I Want To Go Vegan… But, How Do I Start?

Vegan guide for beginners

Giving up animal products can be an overwhelming decision for some people and maybe you don’t know where to start. Continue reading this quick guide to help make your transition easier.

I think that one of the main reasons why people hold back from deciding to stop using animal products is because they believe it will be extremely difficult, that the food is going to taste horrible or they won’t find anything to eat.

This is the idea I had the first time that I ponder about becoming a vegetarian. All my life I had eaten meat; it was something I enjoyed and thought was inevitably necessary for a good health and to obtain all the required nutrients.

I grew up in an area where we had large patios and grew fruit trees of all kinds. Besides that, we always had pets at home including chickens and hens who I would rescue when I could by making them my privileged pets so they wouldn’t become dinner.  But right there my dilemma and moral conflict started how could I call myself an animal lover if I was eating them?

This situation was too conflicting, however, I had two failed attempts to become a vegetarian and it was not until the third one that I finally stopped eating meat and cow’s milk definitely (and a year later gave up the rest and went vegan).  

I feel that the first two times I failed because of a very bad planning on my part, and since I still had the chip in my head that eating animals was part of the “cycle of life” and it was not normal to try to avoid it. Therefore, I truly understand why many people find it difficult to make the decision since it happened to me and it took me a while.

Veganism is a process and the time it takes will depend on each person. It’s not a philosophy of perfection either, but rather of compassion and to do the best we can to cause the least damage possible.

We live in a world in which there are animal products practically everywhere, even on things that one would never imagine, so we will sometimes accidentally end up using something that is not technically vegan but the important thing is to be aware of our actions and that we are making an effort to not contribute with animal exploitation.

BUT…  WHAT IS VEGANISM?

Hazte vegano

According to the Vegan Society 

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.

So Veganism is more than just a diet, it goes beyond that to be a lifestyle where people abstain  from consuming any product of animal origin- this includes dairy, eggs, and honey- also avoid using clothing, footwear, cosmetic products or toiletries containing animal ingredients or participation in any activity that promotes cruelty (riding elephants, swimming with dolphins, circuses with animals etc). 

It is not a cult, or a trend or a diet for weight loss.

  • What’s the difference between vegan and vegetarian?  Fish is ok to eat, right?

A vegetarian is someone who doesn’t eat animals, but can consume some animal products such as honey, dairy (lacto-vegetarian), eggs (ovo-vegetarian), or both (ovo – lacto vegetarian).

Vegans are known sometimes as strict vegetarians and as I described above excludes any product that comes from an animal (including leather, feathers, wool, etc).

In the category of veganism, there are also sub-groups:

  • Fruitarians: Their diet consists of primarily of fruits, greens, veggies, seeds, and nuts. It excludes grains, tubers, cereals, legumes and other vegetables that need cooking.
  • Raw vegan: They carry a vegan based on a large quantity of fresh fruit and vegetables but nothing is cooked above 48 ° C (118 ° F); They include vegetables, some tubers, nuts, seeds and sprouted grains.

Getting to the issue of whether a vegetarian eats fish, the answer is no. There is a group of people who are pescetarians which means they follow a largely vegetarian diet but additional to that consume fish and other sea animals. This can cause confusion as they could often be described as “vegetarians who eat fish” which is not correct. There will be a time transition and it is normal to gradually eliminate the consumption of animal products, but this is different to a person saying that he/she has been vegetarian for 10 years but in that time has never stopped eating fish.

COMMON CONCERNS

Some of the reasons why people consider that they could never go vegan are related to doubts about nutrition, ethics, and society.

  •  Where will I get the protein and other nutrients? 

Protein sources for vegans- © Vegan Outreach

This is one of the first questions I get any time someone finds out that I don’t eat meat. We have a concept so deep within ourselves that the better (and for many people- only) source of proteins, iron, calcium, omega 3, etc, comes exclusively from products of animal origin.

I had this question when I was analyzing possible reasons to continue eating meat. Even doctors and other health professionals are going to doubt your physical state just because you stopped eating meat, eggs, and dairy. Probably people will see you as a weirdo, lunatic and extremist who is going to get sick and die from protein deficiency.

The reality is that the plant world is full of proteins. Did know that one cup of broccoli contains almost 3 grams of protein? Furthermore, it’s a source of calcium, vitamin A, iron, and vitamin C.

A whole pineapple has almost 5 grams of protein and half a cup of lentils adds to your diet almost 16 grams and 9 grams of fiber. So believe me, you will not die of a lack of anything if you plan your meals well.

