Vegan diet for beginners 

Hey you, so you decided to go vegan, eh?

Fantastic!

Vegan diet is not just carrots and salads, you know. And it’s definitely not boring or plain.

 

You’ll be surprised how easy it is to veganise your favorite recipes..specially today. There’re plenty of plant based food choices that will make your transition easy and enjoyable.

So let’s talk what you googled for: vegan diet for beginners.

Where to start, what you should know before jumping in and really, how to navigate your switch to a vegan lifestyle.

If you want to learn about:

  • what to put on your plate instead of steak,
  • how you’ll improve your health and lose some weight,
  • how you’ll avoid some common overlooked issues that comes with vegan diet and mostly
  • what you’ll eat beside carrot and lettuce,

please, continue reading..you will get answers.

What is veganism and why go vegan

Before you jump in your vegan diet, you should know what runs veganism and also, why you want to go vegan.

Your “why I want to go vegan” is your motivation to do it so it’s important. It tells a lot about your beliefs, what you stand for and what matters to you as a person.

Your “why” is your solid grounds that you come back to when you feel like eating non-vegan.
You know, the weak moments of sugar cravings: “I need something sweet. Let’s see what I can find in the kitchen.. Ohhh, ice-cream and chocolate chip cookies. Let me check the ingredients. Milk powder? Eggs?! Ohh come on! Well.. maybe just a little spoon?”

Maybe this sounds a little coo-coo right now, I get it.

But still..your “why” is your vegan core. Your backbone during hard times.

This is your why moment..

“I went vegan because I don’t like baby cows are taken away from their mothers just so that I can have this ice-cream.

I went vegan because I know there are better ways to produce food and so I don’t support intensive farming.

I went vegan because I want to improve my health and milk is not what will improve it.”

And you put ice-cream and cookies back. And write down “vegan ice-cream and Oreos” on your shopping list.

 

Maybe this sounds a little coo-coo right now, I get it. And you think of activists trying to force their beliefs onto others. Forget about that for now. If you look at it again, your why is about you and why you are doing this. Your vegan core, your backbone. And this is why you’re here, because *insert your why*.

 

“Veganism is a way of living which seeks to exclude, as far as is possible and practicable, all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose.”

Veganism is not a new thing. It actually started during the WWII because of tuberculosis in cows. 1944 to be exact.

In 1944, the world was affected by the WWII. Food supplies were low, people were starving, terrible health standards..and so desperate measures called for desperate actions.
To feed the people after WWII intensive animal farming happened. Veganism is a lifestyle that avoids it completely.

 

You decided for vegan lifestyle because of 3 main things:

  1. your health – a healthy vegan diet is up to this day considered the healthiest diet.
  2. your morals and ethics – animal cruelty in every means possible
  3. your love for the environment – do your part to minimize the damage.

Whatever your reason, you are here because you want to do the right thing. And that something you should be proud of!

vegan benefits
Sustainable living and veganism. Infographic by Nadya Kadayifci.

There are 3 main branches of vegan diet:

  1. Whole Food Plant Based – also known as the most healthy one and specially beneficial if you have health problems. This one is also the cheapest and best for the environment,
  2. Raw – where you eat either raw fruits and vegetables or cooked on a low temperature to keep the nutrients.
  3. Junk – vegan doesn’t mean healthy. You can find highly processed, junk foods that are totally vegan. This type of eating lacks in healthy food, nutrient and is not a healthy option. It’s often also expensive.

You don’t need to decide which one you want to be..the reality is the mix of all threes.

 

Foods you should avoid as a vegan

As a vegan beginner, there’s only 1 rule to follow for vegan diet. Avoid all animal derived products.

These are:

  • Meat and poultry: all types of animals or parts of them- beef, lamb, pork, veal, horse, organs, game, chicken, turkey, goose, duck, quail, etc.
  • Fish and seafood: all types of fish, anchovies, shrimp, squid, scallops, calamari, mussels, crab, lobster, etc.
  • Dairy: milk, yogurt, cheese, butter, cream, ice cream, etc.
  • Eggs: from chickens, quails, ostriches, fish, frogs, etc.
  • Bee products: honey, bee wax, bee pollen, royal jelly, etc.
  • Animal-based ingredients: whey, casein, lactose, egg white albumen, gelatin, cochineal or carmine, isinglass, shellac, L-cysteine, animal-derived vitamin D3 and fish-derived omega-3 fatty acids [1].

To tick the last bullet point, animal ingredients, you’ll have to read ingredients labels. But don’t worry, a lot of brands are getting more and more vegan aware and they display animal ingredients clearly.

