Beginner Vegan: A complete guide to the vegan diet
A comprehensive guide to the vegan diet for a beginner vegan. Learn everything you need to know about going vegan
I remember being a beginner vegan. That was more than two years ago. It feels like a lifetime away but I do clearly remember the feeling of wanting to transition to the vegan diet but not knowing what to do about it. You've probably been there. You had an epiphany or you just finished watching a great vegan documentary and you are ready to transition. You've emptied your fridge from all animal products. Now what? What's next?
This happened to my husband and I. We were two beginner vegans with no knowledge about the world of plants. And that's ok. Because we've been conditioned to like certain things, cook certain dishes and spin our world around a small variety of animal products. From commercials, through education to day to day life, animal products played a vital role in our life. So as a beginner vegan it's only normal to be a little hesitant and confused about transitioning into a new chapter.
We created this comprehensive guide on how it's like to be a beginner vegan and what you need to know about your vegan diet, essential products, cooking skills, ingredients and vital replacements. Plus, some tips to help you transition from beginner vegan to awesome vegan cook all your friends will envy.
But first and foremost, welcome to the vegan diet, we are happy you chose to embrace plants and opt-in for a healthy lifestyle. Without further do, let's get started.
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Being a Beginner Vegan
For me, being a beginner vegan was quite difficult. That's because I was unprepared for the transition. I couldn't find the right information for my needs., For example, I knew that as a vegan I would not eat animal products, but were the right products to buy. How many plants would I need to eat every day to ensure I'm healthy and I don't become malnourished.
Will I lose weight? And if so, why? Is that because I don't intake enough carbs all of a sudden? All these things were racing through my head. I remember the first time I went to the supermarket I was even more confused. My whole life I was used to eating a main, with veggies as side dishes. How can I begin to switch? How much broccoli do I really need to eat before I'm full?
And I transitioned to a vegan diet, even more questions started to arise. Everything that I have learnt about veganism was on my own (trial and error)... with a little help from an array of awesome research papers, vegan doctors (like Dr Campbell, Dr Esselstyn and Dr Greger to name just a few) and vegan studies.
To make your life easier, I'm going to walk you through a journey. So grab a cup of tea, settle in and let's get you from beginner vegan to pro!
What is a Vegan Diet
In case you are still wondering or are unsure, a vegan diet is a diet devoid of all animal products, including meat, eggs and dairy. People decide to adopt a vegan lifestyle for multiple reasons, such as the environment, ethical reasons, animal welfare or health.
We decided to go vegan primarily because of health reasons. However, whatever the reason you decide to become vegan, everyone will benefit from it: you will benefit from it because you will be healthier, animals will benefit from it because you reduce demand for cruelty, and the whole planet because you reduce your carbon footprint.
In fact, animal agriculture is the leading cause of climate change. As you can see, adopting a vegan diet, even if it's just for your own good, has a fantastic domino effect of spreading good to others, including animals, people and the planet.
In a nutshell: a vegan diet can be adopted for a variety of reasons and it is a diet devoid of all animal products, including meat, eggs and dairy.
Different Types of Vegan Diets
There are different varieties of vegan diets. You might have heard of a wholefood vegan diet or a raw food vegan diet, or even a keto vegan diet. In order to pick the right vegan diet for our own individual needs, you should talk to a specialised vegan dietician or to your doctor.
Here is some information about different types of vegan diets:
Whole-food vegan diet: This is a vegan diet based on a wide variety of whole plant foods. The idea behind this diet is to not consume processed food which is harmful to you and your body.
Raw-food vegan diet: A vegan diet based on raw fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds or plant foods cooked at a very low temperature in order for them to preserve all their properties.
80/10/10: The 80/10/10 diet is a raw-food vegan diet that limits the intake of fat-rich plants. This diet is primarily based on greens and raw fruits. This diet is sometimes referred to as a fruitarian diet.
Raw till 4: This is a vegan diet where raw foods are consumed until 4 in the afternoon and the option of having a cooked vegan mean dinner.
Junk-food vegan diet: A vegan diet which is primarily focused on highly processed foods.
As a beginner vegan, I'm sure you are wondering what is the best vegan diet for you to follow. This was my number one question when I went vegan. In my case, I became a sort of mix of many vegan diets combined. I ate a variety of junk vegan food with several whole based foods. this is because, in the morning I used to eat a salami sandwich with cheese, lettuce and tomatoes. Or I used to eat the normal eggs and bacon. At first, I didn't know what to replace these products with so I turned to vegan alternatives on the market which enabled me to have a sandwich with vegan salami, vegan cheese etc
After much research (learning curve and practice) I came to the conclusion that a healthy vegan diet means a whole food vegan diet. That means cutting down on all types of processed foods.
