Wednesday, 29 May 2019

Going Vegan | A Beginners Guide

vegan starter guide

Are you thinking of going vegan?


First of all, that's fantastic news. Now let me help you, because I've known of several people who have given up because they found it too hard.

Like any big changes in life, they come with their own hurdles for you to overcome. I went all in from day one when I became vegan, I watched a few videos beforehand, made the decision and the next time I went to the supermarket no animal products made it into my trolley. I do understand that that is a daunting task, and it's ok if you want to take smaller more manageable steps.

Where do I start if I want to go vegan?


Firstly decide if you a) want to go vegan or b) just plant based. What's the difference between vegan and plant based I hear you ask. Well my view point is that one is a dietary choice and one is a life style choice.

Being plant based means to eat a diet of plant foods without the addition of animal products, so starts and finishes with what you eat and drink.

Being vegan is much more than that, it's a lifestyle choice where you choose not to use any animal products in your life, which has a much broader effect on all aspects of your life. From food to cosmetics, fashion and everyday products, as well as events that involve animals.

Even if you decide you want to be vegan, it probably won't happen overnight and you'll have to transition in bite sized chunks, because it will probably mean changing pretty much every product you buy and use on a daily basis.



Step one for going vegan


Step one, lets start with food and drink. Write down a list of the things you eat on a daily basis, what do you usually have for breakfast, lunch and dinner? Then you can start writing down the easy swaps you can do to make it vegan.


Vegan breakfast


If your breakfast usually consists of toast or a bagel then continue as normal. Most bread products are vegan, but try and get into the habit of checking the ingredients as it's very easy to get caught out. I know I have in the past.

If you eat a bread product for breakfast then it's a simple as buying some vegan spread to replace the butter. If you use toppings like marmite, peanut butter or jam they will mostly be vegan friendly. Just don't forget that honey is a no-no.

Cereal or porridge is another easy one, porridge oats are vegan so all you need to do is replace cows milk with one of the many non dairy alternatives, and there are lots! If you like cereal be mindful that some will contain honey, dairy or milk chocolate. Some safe options are shreddies, cornflakes, rice krispies or frosties. 

They aren't lavish breakfast options but for the first couple of weeks don't try and change things up too much as you will make it unnecessarily difficult for yourself. Start small and work up to bigger and better things.

Vegan lunch


If you eat lunch away from home then you'll want food that is easily portable or things you can buy on the go. What's your go to lunch? A sandwich? Soup? Both really easy choices, if you make yourself a sandwich at home then start off with a couple of different fillings for your first week. I love houmous and salad in a wrap or roll, it's easy and quick to make which is just what you need so you don't feel overwhelmed with having to prep and cook lots of different items. Maybe go with some store bought falafel, they are great crumbled into a tortilla wrap with some lettuce and tomato, or else you can make a salad with falafel and houmous.

If you go out to buy lunch, Boots, Marks and Spencer, Pret, and Tesco all have a wide range of vegan options, from sandwiches and wraps to soups and ready meals.

Vegan dinner


Again lets keep it simple, jacket potatoes are an easy go to dinner for me. You could even cook more than one at a time and then you have them ready for another night or to take as lunch, then all you need to do is top off with some baked beans. Pasta is a great option, most store bought tomato based sauces are vegan and then you can just add in some extra veggies to bulk out the dish. Dried pasta is nearly always vegan but fresh pasta usually isn't so remember to check the label.

Is it expensive to be vegan?


No not at all, the basis of the vegan diet is actually quite cheap. Beans, rice, pasta, potatoes and lentils are all so economical. Like any diet though it can be as expensive as you want it to be, if you go into the supermarket and want to buy all the finest ready meals and posh products then of course it will cost you a pretty penny, but that would be the same regardless of whether you eat meat or not.

Transitioning to eating vegan may seem pricey at first because you will want to fill your cupboards with all the vegan staples in one go, which would cost a lot. But again this is no different to filling a kitchen from scratch no matter the diet because buying a range of sauces, stocks, spices etc will always be an outlay. That's why I'm not suggesting you do that, take it one week at a time, keep it simple and buy things slowly so it's spread out and then once you have the items you just top up as and when needed.

What if I don't want to do it all in one go?


Not a problem, if you want to transition slowly set yourself goals for the coming weeks. For instance maybe in week one you change over to only using non dairy milks and keep everything else the same. When you do your weekly shop just buy a couple of different plant based milks so you can find what you like best. 

Milk seems to be a very subjective topic amongst vegans, as everyone differs so greatly. I personally will only drink Alpro soya light in my tea because I used to only drink semi skimmed milk previously, so I don't want anything too rich and creamy in my cuppa. Other people aren't so keen on soya milk so choose to use oat milk or rice milk for instance. It's finding what suits you best for the uses you have for it. I buy unsweetened roasted almond milk for using in smoothies and porridge because it's low in calories and high in protein. Remember that most plant based milks are fortified with calcium, B12 and Vitamin D which means that you won't be missing out on those nutrients.

