Tips to Transitioning to a Healthy Vegan Lifestyle

Congratulations! You are now a vegan! Now what? You, like millions of others, have taken a huge step in an effort to improve your health, minimize animal cruelty, and maybe become closer to religious beliefs and ideologies, or possibly all of the above. Making the decision to become vegan isn’t the challenging part for the majority.

It’s maintaining a vegan diet, especially a healthy vegan diet that can prove the most demanding for many. But if you’re thinking that it’s impossible to live without animal products, think again. All it takes is a little forethought. In order to make a lifelong switch to a healthy vegan lifestyle, several items need to be considered.

Eat a Healthy Vegan Diet

A vegan diet is free from any and ALL animal products including meat, milk, eggs, yogurt, cheese, even foods processed with animal products such as gelatin. What remains in the typical vegan diet and forms the basis for most vegan meals are whole grains, beans, legumes, vegetables, fruit and nuts. What a delicious and healthful existence this is! Just because your new vegan diet is void of animal products doesn’t mean that it may not be littered with poor food choices, void of all natural vitamins, that can prove even more harmful to your health, such as sugar, artificial sweeteners, white flour and processed food items. There is a high risk of a vegan diet going awry and morphing into an unhealthy hodgepodge. Some may justify, “Okay, no more steak” “But am I going to eat that box of cookies!” In fact, a vegan diet can be downright unhealthy if your diet consists of doughnuts and coffee for breakfast, a diet soda and French fries for lunch, and a frozen veggie burger with huge bag of chips for dinner. Diets like this can lead to obesity, diabetes, heart disease and strokes, to name a few. Not much different than our animal product eating counterparts. Diets such as this also undermine the true intent and lifestyle of the vegan diet. In order to reap the health benefits of a vegan diet sugar, sweeteners, bad fats and the like need to be kept to a minimum, and ideally, omitted. Otherwise, the substitution of animal products for more sugar and more processed foods will likely have little positive impact on your health.

Consuming Enough Protein

Perhaps one of the greatest issues facing new vegans is the concern that they will have enough protein in their diet. While animal products are the common sources of protein in the typical western diet, we really do not need burgers or steaks to experience a healthy and nutritive vegan protein diet. When animal products are removed from the diet, creativity with regards to food selection is necessary in order to consume healthy levels of protein. When protein intake is inadequate, the body will burn muscle for fuel. This leads to a slower metabolism and a slow increase in body fat, definitely not what we are after.

A common misconception about vegan diets is that it is impossible to consume healthful levels of protein. Although animal products are considered sources of complete protein, one can easily derive more than enough protein from a vegan diet. Lucky for us, we really don’t need that much protein to begin with. The Reference Daily Intake for protein is about 36 grams for every 100 pounds of body weight. For example, a 150-pound woman only needs to consume about 54 grams of protein per day. This can easily be accomplished over and again on a vegan diet. With this in mind, it certainly does lend credence to the fact that the human body indeed does thrive wholly on plant based vitamins and minerals.

Perhaps a somewhat minor obstacle to obtaining adequate protein in a vegan diet is the lack of complete protein food sources in a vegan diet. Complete proteins are found primarily in animal products and contain all of the 20 amino acids needed by the body. Incomplete proteins which are found mostly in fruits, vegetables, beans and nuts, contain some, but not all of the amino acids. Therefore, the amino acids missing from some foods must be eaten in other foods in order to enjoy a complete protein diet.

The following tips will help you obtain adequate levels of complete protein in your vegan diet:

  • Eat a variety of foods such as whole grains, fruits, vegetables, legumes, seeds and nuts.
  • Increase intake of legumes and nuts since these foods have the most protein available in smaller servings.
  • Incorporate soy products into the diet regularly. Soy is a rich source of total and complete protein.

