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The Definitive Guide to Being Vegan

How I became vegan

KD Angle-Traegner is the founder and writer behind Your Daily Vegan, where she’s been sharing vegan recipes, how-to guides, and expert tips since 2009. She also owns and runs Four Urban Paws Sanctuary, a nonprofit committed to providing shelter, rehabilitation, medical care, and sanctuary for rescued cats. As a lifelong animal lover and vegan for more than 12 years, KD lives and teaches others how to practice a vegan lifestyle for the betterment of animals everywhere.



I haven’t been vegan my whole life, but it often feels as if I have.

I spent my childhood frustrating my parents during mealtime. Labeled a “picky eater,” I’d pass up pork chops, baked chicken breasts, and meatloaf in favor of vegetarian sides such as rice, mashed potatoes, or hearty salads.

My love of creatures great and small impacted my food choices early on. I can’t remember at any point in my life not caring deeply for animals.

I continued to eat this way throughout my teen years and into young adulthood. It came as no surprise to my friends and family when I finally decided to go vegan in my late 20s.

That was more than 12 years ago.

Over the last decade, I’ve become an expert at vegan lifestyle hacks. I’ve had to. I live in a small Midwestern town where there isn’t a Whole Foods or all-vegan restaurant in sight. I’ve learned a trick or two and can spot an animal product on an ingredient label faster than you can say baba ghanoush!

Based on my experience, I can tell you that becoming vegan isn’t super easy. But it also doesn’t have to be hard. This guide is designed to inform and inspire those looking to learn all the basics of a vegan lifestyle — from beginner step-by-steps to pro perspectives.

Are you considering becoming vegan but not sure where to begin? Maybe you’re a new vegan who isn’t sure if you should take supplements (you should). Perhaps you just need some advice on fine-tuning veganism so it’s less complicated, and more importantly, doable for the long haul.

You’re not alone. I had those questions, too.

This guide is filled with the hows, whats, and whys of veganism, along with recipes, meal plans, shopping guides, and loads of vegan lifestyle hacks. Whether you’re a vegan virgin or a seasoned expert, there’s something you’ll find useful here. So, grab a fork and dig in!

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1. What is veganism

What is veganism?

In the words of The Vegan Society, veganism is:

“A philosophy and way of living which seeks to exclude — as far as is possible and practical — all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing, or any other purpose; and by extension, promotes the development and use of animal-free alternatives for the benefit of humans, animals, and the environment.”

In other words, it means actively trying everything you can to live as kindly as possible.

The term “vegan” was first coined in 1944 in England by a splinter group of Leicester Vegetarian Society members who decided to eliminate dairy, eggs, and all products of animal origin from their diets. Feeling that the society no longer mirrored their worldview, they formed a new organization, The Vegan Society, which is still around today.

While the core values of veganism are simple, the reasons why get you there can be complicated and varied. Which leads us to ...

2. Why go vegan

Why you should consider going vegan

There are many reasons to try a vegan lifestyle, from living healthy to feeling great inside and out. Want to lower your risk of cancer, diabetes, or heart disease? Want to help animals, the environment, or your waistline? Want to have glowing skin and renewed energy?

How about all of them in one fell swoop? Then you’re in the right place.

With so many possible reasons for going vegan, the ones you choose will be as unique as you are. Your motivations might be very different from someone else’s and that’s OK. There’s no one way — or one why — to be vegan.

Let’s take an in-depth look at the top reasons people choose to go vegan.

Respect for animals

Without question, a vegan lifestyle is better for animals everywhere. It’s hard to pin down exact numbers for lives of animals lost because many industries measure production by pounds, not lives lost. But just for the month of May 2016 — in the United States alone — meat production numbers were:

  • 4.28 billion pounds for commercial red meat
  • 2.16 billion pounds for beef production
  • 6.3 million pounds for veal
  • 2.10 billion pounds for pork
  • 11.8 million pounds for lamb and mutton

There’s potential for inhumane confinement and slaughter on factory-style farms. Even if this treatment doesn’t happen, like on a smaller, local farm, these animals are still raised only for food and eventually sent to the slaughterhouse.

The question is not, Can they reason? nor, Can they talk? but, Can they suffer?
Jeremy Bentham

In almost every case, animals suffer in our food system. For people who care about animals and don’t want to hurt them, a lifestyle that doesn’t involve a process of harm is the way to go.

Love for your environment

Striving to be a caring consumer and environmentalist? It’s not just about avoiding plastic and recycling accordingly. It’s about reducing your carbon footprint, which can be done by eliminating animal products from your lifestyle.

Livestock production also contributes to things like widespread pollution, water scarcity, and deforestation. All of this contributes to one of the biggest world problems today: climate change.

Climate change and greenhouse gases

The livestock sector is the single largest source of both methane and nitrous oxide. These gases are more destructive contributors to climate change than carbon dioxide.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the livestock sector is responsible for at least 9 percent of carbon dioxide emissions in the United States. And within the global livestock sector, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) found milk production alone is responsible for 20 percent of emissions.

But these numbers don’t include gases emitted during transportation, processing, and storage that also contribute to greenhouse gases. A report by the Worldwatch Institute, an independent research institute dedicated to sustainability, claims that livestock contributes at least 51 percent of annual worldwide emissions, a number that’s more than all the transportation in the world.

Manure is also a factor in greenhouse gases. According to the EPA, improper manure management accounts for about 15 percent of the livestock sector’s total greenhouse gas emissions.

