Don’t fall for the same mistakes I did when I started my vegan diet.
Because of missing nutritional elements, I couldn’t quickly adapt to a more conscious, vegan lifestyle. Strangely, my wife started her diet at the same time, yet she did far better than me.
Fast forward 3.5 years later… and I’m now thriving on a vegan diet. I feel filled with energy and more motivated than ever. Frankly, my blood tests are beautiful to look at. And trust me, I was a bit hesitant in the beginning, but it all came to pass.
Coming from a traditional family, I had skeptics reminding me that without meat, it wouldn’t be possible to have the energy to push through life. I was also frequently reminded of my slenderness (despite the healthy weight), along with the occasional “vegan food has no taste” remark.
Sometimes it feels like an uphill battle, but it’s important to remember what’s at stake. Animals die left and right; global warming gets worse each day, and heart disease remains the 1# cause of global death. We can change that.
Let me provide you with a few snippets of my experience, as it’ll help you save time and avoid a few headaches. Here are 10 vital tips for brand new vegans:
#1 – Never Stop Researching
Take this #1 advice to heart. New studies are often released, and while the benefits to a vegan diet are numerous, limitations also exist, and they may weigh on you over time.
If you never stop researching, you can always be up to date with the latest and most credible information. Based on my experience, we can’t rely on just one source of information.
Here’s one example to illustrate what I mean.
Potential Misconception #1
Back in 1990, the vegan community implied osteoporosis was a disease of calcium loss from the bones rather than a lack of calcium in the diet. This concept was tied to two points.
a) Research suggesting the incidence of hip fractures transpired in countries with a higher dairy product consumption, and
b) A study showing that animal protein led to calcium loss through urine.
Both notions were misleading. Firstly, the hip fracture incidence in the study was indicative of the risk of falling — not osteoporosis. And secondly, the calcium loss from the bones was attributed to isolated protein, whereas if you ate protein from whole foods it wouldn’t lead to calcium imbalance.
Plus— according to various studies, bone mineral density appears to be lower in vegans, than non-vegans. (Note: Bone mineral density is a measure used to detect osteoporosis.)
Lastly, two Oxford studies found that vegans consuming more than 525 mg of calcium per day have the same fracture rates as meat-eaters and ovo-lacto-vegetarians. Why is this important? Because it emphasizes the importance of a nutrient-rich diet!
*Credit to veganhealth.org for the information.
Misconceptions like the one above are dangerous for your health. Whenever you find new information, you should verify the credibility of the source. Yes, you’ll make a wrong guess now and then, but that’s why you should never stop researching.
Here’s another quick example.
Potential Misconception #2
At some point during my last three years, I felt increasingly lightheaded and tired. Which was surprising because I usually take extra precautions and plan out my meals to incorporate nutrient-rich ingredients.
While I don’t know why I felt those symptoms, I came across something that may have positively impacted my health.
The vitamin b12 recommended dietary allowance for adults is 2.4 mcg. A number that number emerged from a study with 7 people back in 1958. (That is quite old, and the sample of people is small.)
However, a more recent study suggests the new recommended dietary allowance should be between 4 and 7 mcg.
Needless to say, I increased my b12 intake and the balance was restored. Was it a placebo effect? I don’t know. What I know is that I bought a new vitamin b12 supplement, and this time one with a higher dosage.
It’s also worth noting that the percentage your body can absorb from supplements is very limited. In fact, it’s estimated that your body can only absorb 10 mcg of a 500 mcg B12 supplement.
Meaning… it may be likely that my previous 100 mcg b12 supplement wasn’t enough.
*Credit to nutritionfacts.org and healthline.com for the information.
This being said, these are merely examples, and you don’t have to follow my advice on that.
I wanted to simply show you the importance of research, and why asking questions is important. At the same time, this allowed me to be extra careful about my diet and taking care of my nutrition.
#2 – A B12 Supplement Is Vital
Don’t sleep on a vitamin b12 supplement. The first and second tips I’m giving you are essential if you want to thrive on a vegan diet. Don’t listen to the Youtubers calling it a myth, and do your research.
