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October 25, 2019 / Diana Gariglio-Clelland

An Expert's Guide On How to Go Vegan the Right Way

vegan-food

A vegan diet is one where animal products are completely avoided and the focus is on consuming plant-based foods instead. This diet is quite different than the way many people eat, so it’s understandable that the transition from a regular to vegan diet may seem overwhelming. However, with the right vegan meal plan and mindset, you can learn how to go vegan safely and sustainably.

What is a Vegan Diet and What are the Benefits?

A vegan diet, also called a plant-based diet, omits all food and beverages derived from animal products and has a plethora of health benefits. Meat, fish, eggs, dairy products and even less obvious animal-derived products such as gelatin are completely omitted when someone decides to go vegan.

vegan-thai-fried-rice *Recipe: Thai fried rice with broccolini and peanuts *

Vegan diets are often much higher in dietary fiber, which is a major health benefit as fiber has been shown to help reduce risk factors for heart disease, such as lowering LDL or “bad” cholesterol levels; and it is also associated with a reduced risk of colon cancer. Therefore, those following a vegan diet have been found to have lower incidence of heart disease and even have a lower risk of developing cancer.

People may also decide to go vegan for ethical concerns about the treatment of animals, or for the environmental impact of eating a diet high in meat.

What to Expect from Your Body and Common Pitfalls

You may be wondering how to go vegan as seamlessly as possible, especially when switching from a diet liberal in animal products. It’s important to go vegan the right way to avoid potential health problems and setbacks.

A vegan diet has the potential to be lower in calories and certain nutrients than a diet relying on animal products. If you’re an athlete, you may have reduced exercise tolerance until you learn to properly fuel yourself with plant-based foods. There are risks for nutrient deficiencies, including iron, B12 and calcium, which is why it’s important to learn how to go vegan safely.

Some common mistakes people make when deciding to go vegan include making the change too quickly, deciding to go vegan for the wrong reasons, choosing a vegan lifestyle solely for weight loss (being restrictive with food to lose weight isn’t sustainable in the long run), choosing low-nutrient vegan foods, and being too hard on themselves during the learning stages of becoming vegan.

How to go Vegan with Top Tips from the Experts

From breakfast to dinner and all meals in between, we've rounded up the most useful tips on how to go vegan for beginners, with advice from experts to support you as you begin your journey.

Choose plant-based complete proteins

While many animal products contain all nine essential (meaning our body must obtain them from food) amino acids needed to be considered a complete protein, single plant-based protein sources rarely provide all nine of these on their own. Certified culinary scientist and author Jessica Gavin encourages eating a variety of vegan protein sources which, when combined, provide all nine essential amino acids. Examples include beans, soy products and certain grains, but there are many options to choose from.

vegan-plant-based-protein

Ensure you’re getting important vitamins and minerals that can be lacking in a vegan diet

The American Academy of Family Physicians recommends focusing on key nutrients including iron, protein, calcium, vitamin D, vitamin B12, zinc and omega-3 fatty acids. If these nutrients can’t be consumed in adequate amounts day-to-day, then choosing to supplement those missing nutrients is a good idea.

Choose nutrient-rich vegan foods, not vegan-friendly foods that hold little nutritional value

Registered Dietitian and blogger Maggie Michalczyk suggests avoiding sodium- and sugar-laden vegan foods, such as processed meatless nuggets and sugary frozen desserts made from coconut milk. Many people associate vegan with “healthy,” and that’s definitely not automatically the case. After all, a vegan cookie is still a cookie!

vegan-lentil-soup

*Recipe: Hearty lentil and vegetable soup *

Holidays can be a particularly hard time to stay on track, with many traditional foods being based around animal products. We've rounded up our favorite vegan Thanksgiving recipes to take the guesswork out of this season!

Get adequate amounts of fat

A vegan diet has the potential to be lower in fat than a diet including animal products. To ensure adequate fat intake, The Vegan Society recommends consuming nuts and seeds daily, especially those rich in omega-3 fatty acids like walnuts, flax and chia seeds.

vegan-breakfast-bowl

Go at your own pace

Deciding to switch to a vegan diet is a major lifestyle change, and there isn’t one right way to do it. Some people decide to go vegan overnight, while others prefer to make the change slowly. When deciding how to go vegan yourself, it’s important to consider your personality, lifestyle and other factors to choose a route that will be most successful and seamless for you.

The bloggers behind I Love Vegan suggest learning about a vegan diet and stocking up on plant foods before you decide to make the switch, so you “add foods before you subtract them." If you’re not used to eating a variety of plant-based foods, it may be easier to make that move while you’re still eating animal products. I Love Vegan suggests finding some vegan recipes to experiment with and getting comfortable with them before you completely switch over to a vegan diet.

Think of it as an evolution

If you think of going vegan as starting a diet where there are rules to follow, you might want to consider adjusting your mindset. Transitioning to a plant-based diet should be a lifestyle, not a short-term crash diet that you’ll only stick to for a short time.

If you find you’re being hard on yourself during the transition to going vegan, remind yourself of the bigger picture and why you’re deciding to make this change. If you’re inspired to go vegan because of cruelty to animals, then take pride in the fact that even reducing your reliance of animal products slightly has made a difference. If your goal is to improve your health, then know that increasing your intake of plant-based foods and cutting back on animal products is still beneficial, even if you aren’t 100% off meat yet.

Keep learning

There is a learning curve when it comes to going vegan, especially if you relied heavily on foods containing animal products before. Brigitte Gemme behind Vegan Family Kitchen found herself transitioning to a vegan diet later in life, and did so very gradually over the course of about two years. Brigitte decided to include her children in the transition to a vegan diet, and stresses how important it is to educate yourself, especially when children are involved as they require different amounts of nutrients than adults. She suggests the book Becoming Vegan, which is authored by two registered dietitians.

Remember why

Your reason for going vegan is your own, so remind yourself of that along your journey. It can be easy to compare ourselves to others, especially all the glamorous vegan bloggers with professional photos of their gorgeous food! While your meals may not look as Instagram-worthy as theirs, your reason for adopting a vegan lifestyle is more important than anything, whether it’s for your health, love of animals or other personal reasons.

The Takeaway

When deciding how to go on a vegan diet, it’s important to educate yourself and take on the transition in a way that is sustainable and makes sense for you as an individual. There are important nutritional considerations to educate yourself on so you don’t have any health setbacks, such as avoiding nutritional deficiencies.

Remind yourself of your “why” behind deciding to go vegan, and be easy on yourself; this is a marathon, not a sprint, and there is a definite learning curve when changing your lifestyle so significantly. By continuing to educate yourself on a vegan diet and utilizing resources such as our vegan meal planner, you’ll be equipped with the tools you need to be successful in order to meet your personal goals.

Diana Gariglio-Clelland
Registered Dietitian and Certified Diabetes Educator

Diana Gariglio-Clelland is a Registered Dietitian and Certified Diabetes Educator with years of experience counseling patients in the hospital, community, and primary care health settings. She became interested in nutrition after struggling with her own misconceptions about health and nutrition during her early college years. Combining her own personal experiences and innate passion for helping others, she finds joy in helping her clients work towards achieving peace with their bodies by creating health-promoting, sustainable lifestyle habits.

Diana is currently working as a freelance dietitian since entering her newest role as stay-at-home mom to her little girl. She enjoys running and training for half marathons, and has been an avid equestrian for over half of her life.

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