Sometimes I think the universe played a grand joke on me when I decided to study nutrition. Since taking on nutrition as my career choice I have been diagnosed with two conditions requiring restrictive diets. It’s like the universe wanted to give me tests to see how well I truly understood my career choice (FYI: I passed with flying colors, if I do say so myself). One of these conditions has forced me to completely eliminate dairy. On top of this I stopped eating red meat around the age of nine because I simply did not like the way it tasted. So after doing some of my own research, I decided to take the next step and follow a vegan diet.
Now to be clear, I am currently eating a vegan diet during the week and allow for a few non-vegan items during the weekend. This is to help me adjust more easily to the change (as well as those kind-hearted people who sometime provide me with food and who are just figuring out the previous dietary restrictions). I am currently eating animal products in about three meals a week.
Now this post is not to condemn any lifestyle choice (because I’m honestly so sick of those kind of articles/posts). Rather I am detailing my experience for those who are interested. I had a fairly easy entrance into veganism because I have followed a semi-vegetarian (fish and fowl) diet fairly regularly for 27 years and have spent five years avoiding about half of the dairy products out there and now one full year avoiding (or trying to avoid) all dairy. The thought of going Vegan (for ease, environmental reasons, and moral reasons) had been going through my mind quite regularly. About a month ago a made the plunge and I am pretty darn happy with my choice. If you are someone who is considering this change I have detailed a few hints and tips below.
Tip #1: Take it slowly. Unless you have a medical condition, there is no reason to go cold-turkey on animal products. This will be helpful if you are concerned about nutrients like protein and iron. Taking time to do some research on high protein vegan options. Test out recipes and vegan food substitutes to see what you like, dislike, etc. Start by adding in more fruit and veggies, beans and legumes, slowly crowding out animal products. You don’t have to be perfect to start.
Tip #2: Do your research. You can eat a vegan diet that consists of potato chips, Oreos, and diet Coke, but that doesn’t mean it’s healthy. It’s a common myth that vegans are healthier, but this isn’t always true. If you are looking to cut out large groups of food you’ll want to know how to replace those nutrients in a healthy way. As I said before, test out different recipes and food items to figure out what will work for you.
Tip #3: Find your magic item. I love eating cereals for breakfast (oatmeal, homemade granola, etc.) because of how fast and easy it is. When I was faced with eliminating milk I had to find an alternative. I tested different types (soy, almond, coconut, rice, etc) and brands until I found one that worked for me. I also was introduced to Earth Balance butter spread. I rarely use butter, but found I wasn’t always thrilled with vegan baked items and tested this as a butter replacement. It takes some time and practice, but you can find these types of magic items that make it easier to go vegan.
Tip #4: Figure out what exactly you want to do. Technically a vegan diet will avoid ALL products made from or by animals. This includes meat, dairy, eggs, and even honey. However, there are many people out there who consider themselves vegan, but consume honey, or raise their own chicken to provide fresh eggs. Think about why you are making this choice (health, environmental, moral, etc.) and mold your diet around those choices. Not everything is black and white. Like I said, I tell people I consume a vegan diet when I am out and not in control of my food like I am at home. There’s nothing wrong with ordering a vegan option at a restaurant, even if you would eat the same thing at home, but with eggs (as an example).
Tip #5: Be prepared. This tip has two parts. First, you may want to get in the habit of carrying your own snacks with you, bringing your own side dish to parties, or even eating at home before a food-based event. Not everyone will be aware of your dietary preferences/restrictions and even if they are, they may not fully understand. You’ll get plenty of people who offer cookies, forgetting the butter used to make them. Also, be prepared for those people who question your dietary choices. They may pepper you with questions about how you get your protein, if you’re a member of PETA, or how in the world can you not like bacon. It’s not fun, and you only have to answer to yourself when it comes to your dietary lifestyle, but I feel it would be negligent of me not to warn you.
**In this post I brush over reasons for consuming a vegan diet. This is not because those reasons are unimportant, but rather because I don’t want to bring into this post the negative stereotypes associated with Vegans (I’m sure you see the posts and videos on how Vegans push their dietary choices on others). That’s a topic for a different time (stay-tuned, because I’ll likely cover it on this blog later). This post is a simple, non-judgmental, kind of how-to for those looking into a vegan diet.**