While it may take years to reach b12 deficiency, it may be too late by the time you seek treatment. This state of deficiency is dangerous, especially if you look at the potential symptoms:
- Depression, memory loss or behavioral changes;
- Vision loss;
- Cognitive difficulties (Processing and organizing information);
- Swollen, inflamed tongue;
- Fatigue, weakness, and difficulty in walking.
If you ignore it, you might run into severe neurological and blood problems.
Get A “Vegan” B12 Supplement
Just like every food is not vegan, many supplements are also not. There’s a property in supplements called gelatin— a protein created from boiling the tendons, ligaments, bones, and skin of cows and pigs. Needless to say, you have to avoid those.
The dosage of a b12 supplement depends on how often you want to take the supplement.
- Daily: 250 mcg.
- Bi-Weekly: 1000 mcg.
- Weekly: 2000-2500 mcg.*Recommendations from veganhealth.org and nutritionfacts.org.
Taking those amounts religiously should keep you in the safe zone, even if you don’t consume b12 fortified foods. Which brings me to the primary reason why supplements are important.
Unless you’re extremely disciplined with your diet, it’s difficult to achieve the dietary guidelines. Oftentimes people have unbalanced diets; vegans and non-vegans alike. That is why supplementation makes things easy. Plus, it’s cheap to get a supplement that will last you more than a year. In fact, here’s two I found to be extremely cheap.
#3 – Follow Your Own Pace
Remember, it doesn’t matter how you start, but it’s how you finish that’s important. Would you prefer to burn yourself out along the way, or slowly, but gradually achieve your goals? Yup, not everyone can go vegan overnight and never look back.
While I had the nerve to do it, I also wasn’t much of a food junkie, apart from maybe chocolates. Therefore I didn’t suffer from acute cravings, and since it’s only chocolate, it was easy to solve.
This being said, a gradual transition may be easier for you. I go into much more detail in this guide on how to start a vegan lifestyle, but the logic is pretty simple.
Option A: You can instantly drop meat and follow a vegetarian diet first. (i.e: You can still eat dairy and eggs)
Option B: Or you can do it even more slowly, and start by eliminating 1 type of meat/fish first, or a category of products until you reach the point where you’re fully vegan.
The latter may take a while, but you’re making progress… and believe it or not, the impact is significant. How significant? Well, if you go vegan for a single day, the math is impressive.
One-day vegan: 1100 gallons of water; 40 lbs of grain; 30 square feet of a forest; 20 lbs of CO2; and one animal life.
*This information was taken from the Cowspiracy Facts page
Just following that progressive path to veganism will have its own amazing impact, so don’t feel rushed into changing in a matter of weeks. Take your time, and be reminded that the planet truly appreciates your effort!
#4 – Learn About Vegan Food Substitutes
Learning about vegan substitutes will make it easy for you to transition. Things like cheese, yogurt, chocolates and pretty much anything tasty have an addicting effect on the brain. When you grow with certain foods, you’re bound to crave them, and that’s when a similar substitute can be useful.
While I dig chocolate, I also loved ham & cheese toasts. Fortunately, you can find excellent plant-based substitutes for anything. Not always the cheapest (vegan cheese is a bit pricey), but you’ll find that tofu, seitan, and tempeh (meat-substitutes) are very savory when cooked properly.
Might as well show you a list of plant-based substitutes you can rely on when it’s grocery time.
Milk substitutes: Soy milk; oat milk; rice milk; coconut milk; cashew milk; almond milk; hemp milk; and hazelnut milk.
Meat-substitutes: Tofu; seitan; tempeh; soy sausages; texturized soy; jackfruit and vegan burgers.
Egg substitutes: Flax seeds; chia seeds; egg replacers. (For baking purposes)
Honey substitutes: Agave nectar; maple syrup; brown rice syrup; barley malt syrup; sorghum syrup.