Water use

In the United States alone, 2 billion gallons of water are used per day for livestock. This is while water scarcity is becoming more real on a global scale. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that half of the world’s population will be living in water-stressed areas by 2025.

Deforestation

So, what does the hamburger you eat have to do with trees? A lot. According to the FAO, land-use changes, such as lands for grazing livestock, are producing the most greenhouse gas emissions. Large-scale deforestation triggers climate change, too, which ironically can also impact how we produce food.

As forests disappear, so do our sources of oxygen and natural habitats for many animal species. And in some ways, so does an important source of happiness.

According to one study, having neighborhood green space improves health perception much the same way that an increase in income does.

This brings us to our next point on how being vegan can impact your health.

Regard for your own health

The first wealth is health.
Ralph Waldo Emerson

If you want to improve your health, a properly planned vegan diet could help you do just that. Some of the common health claims you’ll hear are:

  • weight loss
  • increased energy
  • sharper focus
  • deeper sleep
  • clearer complexion
  • faster growing hair and nails

While veganism is said to have many benefits, it’s important to note that many of these are anecdotal. Like other diets, a vegan diet isn’t automatically healthy. French fries are deliciously vegan, but you wouldn’t feel your best if that was all you ate, right?

Beyond the anecdotes, though, there’s plenty of scientific research indicating that, compared to a non-vegan diet, people who follow a vegan diet have a lower risk for:

  • hypertension, by 55 percent
  • type 2 diabetes, by 25 to 49 percent
  • colon cancer, by 50 percent
  • prostate cancer, by 35 percent
  • heart disease, by 26 to 68 percent
  • breast cancer, by 48 percent

Almost every heart-healthy diet plan for weight loss and reduced health risks advises people to eat more foods like whole grains, legumes, seeds, fruits, and vegetables. These foods help lower your:

  • weight or body mass index (BMI)
  • total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, and triglycerides
  • blood pressure

In fact, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics determined that a well-planned vegan diet may also prevent certain diseases. They also say this diet, when done right, can be done for all life stages, including pregnancy, infancy, childhood, adolescence, older adulthood, and athletes.

TakeawayWhether it’s for the animals, your health, or our environment, being vegan has many benefits. For some people it’s about the moral and ethical reasons, like minimizing harm or carbon footprint. For others, it’s about health as being vegan can reduce your risk for many diseases.

But how does a person start being vegan?

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3. First steps

How to start going vegan

It’s important to know there’s no one way to become a vegan. Some people will be able to transition overnight while others need the ease of incremental changes that step methods provide. The key is to choose a method that makes the most sense for you and your lifestyle.

One tried-and-tested method is to gradually eliminate animal foods while at the same time increasing the number of plant foods. Once that’s finished, you can begin to work through less obvious animal-derived ingredients and products in beauty and clothing.

Vegan 101

  1. Remove obvious animal products from your diet.
  2. Clean out or use up non-vegan pantry items.
  3. Clean out closets and dressers. Donate clothes as appropriate.
  4. Stop buying animal products and animal-tested products.
  5. Once non-vegan health and beauty products are gone, replace them with vegan and cruelty-free versions.

This type of step-by-step approach of removing and replacing products can help ease you into the transition with feelings of abundance, rather than deprivation. Set time limits if you want. Allow yourself several weeks to use up non-vegan pantry items, for example. Or don’t set any time limits at all.

It’s up to you.

Narrow your focus
By focusing on the ones you already eat, you are making changes even before you introduce new foods.
– Matthew Ruscigno, MPH, RD

Since we’re talking about food, what exactly do vegans eat?

What to cut from your diet and grocery shopping list

As a vegan, you’ll avoid foods that come from animals, like:

  • meat (pork, beef, duck, veal, etc.)
  • seafood (fish, shrimp, crab, clams, etc.)
  • dairy products (eggs, milk, cheese, cream, etc.)
  • honey
  • fish oil

You’ll also want to keep an eye out for ingredients made from animal by-products, including but certainly not limited to:

Ingredient Animal part
albumen white of an egg
carmine red coloring from crushed beetles
casein milk proteins
gelatin collagen from various animal parts
shellac confectioner’s glaze from beetle secretions
vitamin D-3 lanolin from washed lamb’s wool
whey lactose, protein, vitamins, minerals, and fat from a by-product of cheese industry

Foods you might not think contain animal products can also creep up on you. Do a double take whenever you pick up these foods from the store:

Watch out for
  • boxed cereals: may contain milk proteins, honey, or gelatin
  • candies: may contain gelatin or beeswax
  • baked goods: most likely will contain eggs, dairy, or honey
  • beer and wine: may contain isinglass, aka fish bladders

Plant-based alternatives to stock up on and love

Many people think of being vegan as surviving on salads and vegetables alone. Totally untrue! Plant-based meals include a wide variety of foods, such as:

  • cruciferous vegetables like Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, or kale
  • greens including salad greens, kale, spinach, or Swiss chard
  • vegetables like asparagus, beets, mushrooms, onions, squash, or sweet potatoes
  • beans of any variety
  • berries, fresh or frozen
  • other fruits like apples, avocados, melons, pineapple, pears, or citrus fruits
  • flaxseed
  • whole grains like pasta, cereal, rice, or quinoa
  • nuts or nut butter

Living vegan also doesn’t mean giving up the familiar tastes of your favorite pre-vegan foods, either.

Were you a fan of hamburgers? Replace them with plant-based versions made from beans, grains, and vegetables. What about hot dogs? Sausage? Deli meat? Bacon? There are vegan versions of those, too.

