can get started.
Step 1: Replacing dairy
If you’re interested in being a vegan, you could start by giving up dairy. Dairy products are not necessary for your health and some say can be harmful to it. Try replacing animal milk with one of the many alternatives such as oat, almond, coconut or soy milk – all have great nutritional value.
Another way to make the transition easier is by gradually decreasing how much dairy you eat every day until you reach zero. You might find that once you stop eating cheese, yogurt and ice cream regularly, they don’t taste as good anymore anyway!
You might think giving up dairy and eggs would restrict your options for cooking but there are many alternatives if you look around for recipes.
- Chocolate mousse made with avocado for the creaminess.
- Banana ice cream with an oat cream alternative.
- Macaroni cheese made with milk alternatives and nutritional yeast for a cheesy taste.
It might surprise you how easy it is to find vegan recipes online. – we’ve included some of our favourite recipe destinations further down this article.
Step 2: Reducing meat and fish
The next step could be simply reducing meat and fish consumption. Many people who give up all forms of meat say that lessening their intake makes them feel better in general. Although lean meats can be a good source of protein, many processed meats contain nitrates which are known carcinogens (cancer-causing agents) so these would be the ones to give up first when you start.
If you’re not ready to give up meat completely, try having a few vegetarian meals per week and increase the number as time goes on.
No meat, dairy or eggs…but what about B12?
You may hear a lot of people talking about a vitamin called B12 when it comes to vegan diets. This vitamin isn’t naturally found in plant-based products so vegans have to make sure they either take a supplement or eat fortified foods such as cereal to ensure that they are getting their daily intake.
The Vegan Society recommends:
- Eat fortified foods two or three times a day to get at least three micrograms (mcg or µg) of B12 a day.
- OR Take one B12 supplement daily providing at least 10 micrograms.
- OR Take a weekly B12 supplement providing at least 2000 micrograms.
Many restaurants are now offering meat-free, dairy-free options on their menus so eating out doesn’t have to be difficult. You can order anything from pizza without cheese or pasta without cream sauce.
If you are due to eat out, be sure to check out menus online before you visit to see what options are available – you might be surprised at the variety available now.
Where to find good Vegan recipes online
Vegan food doesn’t have to be boring, the key to keeping your diet interesting is planning in advance and finding tasty recipes with easy to find ingredients. Try Pinterest, online food blogs or chef websites for inspiration.
Going vegan is a great way to reduce your carbon footprint, save money (depending on how you eat!) and support animal welfare.
Remember that you don’t have to go vegan overnight – easing into it is one of the best ways to transition into this diet. Good luck!