 

 

Food you should eat as a healthy vegan

You probably thing…well what else is there?

You took my morning bacon and eggs, you took my cheesy toasts and half of my fridge!

That’s a lot, I understand. But there’s also a lot left.
This will blow your mind but, there are over 20,000 species of edible plants in the world. Yet you eat lass than 20 [2].

Some ideas on what’s left:

  • Tofu, tempeh and seitan: protein-rich foods to hit your protein intake,
  • Legumes: beans, lentils and peas are excellent sources of fiber, protein and other nutrients [3] .
  • Nuts and nut butters: natural, unroasted nuts and nut butters, are good sources of iron, fiber, magnesium, zinc, selenium and vitamin E [4] .
  • Seeds: hemp, chia and flax seeds, are a good source of protein and the important omega-3 fatty acids [5].
  • Plant milks and yogurts: if they’re fortified they help you achieve a recommended dietary calcium intakes.

B12 fortified plant milk

  • Algae: spirulina and chlorella are good sources of complete protein. Other algae varieties are great sources of iodine.
  • Nutritional yeast: this is a vegan essential. If you’re a cheese lovers, nutritional yeast gives a cheesy flavor to foods. Opt in for vitamin B12-fortified varieties whenever possible.
  • Whole grains: great source of complex carbs, fiber, iron, B-vitamins and several minerals. Spelt, teff, amaranth and quinoa are especially high-protein options.
  • Sprouted and fermented plant foods: Ezekiel bread, tempeh, miso, natto, sauerkraut, pickles, kimchi and kombucha often contain probiotics and vitamin K2. Sprouting and fermenting can also help improve mineral absorption [6].
  • Fruits and vegetables: great foods to maximize your nutrient intake. Leafy greens such as bok choy, spinach, kale, watercress and mustard greens are particularly high in iron and calcium.

 

You see how much food is left and you didn’t even scrape the top yet. There’s a lot of exotic plants, I know, but you don’t have to try it all at once. See, you’re already learning more about food than you did before.

Good job!

 

To make your life easier, here’s a printable, vegan pantry and fridge essentials. The majority of it is plant based, healthy and cheap.

 

 

How to structure your meals

Now you know there’s a lot of food left and you have your grocery list so that you can get a better grasp of what you’ll buy the next time you go grocery shopping.

Next question is: How do you put it all together to have a well-rounded, square meal?

Before you get into it, shift perspective a little.

Look at what your body needs and what vegan diet has to offer considering that:

  1. carbohydrates – check
  2. fat – check
  3. protein – check

You probably always thought of meat as protein. And this is one of the major (very much mythical) worries you have about vegan diet. Where will I get my protein from? Every single plant has protein as well.

Let’s look at your regular plate:

One of the most harmful eating habits is eating way too much meat and not enough plant based foods.

 

Now imagine this plate but just take away the meat.

You see, if you look it like this protein is a legit worry. You were probably raised thinking meat makes you strong and muscular.
And now, you have an empty protein space, right?

What you don’t hear much of is that plants have protein as well.

Heck, go find vegan bodybuilders! They’re ripped as! Here, Nimai Delgado, vegan bodybuilder winning competitions for fun.

 

>>> Read more about vegan diet and protein

 

Let’s make that empty space vegan friendly, with protein of course.

Vegan diet will lower you protein intake to how much protein you should be eating and increase amount of plant foods that you usually lack.

Did you know, meat is the most difficult source of protein for your body. Meat is not the only protein there is. It’s the most challenging for you body but not the only. So fear not, by eating plant protein you’ll hit your protein mark, avoid some hormones, antibiotics and blood as you go.

 

 

Dietary supplements you should consider as a vegan

Exploring and learning the vegan diet you’ll find out you didn’t know 2 sh*ts about what food does what before this.

So going vegan, you’ll find yourself with popping questions like: I know milk is a good source of calcium (which btw, milk blocks calcium absorption) but I don’t drink milk now. So which food is rich in calcium?

You’ll be more and more aware of the food you eat and that, my darling, is a very reassuring knowledge to have.

OK, so there is no perfect diet and as great as a vegan diet is, it’s not bulletproof.

Which brings you to often overlooked or pushed aside part of a vegan diet – dietary supplement that you should take.
There’re 2 musts and a couple of optional, depending on how you choose to do your vegan thing.

 

Must #1:

Vitamin B12 – no matter the diet, omni or vegan, you should supplement with B12. Some argue B12 is found in meats. Others, that it’s found in soil.