Find brands like Field Roast, Tofurky, or Gardein in refrigerator or freezer sections of the grocery store. Looking for something a little more budget-friendly? Make your own! Try these smoky maple sausages from vegan chef Isa Chandra Moskowitz.

Soy, the powerhouse of vegan staples

If we’re going to talk about vegan essentials, we have to speak of the two soy powerhouses: tofu and tempeh. Frequently used in vegan cooking, they’re favorites because of their versatility and ability to absorb flavors.

Research does show that people who eat one to two servings of soy foods like tofu or tempeh per day gain health benefits. Learn the basics of buying and cooking tofu, plus the tricks restaurants use to make tasty tofu, in this handy guide.

Tofu is made using the same methods and techniques as dairy-based cheese. The soft texture allows tofu to mimic cream, eggs, mayonnaise, and even some soft cheeses. However, there’s some controversy around tofu. It has to do with phytoestrogens called isoflavones.

The theory is that soy isoflavones act like the female sex hormone estrogen, which potentially increases the risk of cancer — and that they may also reduce testosterone levels in men. But these studies have only been done in animal trials. Soy may not do the same in people.

But, like all healthy diets, you shouldn’t rely primarily on one food.

Tempeh is nutritionally and texturally different. It’s made using a natural cultural fermentation process using whole soybeans, so it has a higher content of protein, dietary fiber, and vitamins than tofu. Between the two, tempeh is a healthier, less-processed choice.

Want to get acquainted with tempeh? Try this easy 15-minute tempeh recipe for vegan tuna.

But some people avoid soy products. They don’t want to consume genetically-modified crops (GMOs). Soybeans are now one of the top GMO crops in the United States. Luckily, not all soy is GMO, and non-GMO versions are widely available in stores and clearly labeled non-GMO.

Dairy-free milks

Replacing dairy milk is easy with a variety of plant-based versions, such as milk made from soy, almond, hemp seed, flaxseed, or coconut. You can find dairy-free milk in the refrigerator section of grocery stores or you can make your own with these nine easy plant-based milk recipes.

Dairy-free cheese

You’ve heard it before, and maybe you’ve even said it yourself: “I could never live without cheese!” Our obsession with the gooey stuff is real. For some, cheese can be one of the hardest foods to eliminate. It’s possible to be addicted to dairy cheese. Seriously!

Luckily, there are plenty of alternatives vegans can enjoy. Try dairy-free cheeses from popular vegan brands like Daiya, Follow Your Heart, Miyoko’s Kitchen, or test your homemade vegan cheese-making skills with this recipe for easy vegan cheese from The Buddhist Chef.

Plant-based sweeteners

Honey can be swapped out for natural sweeteners like agave or maple or brown rice syrups. Other alternatives include this apple-based vegan version, BeeFree Honee, which can be found in grocery or health food stores right where honey is usually shelved.

Once you’ve covered the basics of eating vegan, it’s time to take the next step in your vegan lifestyle.

Tips for first-time vegans

Here are some tips to make your transition to veganism go more smoothly.

Tips for beginners

  1. Start with a completely open mind.
  2. Give yourself extra time to prepare meals.
  3. Check your pantry and stock it with vegan-friendly staples.
  4. Save money — skip the convenience foods.
  5. Keep your taste buds curious and experiment.
  6. Don’t give up.

1. Start with a completely open mind. If you agonize that going vegan will be too restrictive or that you could never do it, then it will be. In other words, if you don’t want to be vegan, you’ll find a reason not to be.

2. Give yourself extra time to prepare meals. Creating a meal 100 percent around vegetables is probably going to be unfamiliar to most of us. That can mean more time in the kitchen.

3. Check your pantry. Make sure to stock it with plenty of vegan staples like dried or canned beans, vegetable stock or bullion, pasta and pasta sauce, and whole grains like quinoa, spelt, farro, and rice.

4. Save money — skip the convenience foods. Or, if you can and want to, enjoy them in moderation.

5. Keep your taste buds curious and experiment. There’s plenty of vegetables that you’ve probably never eaten before. You might not like everything you try, but you may just find brand-new favorites, too.

TakeawayThe first step is to remove all animal product from your lifestyle. Then start stocking up on vegan staples like soy, dairy-free milk and cheeses, and plant-based sweeteners.

4. Food basics

Building on your vegan diet

Having all of this information is one thing. The real trick is to know how to use it. Now that you’ve removed all of the animals from your diet, how do you build a vegan meal plan?

That will depend on you. One of the best ways to stay on track is to make sure your kitchen is always stocked with vegan staples so you can whip up a meal or snack at any time. A well-stocked vegan kitchen can make the difference between dull and crave-worthy cooking and eating.

Once you go vegan, you’ll be inspired to grocery shop in more places like farmers markets or local specialty stores. These aren’t the only places to find vegan food, though. Almost every supermarket sells basic staples like beans, rice, pasta, tomato sauce, and dairy-free milk.

Other staples include condiments that’ll enhance the rest of the meal. Look for tahini, hot sauce, tamari, or vegan Worcestershire to keep things flavorful.

Watch out for store-bought salad dressings or sauces. These can contain hidden animal-derived ingredients like milk or cheese.

