Becoming vegan is one of the best ways in which you can contribute to a healthier environment — as well as a healthier you. While becoming vegan might seem like a difficult process, it’s far simpler than you think.
Since you’re extracting meat, dairy, eggs, and honey from your diet rather than adding new things to it, you can easily avoid foods and other products that contribute to animal harm. Plus, if you focus on whole foods rather than their processed counterparts, you don’t have to worry about sneaky ingredients.
Before we get into the meat of this article — no pun intended — let’s answer some of the most common questions about becoming vegan.
What You Need to Know About Becoming Vegan
When most people first consider veganism, they have lots of questions that deserve short, specific answers. You’ll want to understand the basic ideology behind veganism, which varies slightly from one person to the next, as well as the nitty-gritty details.
How do I start being vegan?
There’s no one right time or way to start becoming vegan. You decide that you no longer want to consume or use animal products, so you begin designing your diet and lifestyle around those values.
For some, it’s a cold-turkey situation. They decide they’re going to cut animal products out of their lives in one fell swoop, so becoming vegan is very abrupt.
Others ease into it. They might remove meat first, then dairy, and then eggs, and so on, until they’re leading an entirely vegan lifestyle. How you decide to transition to veganism is entirely up to you.
Is being vegan expensive?
Veganism can be expensive, but like any diet, it depends on what you purchase. For instance, vegetables and fruits tend to cost less than chicken breasts or fish filets at the supermarket. If you go to farmer’s markets, you’ll save even more money.
Becoming vegan isn’t about dropping $300 a week at Whole Foods, though you can certainly do so if that’s your jam. Instead, focus on finding vegan-friendly foods that fit your specific budget.
Shop for fruits and vegetables while they’re in season, take advantage of frozen or canned vegetables if necessary, and make large batches of food in advance so you can freeze the leftovers.
What can you eat as a vegan?
As a vegan, you can eat anything you want as long as it doesn’t contain any animal products. This includes meat, cheese, butter, yogurt, cottage cheese, eggs, and similar foods. You’ll also want to avoid any products with honey in them because stealing honey from bees harms the ecosystem.
Beyond that, there are no rules.
Is it healthy to be a vegan?
Becoming vegan isn’t a magic bullet for developing a healthy diet. Vegans and vegetarians tend to be healthier than meat eaters, on average, but it’s possible to overdo foods that cause weight gain and inflammation.
For instance, if you focus most of your diet on starches, you might gain weight. Substitute them for healthier alternatives. For instance, make mashed cauliflower instead of mashed potatoes.
How do you go vegan the right way?
The best way to become vegan is to learn as much as you can about this lifestyle choice. Figure out what you can and cannot eat to fully live your values, then practice reading ingredient labels and coming up with vegan recipes.
You’ll find tons of examples online as well as in books you can pick up for a few bucks on Amazon. Additionally, you can substitute meat with vegan foods, such as jackfruit and eggplant, to continue enjoying your favorite recipes.
Reasons to Go Vegan
Everyone comes to veganism with a distinct set of reasons or beliefs. There are numerous vegan benefits for both you and for the rest of the environment, and if you’re aware of the impact you’ll have on animals and other people, becoming vegan is a no-brainer.
Let’s look at some of the most popular reasons for becoming vegan.
Animals Want to Live
Just like humans, other animals have survival instincts. They want to persevere no matter their circumstances, and they want to continue the species. Eating animals and animal products go against that natural desire.
If you’ve ever visited a slaughterhouse, you might have noticed that the animals were terrified long before they were killed for their meat. They sensed impending death as well as the deaths of their brethren. This happens every day in the United States as well as across the rest of the world.
Animals Suffer in Factory Farming
Factory farming is perhaps one of the cruelest inventions humanity has ever devised. These operations exist for one purpose: To turn sentient creatures into nothing more than meat and parts for profit.
On a factory farm, animals don’t get to live in their natural environments. They’re denied adequate nutrition, fresh air, hydration, and socialization. Worse, they’re often abused by workers before they’re killed.
Humans Don’t Need Animal Products
If you think you need animal products to survive, you’re in for a surprise. You can nourish your body with plant-based protein, fat, carbohydrates, and micronutrients. In fact, you might discover that you eat more nutritious meals because you’re combining more foods to create your meals.
Animal Farming Has a Terrible Impact on the Environment
When animals are farmed for their meat and byproducts, they have to be housed, fed, and maintained. They produce staggering quantities of urine and feces, and the soil quality around such farms degrades quickly.
By becoming vegan, you no longer contribute to environmental destruction. Reducing your carbon footprint and voicing your opinion with your wallet can ultimately help save the environment.
It Is Better for Your Health
Many people who become vegan report feeling less sluggish, more energized, and more in tune with their bodies. This is likely because becoming vegan encourages you to try new foods and incorporate more vegetables and fruits into your diet.
When you eat a wider variety of foods, your body gains access to more micronutrients. Your digestion might improve, as well, because of increased fiber consumption.
What Does it Mean to Become Vegan?