As you can see that there are several sources of plant-based proteins. And the best thing is that you don’t get the cholesterol which is common on animal-based counterparts. Currently, our society consumes an excessive amount of animal proteins, exceeding the daily requirement, this is unsustainable for our planet in the long run but also not good for our health. Do you really need to eat those 3 eggs, sausage, bacon, buttered toast and a glass of milk for breakfast?

Do you really need a dinner that has pork chops, chicken breast, a steak, and cheesy pasta with shrimps? We go way over the top and many people eat for pleasure instead of the necessity to nourish our bodies, no matter if we deplete our resources and have cruel factory farms to satiate our taste for meat.

It should be noted that being vegan doesn’t automatically make you healthy as you can be one just by eating French fries and doughnuts. It is important then to read about basic nutrition – which honestly it’s something that everybody should do – because many people don’t have very clear concepts regarding a balanced meal, where to get nutrients and how much we need.

A vegan diet abundant in fresh produce and unprocessed food, low in processed oils and refined sugars can lead to big health benefits if it’s well planned and can be suitable for any stage of life.

 

Everything is based on having a balanced diet in which you include a variety of fruits and vegetables, legumes, cereals, nuts, and seeds. At the moment the only vitamin that is often supplemented is B12, just be sure that the B12 supplement you buy is vegan because many companies may include gelatin or other animal ingredients.

Everyone can suffer deficiencies – even if they eat meat – but just fact of being vegan will put more eyes on you in case for some reason you are low on something, coming to such an extent that some people go back to eating meat because they say that veganism made them sick – when in reality it could have been poor planning – and an extra reason for those who say they could never stop eating meat to never even try.

Don’t forget the calories!

Not many people mention the importance of calories, we live in a world where they are counted down to restrict them in order to not gain weight; plant-based foods are less dense in caloric content so it´s important to take that into account and create your menu making sure that you are not consuming less than your daily requirements.

For those who would like to lose a couple of pounds, perhaps this sounds tempting, but if you’re already a thin person the purpose is not to disappear.

An application that helped me a lot is cron-o-meter, and like this one there are other apps that can help you a lot on this lifestyle.

Make sure that you consume high-quality calories because it’s not the same 100 calories of potato chips or Oreo cookies to 100 calories of almonds or bananas.

  • But being vegan is very expensive!

There is a belief that to be vegan you must have a lot of money because all vegan products are expensive and on top of that they taste like cardboard.

This is far from reality, you don’t need to be a millionaire to eat well and in fact, from my own experience, I can say that my food costs are much lower now.

It all depends on what kind of things to buy and where to buy them.

Usually, legumes, cereals, fruits, and vegetables are cheaper than a kilo of meat. When I go to a restaurant and they have vegan or vegetarian options most of the time the price is lower.

I think that this idea about the costs of a vegan diet is related to the comparison with the plant-based substitutes like cheese, plant-based milks, sausages and vegetarian burgers or when compared to eating out at 100% vegan, organic and gluten-free restaurant, additional to buying imported products or fruits and vegetables out of season and specialized products like maca, açai, goji berries, wheatgrass among others.

Yes, it’s true that such products can be more expensive if you compare a traditional sausage with its veggie version, but you have to take into account the quality of the ingredients since many brands use organic products, are GMO-free and in addition, often come from fair trade and sustainable sources.

The reality is that myself and several people I know rarely consume these products on a daily basis. My trips to the supermarket are to buy very specific items such as rice, spices, and vegetables.

Most of my meals are based on whole foods. I make my own almond milk, my own ice cream, my dressings among other things and that helps in reducing your costs and gives you the chance to make sure that what you are eating higher quality products that are better for your health ; because once again, that something is vegan doesn’t mean it’s healthy or has no additives.

Market- how to go vegan
Visit your local market to get better prices on produce

The substitutes for animal products are quite useful when you are starting the transition because it makes the process easier, also for social activities such as a barbecue with friends or family, and they also come handy when you need a quick meal.

  • OK, but I hate vegetables and fruits are not my thing. What can I eat then?

If someone had told my parents 20 years ago that I was going to be vegan they would have never believed it.  I was that girl who didn’t anything that came from a plant, except for the occasional salad with lettuce and tomato and some fruits such as pears or apples.

Our taste buds are adaptable and as I’ve mentioned, I hated vegetables and now I love them even on their own without any dressing. There are a few that I simply got used to and ended up liking eventually, I also experienced the reverse and can’t stand the smell of meat or dairy now. Everything is up to getting used to it. 

If you’re a person who is no fan of vegetables or fruits then I suggest you start step-by-step. Try to integrate them with foods that you like such as pasta, curries or in juices and give them a chance one at a time preparing them in different ways until you find which suits you.