Planning Your Diet

Although there are no hard and fast rules about how to best transition to a vegan diet, it is often helpful to maintain a diet that resembles the one you have been eating. Without the junk foods please. Consuming a vegan diet doesn’t necessarily mean that you are consuming different foods, but often involves making simple substitutions to foods you currently eat. Most foods that you regularly eat can be made vegan with little effort. For example, you can still enjoy burritos, but instead of meat and cheese, you may substitute soy meat, beans, salsa and soy cheese. Psychological roadblocks such as being accustomed to a certain diet for such a long time then making a sudden and dramatic change can cause some to lose their resolve. Finding ways to consume these familiar “transitional” foods will help you maintain your resolve and continue your vegan lifestyle. So you like hamburgers? Make a scrumptious veggie burger and have at it with a large side salad. Like pizza? Make it yourself with soy cheese and load up on the vegetables. Like chicken nuggets? Have soy nuggets instead. Stuff green peppers with a rice and veggie blend. Bake and enjoy. Vegetable stir fry recipes are everywhere. A pot of meatless chili will definitely stick to the ribs. Like sweets? Baked apples drizzled in cinnamon and agave are delicious. A baked potato with soy cheese and your favorite spices somehow just hits the spot. Having a sweet attack? Dates and pineapple chunks taste just like candy. The list goes on and on. Juicing for breakfast, lunch or dinner affords you a glass of the best liquid vitamins ever. Spruce up your juicing recipes with some organic aloe vera juice. The list goes on and on. There are some excellent vegan cookbooks out there. Have fun in the kitchen with your new recipes.

Get Your Resources in Order

Just like most things in life, the will to succeed means nothing without the will to prepare. Can you ease into the vegan lifestyle? Of course you can. However, it typically is best to give it your gusto from the get go. Here are some steps to help.

Choose a Day to Start; the Sooner the Better

  1. Get rid of all animal products in your refrigerator. This means all meat, dairy, eggs and fats (such as butter). Get rid of all animal products in your pantry. This means all canned meats and any other canned or boxed item that contains or was processed with animal products. Do this all at one time. Simply say goodbye to the whole lot. Either toss them or donate them to the local food shelter.
  2. Buy a vegan cookbook either online or at your local bookstore. If you don’t wish to purchase a book, there are numerous free recipe websites that feature hundreds of delicious vegan recipes. Rest assured, veganism is all around you.
  3. Create a meal plan for the very first month to include breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks.
  4. Make a grocery list with your new meal plan in hand.
  5. Here is the fun part. While most of what you purchase will be available at your usual neighborhood grocery store, you may have to do some shopping at the local health food or whole foods store. Many are amazed to find such a delightful food selection at these “specialty stores”.
  6. At the end of 30 days, you will not rely as much on your cookbooks and meal planning. You will already be a seasoned vegan shopper and chef.
  7. At the end of 30 days time you will be a few pounds lighter, have more energy than you could ever have imagined and will have to continuously explain that “new glow” about yourself that everyone is noticing.

A Consideration or Two

Some will argue or feel obstinate about throwing away or giving away “perfectly good groceries.” If this is the case, do schedule your “Vegan Day” for after you have consumed all the animal products you had previously purchased. Also, there are those who honestly feel that they want to make the change to a vegan diet, but just can’t seem to exercise their commitment all at once. Take a little bit of time to ease into your new lifestyle by methodically eliminating animal products one day per week until you have reached your goal of seven days without the consumption of animal products. The math says you will be a full fledged vegan in 7 weeks time.

Conclusions

Making the decision to transition to a vegan diet is a choice that will yield tremendous health benefits due in part to delicious food choices rich in whole food vitamins. Clinical studies have shown that vegans enjoy numerous healthy benefits when compared to those eating traditional meat and junk food filled diets. A vegan diet that includes the right combinations of foods to insure the full spectrum of amino acids and B vitamins, reduces cancer risks, diabetes and heart disease, and can improve or even eliminate symptoms in those with inflammatory conditions.

Dr Linda Kennedy MS SLP ND: Is an avid animal activist and nature lover. She owns a 10,000 square foot state of the art nutritional laboratory where she produces nutritional health supplements that are free of animal products.

 

  • For more tips on plant-based nutrition, make sure to browse VegKitchen’s Nutrition page.
  • For lots more features on healthy lifestyle, please explore VegKitchen’s Healthy Vegan Kitchen page.
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10 comments on “Tips to Transitioning to a Healthy Vegan Lifestyle

  1. Celina

    You said that baked apples with cinnamon and honey are a good alternative, however this is wrong. Honey is not a vegan product as it is made by bees, so new vegans beware! Honey is not vegan. But alternatives like cane, beet, and fruit sugars are a good alternative, in addition to agave and corn syrups. Stevia extract is also a new and popular sweetener. Good luck new vegans!

