You've decided to go vegan — now what? Like millions of others, you've taken a huge step in an effort to improve your health, minimize animal cruelty, minimizing environmental damage, curbing greenhouse gases — and possibly all of the above. Transitioning to vegan and maintaining a healthy diet can be a challenge. But if you’re determined to live without animal products, it can be done, and you'll find some useful tips below.
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.
But just because your new vegan diet is free of animal products, that doesn’t mean that it there's no danger of making poor food choices that can prove even more harmful to your health. Sugar and other sweeteners, white flour and processed snack foods might be vegan, but that doesn't mean they're good for you!
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 get enough protein. The easy Lentil Curry Dinner above proves the point.
You do need protein. Just enough, not in excess. But 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.
For more on the subject, see:
- Protein: Not a Problem in Plant-Based Diets
- Top Protein Sources for the Plant-Based Diet
- Animal Protein vs. Plant-Based Protein
A common misconception about vegan diets is that it is hard to consume enough of protein. Although animal products are considered sources of complete protein, one can easily derive more than enough protein from a vegan diet.
The Recommended 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.
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.
Amino acids missing from some foods must be eaten in other foods in order to enjoy a complete protein diet. But contrary to what became popular mythology in decades past, you need not obsess over incomplete proteins and how to match them up. In a healthy, varied diet, those amino acids will find one another throughout the course of your daily fare.
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 Meals
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 beans, salsa and vegan cheese.
Roadblocks such as being used to a certain diet for 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 like the one at the top of this poste and have at it with a colorful salad. Like pizza? Make it yourself with vegan cheese and load up on the vegetables.
Stuff green peppers with a rice and veggie blend. Vegetable stir-fry recipes are everywhere. A pot of meatless chili will definitely stick to the ribs. Stuffed potatoes with your favorite seasonings will hit the spot.
Having a sweet attack? Dates and pineapple chunks taste like candy. Baked apples drizzled in cinnamon and agave are delicious. Going vegan doesn't mean you'll be giving up baking and sweets — there are tons on this site alone. Have fun in the kitchen with your new recipes.
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 online or at your local bookstore. Of course, there are countless free recipe sites that feature an infinite variety of delicious vegan recipes.
- 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's 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 won't rely as much on your cookbooks and meal planning. You'll be on your way to being a seasoned vegan shopper and chef. You might even be a few pounds lighter, have more energy than ever, and feel a new glow about yourself and the choice you've made. Congratulations!
A Final Consideration
For 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, 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.
Dr Linda Kennedy MS SLP ND: Is an avid animal activist and nature lover.
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