Becoming vegan means that you don’t want to eat or consume any product that comes from an animal. You likely believe that animals other than humans are sentient creatures who deserve agency.
Beyond that, becoming vegan can mean whatever you want. It might be primarily motivated by diet or health, or it could be rooted in your deep love for animals. Whatever the case, you enjoy the benefits of becoming vegan.
What Can You Eat as a Vegan?
You can eat anything you want when you decide to go vegan as long as it doesn’t contain animal products. It’s easier, though, to focus on what you can eat. If you think of your diet as an exercise in deprivation, it won’t work for you.
Visit the supermarket and spend some time in the produce section. Pick up a few things you’ve never tried before so you can expand your palate and gain an appreciation for the many fruits and vegetables you’ve likely never tasted previously.
How to Go Vegan the Right Way
If you’re ready to go vegan, you need to prepare yourself so you enjoy the process. You’ll find more satisfaction in your new diet if you approach it as an adventure in eating. Instead of focusing on what you might be giving up, concentrate on diversifying your meals.
Take it Slow
Introducing new foods to your diet can be uncomfortable at first. Since your body isn’t used to breaking down those foods, eating too much of them can cause stomach upset, especially if those foods contain lots of fiber.
A great way to experiment with new fruits and vegetables is to add small amounts of each new food to a salad. You’ll get used to the taste and texture without overwhelming your digestive system.
You might want to start with simple meals at first, then expand into more diverse ones. It’s entirely up to you. Since becoming vegan often means spending more time in the kitchen, you might want to prepare meals in advance so you don’t find yourself in a time crunch.
Educate Yourself on the New Lifestyle
Learning about what becoming vegan means to you and to the rest of the world can be one of the most enjoyable parts of the process. Subscribe to the Sentient Media newsletter so you never miss new information about animal matters, join a vegan Facebook group, and read articles like this one.
Knowing What Types of Foods to Eat to Make Sure You Get the Necessary Nutrients Is Crucial
Your body needs calories for fuel, and it requires nutrients to ensure all of your body’s various systems work optimally. It’s actually easier to get all those necessary nutrients after becoming vegan because you’re forced to look for foods that don’t come from animals, but that contain lots of micro and macronutrients.
Fill your supermarket basket with as many vegetables as you can. Fresh vegetables are filled with the good things your body needs to function optimally, and you don’t want to miss out on them. Try for a variety of colors in every meal: Green, orange, red, yellow, and so on.
Many different types of beans exist, and they’re great sources of fiber. They also count as a starch, so you don’t need to fill up on bread or other less healthy starches. Try kidney beans, navy beans, and pinto beans.
If you visit any smoothie store, you’ll notice that berries are among the most common ingredients in any recipe. There’s a good reason for this. Berries contain tons of macronutrients, including those that help battle disease, so use berries on salads, as a snack, or on your morning oatmeal.
Just like vegetables, fruits come in lots of colors and flavors. Try them all. Some fruits are healthier than others. For instance, bananas contain tons of sugar, so eat them sparingly. Replace them with melon, apples, oranges, and other fruits. But don’t feel like you can’t indulge. If you have a favorite fruit, savor it as a dessert after a healthy meal.
While grains get a bad rap from many, they’re part of a healthy diet. Foods made from whole grains contain lots of important nutrients, and as long as you balance them out with vegetables and fruits, they won’t contribute to weight gain or inflammation.
Plan Your Transition
It’s always easier to make a major dietary shift when you have a plan. Follow these tips to ensure you don’t stress yourself out or get frustrated while you’re becoming vegan.
Always Remember Why You Decided to Go Vegan
If you find yourself craving something that isn’t vegan, have a mental image prepared to keep you motivated. It might be the animals you want to save, the weight you wish to lose, or the environmental impact you want to contribute toward.
Everyone needs his or her own motivation for becoming vegan. If you can’t articulate it, you’ll struggle to stick with the vegan lifestyle. Having a mental image ready to go when you need it will keep you from straying.
Try New Things
As mentioned above, you can approach becoming vegan as a new adventure. Don’t think of the things you’re cutting out of your diet, but focus on the things you’re adding in. One great way to incentivize yourself is to try one new food every week.
Places You Might Find Animal Ingredients That You May Not Know
Sometimes, becoming vegan is more difficult than you think. Packaged and processed foods often contain concealed animal products even when you can’t imagine how by looking at the box or can.
Learning to carefully read labels will help you become vegan more smoothly. As you cut animal meat and by-products out of your diet, your digestive system will adjust. Eventually, accidentally eating an animal product might cause stomach upset, so you’ll want to avoid those foods, even accidentally.
Many multi-ingredient cereals contain animal products, such as milk and eggs. That’s how they’re baked or cooked before they’re packaged for human consumption. Stock with oatmeal and similar cereals that don’t contain any animal products.
If you have a sweet tooth, consider eating only candies that are advertised as vegan. Many of the candies you’ve grown up eating contain eggs, dairy, and other animal products. Dark chocolate lovers can rejoice because most brands are vegan, but make sure to check the labels. Sour candies are also often vegan.
