I know this will sound very basic for many of us that have been following a vegan diet for some time and have felt the enormous benefits. However, I am very pleased to say we have new people considering it all the time, so they too are most welcome to join my website and share in the experiences and benefits that we vegans have been enjoying.
I will cover vegan diet for beginners in this blog, and also talk about what is vegan diet food. I will try and keep it relatively short and simple. Though for me that is not easy as I feel so passionate about it! For a more detailed look at a Vegan Diet there will be other blogs to follow, including vegan diet recipes.
What is a Vegan Diet?
Quite simply a vegan diet is one that consists of eating “plant based” foods! It excludes all animal based foods, whether that be meat, fish, dairy or eggs. It prioritises whole unprocessed foods like whole grains, legumes, nuts and fruit. Though don’t be put off by this, there are a huge number of recipes that are centred on these vegetables, grains and legumes that taste just great. I should explain here for our new members that we refer to “plant based” not only as the classic like chickpea and lentil curry, but often as a vegetable imitation of a (former?) meat classic. So there are “plant based” fish dishes, sausages and burgers that all look similar, and -to varying degrees-, taste similar and have a similar texture to meat based classics such as burgers, bacon, sausage, steak, chicken and all manner of meat and dairy dishes. Some of my favourites are plant based cream, cheese and butter, plant based fishcakes (or fishless cakes) sausages, burgers, chicken-less Kievs. Although of course you can buy vegetable alternatives to burgers or sausage, for example, that do not try to imitate meat but are purposely based on chick peas, beetroot, or many others, or a spiced theme. These “plant based” meat alternatives are a huge market and growing -in my opinion with quality and choice- all the time. Though these plant based meat alternatives are of course processed. So not all are as full of nutrients as a “fresh” traditional vegetable dish. Please don’t be put off by this, just bear it in mind when planning your meals. Vegans also avoid animal derived products such as leather, silk and wool. Although there are very many people who are transitioning to the vegan diet but are still in the process of getting there, more on this to follow.
Just one small point here, when I was eating meat I found that maybe 50% of my weekly shopping expense went on the meat! I do not spend any amount on meat now. So, my overall expenditure on shopping has decreased whilst maintaining my protein in a healthy balanced vegan diet.
Until you start to check labels you will probably be surprised at the amount of products that contain animal derived ingredients. It is easy to see that many baked goods contain eggs and milk. However, many processed foods contain animal fats such as lard without much nutritional benefit other than making them taste nicer. Other ingredients such as gelatine are in many sweets and products you might never even consider! For example those liquorice products that I used to like and those containing S’mores or marshmallow or indeed much soft candy/sweets contain gelatine. Though if you look around you will find vegan alternatives, and more are coming along all the time.
Why do people become vegan?
A vegan diet is becoming increasingly popular this is largely due to three main reasons.
Firstly, due to the numerous health benefits. A vegan diet is rich in fibre, nutrients and antioxidants, it is linked to lower rates of chronic diseases such as heart disease, bowel problems, diabetes, obesity and cancer. There is also some evidence of it reducing chronic pain, as in my case.
Secondly is the impact that farming has on the environment. Animal farming has a huge environmental impact, in particular, but not only cattle farming contributes to deforestation, an increase in greenhouse gasses and climate change. Additionally a huge amount of water goes into rearing animals.
Thirdly, is the treatment of animals. Many, some would say all, farmed animals are intelligent and feel many of the same emotions that humans do, but are treated dreadfully, from birth to death and every part in between! It should be noted that many vegans would put this at the very top of the list. Why is it that much of the world (not all) find dogs as companions and pigs and cow a commodity, when there are far more similarities than differences between the species. The only real difference is our perception, and many would say cruelty!
What Specifically is Vegan Diet food?
I have already outlined the general principles of a vegan diet food. However, specifically a vegan diet should be well planned, balanced and satisfying. (That is not to say that you cannot have vegan fast food, as I will outline in a later blog.) To ensure an adequate nutrition intake a vegan diet should consist of a variety of grains, legumes, vegetables, nuts and seeds. Plant based proteins include lentils, beans, tofu, seitan and tempeh. If the last three are new to you they basically are made from soya. They are naturally pretty bland but with the right seasoning and cooking techniques can be delicious and of various textures.