Sample grocery list

Here’s a print-and-go list of vegan essentials to load up on:

  • dairy-free milk: flax, almond, hemp
  • soy products: tofu, tempeh, seitan, edamame
  • grains: rolled oatmeal, brown rice, quinoa, pasta
  • beans and legumes: black, kidney, garbanzo, lentils
  • fresh vegetables: zucchini, mushrooms, garlic, onions
  • frozen vegetables: spinach, corn, peas, variety mixes
  • nuts and seeds: pistachios, walnuts, flaxseed, chia seeds
  • fruit: apples, oranges, bananas, avocados
  • frozen fruit: berries, peaches, mangoes, cherries
  • fats: coconut oil, peanut butter, coconut milk, dark chocolate
  • sweeteners: cane sugar, molasses, dates, stevia
  • spices and herbs: basil, thyme, pepper, salt, cinnamon
  • condiments: mustard, vegan mayo, vinegar, salsa, sriracha, hummus

The hardest part of any food change is preparation. Here’s a seven-day meal plan to give you an idea of how delicious, vibrant, varied, and fun a vegan diet can truly be. We included a new option for each day, but feel free to adjust according to your own schedule. Many of these meals will have enough portions for leftovers.

Seven-day meal plan

Sunday

Breakfast Snack Lunch Dinner
Make the first day of the week a true Sunday Funday with an aromatic and scrumptious loaf of vegan banana bread. Try your hand at these chili cheese sriracha kale chips for your snack today. Save the rest for the week and take to work when you’re craving a mid-afternoon bite. Enjoy a little Mexican fare for lunch with this simple Mexican quinoa bowl. It has just enough flavor and spice to brighten your day and lots of nutritious good stuff to keep the hunger pains at bay. Make this broccoli pepper stir-fry with ginger peanut sauce for dinner.
 

Monday

Breakfast Snack Lunch Dinner
Whip up this easy, refreshing banana chai smoothie by I Love Vegan. Prep the cold chai overnight for maximum flavor. Toast some sunflower seeds with pantry spices and you’ll have a healthy, tasty snack to tide you over until dinner. Take ChicVegan’s jackfruit chili recipe and throw it into a slow cooker the night before and you’ll have this amazing roasted chili that goes with tacos, sliders, and burritos. Tofu is a staple for vegan eating, but this spicy cucumber tofu salad by Eat Healthy Eat Happy really throws it out of the park.
 

Tuesday

Breakfast Snack Lunch Dinner
Use any leftover tofu from last night and throw together a classic tofu scramble that takes only five minutes to prepare. This particular recipe from Elephantastic Vegan is low in fat and high in protein. Got leftover kale crisps or sunflower seeds? Eat both together! Didn’t use all the jackfruit for your chili? Turn the rest into a pulled pork sandwich that takes 20 minutes to cook up. You can also use yesterday’s chili to make a sandwich. Crisp up cauliflowers for a seriously satisfying meal of creamy, tangy, crunchy tacos. This avocado cream by Blissful Basil is going to be your favorite, go-to vegan condiment for a long time.
 

Wednesday

Breakfast Snack Lunch Dinner
Grab that banana bread you whipped up Sunday morning and take it to go. Snack on delicious vegan goldfish crackers by Chef Chloe between meals. This recipe makes 125 goldfish, which will last for a couple of days. Toss together this vibrant mushroom and corn salad by Gourmandelle in 15 minutes for a quick lunch. Use your preferred salad dressing or vegan mayo to bring everything together. For ramen lovers, Apollo and Luna’s ginger mushroom noodle soup hits the spot with beneficial ingredients like turmeric, ginger, hemp seeds, and more.
 

Thursday

Breakfast Snack Lunch Dinner
Throw together a scrumptious and nutritious vegan breakfast sammy before you head out, or pack and eat it on the go. Nibble on goldfish crackers from yesterday. Keep it easy for lunch with a puff pastry topped with hummus and veggies today. This Mediterranean-inspired tart is just as easy to make as it is to eat. Bring potpie back from your holidays at Grandma’s house with this vegan version starring jackfruit and chile relleno. It’s flavorful, cozy, and perfect for an end-of-the-week meal.
 

Friday

Breakfast Snack Lunch Dinner
Change things up this morning and treat yourself to a sweet breakfast. Salted caramel granola sounds like a dessert, but it’s a perfect nutritious breakfast to kick-start your last weekday Snack on unfinished goldfish crackers or finish off the vegan banana bread from earlier in the week. Enjoy leftovers from the week! Warm up your last slice of potpie from last night, or maybe you have a cup of ginger mushroom noodle soup in the fridge. Orange glazed tempeh tacos fit the bill for a fun and easy Friday night meal. If you’re hosting, even better! These are super easy to multiply for guests.
 

Saturday

Breakfast Snack Lunch Dinner
These cardamom and cinnamon French toast sticks with vanilla lemon curd have a luxurious taste and are super easy to eat by yourself or with family and friends. Happy weekend! Snack on unfinished goldfish crackers or finish off the vegan banana bread from earlier in the week. Add a punch of flavor into lunch with a massaged kale spinach salad that’s drizzled with a turmeric, tahini, and lime dressing. It’s fresh, light, and full of fiber and vitamins to keep you full for your day. Make these lentil burger sliders that are packed with protein. There’s something so fun about eating many little burgers rather than one large one.
 

What to do for dessert

Desserts might seem impossible when being vegan, but it’s really not. Craving coffee cake donuts, chocolate chip cookies, or lemon bars with shortbread crust? Many of your family’s favorite baked treats can be made vegan simply by swapping out a few key ingredients. Dairy-free baking is easier than you might think. Click here to visit our vegan baking guide (along with 51 recipes!).

More meal plans to check out

Remember, the first rule of building a successful meal plan is to be realistic about what you’re comfortable doing. Don’t think that you’re suddenly going to become the next vegan home chef if you’ve never cooked before your transition. Build a menu that reflects foods you already love while adding in new foods you want to try.