If you’ve spent any time in the kitchen, you likely know that most baked good recipes call for milk, eggs, and butter as their main ingredients. That makes them inherently not vegan. If you want pastries, cookies, or other baked goods, use vegan ingredients. For instance, you can substitute cow’s milk with almond milk and butter with vegan butter. The same goes for egg substitutes.
Don’t panic just yet. Many types of beer are completely vegan, so you don’t have to give up your favorite after-work drink when you want to cool off and enjoy your hops. However, some beers are kept in barrels lined with animal by-products, so you’ll want to read labels and research your favorite beer before you consume it.
One of the most important things to understand about becoming vegan is that you have to examine how products are made to ensure you continue eating and consuming as a vegan. Most wines go through a process called fining, which removes some of the particulates from the liquid. The finings used in most wineries contain animal by-products.
If you enjoy a glass of wine with dinner, look for vegan-friendly wines. Many brands are turning to finings that don’t involve animal by-products, and they’re usually more than happy to advertise that fact.
Just because a food is dairy-free doesn’t mean it’s vegan. For instance, a product that contains no milk or butter could still contain eggs or animal fat.
Refried beans, for instance, are considered dairy-free, but they’re often prepared using animal fat. That makes them not vegan — or even vegetarian.
Reading labels is a habit you’ll pick up while becoming vegan. It only takes a few seconds to scan an ingredient list, and the extra effort will pay off.
Substitute Animal-based Foods for Alternatives
Just because you’re eliminating animal-based foods from your diet doesn’t mean you can’t find acceptable alternatives. While you don’t want to fill your entire plate with animal substitutes, you can use these products for recipes or for those occasions when you’re craving something that isn’t usually vegan.
Plant-based Milk and Meats
There are many different options when it comes to plant-based milk on the market. From almond and coconut to soy and rice. Try them all to find out which ones you like best. Some people don’t like the aftertaste that comes with soy milk, for instance, while others prefer the smoothness of almond milk.
The same goes for plant-based meats. New options are popping up at an astonishing rate. From the big player like Beyond Meats and Impossible Foods to even companies like Nestle, more plant-based alternatives are becoming widely available.
You can also get butter that’s made from vegetables instead of cow’s milk. You likely won’t notice much of a taste difference since butter isn’t something you eat whole but as part of a recipe.
Vegan cheese is an acquired taste for some, while others take to it immediately. Don’t expect it to taste exactly like the cheddar you used to buy, but enjoy it for what it is. Plant-based cheeses are great for adding flavor to your favorite dishes.
Ice cream, unfortunately, is not vegan, but you can find other frozen treats to enjoy instead. Fruit sorbet is not only vegan but also healthier than ice cream. You might find that it’s also tastier because of the different flavors combined in each treat.
Most of the dips and spreads you would normally buy are not vegan, but you can find vegan spreads in most supermarkets. Hummus, for instance, can be an excellent substitute for anything from mayonnaise to veggie dips. It comes in many flavors, all of which are vegan.
Fortunately, companies have begun creating vegan, non-dairy creamers, whipped cream, cream cheese, and plenty of other substitutes. You don’t have to go without — you just have to look for alternatives. Some stores, such as Whole Foods, will have more options than the average supermarket, but you can always ask your local grocery store to order vegan products.
Yogurt is a staple in many household refrigerators. If you’re becoming vegan, though, you won’t be able to enjoy the yogurts you’ve been eating most of your life. Non-dairy yogurts are made similarly to other dairy alternatives, using plants instead of animal by-products.
You can absolutely get sufficient protein from a vegan diet. No supplements required. Focus on getting lots of vegetable protein from foods like quinoa, spelt, kale, soy, jackfruit, and chickpeas. These foods are not only delicious but spare animals.
Many different types of syrups are vegan, but you have to read the labels. For instance, you don’t want to eat any syrup that contains honey or is made using beeswax because those factors would make it non-vegan. Agave syrup is a delicious alternative to honey.
You can also get your omelette fix and ensure you can still bake pastries by selecting egg replacements from the supermarket shelf. These are vegan foods and taste pretty close to the eggs you would otherwise get from a chicken.
Join a Vegan Community
Now that you’re familiar with becoming vegan, you might want to join a vegan community — whether online or off. Get to know other vegans, share recipes, bond over shared values, and provide and accept support when necessary.
By surrounding yourself with people who share your beliefs and values, you’ll find becoming vegan easier and more enjoyable.
Becoming vegan isn’t a fad diet or a temporary way to shed a few pounds. It’s a lifestyle founded on the belief that animals don’t deserve to suffer in the service of humans and that our environment deserves protection. It is also the best way to combat speciesism and eventually end animal agriculture altogether.
If you’re becoming vegan, you’re part of that movement.
What’s your favorite aspect of becoming vegan?
Grant is the co-founder of Sentient Media. He currently lives in Brazil and has traveled across dozens of countries on assignment.