Being vegan means not consuming animal products or participating in the exploitation of animals in other ways. That includes foods derived from animals, clothing made from their skin or hair such as leather, fur and wool, and entertainment that uses animals such as zoos, circuses and marine parks.
Changing your diet can seem daunting at first. There is new information to learn, habits and cravings (don’t worry – they are temporary!) to overcome, and sometimes social pressures and social discomforts to deal with. But you are actually surrounded by vegan foods and many of them will be quite familiar to you and easy to find and prepare.
Your loved ones will adapt. It might help to make sure they understand that, although they may see it as an inconvenience or something weird, to you it is not just a personal preference but an ethical commitment.
You might as well begin with what you already do that’s vegan.
What’s already vegan?
You can start by looking at the parts of your diet that are already vegan and increasing those foods in your diet.
Do you have oatmeal for breakfast? That’s vegan, as long as you choose a nondairy milk like soy milk or rice milk. Add some maple syrup and cinnamon, and fruit or nuts if you like.
Falafel is often vegan (sometimes eggs are added, but not in traditional recipes) and falafel sandwiches can usually be made vegan upon request if they are not already.
Pita and hummus
Hummus is vegan, and most pita breads are, too.
Spaghetti in marinara sauce
Most pastas are vegan, and so is basic marinara sauce. Add your favorite mushrooms, vegetables and herbs. Or check the labels on jars of sauce in the supermarket. Some are vegan but many aren’t.
Peanut butter and jelly
The old standby in the U.S. is vegan as long as the bread is vegan.
Avocado sandwiches and portobello mushroom sandwiches can be made vegan. Add some tempeh for extra protein. You can mix and match, or combine all three with your favorite toppings and condiments. If you use mayo, look for a vegan brand like Vegenaise.
Fried potatoes and onions
Fried potatoes and onions are vegan as long as you use oil for frying and not butter.
Vegetable and bean soups
Popular soups like lentil, split pea, carrot soup, vegetable soup and miso soup can all be made vegan. In fact, vegan soups are so easy that some restaurants in major cities have a daily vegan soup option. But all of these can be easily made at home as well.
Split pea soup
To make split pea soup, all you need are split peas, onions and water. Garlic and carrot make nice additions. After it is cooked, salt to taste.
An easy lentil stew can be made by combining lentils with diced carrots and onions and cooking for about 45 minutes. Add salt or soy sauce to taste at the end of cooking. Optionally, add a little spritz of lemon juice on top just before serving.
The simplest miso soup can be made by mixing miso and water. Add a bit of dehydrated wakame and some thinly sliced carrots and onions if you like.
Looking for something you can eat right now without cooking? Make a big salad and throw some nuts on top. Just make sure to use a vegan dressing, like oil and vinegar. Still hungry? Have some bread with peanut butter. Not all breads are vegan, but many are. Most sourdoughs are.
Try making simple substitutions
There are several varieties of tempeh “bacon” and at least one of them is available in most supermarkets. It’s the one plant food that has comparable amounts of protein per serving as animal flesh. Try a tempeh sandwich for lunch. A good, high-protein comfort food breakfast is some cooked tempeh bacon and fried potatoes. Want an even healthier breakfast? Try tempeh and greens. Don’t expect tempeh bacon to be just like regular bacon. It’s not. But it’s a delicious and healthy way to get lots of protein.
Plant-based meats are too numerous to mention, but some popular ones are Beyond Meat and Gardein chicken, Field Roast sausage , and Tofurky sandwich slices.
Milk can be made from many grains, some beans, and just about any seed or nut. Some of the most popular ones are soy milk, rice milk, coconut milk, hemp milk and oat milk. You can make it inexpensively at home. If you buy it at the supermarket, there is the added bonus that most vegan milks are also fortified with some essential vitamins and minerals just like dairy milk is.
There are vegan varieties of all dairy products now, so you can find a variety of vegan milks and cheeses. Try Daiya vegan cheese or make your own nut cheeses. You can also simply add a bit of nutritional yeast or rice miso for a lightly cheesy flavor.
Try a DIY Vegan Alfredo sauce using cashew cream (1 cup of cashews blended with 2 cups of water).
Vegan butters are easy to make at home. The simplest is just coconut oil and salt. Or try one of the many vegan butter recipes.
You can make this yourself at home. Just do a web search search for “vegan mayonnaise” to find a recipe you like. Or try this recipe for vegan flax seed mayonnaise.
There are several brands that can be found in many supermarkets, such as:
Follow Your Heart
NRG Egg Replacer
Different recipes may call for different types of egg replacer.
Try some egg-free recipes, or experiment yourself. Sometimes you can simply leave the eggs out without replacing them with anything.
So Delicious coconut yogurt
Silk soy yogurt
Amy’s nondairy ice cream
You can make your own with a vegan crust, some tomato paste, your favorite herbs and vegetables and some Daiya mozarella cheese. In some places, such as natural foods markets or at restaurants and pizza places in college towns, you can order fresh vegan pizza right off the menu. Or look for a vegan frozen pizza brand:
Tofurky frozen pizza
Amy’s vegan pizza (not all Amy’s pizzas are vegan, so check the labels)
How to stay healthy
A healthy vegan diet is a varied diet that includes legumes (beans, lentils, peanut butter), nuts, seeds, grains, vegetables and fruit. Any diet has to be properly planned in order to meet all nutritional needs.
You can get plenty of protein from beans, seeds, and nuts. Tempeh is especially high in protein. Grains and vegetables also have protein, though in lesser amounts. Most people in developed countries get more protein than they need, and unless you are a fruitarian, you are getting protein in a vegan diet. To make sure you get enough, try to have 3-4 small servings of legumes a day. A serving is about half a cup of cooked beans or lentils or 2 tablespoons of peanut butter.
All humans, regardless of their diet, are at risk for vitamin D deficiency. Unless you are sure you synthesize adequate vitamin D from the sun, it’s best to eat fortified foods or take a supplement. Most nondairy milks are fortified with vitamin D2. Vitamin D2 is a vegan version of the vitamin. Vitamin D3, which is in many supplements, is usually derived from animal sources. There are now a few vegan D3 supplements on the market as well.
Vitamin B12 deficiency is common in both vegans and non-vegans. There is no plant source of B12 (despite internet myths to the contrary), so vegans should take a supplement. B12 supplements are inexpensive and can be found at most supermarkets. The sublingual (under the tongue) liquids and tablets are better absorbed than other forms.
Calcium can be found in green leafy vegetables, broccoli, green snap beans, seeds and nuts. It can be found in varying amounts in many plant foods – even maple syrup has calcium in it. It is also in fortified nondairy milks and in tofu made with calcium sulfate, as most tofu is. Current recommendations for vegans are the same as for non-vegans, about 1000 mg a day. Be sure to supplement if you don’t get enough in your diet.
See Vegan For Life for more information about these and other common concerns, such as essential fatty acids and minerals such as iodine, zinc and selenium. The author’s website also has a handy guide for how to plan your daily meals to make sure your nutritional needs are met.