Significant changes can be overwhelming. It can help to get advice from others. Here are a few healthy meals designed by vegans with a range of styles to help you find a plan that’ll work best for your lifestyle:

TakeawayUse our sample grocery list and seven-day meal plan to help guide your vegan journey. Having a well-stocked pantry with plenty to eat is key to avoiding the feeling that being vegan lifestyle isn’t fulfilling.

Getting proper nutrients

Here’s some real talk: Going vegan isn’t always easy and you’re going to have some nutritional challenges. While a well-balanced vegan diet is perfectly healthy, poorly designed ones may cause nutritional deficiencies or unintended weight loss.

Experts agree it’s important to figure out what works for your specific body and lifestyle while ensuring there are no nutritional gaps. There are some vitamins and minerals you especially need to monitor with a vegan lifestyle.

A vegan diet may be low in
  • protein
  • calcium
  • B vitamins
  • iron
  • zinc
  • omega-3

Natalie Olsen, an Austin-based registered dietician and exercise physiologist, also notes that “anemia, trouble detoxing (liver detox is fueled by amino acids, which are the building blocks of protein), low libido, low energy, and changes in mental focus are all issues that may arise if deficient in these nutrients.”

From our medical expert
The plant-based forms of some nutrients are simply not as bioavailable in the body as animal-based sources.
– Natalie Olsen, RD, LD, ACSM EP-C

The good news is that there are ways to mitigate or prevent these things. Remember when we talked about a properly planned vegan diet earlier? Here’s where that becomes important.

Starting a vegan diet isn’t as simple as swapping out all your proteins for more veggies and fruits. Let’s take a closer look at the nutrients you’ll need to pay special attention to when switching to a vegan diet and how to supplement with plant-based options.

Protein

It’s the first question people ask vegans: Where do you get your protein? Before we get to the answer, chew on this: The average American consumes more protein than they need, nearly twice as much. The truth is, it’s very possible and healthy to get what you do need from eating a balanced and plentiful diet of beans, nuts and seeds, grains, and soy.

Calcium

Since vegans don’t eat dairy products, people also tend to wonder where we get our calcium from. To get your daily value of calcium, be sure to drink a daily serving of fortified orange juice or almond, soy, or rice milk. There’s also calcium found in:

  • dark green leafy greens like collards, turnips, mustard, or kale
  • tofu
  • broccoli
  • pinto beans

Omega-3s

While this word is almost synonymous with fish oil, there are vegan sources. Good sources of plant-based omega-3 fats are:

  • flaxseeds
  • chia seeds
  • hemp seeds
  • walnuts
  • spinach
  • tofu

Vitamin B-12

Vitamin B-12 is a common deficiency among people with vegetarian and vegan diets. “It can lead to a host of neurological issues, anemia, and increased homocysteine levels that are associated with conditions like strokes,” says Anya Todd, MS, RD, a licensed dietitian who specializes in vegan nutrition.

To ensure you’re getting enough, she recommends vegans consume two daily servings of vitamin B-12 fortified foods or supplementing with 1,000 micrograms of synthetic B-12 a few times per week.

A note about fortified foods and supplements

Some people argue that a diet isn’t healthy if it requires fortified foods and supplements. But this misses an important point, according to Gena Hamshaw, a certified nutritionist and author of the blog The Full Helping. “Fortified foods exist in order to offer us a little extra insurance when it comes to healthful eating,” Hemshaw writes. She claims that most people won’t need fortified foods to be healthy — but go for them if it’ll make getting all your nutrients easier.

This is important to remember: While a well-planned vegan diet can be healthy, it doesn’t guarantee you’ll never experience health-related problems or sickness. No diet — vegan or otherwise — can do that.

To get the most benefits from a vegan diet, stay away from nutrient-lacking, heavily processed vegan foods. Instead, base your food choices on nutritionally dense whole plant foods. Don’t forget your B-12 supplement, too.

Additional resources for vegan nutrition support

And on a final note, Olsen adds: “Education is key. Both meat eaters and vegans can live disease preventing, healthy lifestyles — it all comes down to knowing better and planning accordingly. There is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach when it comes to diet.”

TakeawayYour protein, calcium, omega-3s and vitamin B-12 intake is important. Pay attention to your diet when transitioning and maintaining to ensure you’re getting enough nutrition.
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5. Beyond diet

An entirely vegan lifestyle, moving beyond diet

Vegan fashion

Comfortable with your diet? Now it’s time get started with a vegan-friendly wardrobe. A lot of fabrics come from animals; it’s a piece of fashion history that’s stuck as a result of nomadic life. But now that science has caught up, there’s no reason to continue indulging in these animal-derived materials.

Conventional animal-derived materials include:

Material name Animal involved
wool sheep, goats, muskoxen, rabbits, camels
leather cows, goats, pigs, camels, ostriches, alligators
silk silkworms
down and feathers ducks, geese, roosters
fur or hair mink, rabbits, foxes, chinchillas, raccoons, beavers, lynxes, goats, horses
angora rabbits
 

And don’t forget your kicks! Shop for shoes made from natural or synthetic-based fibers that offer an alternative to leather and suede. Just check the label under the tongue or on the inside of the shoes to make sure they’re animal-free.

One key thing to remember is that some shoes fabricated with man-made materials may still have a leather sole or tongue.

These conventional materials can be replaced with plant-based, sustainable alternatives.

