3 Vegan Lifestyle Tips for Beginners
Updated: Feb 14
Veganism has definitely gained a lot of recognition in recent years due to its multiple benefits and lately because of the Game Changers film. While the whole idea sounds amazing, it is important to know why and how to go vegan. The 3 main reasons why people go vegan are:
health benefits, e.g. weight loss, reduced risk of heart disease, improve diabetes, etc.
Some people think going vegan is simply about cutting out meat, but it's so much more than that! Going 100% vegan means cutting out on all animal products and ingredients: meat, eggs (incl. mayonnaise), milk (incl. yogurt, ice cream, cheese, whey, etc.) or honey for example.
But it actually applies to anything that comes from or includes an animal. Think of your clothing (leather or wool), accessories (pearls, leather handbag, shoes or watch) or objects (leather sofa, ivory-keyed pianos). Not to mention the ingredients of animal origin included in your personal hygiene and grooming products or the filters used in the process of making alcoholic drinks.
And don't forget entertainment (bull fighting, horse racing, circuses, zoos, etc) and animal testing.
When you understand the whole concept, it can get overwhelming and, of course, you also have the option of adding to it going organic, zero-waste, toxin-free, or fair-trade and, needless to say, support animal and environmental causes.
So let's put the whole definition of veganism to one side and just look at the one thing that we all have to do to survive: we have to EAT!
And, even when it comes to food, I prefer calling it following a whole-food plant-based diet rather than being a vegan.
Well, because, regardless of the undeniable animal cruelty and environmental impact, which are real, the truth is that the natural human diet is a diet based on plant foods, just like the natural hippo diet is grass and the natural tiger diet is meat. Read on to find out more.
1. Find your why - educate yourself
Before starting anything new, you must know why you are doing it. If you learn the benefits you gain following a plant-based diet, those benefits will be your greatest motivation throughout the entire journey, until one day it's no longer what you do but how you are.
There is so much educational information out there on the benefits of following a plant-based diet that cover the 3 main whys listed above.
Here you are a selection of some powerful, graphic and shocking videos where you can discover where that chicken, meat or fish came from and how they got to your supermarket shelves:
Food Inc movie (2009 USA) - https://youtu.be/2KpaKi3IOJs
Land of Hope and Glory (Earthlings UK 2017) - https://youtu.be/dvtVkNofcq8
Dominion (2018 AUS) - https://youtu.be/LQRAfJyEsko
H.O.P.E. What you eat matters (2018 EU) - https://youtu.be/J0YHjPHm-Sc
More focused on the environmental impact of farming practices and how it affects the sustainability of the planet and life on earth, including human life, you can watch this selection:
Cowspiracy - https://youtu.be/e93yAWa5KJ4
Before the Flood (Leonardo Dicaprio) - https://vimeo.com/190012126
The End of Animal Farming TEDx - https://youtu.be/PBmbVphZKYc
Let Us Be Heroes - https://youtu.be/goBKGTYl2fo
The UK in 100 seconds - https://youtu.be/0drvdLYGNuc
And if your reason for going vegan is based on your health, you can follow great doctors like Dr John McDougall, Dr Caldwell B. Esselstyn or Dr T. Colin Campbell (The China Study), among others, who support a plant-based diet and have the scientific evidence to back it up.
These are some of the many videos you can find on the plant-based diet:
Pure Plant nation - https://youtu.be/yBKnG9Y0owQ
The Marshall Plan - https://youtu.be/DIEBb3hyzdI
The Game Changers (Netflix) - http://gamechangersmovie.com/
What the Health (Netflix) - https://youtu.be/Sl-d60l28y0
Forks over Knives (Netflix) - https://youtu.be/ICDRYEpNYtI
I have watched them all (and many more) and, if they don't motivate you enough to go plant-based, I am sure they will at least make you reflect on what you are actually putting in your mouth and make a couple of changes here and there.
Now, if your diet is heavily based on processed foods and/or animal products, you may experience some uncomfortable effects for a few days when you go plant-based full on while the bacteria in your gut adapt. Also, in my opinion, swapping processed foods for their vegan alternatives is equally bad for you. Processed food is not whole food, whether it's vegan or not.
If as a processed vegan you live on Oreos, microwavable noodles and vegan cheese, you may be leading a healthier lifestyle eating organic free-roaming chicken and wild caught fish. And all the unnecessary vegan alternatives in supermarkets that you think you've got to have, like vegan cheese, mayo or sausages, are what breaks the bank when you are a newbie.
To make the transition, forget about the word vegan and use plant-based instead. Think Mexican black beans on sweet potato, Indian chickpea curry with rice or Spanish lentil stew with roast potatoes. Is that a cheap shopping basket!
Now, you can start introducing plant-based foods in your diet gradually or be all in from the start. If whole foods rich in fiber are already part of your nutrition, feel free to make the switch however you prefer.
But if the absence of fiber is the highlight of your diet, then I'd advice you start adding plant-based foods gradually. You could start having porridge oats with nuts, fruit and plant based milk for breakfast in week one, then have legumes for lunch 3-4 days in week 2, and in week 3 add vegetable rice or pasta dishes for another 3-4 times a week. Then consistently build up your plant-based meals to cover the entire week.
This way, the whole process will be easier to keep up with and you will have time to use up the food you already have in your fridge/freezer.
So set your own timeline and decide your own steps. To help you along the way, you can print your healthy vegan food pyramid.
Apart from their nutritional and monetary value, the fantastic thing about legumes is that you can cook them in bulk and freeze them to always have a go-to food at hand that saves you hours in the kitchen.
And of course, you can always first try out a 7-day vegan challenge and find out if the plant-based lifestyle is for you.
3. Keep things balanced
I believe the 80-20 rule can be applied to everything and it's better to follow a whole-food plant-based diet 80% of the time than non at all.
That means that, to get yourself up to a good start, you begin by changing the main meals in your current diet. Later, once you have adopted the habit and your body has become used to it, you can pay attention to smaller things like mayo, condiments and the hidden animal ingredients in processed food and drinks.
In my opinion, it's also OK to rely on some vegan processed foods at the beginning of your journey if you are too busy to cook, miss some foods or enjoy treating yourself to a take-away on weekends.
What's important is to get started and see what fits in with your lifestyle. Why? Because this is not a race, it's a lifestyle change.
If it were a race, we are all coming last. Veganism has been promoted and followed from as early as 800 BC out of principal for ethical reasons. The bottom line is that we are not lions, who have no option but to kill prey to survive and avoid death by starvation. We are omnivores and can choose to eat animal or plant food.
Back in the days of the mammoth, when the planet was organically roamed by abundant wild life and few humans, there was enough meat for us to eat and survive in extreme environments where plants couldn't grow. Even then, meat was a rare treat for people living in fertile lands because they risked dying in the hunt.
But today the world is overpopulated, we don't have to hunt and kill our food, and the huge demand for meat is killing our environment. With the death of our environment comes the death of us, unless we can move to Mars and repeat the same mistakes there! Veganism is becoming a necessity rather than an ethical principle.
So just cutting out meat, and having a slice of turkey at Christmas, is a step in the right direction following the 80-20 rule and taking advantage of your omnivorous status in the food chain.
And to those of you who decide to fully go plant-based, congratulations! You will feel so much better in your body and your mind, knowing that your lifestyle is contributing to your health and the health of the planet.