  2. Nava

    Celina, you are right. This is a contributed article, and I guess I didn’t realize it made reference to honey. So I just changed it to agave. Thanks for your eagle eye and for your comment.

  3. Lee Caleca

    Honey made by bees? That’s like saying you can’t eat you own food because it was touched by human hands. Agave is pollinated by bats. Insects play a role in our ecosystem and to exclude that is probably not what you had in mind when you went vegan. The idea of eliminating animal products to edify health or perhaps as a moral responsibility, isn’t extended to the creation of honey by these important creatures. Taking veganism to the extreme would by necessity exclude anything sprayed with chemical pesticides, most of which come from petroleum, which is crude oil completely polluted with insects, feces, and other animal debris. Any lanolin in your personal products, or wool or silk in your clothes? Sheep and worms.

  4. Paul

    Lee, Honey is effectively bee vomit. It is produced by bees kept by humans.

    Agave syrup isn’t an animal product – it doesn’t come out of an animals body and no animals are kept in order to produce it.

    Unless I’m mistaken, most vegans do eat organically sourced foods. And clothes? Plenty of vegan options out there, hemp among them.

    The level you take your veganism is down to you, but telling people not to take it to the extreme, I feel, is counterproductive in reducing animal harm.

  5. Steph

    Paul, all of the crop production in the world requires pollination by bees. So by your logic then, wouldn’t it be unethical to consume anything that grows out of the ground, because bees labour to pollinate all plants?

    Bees will produce honey whether they are in man-made hives, or hives in the ‘wild’. It’s not ‘vomit’, it’s a by-product of pollination and occurs naturally. And beekeeping operations don’t confine or harm bees in any way; the bees live in man-made habitats as they would live in the wild, and their honey (which would otherwise be consumed by other animals, along with their hives) is consumed by us (at no harm to them, or their hives). It’s a harmonious, and symbiotic relationship. Many organic farmers have beekeeping operations to encourage pollination of their crops. And given that our bee populations are in serious trouble, I think that creating hive-friendly habitats created by beekeepers to encourage the breeding of bees has a role to play in ensuring their survival. I support my local beekeepers for this reason, and always go out of my way to purchase honey at my local farmers market.

  6. Kelly arbuckle

    I was reading with interest the debate over honey. It’s a tough one when honey is produced anyway with or without human interference.i call myself a high raw vegan and have had enormous health benefits. However I do consume non fertilised free range eggs that my gloriously spoilt hens plop on the ground and discard. I don’t feel this is unethical and is a good source of protein. The chooks eat all my veggie waste. It works for us both. I am utterly horrified at the egg industry and do not condone their practices however. I eat raw honey occasionally from local small bee keepers where I know the bees are well taken care of. I feel you have to find “your place” with being vegan or part there of. Animal cruelty is our biggest issue with factory farming. Even encouraging people to steer away from produce produced in this manner is a good start. But go vegans, you’re all on the right track :)

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  8. Melody

    Great article! Currently, I am transitioning into a vegan lifestly. It is difficult and I experience a great feeling of failure when I make a mistake. I am going to keep trying.

  9. Nava

    Melody, don’t give up. There’s lots of information and support out there. If it all seems overwhelming, that’s why I wrote Plant Power, which will be out on Sept 2, 2014 — it’s a guide to putting the whole lifestyle together easily and enjoyably; with tons of recipes, tips and ideas as well. I’m sure you’ll be able to find it in libraries as well: http://www.vegkitchen.com/navas-books/plant-power/

  10. uçurtma

    people said The item baked apples within cinnamon AS WELL AS honey are the alternative, however It is wrong. Honey is not a good vegan goods Just as This can be made coming from bees, thus new vegans beware! Honey is usually not vegan. But alternatives including cane, beet, ALONG WITH fruit sugars are usually a great alternative, AND ALSO agave IN ADDITION TO corn syrups. Stevia extract will be likewise a fresh ALONG WITH popular sweetener. Good luck new vegans!

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