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
- 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.
- 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.
- Create a meal plan for the very first month to include breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks.
- Make a grocery list with your new meal plan in hand.
- 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”.
- 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.
- 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.
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.