Alternative textiles
  • cotton
  • bamboo
  • hemp
  • jute
  • linen
  • acetate
  • acrylic
  • modal
  • nylon
  • rayon
  • spandex

For performance wear, there are high-tech fabrics like Polar fleece, Coolmax, or down alternatives that are warm, wick sweat away, and let your skin breathe.

Where to shop

Thanks to the internet, finding vegan shoes and clothing has never been easier. With a bit of label reading, you’ll be able to find alternatives at most major retailers. The term “man-made materials” should give you an immediate clue. Or, shop directly from one of these 100-percent-vegan online retailers:

Vegan health and beauty products

Your new vegan diet may have helped clear your skin, but what about maintaining that lovely, newfound glow? Even though we don’t see the process, many cosmetic manufacturers use animal-derived ingredients and test their products on animals.

According to a 2011 survey conducted by the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, 72 percent of Americans oppose animal tests in favor of alternative methods that produce more accurate information.

Every year, hundreds of thousands of rabbits, guinea pigs, mice, and rats are used in animal testing in the United States alone. These experiments typically include applying chemicals or products onto animals’ shaved skin or dropping them directly into their eyes.

It’s difficult to say if these test are necessary, especially since each species reacts differently to substances, humans included. The data obtained from these studies are only a clue, never a sure sign that the products are safe for people.

Use your wallet to let companies know you want them to avoid animal testing. The Humane Society of the United States reports that companies have the option of turning to artificial human skin for testing through XCellR8.

Remember: Cruelty-free isn’t the same as vegan. The term just means the products aren’t tested on animals but may contain animal-derived ingredients. But a vegan product truly means the products and ingredients are animal-free. This is where it’s important to check those labels again.

Hidden animal ingredients in cosmetics

Science can hide animal products and ingredients behind clever names. Here’s a cheat sheet for ingredients to look out for when shopping for your beauty or self-care routine.

Animal ingredient Found in
bone meal (crushed animal bones) toothpaste
carmine (dried crushed shells of an insect) cosmetics
cystine (from horsehair, feathers, or urine) hair care, moisturizers, wound-healing products
lanolin (oil glands of sheep) health and beauty products
placenta, often sheep-derived moisturizers, shampoos, hair treatments
gelatin shampoos, face masks, cosmetics, nail treatments, polish removers
tallow (animal fat) soaps and salves
keratin (made from hooves, hair, feathers) hair and nail products
 

Finding vegan alternatives

When shopping online or in stores, search for a vegan or 100-percent plant-based label. Here are a few websites dedicated to helping vegans find cruelty-free, plant-based versions of their favorite health and beauty products:

TakeawayLearn the name of animal by-products and ingredients so that you can recognize them when shopping for cosmetics, cloths, shoes, and more. Most of the time these ingredients and materials won’t be openly labeled as animal materials.

Staying vegan while traveling

Even the best-laid plans can become derailed by the lack of vegan options when hunger strikes. Do you regularly eat out of airport terminals, train stations, a backpack, or a hotel room?

These tips are for you.

Plan ahead

Sometimes the best advice is also the easiest. Do a quick internet search while planning a trip to see what the local vegan options are.

Use an online vegan restaurant directory like HappyCow or VegGuide. They’re both searchable by city, region, or zip code. Fair warning: Some cities don’t have any options at all.

If you find no vegan restaurants near you, search instead for vegan-friendly cuisines. Sort by Mexican first, then look at Chinese, Ethiopian, Indian, Italian, Middle Eastern, and Thai restaurants. Be sure to check with the restaurant or your server before ordering to make sure your meal is 100-percent vegan.

Social media can also be a useful planning tool. Get suggestions from people who are familiar with the area and know where the hidden local gems are.

Pack your own food

One of the most valuable pieces of advice for a new vegan is: Never leave the house without a vegan snack. This is especially true when traveling.

Healthy vegan snacks
  • raw nuts (walnuts, almonds, cashews, etc.)
  • seeds (pumpkin, sunflower, etc.)
  • trail mix
  • fresh or dried fruit
  • cut vegetables with hummus
  • roasted chickpeas
  • kale chips
  • bars (fruit, nut, granola, or protein)
  • popcorn

Another option is to pack a serving of plant-based protein powder or full-meal powder in a shaker bottle. You can add water after airport security.

Last-minute food fixes

Let’s be honest. Fast food isn’t always the healthiest option, but there’ll be times when the only on-the-road or eating-with-friends options are fast-food restaurants. Knowing which chains have vegan options is going to be your saving grace here.

Look for places that offer build-your-own sandwiches where you can pile on the vegetables, like Subway or Jimmy John’s. Both Chipotle and Taco Bell have extensive vegan menus. There’s probably a local restaurant that could whip up a quick vegan stir-fry in no time flat.

Another option is to find a nearby grocery store. Stock up on fresh greens, vegetables, and beans in salad bars, or look for things like granola in bulk sections. Grab fruits like apples, bananas, or oranges from the produce department for a sweet snack.

TakeawayYou never know what’s available on a trip. When in doubt (and even when positive that there’ll be vegan food), pack your own snack. Looking for restaurants? Try Mexican, Chinese, or Ethiopian places first.
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6. Challenges

The challenges of a vegan lifestyle

Navigating social situations

Blending your new vegan lifestyle with a partner, family members, or friends can be overwhelming without an action plan — especially if there are children involved.

Whether you’re a first-time vegan or a lifetimer, these suggestions can help you navigate awkward or uncomfortable situations.

