A vegan diet is part of a lifestyle that excludes the consumption or use of any products made from animals.
Vegans do not eat animal products, including honey, eggs, gelatin, or dairy.
They will not use clothes, soaps, or other products that are animal-sourced in any way.
When transitioning to a vegan diet, you might think that you’ll never be able to enjoy the taste of cheese or eggs.
If we’ve grown up with these flavors, it’s only natural that we crave them.
You might also feel confused about how you’ll be able to bake your favorite desserts without using dairy or eggs.
Fortunately, there are many excellent (and cheap) vegan food substitutes that you can use to replace necessary ingredients or get the flavors you want in your vegan foods.
What is a vegan diet?
A vegan diet involves eating only food products made from plants and avoiding animal products.
A vegan diet can be a highly nutritious choice, as it is low in saturated fat and rich in nutrients.
Starting out on an animal-free diet without proper planning can lead to some health risks.
All protein, vitamins, and minerals must come from non-animal sources, so food choice and preparation are important.
Reasons for following a vegan diet can include preventing cruelty to animals, environmental considerations, or simply looking to lose weight and lead a healthier lifestyle.
Fresh produce can be prepared at home. Some ready-made vegan meals are available in major grocery stores and specialist outlets.
Food packaging should state that the contents are vegan-friendly, or prepared in a completely meat-free kitchen.
Vegan options are available in many restaurants, and some specialized restaurants serve only vegan food.
Lower cancer risk
Meat eaters are at a higher risk of colorectal and prostate cancers.
The vegan diet consists of far higher volumes of legumes, fruits, and vegetables, fiber, and vitamin C.
These are believed to protect against a variety of cancers.
People on a vegan diet often take in fewer calories than a those on a standard Western diet.
This can lead to a lower body mass index (BMI) and a reduced risk of obesity.
A lower BMI is linked to lower overall concentrations of LDL cholesterol and slightly lower blood pressure, even compared with vegetarians who continue to drink animal milk.
Lower levels of harmful cholesterol mean that vegans have a lower risk of mortality from stroke and ischemic heart disease than people who eat meat.
Protecting against chronic disease
Plant-based diets can counteract an individual’s genetic likelihood of developing a chronic disease, such as type 2 diabetes.
A 2008 study explains that bioactive compounds in plant foods can control biological factors that may work against the genetic factors linked to some chronic diseases.
The researchers maintain that the antioxidants in plant-based foods can combat free radical cells that cause cell damage and inflammation.
Other plant compounds can help to control different genes linked to cardiovascular disease, arterial plaque, and tumor growth.
Vegans who are pregnant or breastfeeding
During pregnancy and when breastfeeding, women who follow a vegan diet need to make sure they get enough vitamins and minerals for their child to develop healthily.
It’s important to eat a varied and balanced diet during pregnancy to provide enough nutrients for you and the development and growth of your baby.
Vegetarian and vegan mums-to-be need to make sure they get enough iron and vitamin B12, which are mainly found in meat and fish, and vitamin D.
Vegan sources of calcium and vitamin D
Calcium is needed for strong and healthy bones and teeth.
Non-vegans get most of their calcium from dairy foods (milk, cheese and yoghurt), but vegans can get it from other foods.
Good sources of calcium for vegans include:
- green, leafy vegetables – such as broccoli, cabbage and okra, but not spinach
- fortified unsweetened soya, rice and oat drinks
- calcium-set tofu
- sesame seeds and tahini
- brown and white bread
- dried fruit, such as raisins, prunes, figs and dried apricots
The body needs vitamin D to regulate the amount of calcium and phosphate in the body. These nutrients help keep bones, teeth and muscles healthy.
Good sources of vitamin D for vegans include:
- exposure to sunlight, particularly from late March/early April to the end of September – remember to cover up or protect your skin before it starts to turn red or burn (see vitamin D and sunlight)
- fortified fat spreads, breakfast cereals and unsweetened soya drinks (with vitamin D added)
- vitamin D supplements
Read the label to ensure the vitamin D used in a product is not of animal origin.
What are the Best Vegan Diet Foods?
A healthy vegan diet plan is based around items our ancestors ate (although this is very different from a Paleo diet plan).
- Whole grains
Plant-based dairy substitutes and meat substitutes are also popular among many vegan diet followers.
What’s great about today’s market is there are so many companies that cater to plant-based diets, giving consumers the opportunity to enjoy their favorite ‘foods’ on a vegan diet.
Daiya is a delicious dairy-free cheese that’s a great option for those following a plant-based lifestyle who miss standard Swiss.
The world of meat substitutes has exploded since the days of veggie and tofu burgers.
From tempeh, seitan, and textured vegetable proteins, there are plenty of options.”
What is Off-Limits on the Vegan Diet?
By now, it’s probably clear that meat is off the menu. (There’s not an ounce in these fan-favorite vegan dinner recipes.)
