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How to Start a Vegan Diet

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Welcome! I'm thrilled that you are interested in becoming a vegan and I understand that it can sometimes be overwhelming with so many different opinions on what to eat and how to make the transition. In this article, I aim to make it simple for you and help you feel confident about starting a vegan diet. It's not as difficult as it may seem. I speak from experience, and I hope to make it easier for you too.

Start Slow

When transitioning to a vegan diet, it's crucial to remember that it's not about giving up animal products and feeling deprived. Instead, think of it as an opportunity to eat a wider variety of colorful, nutritious, and delicious plant-based foods. You can still enjoy the flavors you were used to by using the same spices. Veganism is a lifestyle of abundance, not deprivation.

Keep in mind that not many people go vegan overnight. Most people start by incorporating more vegan foods into their diet, trying new recipes, and eventually transitioning to a full vegan lifestyle. This article focuses on the food aspect of veganism and the whole foods plant-based way of eating, which emphasizes wholesome foods and minimizes processed food.

To start with your vegan lifestyle, begin by incorporating more vegan foods, such as vegetables, salads, beans, and whole grains, into your diet. Gradually increase the number of vegan meals you have each week until you are eating a hundred percent vegan food. This gradual approach makes it easier for your body, mind, and spirit to adjust and gives you time to try new recipes and get used to new flavors. Keeping a food journal can also help track your progress and make shifts towards a more vegan-friendly diet.

So, for example, if you're having fresh fruit and vegan oatmeal for breakfast and coffee with creamer, you can easily make the oatmeal vegan by using vegan butter and a non-dairy milk. The same goes for the creamer in your coffee, there are many vegan creamers available on the market. For lunch, if you're eating a salad with chicken or salmon, you can replace it with lentils, marinated tempeh, or smoked tofu. It's that simple to make a meal vegan.

The Vegan Diet

Read our detailed guide of the Vegan Diet.

Read Food Labels

As you transition to veganism, it's important to start reading food labels. Even though I've been vegan since 2011, I still read food labels to ensure I know what I'm eating. Sometimes products that seem vegan, like lactose-free cheese, may contain animal by-products like casing. So, always check the label for allergens, including milk, eggs, nuts, and soy. A product containing an allergen will usually be listed under the ingredients. If you can't find a vegan version of a product, you can try making it yourself or searching for a vegan alternative.

Making your favorite foods vegan is also possible. I come from a background of southern soul food and I was able to make all of my favorite dishes vegan by replacing the animal products with plant-based alternatives. If I could do it with my favorite soul food dishes, you can too. No matter what type of cuisine you come from, you can make your favorite recipes vegan by replacing the animal products. The spices and food preparation that give these dishes their flavor are plant-based, and you can also smoke or grill vegetables or mushrooms. If you don't want to make a recipe on your own, you can search for a vegan version online.

Meal Prepping

Meal prepping is also a game-changer. It involves preparing a variety of meals in one cooking session that you can eat for the coming days. You can meal prep for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, or just simple basics like whole grains, beans, salad dressings, and washed vegetables. I highly recommend meal prepping at least once a week.

For me, meal prepping is crucial. As a new mom and working mom, I don't have much time to cook for my family. That's why meal prepping makes a big difference. I like to share meal prep guides every week in my newsletter, which you can sign up for below. They're free. I also do meal prep videos on YouTube about once a month or every two months to show how to easily meal prep and remove the mystique and intimidation around it. I also show how to mix and match meals so you don't feel like you're eating the same thing every day.

However, if you're transitioning from a standard American diet and are not used to eating fiber-rich and plant-based foods, you may experience some discomfort, gas, and bloating. This is normal and simply because your body is not used to these foods, particularly the fiber. If you feel like you can't eat beans or vegetables, it means you're not eating enough of them. These are the healthiest foods, and the only reason for digestive issues is that you're not eating enough and your body is not used to digesting them. That's why I recommend starting slowly when transitioning to a vegan diet, so your body can get used to these foods. If you're already vegan and have been avoiding certain foods, start adding small amounts of them to your diet. You can even start with as little as one tablespoon a day or week.

Supplements

A lot of people want to know, what supplements do I need to start taking when I'm vegan? The only thing that I recommend for everybody is to take a B12 supplement. The reason you get B12 from eating animal products is because animals eat food straight out of the soil. They eat the grass and all, you know, dirt and such. But for most animals that are raised on feed lots, they're actually supplemented with b12. So if you're not gonna eat animal products, which I hope you don't make sure you take a B12 supplement, it is very simple to take. You can take it as a pill, as a little spray, like a liquid spray, as a chewable tablet, you can even get a B12 shot.

Whatever you take, it is absolutely fine.

For other vitamins, I advise talking to your doctor and getting blood work done. This way, you'll know which supplements you need to take based on any deficiencies. Common deficiencies include vitamin D, B12, iron, and calcium. Choose a path and stick with it when starting a vegan diet. If you want to do keto vegan, go for it. If you prefer raw, go for it. But the evidence suggests that eating mostly, if not all, whole plant foods is the healthiest way to be vegan. It's easier to stick to one thing at first, get comfortable with it, and then make adjustments later if needed. Eating a diverse range of whole plant foods will provide more nutrients than 99.9% of diets.

I've been vegan for a long time now and it has become second nature to me.

Wrapping Up

I don't have to think about it too much. I feel super confident in my diet. I know I'm healthy. I recently had a vegan pregnancy, now I'm raising a vegan baby. I'm not concerned at all about us getting enough nutrients because I know how to eat and I know what to eat. If at any time while you're vegan, you feel very hungry, you feel like you're not getting enough nutrients, maybe not enough protein, you're not eating enough food, it's really that simple.

You just need to eat more food.

Learn More

Read more on how to feel full on a vegan diet.

Plant-based foods are definitely lower in calories than foods, and especially then processed animal foods and processed foods. So if you need to eat more food, eat more food, you don't need to worry about calories, you don't need to worry about am I eating too much? Especially if you're eating an abundance of plants, you're not going to get fat, you're not going to eat too much because you're eating so much fiber.

I will be posting more guides about veganism, and I already have a great list of resources. You can check them out for more information if you have questions. I will also provide links to all the other things I mention in this video. I have a full blog post on how to get started with a vegan diet, which you can refer to as often as you like.

William H. McDaniel, MD

Dr. Robert H. Shmerling is the former clinical chief of the division of rheumatology at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (BIDMC), and is a current member of the corresponding faculty in medicine at Harvard Medical School.

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