As a beginner vegan, you will probably need to go through a junk food phase and that's ok. Don't beat yourself up. Just remember that just because something is vegan it doesn't automatically means it's healthy. Eating crisps and vegan cheese on white bread all day, will still make you gain weight and be unhealthy.
In a nutshell: there are many vegan diets available and they are tailored to individual needs. It's best to speak to a specialised vegan nutritionist about your situation or ask for advice from your doctor. According to several research papers, a whole food vegan diet is the healthiest vegan diet available to us all, as it avoids harmful processed foods.
Vegan Foods to Eat
So what foods are you meant to eat as a beginner vegan? The good news is that as you go along, you'll discover an assortment of fruits, vegetables and products you probably didn't even know they existed. Here I am two years later thinking wow, my fridge and pantry are full of delicious items I honestly didn't think of purchasing before.
The hardest part to let go when you transition to a vegan diet is that a plate of food has to have a main on it. Before, that was your meat product. You'd have meat, with a side of vegetables (usually potatoes) and maybe a small portion of salad.
This was difficult for me when I transitioned to a vegan diet. But the more you practice, the more you realise that your meal doesn't have to be a main or a side dish. There is just a rainbow mix of colours that simply nourish you and satisfy your hunger.
Another interesting thing you will notice when you start going vegan is that your meals will fill you up much faster than before. That's a good sign as you can see in the image below.
However, the downside is that you feel hungry much quicker than before. So at first, I was really worried that I needed to eat like 5 times a day. But I soon learnt how to manage my meals to intake enough carbs and protein so my body has enough energy and how to snack on nuts, fruits and healthy veggie snacks throughout the day.
The good news is that adopting a wholefood vegan diet sort of is an invitation to eat...a lot! I eat around 3 main meals plus lots of snacking in-between and I maintain my weight. A whole food vegan diet is also great if you are planning on losing weight.
So if you are wondering what vegan foods to eat when you are a beginner vegan, here is a useful illustration:
- 2 servings of vegetables
- 2 serving of greens
- 1 serving of cruciferous
- 3 servings of fruits (excl berries)
- 1 serving of berries
- 3 servings of beans
- 3 servings of grains
- 1 serving of nuts
- 1 serving of flaxseed
- 1 serving of spices
- 5 servings of beverages (water or tea)
- 1 daily exercise
Picture from Daily Dozen Challenge
Having a bad day and are in the mood for your usual meal? Every now and then you can enjoy a vegan steak, vegan sausages, vegan chicken or even a vegan brisket.
You are a beginner vegan and you want to do your first shopping. What are some of the vegan products you can purchase? The best advice I have is to do around 70% of your shopping in the fruit and vegetable aisle. Fresh fruit and veg will be your best friend. Never seen it before? Buy it. Don't know how to cook it or what to do with it? Buy it.
It's better to have your fridge full of vegetables because when you will get hungry (and you will, several times a day at first) you will be driven by curiosity to check only how to cook those flat beans or what exactly can you do with abalone mushrooms. And all you need is to get out of your comfort zone at least once a day and try something new, because after several months you will dance in the fresh fruit and veg aisle of your local supermarket.
I created a comprehensive list of our favourite vegan products which we use on a day to day basis, including oat milk, types of vegan replacements in case you fancy them and even vegan snacks. Click below to read it.
Back to the supermarket. Make sure you buy several types of canned beans, tomato passata (ideally no added sugars), bags of dried beans (black beans, butter beans, cannellini beans, chickpeas, edamame etc), grains (think amaranth, brown rice, buckwheat, millet, oats, quinoa, wild rice).
If you hit the flour section, get some rye and wholegrain flour also. You'll want to transition from white flour (which is depleted from any nutrients and offers you empty calories) to wholegrain flour. If you like to buy bread from your local supermarket, buy wholegrain bread instead of normal white bread. You can also learn how to make your own rye bread or spelt bread at home.
Then, there is the nuts section. When I shop, I like to buy a bag of every variety of nuts available on the shelves. Walnuts, almonds, pecans, brazil nuts, all of them. I buy a bag of each to help me with snacking in-between meals.
I also buy a variety of spices which I use on a regular basis, green and chamomile tea.
The more you do it, the more you will develop a taste for what you need to purchase. Because I was used to eating meat, dairy and eggs, it took some time to get used to like an array of grains, beans and vegetables. But once you stick with it, your tastebuds will thank you and you'll realise that you've been kept away from real food which tastes really good!
Vegan Sample Menu
To give you some inspiration, we created a meal plan to help you come up with new ideas on what to eat during your transition from beginner vegan to a pro! We are still working on improving our meal planner, so please make sure to check it regularly or sign up below so we can tell you when we managed to develop all functionality for it. Click to see the meal planner
For now, we wanted to help beginner vegans to come up with quick ideas on what food to make for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Make sure you add some snacks in-between these meals also.