  • Be open and communicate your expectations. These conversations are going to vary from person to person. Be upfront about your comfort level and needs. Communication is particularly important for couples with children.
  • Lead by example and understand that it’s a process for everyone involved. Don’t expect changes to happen overnight.
  • Find recipes you can easily modify to suit everyone’s dietary needs.
  • Share food! Introduce new foods like plant-based meat alternatives of familiar foods. This allows people to participate in social functions like holiday gatherings or family barbecues.
  • Keep an open mind and be patient. Remember, you were finding your way once, too. Becoming vegan can fundamentally challenge everything we learned throughout our lives. Avoid being aggressive; instead be compassionate with people who may not be in the same place you are.
  • Get involved in the vegan community. For youngsters turning vegan, the Vegetarian and Vegan Youth Organization has a list of common responses from parents and ways to respond make your diet change easier on them, too.

Living in a non-vegan-friendly city

Unless you live in a large city, it may be hard to find vegan or vegan-friendly restaurants or products. Not having access can be difficult, especially for people living in areas with limited access to fresh, healthy foods.

Here are a few tips and hacks to make the vegan lifestyle more convenient:

  • Get familiar with all of the local specialty markets in your area. Places similar to these will often offer a homemade menu filled with suitable foods. Do you have a local Asian market? Look for house-made tofu, kimchi, rice snacks, and vegetable dumplings. You might find tacos made from tortillas cooked up fresh that day at a Mexican tienda. If falafel, hummus, and baba ghanoush are more your thing (who could blame you?), seek out a Middle Eastern market.
  • Know the grocery stores in the area. Did you see a new plant burger on Instagram you want to try? Know which markets carry vegan brands. And if your local market doesn’t carry a product you want to try, ask them to stock it. You’d be surprised to learn how well this works.
  • Look for vegan foods in unexpected places like convenience stores or even Walmart.
  • Never leave home without a snack. This advice makes almost every list because it’s the most important. Nothing derails a diet faster than hunger. Being prepared can make all the difference. I keep bags of trail mix, nut bars, and dried fruit tucked in my bag and stowed in my glove compartment for times when vegan options are scarce.
  • If you can’t find vegan products in your area, shop online. You can find thousands of vegan products on sites like Amazon. With the simple click of a button, vegan products will be delivered straight to your door.

Now we need to put all of this information together into something that looks familiar.

How to eat vegan on a budget

Many people worry that they won’t be able to sustain their vegan diets because it’s expensive. While it can absolutely add up, there’s definitely a way around spending tons of money on plant-based alternatives.

The first step to eating vegan while on a budget is to create a weekly or monthly food allowance. This will look different for each family, so create a budget that makes sense for you.

Budget tips
  • Plan a menu and make a grocery list. Stick to it!
  • Use coupons and discounts whenever possible.
  • Shop online for items at a discount.
  • Shop less often to reduce impulse shopping.
  • Buy items like cereals, rice, and beans in bulk.
  • Join a monthly Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) to get in-season vegetables and fruits.
  • Buy from local ethnic markets or farmers markets.
  • Grow your food if you can.
  • Learn how to preserve your foods with canning or freezing.

You can still save money, even if you regularly buy organic foods. Keep in mind, the peels of foods like avocado and bananas have thick, inedible skins so they can be bought safely as nonorganic.

Limit your spending to organic foods prone to containing high levels of pesticides. A good place to start is the Dirty Dozen list from the Environmental Working Group. It highlights the top 12 foods that contain the most pesticides.

One final tip: Shop from the outside aisle of grocery stores. The middle sections of most grocery stores contain processed and ready-made convenience foods that can add up quickly. Instead, buy whole and unprocessed foods that give you a bigger nutritional bang for your buck.

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7. Defining success

The results

When you’re stuck at a work party where the only food option is a few pieces of iceberg lettuce from the sandwich tray, remind yourself why you went vegan in the first place. Doing so can refocus you and help motivate you to stay on track.

Also know that cravings won’t go away overnight. Some situations will test your cruelty-free commitment.

Check in with yourself
Being very mindful of how you feel when eating a vegan diet is a great tell-tale sign if it’s right for you and any possible health conditions. Sometimes we forget to simply check in with ourselves and ask how certain diets make us feel. Checking in on your energy, sleep, mood, focus, and digestion is a great habit to start.
– Natalie Olsen, RD, LD, ACSM EP-C

Going vegan can be a process, as mentioned before, and that’s OK.

Success looks different for everyone. It could be the fact that you’ve lost weight or your skin has cleared up that makes you feel successful. It could be the satisfaction of knowing you’re saving innocent lives and reducing your carbon footprint.

Whatever it is, experts recommend that it’s important to set your own milestones and monitor your health for any changes you feel.

Set milestones for success
  • Keep a diary to look back on your progress.
  • Get your blood checked after a few months.
  • Start a social media account to post your goals.
  • Join a Facebook group or visit a local meet-up for vegans.
  • Check in with your friends who aren’t vegan.
  • Visit an animal sanctuary and meet the animals you’re saving.

1. Keep a diary to look back on your progress. Talk about any positive changes you experience. Even just writing how you feel or your energy levels from day 1 to 14 could show a change.

2. Get your blood checked after a few months. Looking to lower your blood sugar levels or cholesterol? Your blood tests will be able to tell you how your health is faring.

3. Start a social media account to post your goals. Take photos of your progress. You can measure it through meals eaten, weight, health, and more. Example: Start small, from two vegan meals a week (or two photos a week), to a daily feed of your meals. There’s something satisfying about watching a blank slate fill up.

4. Join a Facebook group or visit a local meet-up for vegans. Friends make great motivators. You might not notice it at first, but look back on your vegan journey after you’ve become active in groups and see how many more like-minded friends you’ve made.

