Hey Ecophiles, I’ve been considering a switch to the vegan lifestyle. I’ve been inching towards a plant-based diet for the past couple of months and I think I’m ready to embrace going vegan and make a permanent lifestyle change. Do you have any tips for beginners going vegan? 

– Stuart Rice

When you look into changing to a vegan lifestyle, the reasons to change outnumber the reasons not to. Most people do it for the animals, others for their health or the environment. I originally made the transition for my health but after doing my own research, it’s now more for the animals. There are literally countless vegan options available and everyone should try it. Here are some of my tips for beginners going vegan that have helped me on my vegan journey:

Know why you want to make the shift

Firstly, find the reason why you want to go vegan and remember it. That way if you ever have difficulty adjusting to the lifestyle, think back to the video you saw or article you read. It will keep you on the right path.

I’ve seen people try veganism simply because a celebrity was doing it. Not a good enough reason when you look at the bigger picture. Some people do it overnight and others phase out meat, dairy, eggs, honey and products that are tested on animals over time. Do what comes naturally to you, I’ve seen a lot of people go vegetarian then shortly change to vegan.

I used up the milk and cleaning products (don’t waste them) and when my leather jacket wore out I replaced it with a cotton one. Health and beauty products can be found in every supermarket and even in discount stores (look for the vegan or cruelty free logo). They’re not more expensive or difficult to find. Google will be your best friend and over time you’ll know the brands to trust.

aaron calder vegan pasta

Vegan Pasta

My initial struggles with the vegan diet

The rare times I struggle is mainly eating out but I remember it’s just one meal. You’ll be having so many great meals that the odd bad one isn’t an issue. If the restaurant doesn’t have any vegan options choose a few side dishes to make one main meal and don’t be frightened to ask what they can do for you.

I’ve found some of my best meals in restaurants that were specifically made just for me. A fish restaurant I was in with friends just had salad and chips on the menu, but the waiter spoke to the chef and I had an amazing tomato risotto with gorgeous fresh bread. My partner eats mostly vegan but if there are no options when he’s eating out, he’ll pick the vegetarian option. Vegans aren’t perfect, we just try to make the best choices with our lifestyle that don’t harm others or the planet. You can only do your best.

vegan pancake recipe

Vegan Pancake

Do your research: A vegan diet is also a healthy diet

At first, I found it hard to believe I could live without eggs and dairy. After all, I needed the protein and calcium, didn’t I? I thought cows, goats and sheep that produce milk didn’t suffer. Organic, free range hens are happy and healthy, plus eggs are good for you, everyone knows that. Big brands don’t test on animals as it would harm their image.

All of these are untrue.

Protein is found in most plant-based foods and the majority of us are having too much and not enough fibre. Animal protein has been found to cause several negative problems when eaten. However, plant protein has been found to have a positive effect. This is all backed up in The China Study a book by T. Colin Campbell Ph.D. And in the brilliant documentary What The Health.

I’m no doctor or nutritional expert but from personal experience (backed up by blood tests) my health has never been better since going vegan. After a month, the fat melted away, even though I was eating more, my hair and nails grow quicker and stronger, I’m more alert, feel lighter and sleep better at night. My skin is clearer, my eyes have a healthy glow and I’m rarely unwell.

If you search the internet for people who have treated cancer, arthritis, migraines, psoriasis, heart issues and so many more health-related issues, you’ll see a massive trend in following a plant-based diet. This is more than a coincidence.

Just try and stick to wholegrain and unprocessed foods. Keep your meals varied and snack on nuts, seeds or healthy fruit/cereal bars. As a rule. I only buy wholemeal breads, pasta and cereals and stick to natural sweeteners (maple syrup, coconut sugar and agave). I eat a lot of fresh fruit and veg and buy organic when I can. Just a few swaps and changes will have such a beneficial impact on how you feel and look. The only supplement I take is a daily multi vitamin and mineral tablet. This has nothing to do with being vegan. I started taking them when I was 16.

aaron calder vegan

Pre and Post Vegan!

Once you make the change…

Once you make the change, you will start feeling great and learn the damaging effects of animal products on your health and environment you’ll want to share it with everyone. It feels like you’ve been lied to all your life. I was vegetarian for 26 years and not once did I preach or recommend my diet in all that time.

In the first 6 months of going vegan, I was telling everyone who’d listen how great I felt and they should try it. My sister (a meat loving, junk-food addict) tried it for a month to see what all the fuss was about and its now been two years. My mum is 90% vegan and I’ve had several friends go vegan too. Literally all of them have experienced positive changes in their health. Every single one now finds the thought of eating meat, eggs and dairy products disgusting and alien.

Where do you get your protein?

You’ll be asked this question a lot! Nuts, seeds, peas, tofu, soya, tempeh, beans and pulses contain high amounts of it. Its also in broccoli, bread, oats and thousands of other plant foods. I used to make sure every meal had something high in protein in it, but over time you’ll realise protein is over hyped.

All protein (amino acids) come from plants. The animals we consume eat the grass, grains and then we eat them. Meat is recycled protein that we can get straight from plants, cutting out the animals. Many professional athletes are adopting a plant-based diet to improve their performance and physique. You won’t have to eat grass though.

vegan steak tips for beginners going vegan

Vegan steak

How you can eat well on a vegan diet

If you think you’ll be eating rabbit food, then you’re wrong and will be pleasantly surprised. Whatever you eat now, you just swap for a plant-based version. When I’m planning dinner, I’ll make what I’m craving and do a vegan version. This is one of the best tips for beginners going vegan.

