The first and most important step in switching to the vegan diet is the complete removal of animal-based products. After that, it’s all about creating meal plans base on a lot of fruits and vegetables, legumes, grains, nuts, seeds, mushrooms, and seaweed.
There is no need for complicated recipes – the best way to start is to let each food shine on its own. Complicate recipes and Michelin star-worthy spreads can come later. You can start with simple swaps in meals that you know and love (grilled mushrooms instead of the stake, chili SIN carne), and then slowly move into attempting all those mouthwatering and colorful creations that you’ve seen online.
Vegan Diet Shopping Tips
A bulk of your food is already waiting for you in your local grocery store. You will do a lot of your shopping in that first section with all the fruits and veggies. But it would be safe to say that you could be wasting your time in the snacks and sweets aisles.
Canned foods get a green light, but take an extra look at anything with an Italian flag. Or Korean. Or quite a few others. In any case, some canned veg and sauces can have anchovies, fish or oyster sauce, so take a look at the ingredients list.
Bread shopping becomes a lot easier if you take notice of the softness of the loaf. Crusty loves with big bubbles are usually just grain, salt, water, and yeast. All the other softer stuff with a smooth crumb usually has milk, eggs, and/or butter added to it.
Ask one of the store workers where they stock vegan products – they are probably next to their animal-based equivalents (ie vegan mayo is in the same section as regular mayo), or you may luck out and they have a section of their own. The health food aisle will also have a lot of vegan products.
You may need to order a few things online, or make a special trip from time to time. For example, do to the Asian food store for your seaweed or some vegan condiments, or to a bulk store for your rice, oats, beans, and lentils. You may just need to make that trip once a month, but it will do wonders for your taste buds, and maybe even your wallet (bulk store and Asian store goods can easily be half the price of the ones that are available in your local supermarket).
If you live in an area with a largely Orthodox Christian population you may be in luck because the stores may also stock lent foods that are often egg and dairy-free,
A word about specialty vegan products…
The market for vegan food has exploded in the last couple of years and has gone mainstream. Good news because you will be able to find everything you need without having to make a trip to a specialty store or order online. Bad news because some suits figured out that this can be a huge moneymaker and they have jacked up the prices.
When someone says that the vegan lifestyle is very expensive, this is 75% of the problem. The leftover 25% has to do with the out of season produce, but I will rant about it later on, don’t worry. Another slap in the face is that a lot of that stuff is something you can make at home.
If you have money, support the brands and buy the stuff that you like. But if you live on a very tight budget, you can make quite a few of those things for cheap at home. And how cheap? Well, let’s just say that you can make anything between 5 blocks of tofu or 10 quarts of soy milk for the same amount of money it would take you to buy just either one of them.
There are only two nutrients you can’t get from plants – Vitamins D and B12. Both of them are easily found in meat, fish, poultry, eggs, and dairy. If your local mega-mart is well stocked, there’ll be plenty of fortified cereals, plant milks, and other products that will do the trick. If not, you may need to pop some pills. Just do your research well because this is a thing.
Zinc, calcium, iron, iodine, and long-chain omega-3 fatty acids are already present in plants, but depending on your menu, you may be deficient in them. You can supplement them by adjusting your diet or through more “concentrated” food sources (ie seaweed oil for the omegas or iodinated salt).
And if for whatever reason you need an extra kick of protein, most major brands these days have products made out of soy, peas, hemp, etc.
It would still be a good idea to get your doctor to refer you to a dietician, especially if you have other chronic issues. They will be able to help you craft a healthy diet plan, and they are far more likely to do it without preaching or trying to push products on you.
Vegan Substitutes for Animal-based Foods
Even though there is no real need to find substitutes from a nutritional perspective, some may find that they miss a certain taste or a dish. Like how some might miss cheese, the others might need a hot dog for that perfect Sunday game experience.
Most mega-marts these days carry vegan “cheeses” and “meats”, as well as a whole host of animal-free desserts, snacks, condiments, etc. Or, you could make them at home.
You can make burgers and sausages from legumes and mushrooms, or get that cheesy umami flavor by adding nutritional yeast to almost anything. And let’s not forget that the egg has so many different substitutions – each one for a different purpose.
Though I would encourage you to choose recipes that glorify plants over trying to make meat dishes vegan, there is no issue with having a backup plan when certain cravings hit.
Assemble a Vegan Meal
It may take a while before the whole thing becomes intuitive and almost an afterthought, but in the beginning, you can set up a few templates.
If you have geeky tendencies, you want to sit down and calculate your macros. But if numbers make your head ache, come up with a checklist. Maybe something like a fruit, a root, a green, a bean, a nut or a seed, and maybe some seaweed? Ah, poetry…
Groups one, two, and three stay the same. Group four becomes calcium-rich foods (dark leafy greens, amaranth, walnuts, etc). Group five is for beans, lentils and peas, and group six is for grains. Group seven is all about high-fat content foods like nuts, seeds, and chocolate – you know, the healthy stuff.
If you eat 2-3 different things from each food, you’ll end up with a diet that is both rich in flavor and in nutrients.
Vegan Kitchen Must-haves
Stocking a vegan kitchen tool chest should not be difficult, but it can get confusing with all that stuff that solves the problems you didn’t even know you had. You can pick up things as you go along, but there are a couple of things that can get you on the right track.
- A good knife – A staple of every kitchen. Though it might be a good idea to ditch the Western chef’s knife and pick up a Japanese Gyuto or Santoku. They are just a bot more veg-friendly.
- A mandoline – Unless your knife skills are that great, you’ll love having one. And how do you imagine to make the Pixar style ratatouille without it?
- A pressure cooker – Either electric or analog, it saves time and if far more versatile than a slow cooker.
- A blender and/or a food processor – And it doesn’t have to be a Vitamix or another expensive brand. Pick up one of those all-in-one sets if you’re short on money and kitchen real estate. But you will need them to make cashew cheese or plant milks, or a host of other things.
What’s the Deal with the Raw Vegan Diet?
This subgenre operates under the assumption that all cooked food is “dead”. The followers eat a huge amount of fruits, vegetables, and nuts – often as is, sometimes blended and pureed, sometimes dehydrated.
Aaaand, it’s a bit of… faecibus exturbandis opitulatur. It is true that overcooking your food will kill all the lovely antioxidants and vitamins and you should have your fruits and veggies raw as often as you can. BUT, we are not masticating animals. As in, we don’t chew our food well enough to extract all those nutrients. Cooking, on the other hand, breaks down the cell walls so you can get to all of the goodness from your food.
And, rant time. Most of the more vocal raw vegans live in places like California or Australia. What similar about those two places? They both have easily available produce year-round. The same people dare to talk down to a kid from Alaska for not being able to afford to maintain the same lifestyle.
It’s easy to preach when you are able to pick up exotic fruit on every corner, but it’s not so easy to follow when a pack of out-of-season strawberries costs as much as half of your rent.
If you have regular access to fresh produce, awesome. If you can only eat some things when they are in season, go enjoy them. But never think that someone who lies about their diet changing their eye color has any right to judge you.
Eating Vegan with Food Allergies and Restrictions
A vegan diet is rich in potential allergens, from nuts to gluten in wheat. And guess what? It is not so different than the meat-eating diet at all. If there is one thing that makes a huge difference, it’s that you don’t have to worry about lactose intolerance.
Nut allergy is the only one that is more problematic than others since they are such a significant source of omega fatty acids for vegans. But then again, you can also get them from seeds, avocados, and seaweed, so it’s again just the question of getting to know what’s on your plate.