Let's look at a super basic vegan sample menu. You can pair the below with lots of leafy green salads, snacks in-between these meals and can add vegan desserts like a semolina cake, apple crumble or strawberry tart to name just a few.
For more ideas check our recipe section.
Tips for beginner vegans
Here are some of the tips I wish I knew when I was a beginner vegan. It's important to note that the more you do it, the easier it gets. You can absolutely have a healthy life and eat vegan. While now you might feel that it's impossible to live without bacon and cheese, in less than a year you won't believe that you used to eat a carcass and your fridge was basically more or less a morgue.
Stick with it and in less than a month you will notice a difference.
I feel bloated
Honestly, this was such a big deal for us when we went vegan. And it's normal to be bloated because your gut has a different type of bacteria right now. Your body needs to adjust to a new diet so give it time. As a tip, try to avoid sugary items at the beginning. If you eat fruit, eat it as a snack and not after your meal as this may cause you to be bloated. Animal products don't have fibres, essential for a healthy body. All of a sudden you are intaking a lot of fibre and your body needs to adjust. Good news though, the bloating period is worth going through. Fibre intake has been shown to reduce heart disease and some cancers, as well as reduce weight gain.
I am hungry all the time
Good news, eat as many greens as you want. I have a bowl of fruits, vegetables and snack by my side at all times. I also make flapjacks for myself and eat them when I'm hungry. Avoid snacking after dinner though as you may find yourself putting on weight. Eat a serving of barriers at around 11 am. Eat a banana after lunch and munch on nuts.
I lack energy
We went through that stage too. As a beginner vegan, chances are, you are a little unused to the new diet and very likely don't eat enough variety for your body to get energy. Don't just eat proteins, but back it up with whole grains. Eat a massive bowl of wholegrain rice, topped with chickpeas, butter beans, lots of veg on the side and seeds on top. That will put your hunger at bay for a while. And good news, your body will process the food much faster so you won't feel that "food coma" you used to after eating a massive animal burrito.
As a tip, I made several kinds of rice, grains and beans on a Sunday and pack them in the fridge in airtight containers. This way, I always have access to food whenever I'm hungry. I just mix and match and top them up with veg, greens and salads.
I need more bathroom breaks than usual
That's good news. It means all that fibre you are intaking works its magic. Again, you are going through a period of adjustment so chances are you will need to visit the bathroom a little more often than before. Once your body is adjusted, everything will go back to normal...well sort of. If you have a healthy whole food plant diet you will never be constipated ever again.
I can't find anything vegan on menus
Oh, we know. It's actually quite difficult to find vegan items in a "normal" restaurant. But more and more restaurants are seeing there is a clear demand for vegan dishes. Even here in Germany, we started to see an increase in vegan trends and normal restaurants actually started catering for vegans.
That's great news. However, we do recommend investigating a restaurant's menu in advance before making the trip there. Going to a vegan restaurant is the best thing you can do also. First, because you won't be tempted by anything else on the menu. During the transition period, this is especially important. Second, because you are supporting vegan restaurants in your area and you are sending a clear message to the rest: you don't care to support establishments which kill for profit.
My family doesn't want me to be a vegan
You make your own decisions. You are an individual who has the right to make their own choices in life. Educate your family about your choices and make them understand your rationale. If they still have a problem with you, do your own things and ignore them. You are seeking a healthy life for your own good and you should not ever feel coerced into doing what your family wants.
Invite them over and show them that being vegan means a variety of goods on a plate and not just lettuce. Don't allow them to bully you into eating meat when you visit them either. They need to respect you and your choices. If they have a problem, simply bring your own food.
There are clear research and scientific evidence that shows being vegan is the right thing to do for your own health, for the planet, for the animals and for the rest of the people. If others fail to support you, simply cut cords.
My friends make me feel like a lesser person
Ask yourself: will real friends ever laugh at your choices or would be curious to understand why you chose a new path in life? Surround yourself with people who have the same views as you and not narrow-minded people. Sometimes going vegan means not just cleaning your fridge, but also cleaning your circle of fake friends.
Are there any vegan celebrities?
Plenty of people now see that vegans are "by far the sexiest" according to a fun study. So there is no surprise that so many celebrities are now vegan. Here is a good list of some of the celebrities who are vegan, including Natalie Portman, Brad Pitt, Ariana Grande, Sia, Madonna, Serena Williams, Joaquin Phoenix and more...
I hope this beginner vegan guide was useful to you. You are doing the right thing by going vegan and we are so excited you decided to have a healthier lifestyle.
Vegan Resources for Beginner Vegans
To get you started here are just a handful of really quick resources for beginner vegans. We didn't post a long list because we didn't want to overwhelm you. But rest assured there are tons more channels and websites for veganism out there. Here are our favourites:
Livekindly - Vegan news and resources
Nutrition Facts - Science-based information about veganism
Happy Cow - Find a vegan restaurant near you
What do you think?
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