Vegan alternatives of meat, cheese, omelette, pizza, burgers and fish can all be found on major supermarkets shelves. Instead of thinking I want a bacon sandwich but I can’t as it’s not vegan, just go for it and use tempeh, ready available bacon substitutes or make your own using tofu, aubergine and many other variations. Why not throw in some jalapeño cheese and garlic mayonnaise? Yes, you can buy those too!

It’s easy to find vegan alternatives

One tip that has helped me is to download the supermarket apps to your phone or tablet and regularly search for vegan products. You’ll be amazed at what’s available and it means you don’t have to spend time looking at ingredients in the actual store. I save all the products I like to my basket and when I plan to go to a particular store I’ll call up the list and pick up what I need.

Sometimes I can’t get to a store or it’s delivery only. In these cases I take advantage of offers and once you find foods you like stock up your kitchen. Veganism is not expensive. I only buy my milks (soya, oat, hemp, almond, cashew, coconut, hazelnut are to name but a few) when they are on offer. They last longer than dairy milk so you can buy in bulk and by the time you begin to run out they’ll be on offer again.

vegan diet nutrition

Eating well is not hard as a vegan!

Stock up on these items for your vegan meal prep

By always having certain foods on hand in the kitchen you’ll never feel like you are missing out. I’ve always got pasta, rice, cheeses, vital wheat gluten and chickpea flour (makes seitan and a great egg substitute), bread, beans, frozen veg, nutritional yeast (adds a cheesy taste to any meal), black salt (adds an eggy flavour to a quiche or omelette) plus things like meat substitutes, burgers, pizza bases, milks, soya/oat cream, tinned tomatoes and pasta sauces.

Just yesterday, I made a curry and wanted to use a chicken substitute. I had a choice of 7 different brands of chicken alternatives to choose from. Breaded, plain, spicy, chunks or thin strips, so many options. Served with salad and a selection of shop brought dressings I had in my fridge were ranch, mayonnaise, salad cream, caesar and blue cheese. Too much choice some might say. Anyone who says veganism is limited needs to do their research.

Don’t let sceptics throw you off the path to a green lifestyle

Once I saw animal cruelty videos and learned that humane slaughter and animal welfare standards mean nothing its very hard not to get upset when people question your lifestyle. Over time I learned that its best to stay calmand justify your reasons in a way that the person can relate to.

A friend once laughed at me when I said I no longer drank milk or ate cheese because it was cruel. My instant reaction was to let her know in full detail the horrific videos I’ve seen and tell her that cows are exploited and literally worked to a premature death from exhaustion or disease.

Instead, I took a deep breath and asked her why do cows make milk? She replied for their calves. I then explained that the cow has to be pregnant (artificially inseminated) or has just given birth (the same as humans) and after 48 hours they separate the baby from its mum and feed the baby an artificial formula while we drink their milk. Male calves are mostly killed for veal and females face the same fate as their mothers. Sent to slaughter when they can no longer produce milk.

This made her think and when I next saw her she said she’d looked up dairy online and had no idea at how cruel it is. She’s now dairy free and has massively cut down on her meat intake. Soon to be vegan, I’m sure.

vegan salad healthy heart

Vegan salad. Photo via Max Pixel

Follow the influencers

On my social media I regularly post about new products and tips on following a vegan lifestyle. If you follow social influencers like myself and join Facebook groups and forums you’ll be kept up to date with all the latest news on what’s available.

The first month I spent a lot of time reading labels and educating myself. A few times I realised I was eating things that I had no idea had milk or eggs in. Instead of feeling like a failure, I just saw it as a blip. After a month, I didn’t even need to look at most ingredients or labels.

Must see documentaries on veganism

  • What The Health
  • Cowspiracy
  • Forks Over Knives
  • Vegucated
  • Food, inc
  • Fat, Sick & Nearly Dead 1 & 2
  • Earthlings
  • Hungry For Change
  • Food Matters
  • Food Choices
  • Carnage (BBC)
  • The Game Changers (released 2018)
  • Dominion (released 2018)
  • Land Of Hope and Glory
  • The Retreat (Nick Knowles)

All these fact-based documentaries on veganism yet when I tried to find documentaries supporting a meat or animal product based diet I found none! Not one! Speaks for itself.

People see a vegan diet as boring and restrictive as you’re cutting out animal products. Yes, I’ve cut out a few animal based foods but simply substituted them with other foods that are better for me and as tasty as the original. I’ve not given anything up. It’s a great feeling to be enjoying life to the full knowing I’m not causing unnecessary harm to innocent animals or damaging the planet.

I’ve gained so much more from life as a vegan than I would have done being vegetarian or eating meat. Going vegan is one of the best decisions of my life. I just wish I had done it sooner. Veganism is now mainstream as it set to grow and grow. Why not give it a try with these tips for beginners going vegan, I’m certain you won’t regret it!

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Also Read: 

How I became a food loving Vegan: Tips for Vegancurious peeps

What would happen if all Americans went vegan?

Top Vegan Diet Trends: Good gut food, flower power and more