Week two could be changing over to using dairy free butter and yogurt in addition to the milks of week one, so now when you make your breakfast you have soya milk in your tea and vegan spread on your toast and a dairy free yogurt, and there you have it your first fully vegan meal!

Week three could be the week where you take out the meat, and week four you stop buying eggs. If you find it easier to do it over the course of a few weeks then by all means do it.



Top tips for new vegans


Cheese



My advice would be to avoid vegan cheese for a little while after transitioning. Vegan cheese can be really hit and miss and some are lovely whilst others taste like something off the bottom of your shoe! Your taste buds will change after being vegan for a little while so the dairy free cheese is something I struggled with at the beginning and I didn't like any of them. Admittedly I think they have become better in the last 18 months or so, as the competition between brands has pushed up the quality, but the ones you buy in the supermarket aren't made in a traditional way so aren't always that authentic. 

There are some fantastic producers of nut cheeses out there who use traditional methods for making and ageing the cheese so it tastes pretty darn good, but at the moment the price for these products is still quite high, so I have them as treat purchase for special occasions like Christmas.

Eating out


Eating out is much easier than it once was, as most places have vegan options on their menu, however I would still suggest looking at a menu online first to make sure you like their vegan option if you're a fussy eater, because some restaurants may only have one or two. A rule of thumb is that most chains are pretty good but some independent restaurants are still in the dark ages so it's definitely worth checking.

Social media


There are so many vegan creators out there on YouTube who have made "what I eat in a day" vlogs, these can be really helpful for giving you inspiration for meals. I also would recommend following accounts like Accidentally Vegan on instagram, they show lots of vegan products you can easily get hold of in all the big supermarkets. You'll be surprised at how many items are vegan friendly, and this is a great resource.
Lastly, join your local vegan facebook group. It's a great place to read up on tips and advice that's local to you, especially helpful if you are looking for restaurant recommendations. People tend to be really willing to help you out if you have a questions as well.

Friends and family


Tell people what you are doing, it's always helpful to have people on board and aware of your dietary changes rather than springing it on them at the last minute. Most people are very accommodating if they know in advance, so let your parents know ahead of your visit, so they have the time to buy some non dairy milk for your tea or coffee. If you are going to a friend or family member for dinner, talk to them a few days before so they can ask questions about what you would like to eat if they want to make something for you, or you can always suggest making something to bring along. Then you know that if all else fails you have a dish you can eat and other people can have a taster of something vegan.

When I visited my parents in France for a week they had bought me some soya milk and had decided on a few meals they could make that were vegan, and we went to the supermarket together where I found a few additional items like some dark chocolate and vegan butter so I could make some chocolate brownies! (Priorities)
One evening we had made arrangements to go to a night market and they knew there wouldn't be much there for me other than chips so we planned ahead, and that day we made some fresh houmous and cut up some carrot sticks so I could have those alongside the chips, my aunt (who is veggie) happily tucked into the houmous with me and my parents friends all had a taster as well.

To help you out at the start of your journey I have created a handy vegan checklist that you can print off. This checklist outlines the 4 main categories of items that you will need to take into consideration when you transition over to being vegan. This list is by no means exhaustive but you can certainly see how much there is to think about.

There is one thing I have purposely left off of the list, partly because I ran out of space and partly because it's controversial, and that's medication and supplements. Capsules are often made of gelatin therefore aren't vegan, so when it comes to supplements you can search for a vegan alternative, but this may not be as easy for medication. Animal products are used in various pharmaceutical products and even some anaesthetic contains egg white, so this category will be down to personal preference.

vegan checklist, starter vegan guide



Try printing this list off and pinning it up at home so you can tackle each section at a time. When it comes to cosmetics I am definitely not suggesting you throw out all of the non vegan items you already own, that would be wasteful, it would cost you a huge amount to go out and purchase everything in one go and there's really no point. You have already bought the items so you may as well finish off what you have, as no one benefits by you throwing half of it away.

The entertainment section of the list is one that everyone will have different opinions about, it is there simply as a guide and some food for thought. In theory, being vegan means living a life where you aren't exploiting animals for your own benefit or entertainment which is why I have included zoo's and circuses on the list. Circus acts that include animals are notorious for their animal cruelty in their training methods and bad conditions in which the animals are kept, although they are few and far between nowadays which is a good thing.

Zoo's are one where people will be divided by how they feel. I personally don't go to Zoo's because I don't really agree with wild animals being kept in captivity, and some Zoo's mistreat the animals. However there will always be a counter argument that Zoo's work hard on breeding programmes to help increase numbers of animals that are near extinction, so this is another decision each person will have to make for themselves.


In Conclusion


I know there is a lot of information to take in here, but hopefully I have provided you with some useful resources? 

Check back regularly because I am in the process of creating another couple of starter guides, including a vegan shopping list and meal plan to help you through those tough first days. In the mean time if you are interested in reading about my transition over to cruelty free cosmetics, you can read about it here.

If you have any questions please feel free to leave a comment below and I'll do my best to help. 

Don't forget to share this article with anyone else thinking of giving a vegan diet a try.



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