Are you interested in switching to a vegan diet? The vegan lifestyle offers many health benefits, including weight loss; reduced risk of health conditions such as type two diabetes, cancer, and heart disease; and improved gut health.
If you’re used to eating a lot of animal products, transitioning to a vegan diet may seem daunting at first. You may have a lot of questions, like how will you get your protein? Will you feel hungry all the time? Will you need to take supplements?
Here, we’re going to answer many common questions about the vegan diet for beginners.
What is a vegan diet?
A vegan diet is one that eliminates all animal-based products. This includes not just meat, but also eggs, cheese, yogurt, gelatin, and even honey.
But simply removing animal products from your diet won’t lead to health benefits if you continue to eat a lot of sugary processed foods.
The health benefits of a vegan diet stem from its high fruit and vegetable content. This way of eating is also often referred to as a plant-based whole foods diet. For example, try to eat foods that are as close to their natural form as possible. Fresh blueberries will always be healthier for you than blueberry waffles—even if the waffles are technically vegan.
Different approaches to a vegan diet
Within the category of vegan diets, there are many different options. Your diet may look completely different from someone else’s. That means your vegan diet doesn’t have to feel restrictive; you can customize it to fit your lifestyle and individual needs.
It’s also important to keep in mind that there’s no one diet that is perfect for everyone. Factors such as blood type or certain genetic variants may mean that you are better suited to a high-fat diet or a more balanced diet. Try not to get frustrated if you feel drawn to one of these dietary approaches but you find that it doesn’t leave you feeling your best.
Vegan paleo diet (pegan diet)
The pegan diet is a hybrid of paleo and vegan. The paleo diet advocates eating a diet similar to that of our Paleolithic ancestors. A paleo diet typically includes fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds, as well as grass-fed meat and wild-caught fish.
A vegan paleo diet combines elements from both the vegan and paleo diets. It may include small amounts of grass-fed or wild-caught meat and seafood. Paleo and pegan diets place a emphasis on the quality of food.
Our Paleolithic ancestors didn’t use pesticides or other chemicals on their food, so we should make every effort to avoid them as well. Choose organic food whenever possible.
Raw vegan diet
As the name implies, the raw vegan diet is based on raw fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds.
The theory behind raw diets is that cooking food destroys important enzymes our bodies need to be healthy.
A raw diet may involve other food preparation methods, such as soaking, sprouting, and dehydrating, which often involves advanced planning. Some foods may be heated at very low temperatures.
Vegan keto diet
A vegan keto diet is a low-carb, high-fat vegan diet. People who wish to experience the benefits of the keto diet while also following a vegan diet can try a vegan keto diet.
This may sound like a contradiction, as keto diets are often known for focusing on foods such as meat and eggs, but it’s possible to be both keto and vegan. The keto diet is low-carb, high-fat, but those fats can come from plant foods such as coconut, avocados, olive and olive oil, nuts, and seeds. On a vegan keto diet, you would avoid grains, most fruit, and other foods that are higher in carbohydrates.
Low-fat vegan diet
The low-fat vegan diet is the opposite of the vegan keto diet. A low-fat vegan diet could include starchy foods such as rice, corn, potatoes, and grains. This vegan diet would limit high-fat plant foods such as nuts and avocados.
Transitioning to a vegan diet
Transitioning to a vegan diet may involve a period of adjustment as you get the hang of planning vegan meals. Be patient with yourself and approach your diet with the understanding that it will get easier in time.
Some people may find it easier to take their time and eliminate animal foods gradually, although it’s certainly possible to transition to a vegan diet overnight if you’re really committed. Eventually, you may be surprised to discover how delicious and satisfying a vegan diet can be—you may not even miss animal foods at all!
It may also take some experimentation to discover your favorite substitutions for certain animal foods. For example, you may find that you prefer oat milk to almond milk. Don’t be afraid to try new things; if one product doesn’t work for you, that doesn’t mean you won’t eventually find something that does.
Cooking on a vegan diet for beginners
These days, there’s a vegan version of anything you could possibly want: pizza, burgers, burritos––you name it. If you like to cook and experiment in the kitchen, go for it! Vegan cooking may be a little different than you’re used to, but you’ll eventually discover your favorite vegan cooking tricks.
If, on the other hand, you don’t like spending a lot of time in the kitchen, don’t sweat it. You can eat a vegan diet without making fancy vegan recipes. Just keep it simple!
Make a green smoothie with avocado and almond milk for breakfast, then a big salad for lunch. Dinner can be some sautéed veggies and a source of plant-based protein such as beans or quinoa. Remember, your vegan diet doesn’t have to look like anyone else’s, so make whatever adjustments you need to fit your lifestyle.
Getting enough protein on a vegan diet
For beginners on a vegan diet, one of the most common questions is how to get protein. Protein is an important macronutrient, and without animal foods, you may have to put a little more effort into making sure you get enough. We often think of protein as essential for building muscle, but it’s also an important building block for bones, skin, hair, blood, and other tissue in the body.
Ideally, every meal should contain some form of protein, along with healthy fats and whole plant foods. Some of the best vegan sources of protein include beans, legumes, quinoa, seeds, nuts, and nut butters. Soy products such as tofu are also a common option, although many people are sensitive to soy products.
Many vegetables also contain protein. Make an effort to include lots of spinach, cabbage, asparagus, leafy greens, broccoli, cauliflower, and Brussels sprouts in your vegan diet. You can also make smoothies using a vegan protein powder, such as one made with pea, hemp, or brown rice.
Want more protein? Here are 15 of the best vegan protein sources.
Nutrient deficiencies on a vegan diet
People following a vegan diet may have a higher risk of certain nutrient deficiencies. In addition to protein, make sure you’re getting enough iron, zinc, calcium, omega-3 fats, vitamin D, and vitamin B12. You may need to take some supplements to make up for the lack of these nutrients in your diet.
Avoiding hunger on a vegan diet
Getting enough protein and healthy fat in your diet will help you feel full between meals and avoid cravings that may have you reaching for unhealthy foods. Again, make sure to include protein and healthy fat in every meal.
Plant-based fats include coconut products, avocados, olives and olive oil, nuts, and seeds. Nuts like almonds, pecans, macadamia nuts, pistachios, cashews, and walnuts are a great snack if you feel hungry between meals. Try adding some chia seeds or hemp seeds to a salad or smoothie for a great omega-3 boost. Or make a delicious turmeric latte with full-fat coconut milk for a comforting cold-weather beverage that will ward off cravings.