By Lisa Swanson, certified health and nutrition coach, and personal trainer
How to go vegan
Whatever your reasons are for transitioning to a vegan diet; animal rights, environmental issues, improving your health, it can be quite difficult and confusing to pull together a healthy menu. Eating a plant-based diet is like any other diet; you need balance to ensure you are getting all your nutrients and you need to realize it’s OK to not be perfect!
Do the best you can, don’t beat yourself up, and continue to educate yourself on proper nutrition. I’ve put together 10 of my top tips for transitioning to a vegan diet.
- Stock your pantry: In order to create meals that are satisfying and healthy you’ll need the right ingredients. You also want to make sure you’re eating a well-balanced diet that includes fruits, vegetables, nuts, legumes, grains and healthy fats. Before heading to the grocery store check out my starter grocery list. The foods listed here are just suggestions to get you going. As you experiment with different recipes, you’ll soon figure out what you’ll need.
- Stop thinking in terms of building meals with a protein, carb and vegetable. A lot of vegan protein sources are also your carb sources (beans, black-eyed peas, lentils). Your goal should be to have the proper balance of proteins, carbs, and fats by the end of the day. For your specific needs, because we know everyone’s needs are different, you’re going to have to track your food and make some calculations based on your goals. A good place to start is 30% Protein, 40% Carbs and 30% Fats. Consult with your coach for a more accurate calculation.
- It’s OK to have some convenience foods! And by convenience I don’t mean white bread or sugar-laden cereals. There are some really nice vegan products out there to help you round out your diet. I particularly like Gardein, Beyond Meat and Vega Sport products. You don’t want to make these the bulk of your diet, they are after all processed foods, but don’tbe afraid to use these in a pinch.
- Don’t forget to pack food when you head out the door. Restaurants, even fast food restaurants, have come a long way in offering vegan options but they’ve still got a long way to go. I always make sure I have a plant-based protein drink and a serving of nuts or maybe a piece of fruit with me before I head out the door. Being prepared will help keep you on track and not feeling deprived when at a restaurant that the only vegan option on the menu is an iceberg salad.
- Do supplement with a plant-based protein powder. Even meat eaters supplement with protein powder! If you’re working out and lead a busy life, chances are you may need a little extra protein. Studies have shown when trying to lose weight you need to keep your protein intake around 34% in order to hold onto your muscle.
- Don’t judge others!When you first start learning about the health benefits of a vegan diet, or the terrible abuse inflicted on animals in the meat, dairy, fish & clothing industries, it’s very hard not to shout from the roofs tops all that is wrong with consuming and using animal products. If asked, or if someone wants to engage in an intelligent conversation, of course share your knowledge and spread the word. What I’m talking about is not putting another person down for eating animal products while they’re in the middle of eating dinner. That’s neither the time nor the place to have that discussion.
Find a vegan support group. More than likely eating a plant-based diet or living a vegan lifestyle is very different from all you were brought up to believe. At times it’s going to be frustrating trying to figure out what to eat for dinner, where to buy vegan shoes or maybe you
just want to be around others that share your values. There are lots of Facebook groups and I’m sure you could find a local group as well. If not, how about starting one yourself?
- Go at your own pace. You don’t have to be perfect. Like anything new, it’s going to be a process. Be patient with yourself. If you have a cookie, only to realize that it was made with butter, or eggs, it’s not the end of the world. If you are brand new to adopting a plant-based diet, it can be difficult figuring out what to eat and feeling like you don’t have many choices. You actually have LOADS of choices; they’re just different than what you are used to. Remember progress not perfect.
- Focus on vegetables & fruits. I know a lot of vegans or vegetarians whose diets are filled with starches; breakfast is a bagel, lunch is loaded with rice and beans, and dinner is a bowl of pasta. Are those foods vegan? Yes, of course they are but they don’t have the nutrients you need to live a healthy lifestyle. You need vitamins and minerals to maintain your health and that means filling up on vegetables and fruits and a little healthy fat on the side. If you don’t, you will become unhealthy, lack energy and probably gain weight. If you need some one-on-one assistance with putting together a healthy diet, contact me. You can also check out the sample daily menu to use as a reference.
- Lastly, I recommend taking at least a multi-vitamin and mineral. The reason I say this, is because it can be difficult to get all the nutrients your body needs through food alone. The soil our food is grown in is not the same rich soil from decades ago. Because of this the same foods don’t have as many vitamins and minerals as they use to. A few vitamins I believe all vegans should be supplementing are Vitamin B12, Vitamin D, and Omega 3’s. Be sure the Omega 3 supplement you get is vegan and not from fish oil.
I hope this list of top ten tips helps you as you start out on your road to eating and living a plant-based diet and lifestyle. I’m sure you’ll come across a few bumps in the road that I have not covered here, but this should help you get started.
Any questions at all you can always reach out to me at via email email@example.com or join my free private Facebook group Weight Loss After 50 for help on your journey to better health and fitness.
You can also listen to her on the Magnificent Midlife Podcast.
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Lisa Swanson is a certified health and nutrition coach, and personal trainer. She’s focused on helping women in midlife and beyond get and stay healthy long term. Find out more about Lisa and her work on her website Body & Soul Coaching.