But there are a few other items to keep an eye on when you’re cooking vegan or eating out and trying to follow a vegan diet
- Worcestershire sauce
- Beer and wine processed with animal products
- Gummy candies
- Omega-3 supplements with fish oil
Vegan Diet Recipes?
If you’re following a typical 2,000-calorie-a-day diet, bulk up the servings and add a healthy vegan dessert after lunch.
Ginger-Sesame Oats with Mushrooms and Charred Green Onions
Sweet Potato, White Bean Hummus, and Israeli Salad
Chewy Tropical Granola Bar
Lentil, Quinoa, and Baby Kale Bowl
Roasted Stone Fruit with Banana Ice Cream
Fat: 50 grams
Protein: 58 grams
Carbohydrates: 226 grams
Fiber: 38 grams
Keep a positive attitude
Think of all the new and delicious foods there are to try rather than thinking about the foods you’re giving up.
You may find yourself surprised at how many options there really are.
Some of your favorite foods are probably vegan to begin with, there’s loads of international dishes that are suitable for vegans, it can be so easy it is to veganize your old favorite meals and recipes.
Don’t worry about the changes you’re making, get excited about them!
Begin Planning Your Transition
This is where you need to seriously think about what is going to work best for you.
There are plenty of ways to go vegan you just have to find what’s best for you.
Here are some common options and some different ideas for your approach.
Find something that appeals to you, then tailor it to your needs!
1) Vegetarian Followed by Veganism:
Go vegetarian and then move onto veganism either in one step or by cutting out dairy and eggs one at a time.
Making the transition:
- Remove all meat from your diet, including fish and poultry.
- Take care not to increase your consumption of eggs and dairy to take the place of meat, focus on including more plant-based protein sources instead.
- Pay attention to ingredient lists, avoid products containing gelatin, rennet, and other animal products (excluding dairy and eggs).
- If you haven’t already, begin incorporating more whole grains, beans, legumes, tofu, nuts, and seeds into your diet. Once you feel comfortable to move forward you can start phasing out dairy, eggs, and honey.
Feel free to do this all at once, one food group at a time, or as slowly as you need to.
2) Slow Transition from Omnivore to Vegan:
- Slowly cut out animal products, starting with the easiest and leaving barrier foods to the end.
- Slowly lessen your consumption of animal products while simultaneously increasing the number of plant-based foods in your diet.
Continue until you’ve eliminated all animal products from your diet.
Making the transition:
- Remove any animal products that you won’t miss in your diet.
- If you haven’t already, incorporate more whole grains, beans, legumes, tofu, nuts, and seeds to your diet while simultaneously cutting down on the animal products that you’ll miss the least.
- You can gradually cut down on all animal products or remove one food/food group at a time.
- Remove barrier foods after you feel comfortable with all of the other changes in your diet.
- Pay attention to ingredient lists, you may find it easier to begin avoiding the less obvious animal derived ingredients one at a time.
You can also choose to overlook them until you’ve removed all obvious animal products (meat, seafood, dairy products, eggs, etc.) from your diet and you feel comfortable eating mostly plant-based foods.
3) Go Full-On Vegan:
- Cut out all animal derived ingredients and incorporate lots of whole grains, beans, legumes, tofu, nuts, and seeds for a healthy vegan diet.
- Swap out all of your favorite non-vegan items for vegan alternatives.
Many people find that relying on vegan burgers, hot dogs, deli slices, cheeses, etc. can really help ease the transition when cutting out animal products all at once.
If you want to dive right in, feel free to jump into veganism straight away! You’ll want to continue educating yourself so that you’re as prepared as possible.
Every little bit counts.
Whether you go vegetarian, vegan, or simply cut down your consumption of animal products, you’re taking a step in the right direction.
Don’t let yourself get caught up in trying to label yourself based on your diet.
Don’t allow yourself to become overwhelmed.
Adopting a vegan lifestyle isn’t necessarily difficult, but there is a learning curve.
Take your time, expect some mistakes, learn from them, and move on!
Remember that when you’re ready to jump on a vegan path, there are many things you can do to make this journey an easy transition.
Prepare yourself – search the web or read the books and check out what foods you should focus on eating when switching to a vegan diet.
Pick the pace that’s best for you. If you like the all or nothing concept, go vegan overnight. Or if you want to take it slower, make a gradual transition by eliminating more and more animal products each week.
It’s not a good idea to overcomplicate your meals. Especially when you’re just starting out! So keep your meals simple but diverse.
It’s also helpful to learn the essential vegan food substitutes so you can easily replace any animal products in the recipes with vegan alternatives.
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This information is provided for informational purposes only and is not intended as a substitute for the advice provided by your physician or other healthcare professional. You should not use the information on this web site for diagnosing or treating a health problem or disease, or prescribing any medication or other treatment.