I wrote a post recently on the health benefits of a vegan diet where we looked at how adopting a plant based meal plan into your life can help with things like heart disease, arthritis, strokes, weight problems and gut health. Now, it’s all well and good touting the wonderful advantages of making the vegan switch but it’s no use if you can’t put it into practice. So, how do you do it?
Below are 5 simple steps to going vegan. I would recommend making the transition slowly, giving a few days, weeks or even months to each stage. You’re much more likely to succeed by breaking it down into manageable, bite sized (pun intended!) chunks rather than trying to do everything at once and becoming overwhelmed by the whole thing.
Of course, I’m not a medical professional and if you have any concerns it’s always good to have a chat with your doctor, especially before making any big changes to your lifestyle. It’s never a bad idea to have your bloods taken anyway and, that way, you can see what your vitamin and mineral levels are like before and after the switch.
As usual, I’m eager to hear your feedback and thoughts and please share and ‘upvote’ if you like this piece.
The first step on the vegan path is usually to remove meat from the diet and, yes, that includes chicken and fish!
"But how on earth will I get protein into my meals?" I hear you ask. You may be surprised to learn that meat isn't the only source of protein in a human diet, far from it in actual fact. Legumes, such as soybeans, lentils and chickpeas, are fantastic sources of protein for the body and the media famous chia seeds also pack a powerful protein punch. Substituting beans and pulses for meat in recipes is relatively easy as well. Mincemeat can be exchanged for lentils or kidney beans in anything from a lasagna to a chili 'non' carne 😉
If you find you're still missing your meaty meals think about finding a meat replacement for a while. With vegetarianism and veganism taking the modern world by storm it usually isn't difficult to find quality, affordable 'fake' meats. I've found the delicious Linda McCartney sausages are easily available and dried soy chunks (fantastic in a bolognaise sauce) are on the shelves of most Asian supermarkets and health food shops.
And, if you're feeling a little more adventurous in the kitchen, think about making your own vegan versions of your favourite meaty mouthfuls. The internet is a wonderful thing and a quick Google search can turn up a cornucopia of recipes for tasty treats like vegan sausages, burgers and meatballs.
Taking the meat off your menu doesn't have to make mealtimes boring. In fact, it can be an exciting way to try new foods and bring a bit of experimentation and fun back into the kitchen.
The next step in going vegan is dropping the dairy products from you diet. This is normally where people start to panic. Often, we can't imagine life without cheese in our sandwiches or milk in our tea and, at this point, we give up. Ditching dairy doesn't have to be dreadful though. In fact, like with removing meat from the diet, it can be a fun way to try new flavours and products.
Lets start with milk (take a look here for an interesting quiz on the stuff). Depending on where in the world you're from, this may be a very integral part of your diet. Here in Ireland, milky tea is a staple in any household while milky coffee is fundamental to many people's mornings in Europe, the Americas and worldwide. Thankfully, with so many milk-like substitutes on the market you won't have to forego your daily fix. Many supermarkets now stock soy, almond and coconut based milk substitutes while you can find fancier ones made from hemp, hazelnuts and rice in more specialised shops. Aldi now even sells soy and almond milk very cheaply in many of their stores.
Another major qualm of those transitioning to veganism is the thought of chucking the cheese from their meals. Now it doesn't take an expert to figure out that those blocks of soft and solid fat are not beneficial to the human diet. Nevertheless, their addictive qualities can make the very idea of giving them up terrifying! If you feel like you're not quite ready to say goodbye to cheese just yet then, again, there are plenty of vegan versions on the market. You can buy prepackaged dairy-free cheese in most health food shops and a lot of regular supermarkets now too and, if you feel like experimenting in the kitchen, there are plenty of recipes out there for vegan cheese and cheese sauces using nuts and tofu as a base.
One thing to keep an eye out for is milk as an ingredient in some of the products you wouldn't expect to find it. A quick scan of the packaging will identify any dairy ingredients (all allergens will be written in bold or in CAPS to make them easily recognisable). Foods this may apply to are some chocolate, biscuits, crisps and cereals. But all is not lost - there are plenty of 'accidentally vegan' treats out there such as Oreos, Chilli Heatwave Doritos, Fox's Party Rings and most bourbon biscuits to name but a few. When it comes to chocolate, the darker the chocolate, the less likely it is to contain milk and, if a high cacao count isn't your thing, there is plenty of vegan 'milk chocolate' available on the market (my favourite being the deliciously creamy Vego Bar).