It may be that you are never going to like some, no matter in how many ways you try  (Yes, I’m talking about you olives!) so if you have a blacklist of things you have tested in different forms and that spinach simply doesn’t go with you, well it doesn’t matter! Try to integrate other things that you like.

Smoothie- how to go vegan
Eat the rainbow

Another common thought is that meat-free food is boring and tasteless, but would you eat a piece of raw chicken and without any type of seasoning?. I doubt it very much… well, the same thing happens with vegan food, if it’s poorly seasoned or the ingredients are not good quality then it could taste like grass and leave people with this bad impression.

You’ll be wondering if you need to know how to cook. Honestly, there are many things that can be done easily and even if you don’t like cooking. There are plenty of recipes from basic to more complex,  everything will depend on you and your research.

Cooking meatless will open the doors to a new world of flavors, there are so many things that I didn’t even know existed and are now an important part of my dishes.

vegan smoothie bowl- how to go vegan
Try new recipes and fill your meals with nutrients

Before becoming a vegetarian my breakfast, lunch, and dinner were repetitive, I felt drained and tired most of the time and I constantly got sick. Now, I always try different things and enjoy all my meals, I feel satisfied and the best of all: I feel good integrally in body and mind (my blood tests are excellent, including my protein levels: D). 

TIPS AND ADVICE

  • Investigate: everything you can, the more the better. Watch documentaries, follow pages and blogs related to veganism, read about nutrition and whole foods plant-based diets. 
  • Look for recipes: try a new dish at least once a week, one that is simple for you and with ingredients you can get where you live.
  • Try meatless Mondays: If at the moment you feel that giving up meat 100% is too hard then try to gradually reduce your consumption, meat-free Mondays are a good choice.
  • Plan your menu in advance: a good way to always have something to eat is organizing your meals every week. You can even do some things beforehand like cutting vegetables. Freeze fruit for breakfast smoothies. Make hummus for your sandwiches, etc. Also, that will help you when shopping and focus on the things you need.
  • Visit your local market: markets are one of the best places to get your fruits and vegetables. You will get better prices and fresh products direct from the producer most of the time. Focus on the local and seasonal goods which will be cheaper and have better flavor.
  • Veganize your favorite foods: there are certain dishes that have a special and emotional meaning for us. If you feel bad because you will never be able to eat the lasagna or Mac & Cheese that you like so much then try to make a vegan version of it. Sometimes it’s very simple and you will discover that you can still enjoy them without the need to add animal products.
  • Join your local vegan groups: the group of vegans and vegetarians in my country helped me immensely. It made me feel that I was not the only one or an alien in the middle of a meat-loving country, I also learned many things about where to find ingredients, doctors or nutritionists with experience in veganism, tips to handle certain situations, among other things.
  • Have patience: once you go vegan it can shock some people. You can receive a lot of questions, challenges to try to make you reconsider your decision, as well as criticism and jokes. Some get little acceptance from family, friends or society in general. Don’t worry, whenever someone goes against what society considers normal and standard there is going to be judgment and disagreement. Just try to ignore people who try to bother you.  Remember what made you make the decision and feel sure that it is the best thing you can do for the animals, your health, and the environment.
  • Prepare back up plans: If you are eating out and it’s not sure that the place you’re going will have vegan options contact them ahead of time and ask them on the matter and if they don’t have anything, ask them if they could do something simple for you. If you go on day trips take some sandwiches, snacks, nuts, fruit and energy bars just in case you can’t find anything reliable on the road.
  • Don’t give up: veganism is not about perfection or becoming the vegan police by thinking you are better than others. You may make mistakes along the way and eat something that you were assured had no eggs but when you see better it turns out it did have. Or surrender to a craving for extra cheese pizza another day. We are all human and it can happen. The thing is to not let the guilt let you know, move on and just be more careful next time, try to maintain vegan food at hand so it helps you to avoid falling into temptations.

Once you see the reality of animal suffering and what happens so people can eat meat, the deforestation and environmental damage occurring as consequence of factory farming you’d wish everyone including your partner, friends, acquaintances, and relatives would feel the same as you, ditch animal products and go vegan. But the reality is different, you could feel frustrated to see that it doesn’t matter to many people even if they know the facts. Try to be comprehensive, and remember that many of us one day were in that same position of denial.

If you decide to take this lifestyle do in a way that makes you feel comfortable and at your own pace. Don’t compare yourself with others or feel disappointed because XX person became vegan overnight without any kind of temptation but in your case you are still struggling.

Once you go with the flow you’ll see that it’s one of the best decisions you could’ve made and thousands of animals will thank you.

Do you have any other questions about veganism and how to get started? Or if you are a vegan, tell us about your experience! 

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