Cheese substitutes: Besides the numerous forms of vegan cheese in the supermarket, you can easily create cheese recipes from plant-based ingredients.
The list is probably longer, but these are the most common ones. As you can see, completely avoiding animal products is feasible, and it’s getting easier over time. Whenever you crave a non-vegan food, there’s always something to replace it.
#5 – Think Less Macro, Think More Micro
People associate vegan food with health, but you can also have a terrible vegan diet. When you overlook whole foods, you’re neglecting a multitude of micronutrients that are essential for long-term health. People tend to think in terms of proteins and carbohydrates, but it’s far more important to look at calcium, iron, iodine, vitamin C and so on.
A healthy vegan diet minimizes processed foods and revolves around whole, plant-based ingredients. You don’t have to create a scrumptious dish for each meal and make that your priority. No… just make each meal simple, and center your diet on vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, starches, legumes, and try making each meal as nutritious as possible.
Thinking “Micro” means increasing iron absorption by eating vitamin C-rich foods in the same meal, and avoiding iron inhibitors such as alcohol, caffeinated tea, and coffee. It also means finding reliable sources of iodine (i.e: Iodized salt) and using flaxseeds to nourish your body with Omega 3’s. Thinking “Micro” is caring about nutrients and less about the name of the food. Without a diverse diet, it’s impossible to keep every mechanism in your body working as intended, so be mindful.
I’m not one to criticize other diets, but it’s impossible to thrive on one type of food alone. You actually need variety. If you want to make a vegan diet easier, consider looking into a complete vegan starter kit from a Vegan registered dietitian. It’s a fast and safe way to go on a vegan diet without actually spending your time doing the research. It’s all done for you, instead.
#6 – Meet Like-Minded People
Since I started this vegan thing with my wife, I didn’t feel isolated. But I’ve conversed with other folks who’ve been shunned by their families, and friends. A dietary change like going vegan is going against the so-called norm, and it may breed some animosity if the other person is strongly against your views. You don’t go vegan because you’re allergic to meat, or eggs. No, you go vegan because you don’t approve of how animals, the environment and your health is affected by those foods. That generates a fair amount of debate, and it feels almost like sharing polarizing political views.
I personally have a very considerate family, but my wife’s family occasionally makes bitter remarks. But who am I to judge, right? They’ve always stuck to their traditional values, and all the information they take in is through the television, a medium that is far behind the curve.
If your family and friends are less sensitive, or you don’t have a vegan partner, it can be lonely. That’s why you should meet like-minded people, who share the same values or interests as you do. Both online and offline. Facebook groups are a good way to learn about vegan meetups or events and get your most pressing questions answered. Other social networks like Instagram and Pinterest are also good ways to gain inspiration for recipes and motivation about the movement.
To meet people offline, I’d recommend you Meetup. You can join interest-specific groups and partake in their gatherings from time to time. There’s nothing more valuable than learning and connecting with a real human. For a lack of a better solution, you can also hit me up at firstname.lastname@example.org. Shoot me a question (or anything else), and I’ll gladly answer.
#7 – Make Use Of Existing Resources
The internet is magical, and it makes going vegan that much easier. Especially when you’re lost and hungry somewhere in Eastern Europe, carrying a heavy backpack. After all, in just a few seconds you can have a list of reviewed vegan restaurants and the quickest path for each. For a backpacker like me, that’s pretty handy.
Here’s a list of resources you can use to make your life much simpler.
Happy Cow: This app is a wonderful restaurant finder dedicated to vegans (and vegetarians). It contains an active vegan community that leaves reviews on restaurants, which keeps you from making the wrong choice.
Is It Vegan?: While I do recommend you learn how to read labels, the Is It Vegan app enables you to scan ingredients and receive information about them. It’s quicker than reading a label, but I’m not sure if it functions well in countries other than the United States.
Forks Over Knives: New vegan recipes every week. That’s the amount of work the Forks Over Knives crew puts in keep your meals interesting. Their mobile app is easy to navigate, and more importantly — it’s free.