So you've gotten rid of meat and dairy - now it's time to tackle eggs! Luckily, there is an abundance of egg substitutes out there that are healthier and less cruel than the real thing and really, who wants to eat a chicken's period anyway?
Now eggs are a versatile ingredient and, admittedly, we can do a lot with them but that doesn't mean we can't do without them. A wonderful replacement for your breakfast eggs is scrambled tofu or a chickpea flour omelette - both are tasty, nutritious and relatively easy to make. When it comes to whipping up some cakes and buns, there are many easily accessible, affordable and healthy egg alternatives. Half a mashed banana or a chia/flax egg work wonderfully as a substitute in your favourite recipes and applesauce can also be an egg and sugar replacement when baking.
As with dairy, keep an eye on packaging labels for eggs as a surprise ingredient in some products. Don't get too disheartened though - there are lots of eggless cakes and tarts out there just waiting to be nibbled on. Mr Kipling's Treacle Tarts are vegan as are Lidl's Bramley Apple Pies and Tesco's Apple Strudel.
Making the switch to an egg-free diet may take a little planning and consideration but, in actuality, is straight forward and affordable.
Depending on your reasons for making the switch, you may or may not want to extend it past your eating habits. If it's solely for health reasons you might just want to adopt a plant based diet rather than going completely vegan. If you have concerns over the environment and/or the treatment of animals then the next step is to make sure you're using humane household products.
Taking a look at the ingredients list on your bottle of shampoo, detergent or make-up can reveal some unsettling additives. Glycerin/glycerol is a common ingredient in many household products and, unfortunately, unless stated otherwise, is usually from animal sources (cow or sheep fat). On closer inspection, there's a long list of not-so-obvious animal ingredients in many of our home and beauty products. Things like cochineal, elastin, carotene, keratin, lanolin and shellac are all big no-nos.
And, even if your nail polish or washing up liquid doesn't contain any of these animal products, there's the whole area of animal testing to take into account. Animal testing is a huge industry and is very widely practiced. Surprisingly most people seem to turn a blind eye to it, most likely because they aren't aware of what it actually entails (but that's a whole other post in itself). To ensure no animals were harmed in the making of your lipsticks and lotions look out for the cruelty-free symbol on packaging or check that it's approved by the vegan society.
Fortunately, there is a growing range of vegan and cruelty free products becoming available online and in shops. Many of the soaps, face masks and bath bombs in Lush stores are vegan as are the brands Kiss my Face, Dr Bronner, Urban Decay, Kat Von D Beauty and Faith in Nature. If you're feeling adventurous you may want to try your hand at making your own cleaning products and, you'll be happy to hear, it's surprisingly easy. Taking a quick peak on Google will provide you with plenty of cruelty free, earth friendly recipes for cleaning your face, clothes and kitchen counters.
Lastly, it's time to take a look at our clothes and how our fashion choices can have a much more damaging effect than we would have originally thought. There are some extremely cruel practices involved in retrieving leather, fur, silk and even wool but, again, that's a post for a different day.
With so many other synthetic and natural fibres out there though, it isn't difficult to pick up cruelty free clothes in most regular clothing outlets. Clothes made from cotton, linen, nylon and polyester are easily accessible, cheap and lack the brutality of their animal counterparts.
Now what you decide to do with your old leather boots and favourite silk scarf upon making the transition to veganism is entirely up to you. There are conflicting opinions on this topic, some people say to trash the lot, others say use it until it wears out. I think, really, there's no right or wrong here as long as your future purchases are cruelty free. Personally, I found it difficult to feel comfortable wearing animal fabrics once I'd made the switch and decided to donate my non vegan clothes to charity but, as I said, it's a personal choice and you need to find what works for you.
Ultimately, if you can cut out or eliminate animal products from your future purchases you'll be doing the world, animals and yourself a huge favour.