Vegans do need to supplement their vitamins, in particular B12. This is normally found in animals and is sourced from microbes that are on plants that live in soils outside. However, as farming has become more intensive and fewer animals are kept in green pastures, these animals are given B12 supplements, along with a host of other supplements like antibiotics that they need to survive in such unnatural conditions. Incidentally, animals, like humans, cannot produce protein. The protein that you might get from eating meat comes from the protein rich food that the animals are fed, again like grains, vegetables and beans.
Many people who do not know much about a vegan diet might well ask where you get your protein and that has largely been answered above. However, If you do a lot of exercise or are concentrating on bodybuilding, there is of course a limit to how much protein rich food you can consume. There is an easy answer here and that is a protein supplement which can come in a bar or a shake. I find keeping a protein bar or two in the car always helps out. However, if I am doing a long cycling or treadmill session I will go for a protein shake.
A word of warning here though, many such shakes are made with whey from cow’s milk. Look for a vegan shake which has a mix of proteins, but often soy and pea predominantly. They are no more expensive than whey protein but you may have to search for them! Then simply mix them up with water or a plant based milk for a great pre, or post workout boost.
Tips on how to transition to a Vegan Diet for Beginners.
The transition to a plant based diet can be challenging for many people. The good news is that you do not have to dive into it from day one. However, this is an option if you feel strongly enough about it. If you do not feel up-to going vegan straight away you can start simply and gradually. First start substituting meat with vegetables and legumes and generally incorporate more plant based foods in your diet. Personally I have always loved cooking, nearly as much as eating. In particular I love curries, Chinese and Mexican food. I have found as long as the spices are right you can simply leave out the meat, putting in chick peas, lentils and/or a range of beans. If you are not up to this there are a huge amount of “fake” meat alternatives out there. From individual ingredients to plant based full ready meals. Personally I am not a fan of the latter, but if it helps your transition, good luck to you.
There are vegan substitutes for nearly everything now. Soya yoghurts, soya, almond, (my favourite) or oat milk to name just a few. Coconut milk or coconut cream works great in curries and Asian dishes. There are also some great plant based alternatives to burgers and sausages and I am a fan of certain plant based cheeses, though you might like to experiment here, not all are created the same! Though I did say I would leave the vegan diet recipes for another time!
There are challenges, and of course solutions to the vegan diet. Many of these come from family or friends who just expect you to eat meat at the gatherings as you have been doing all along. Hopefully you can educate them to your views and they can accommodate you. It may be in the early stages that you have to take along your own “main” course and miss out on that turkey but just add the trimmings to what you brought. Now when I go to friends or family they have generally got a meat alternative in ready for me. Of course it maybe helps that plant-based is generally a lot cheaper than meat anyway.
What might be more of a challenge is when going out to a restaurant. Many restaurants are now producing vegan or vegetarian friendly meals. Though there are still some I go to where I end up with just a plate of grilled vegetables, or pasta in tomato sauce! Still that is my choice and I rarely go home hungry. Though with a bit of planning, a check of the restaurant online or even a phone call to say we have a vegan can mostly accommodate your vegan diet.
It is true that some people will wonder why you have gone, or are going, vegan but that can lead to some very interesting discussions and open some people’s eyes. Many of us were simply brought up believing we get our protein from meat and that milk is necessary for strong bones! I was certainly one of those who never gave much more thought to it than that. Only when I started looking at veganism did I find that this was nothing more than clever advertising!
If you need a little “jump start” to turning vegan, you might like to try the 30 day vegan challenge. You can find details of that by clicking here. Please note that if you should make a purchase from this link I will receive a small commission as an affiliate marketer, though you will pay no more.
So though the transition to a vegan diet might be difficult for some, the benefits are huge. The diet is healthy and sustainable and personally speaking I have never enjoyed my food so much, while still keeping my weight down. It can be a satisfying way to live without having a really bad impact on the planet and you are taking no part in the suffering and death of so many animals that have done nothing wrong apart from being born as a cow, sheep or pig etc.
I now have a link to a cookbook of 300 vegan recipes. This a digital book available for you to purchase should you wish to do so. To get this book or to find out more details please click the link here.
If you have any questions about a vegan diet for beginners please let me know in the comments below. I have a lot of experience with this and would be more than happy to help you out.