Bunny Free: This mobile app lets you know whether a product is cruelty-free or not. You can do that by scanning the barcode on the product, or by typing in the name of the company. This is very useful if you want to buy cosmetic products.
Gonutss: This one is a recent discovery. Gonutss lets you search for non-vegan ingredients or recipes, and it returns you with plant-based alternatives. It’s super useful if you love brownies and badly need a vegan alternative.
Make use of every app you can find, as they’ll help you save time or money.
#8 – Don’t Be Too Harsh On Yourself
Mistakes will happen. Maybe you’ll eat a gluten-free cookie with milk in it. Or maybe you’ll be served a veggie burger with non-vegan garlic sauce on the side. It happens. While I don’t distinctly remember my mistakes, I know they’ve involved eating traditional desserts. None of them involved meat, because indulging in dairy feels like a lesser sin, right? Yet each time I’ve done it, I’ve felt slightly worse, and it just reinforced my resolve to never do it again.
Seriously… don’t beat yourself up for a mistake or two. As long as your values remain whole, that is by far the most important. Don’t strive for perfection, just accept your mistakes and move on.
#9 – Prepare Some Comebacks!
The least enjoyable aspect of being vegan is having to answer the same questions over and over. But hey, it’s a good time to advocate for the movement and spread the love for the planet. Hence, it’s also a good idea to have a wide view of what veganism means and represents as a whole, so you can educate more people on the benefits of a plant-based diet.
Whenever you’re asked a cunning question, don’t take it to heart. Be calm and rational, and be as friendly or as sharp as you can possibly be with your answers. And remember, just because someone aggressively disagrees with your views, that doesn’t mean you should swing with the same attitude. Instead, be open and friendly, and ask them why they strongly disagree with your views and offer an explanation of why you stick to your belief.
Typical Questions Or Comments
1 – Where do you get your protein from?
2 – Our ancestors ate animals, it’s always been in our DNA.
3 – Humane slaughter and free-range is the way to go.
4 – It’s too expensive to go vegan.
5 – Sorry, I can’t! I would miss cheese and meat too much!
6 – It’s nature… other animals kill animals as well.
7 – Why don’t vegans eat honey?
8 – Don’t plants have feelings, too?
9 – I need animal products, otherwise, I’ll feel weak.
Unfortunately, sometimes you’ll have an answer, and sometimes you won’t. If you ask me why B12 isn’t naturally available to us in the first place, I cannot give you a scientific explanation on that. As humans, we’re growing disconnected from our primitive ways of hunting and instigating wars. In hindsight, we also die older, despite living in a less natural environment.
There’s no one true answer to complex questions. Just stand up for what you believe in… and stick to it! Nutriciously created a post on how to answer some of the questions above, in case you’re interested.
#10 – Learn How To Cook (At Least The Basics)!
This goes back to what I said about having people that support you. Do you have a wife (or mother) that is willing to prepare vegan meals for you? If not, without being able to cook, veganism can be a tough journey. It’s very easy to lose focus, and revisit an old, unhealthy diet when you’re worried about your meals.
Learning how to cook will not only give you the benefit of successfully following a healthy plant-based diet, but it will also play a role in your relationship with your family. Ever since I’ve learned how to cook, it incited my family and friend to include one or two vegan dishes in family parties.
Generally, I tend to bring my meals when I’m invited, but by cooking for others, it has inspired my family to go the extra mile and impress me with vegan meals and desserts they’ve kindly created. Sometimes cooking can be a hassle, but when you interpret the positive side, you have clearly gained much more than just the ability to cook.
And today, cooking is facilitated by the hundreds of resources available. If you want to learn how to meet yours and your family’s nutritional needs, you always have an A to Z guide on how to successfully do that. Or in case you’re interested in learning delicious recipes to impress your husband, wife or uncle — the lists of beginner cookbooks and vegan recipe sites are endless.
What you have are options, and you can’t go wrong with any of them!