5. Check in with your friends who aren’t vegan. You might not realize it now, but the moment they don’t need to think twice about offering a meat-based food or take your lifestyle in consideration when dining out is a huge victory.

6. Visit an animal sanctuary. Take the money you originally would’ve spent on animal products and start saving for a trip to visit an animal sanctuary! Here’s a searchable library of animal sanctuaries all over the world.

Write it down
Write down your reason “why” (really do it!) and put it somewhere you’ll see every day. You could put a note on your fridge or a daily alert on your phone. Whatever works for you. Anytime you feel like you might stray from the plants, take a look at your motivation and get back on track.
– Luke Jones, health blogger at No Meat Athlete

Made a mistake? Fell off the vegan wagon?

Don’t beat yourself up over it. Climb back on again.

TakeawayLong-term veganism is a learning process. Be kind to yourself. You might find the first few days (or weeks or months) challenging, but once you become familiar with it, a vegan lifestyle only becomes easier and more fulfilling.

Vegan role models

So, what does a happy, healthy vegan lifestyle look like? Well, it’s pretty delightful. Just look at a few of our favorite role models. Their rainbow-filled feeds and keeping-it-real tone carry us forward.

Vegan Yack Attack

For the environmentalist, Jackie Sobon is pure inspiration. Fueled by her desire to live a sustainable life and do the least amount of damage to the planet, Sobon now has her own book, “Vegan Bowl Attack.” She remains one of the most creative advocates of veganism we’ve seen.

Mississippi Vegan

Chef, gardener, forager: Timothy Pakron turns being vegan into something like sitting back in Grandma’s kitchen. His homestyle cooking is a vibrant call to return home (in this case, Mother Nature). For those looking for knowledge on how to get plugged into the earth, follow Pakron.

Sweet Potato Soul

Jenné Claiborne is the sweetest sweet potato soul who knows how to throw down a mean vegan meal. Watching her journey grow is a fine reminder that being vegan doesn’t mean sacrificing anything. In fact, it could be the most fulfilling choice you make.

The Minimalist Vegan

Married couple Masa and Michael Ofei of Canberra, Australia, have a multifold approach to veganism. Their philosophy in treating yourself and the environment with respect guides their lifestyle. Their blog and Instagram is full of inspirational musings and enough delicious recipes for a lifetime of good eating.

Joyful Vegan

Author and podcast host Colleen Patrick-Goudreau makes vegan life look truly joyful — which is perhaps why she’s a role model for pros and those on the vegan path alike. If you enjoy discussing vegan philosophy and animal life, tune in to her podcasts “Animology” and “Food for Thought.”

The Plant Philosophy

It’s plain and simple that Margaret Chapman’s recipes are pure eye candy. But they’re not just easy on the eyes — they’re nutritious for your body and soul. Eat well and be well is her philosophy, and she proves you can do it the cruelty-free way.

8. FAQs

Q&A: Practical advice

I want to adapt a vegan diet, but my partner doesn’t want to. How can I blend our diets at home and when we eat out?

It’s a fact: You can’t force change upon people. If you’re ready to transition to a vegan life, talk to your partner. They may not be willing to make the switch with you, and that’s OK.

Communicate clearly what your expectations and boundaries are. Blending diets and eating out can be tricky, but this is where you can also have some fun. When cooking at home, make a dish that can be both vegan and non-vegan, like pasta for example. Turn meal planning into a game between the two of you and get creative. Use apps like HappyCow to find vegan and vegan-friendly restaurants nearby.

I’m able to eat mostly vegan throughout my week, but sometimes I slip up and it makes me feel like a fraud. Can you help?

Let me tell you a secret: Everyone makes mistakes at some point. In fact, learning from mistakes can be an important part of your vegan journey. One of my favorite quotes is from Maya Angelou: “I did then what I knew how to do. Now that I know better, I do better.” Making mistakes helps us do better.

Being vegan during the holidays and eating out with friends is really awkward for me. What can I do to make this easier?

My favorite travel advice is also my favorite dining-out advice: Be prepared. Know what options will be available to you ahead of time to eliminate awkward exchanges with servers who may or may not know what being a vegan means.

If you’re dining at a friend’s house, offer to bring a vegan dish to share with everyone. Do the same for holidays. Sharing recipes with friends or family unfamiliar with vegan food can be a fun way to introduce them to an important part of your life. Make it fun and delicious and soon everyone will be asking you to host the dinner parties from now on.

I really want to help spread the message of veganism to my family and friends, but I don’t want to come off as imposing. What would you recommend?

Just like you can’t force someone to change, you can’t force them to want to hear your vegan message either, especially over a meal. One of the best ways to help people and win them over is to lead by example.

Do you want to show someone how delicious vegan food is? Bring a meal or treat over to share with them. Do you want to spark interest in vegan living? Make plans to go to a veggie festival where they’ll have a front row introduction to a world of vegan products and foods.

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Takeaway

Takeaway

The vegan journey is a never-ending one. There’s no right or wrong way to become vegan. Like everything else in life, it’s about maintaining balance.

A vegan lifestyle is incredibly rewarding, fulfilling, and enriching. But it’s one that you must embrace fully in order to reap the benefits. You’ll always find ways to learn and expand your vegan knowledge, and this may ultimately be the greatest reward of all. Remember, you can lead through inspiration!

Recommended cookbooks

Recommended health books

Documentaries

Websites

Check out more of the best vegan blogs of 2017, chosen by Healthline!

Podcasts

Article resources
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