Whatever the case, the amount of vitamin B12 on a world scale is getting lower and lower. And because of an overall lack of it, you, lack it.

Vitamin B12 is important for healthy nerves and blood cells (it helps prevent a special type of anemia) [7].

This b12 supplement is best absorbed, one sprit under you tounge and that’s it.

vegan vitamin b12
Click the image to see it on amazon.com

 

Must #2:

Vitamin D – this is another vitamin you should supplement with no matter the diet.

You cannot get vitamin D from food. Vitamin D is made in the body when you expose yourself to direct sunlight.

Vitamin D is important for: absorption of calcium and bone growth.

What hits home harder is, health problems connected to too little vitamin D:

  • breast cancer,
  • colon cancer,
  • prostate cancer,
  • heart disease,
  • depression,
  • weight gain, etc. [8]

Unless you live in a magnificent, warm tropical climate and get at least 45min sun time a day, you should take vitamin D.

This vitamin D is not to potent which means you don’t overdo it.

vegan vitamin D
Click on image to see it on amazon.com

 

There’re D2 and D3. D2 is always vegan. D3 usually isn’t.

When searching for your vitamin D, look for the “vegan” label.

Optional #1:

Omega-3-fatty acid – this one is diet related. Omega-3s are found mostly in fish. You, as a vegan don’t eat fish.

There are vegan sources of omega-3s:

  • Algae and seaweed,
  • chia seeds,
  • flax seeds,
  • walnuts,
  • kidney beans,
  • edamame, etc.

If you eat enough of these foods you probably don’t need to supplement it. But if you don’t..then supplement.

Omega-3s are important for:

  • brain health,
  • joints and
  • eye health.

They can help treat metabolic issues, fight inflammation and autoimmune diseases [9].

Most Omega-3s supplements aren’t vegan. When buying one make sure to look for the “Vegan” label.

vegan omega-3s
Click the image to see it on amazon.com

 

Optional #2:

Iron, Calcium and Zinc. This 3 also pop on the list from time to time. Vegan foods is rich in any of the 3 so as long as you eat a variety you’re golden.

On the other hand, if you know you’re prone to iron deficiency or have other health issues, than of course, pay attention to your nutrients in general.

 

What one week of vegan diet looks like?

It looks healthy, cheap and delicious.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Are you ready?

You have the basics covered, you know a little bit about history of veganism, you know that you should avoid all animal products and animal derived ingredients.

You also know your why.

You have your vegan pantry essentials list that will make it easier for you to go through your kitchen and see what you want to buy the next time you go grocery shopping.

You know that you’re not going to die of vitamin deficiencies and lack of protein. Plant based vegan diet is the most abundant in healthy stuffs your body wants and needs.

And you saw how vegan food isn’t boring and expensive.

 

Next step is to, take your time and go see what accidentally vegan foods you already have at home. Also see which foods aren’t vegan. Go through ingredients labels and get into it. You’ll be soon able to tell just from the packaging whether the item is vegan or not.

 

Knowledgeable people on the topic:

Alina Petre MSc RD: The vegan diet – A complete guide for beginners

Laine Rudolfa: 9 essential tips for vegan beginners

Kate from The Green Loot: Going vegan in 2020 – The ultimate guide for beginners

Me (haha): How to start a vegan diet for beginners

 

You got this!

 

 

Till next time,

Katya

 

3 thoughts on “Vegan diet for beginners ”

  1. This was an interesting and comprehensive article on veganism, and it is becoming more the norm lately, as at least a third of our social circle seems to have gone this way.

    There are indeed some wonderful food choices for vegans now, and although I am not a total vegan, I do enjoy the food and don’t miss meat much when I don’t have it for a while. I think the only thing I would miss is cheese. I know there is cashew cheese available, but somehow it just doesn’t taste the same. However you are right, it does make a lot of sense to eat like this for both your own health and for the sake of food security worldwide.

    If vegans are eating a healthy and balanced diet, is it still necessary to take supplements?

    Reply
    • HI Michel, no matter the diet, you should supplement with B12 and vitamin D – that’s the 2 vitamins that are either really low in any food (B12) or you can’t get it from food at all (D).

      Katya

      Reply
  2. Hi Kat is

    Your article is great, I now understand what I would have to do to switch to a vegan diet. Thank you for explaining it so clearly giving reasons, pointers, recepies and supplements to anyone that wishes to follow this diet.

    I personally don’t think could do this as a whole but will certainly take some great ideas to eat healthy. 

    Regards,  Bernardo 

    Reply

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