The Vegan Diet Plan For Beginners
A vegan diet is a plant-based plan that excludes all animal products, like meat, fish, dairy and even honey. Its cousin, the vegetarian diet, is a bit broader and excludes meat and fish but includes dairy and eggs. Though the vegan diet has a ton of health benefits, just because something is labelled “vegan” doesn't necessarily mean it's a great choice. To reap the benefits of this eating lifestyle, focus on nutrient-dense whole foods—think beans, lentils, nuts, seeds, whole grains and of course, plenty of fruits and vegetables.
While some may worry about getting enough protein when not eating meat or other animal products, it's completely possible to get plenty of protein on a vegan diet. Try to incorporate protein foods, like peanut butter, beans, lentils, tofu, seitan and nuts, at most of your meals to stay satisfied in-between meals. If trying the vegan diet seems intimidating, consider the flexitarian diet by including a few meatless days a week to start and go from there.
Based on the nine million+ #veganlife posts on Instagram, it might seem as if everyone has jumped on the vegan bandwagon and you’re the only meat-eater left behind. But in reality, only three percent of Americans identify as full-fledged vegans — a rate that’s stood firm since 2012, according to a 2018 Gallup poll.
Numbers aside, those herbivorous eaters might be on to something. Research shows that sticking to a vegan diet comes with plenty of health perks, from lowering the risk of developing diabetes and heart disease to promoting a healthy gut and immune system.
So if reading over those benefits has convinced you to give the way to eating a go, follow this guide to the vegan diet for beginners. Not only will it help you plan nutritionally balanced and seriously delicious vegan meals, but it will also give you the tricks needed to make a meat-free eating lifestyle sustainable — even if you’re currently packing your plate with chicken and cheese.
It may be a cliché, but the idea that “slow and steady wins the race” couldn’t be more true if you decide to entirely ditch animal-derived foods. “Rome wasn’t built in a day, and the same is true for veganism,” says Springer. “It is very unlikely that someone who eats a lot of animal products will become vegan overnight — and if they do, it probably won’t last.”
The key to adopting a vegan diet for beginners is to slowly begin incorporating more plant-based foods into your diet and build up from there. First things first, try a few Meatless Mondays, experimenting with vegan meals on those days only and taking note of how each meat-free dish makes your body feel, says Yasi Ansari, M.S., R.D.N., C.S.S.D., a national media spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
Throughout those Meatless Mondays (or really, any meat-free day you choose), swap your cow’s milk with soy milk; use tofu in place of chicken in your grain bowl; and switch meat with beans in your stew, she suggests.
If eating vegan for one day makes you feel energized and satisfied (i.e. you're not feeling sluggish and your stomach isn't growling 24/7), you can steadily increase your vegan meal intake each day.
Check-in with how you’re feeling, and if the results are positive, then continue to swap your omnivorous meals with vegan ones until you’re eating entirely vegan, adds Ansari. “Keep it simple and put less pressure on yourself to change your whole eating pattern,” she says. “The more you take smaller steps forward, the more likely it will be sustainable.”
To make the transition even more gradual, Springer suggests dialling back your animal product consumption in phases. “A realistic ‘gateway’ approach is to follow a vegetarian or pescatarian diet for a while, and then reassess if veganism is still the ultimate goal,” she explains. If you still have your sights set on being a 100-percent herbivore, you can then start subbing a few of your vegetarian meals — either on a specific day or within a week — with vegan ones, and continue to gradually amp up your intake from there.
Why Go Vegan?
With an estimated 25 percent of people wanting to go plant-based, many health professionals, dietitians and celebrities are touting the benefits of veganism. Aside from all the obvious health benefits, going vegan can help reduce greenhouse gases and decrease the number of animal products in the world's oceans.
It's even been linked to weight loss, a decreased risk of some types of cancer and greater longevity! It's easy to follow the vegan diet. There are many plant-based protein sources such as beans, lentils, tofu, nuts, seeds, and nut butter that can be included in every meal. And that's just the beginning. Veganism is also synonymous with plenty of veggies, fruits, grains and legumes.
Studies show that a vegan diet has health benefits like lowering the risk of heart disease and reducing the risk of many cancers, like breast, colon, rectum and cervical cancer. A study published in the journal Public Library of Science (PLoS) concluded that vegan diets with high amounts of fiber were associated with a reduced risk of developing breast cancer.
A strong argument for the vegetarian diet, too, as well. Because vegan diets tend to be higher in protein, they're perfect for those who need a bit of a boost in protein and muscle recovery. Eating a high-protein diet is key for muscle growth and repair after you've burned off your body weight.
A study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition showed that not only are vegans often healthier overall, but they also lose weight and achieve a lower body mass index. “It's all about what you're eating and what you're choosing to eat. What happens if you're not eating anything? Your body is starving,” nutritionist Rachel Lustgarten tells InStyle.
In addition to helping lose weight, the vegan diet can decrease cancer risk, protect the heart and help manage diabetes. Now that you have a plan, you can get started, but doing so might seem daunting because your body might need time to adjust. “You might notice some gastrointestinal issues, including gas, bloating and constipation, especially if you were used to having some dairy,” Lustgarten says.
What Are The Benefits Of A Vegan Diet?
A well-planned vegan diet can improve your overall health in a number of ways. You can lower your cholesterol levels and risk heart disease and diabetes. It can also lower your risk of obesity, high blood pressure, arthritis, and high blood sugar. Sounds great, right?
But what, exactly, do you need to eat? When shopping, choose items that have healthy fats like avocado, extra virgin olive oil and coconut oil. Make sure you also have fortified grains like quinoa, buckwheat and millet. (Beans and lentils are also great for vegetarians, too.) And while many vegan diets limit the consumption of starchy carbs, that's a tough goal to achieve.
Vegans eat much healthier foods than people who eat meat and dairy, mainly because it's much less processed. There are a variety of foods that are made of mostly plant-based ingredients, which means that these foods have fewer if any, calories and sugar. When people follow a vegan diet, they reduce their risk for heart disease, type 2 diabetes, colon cancer, certain types of cancer and Alzheimer's disease, to name a few.
They are also less likely to develop many of the chronic diseases associated with a Western diet. But, more importantly, most doctors agree that a vegan diet will help your body lead a healthier life. For starters, it's low in calories, which helps keep you feeling full and satisfied for a longer period of time.
A vegan diet is extremely nutritious and contains all the right vitamins, minerals, nutrients and fiber, which is why many people are turning to this plant-based diet. Not only are these foods nutrient-rich, but they are packed with protein, carbohydrates, and fiber, which helps lower our risk of weight gain and promotes a healthy body.
Adherents of a vegan diet follow a variety of simple rules that help promote the nutritional balance and well-being of the body. First, it's easy to eat nutritious vegan foods, because there are tons of these foods to choose from. Second, it's crucial to eat a lot of fiber, which helps slow the absorption of food into the bloodstream.
How To Make The Transition To A Vegan Diet
Becoming a vegan requires some effort—you have to learn about new foods and figure out the recipes, but there are lots of resources that can help you along the way. First, try transitioning to a vegetarian or even a vegan meal plan, and use the days when you miss certain items on your plate as a good opportunity to expand your knowledge.
Then, once you're 100% comfortable with your new diet, start researching recipes for your favourite meat and fish dishes. Like a vegetarian, a pescatarian does eat eggs and dairy products but excludes meat. A pescatarian is good for people who aren't exactly sure if they want to become vegan.
A vegan diet can be challenging to maintain because most foods that rely on animal protein, such as tofu, ice cream and egg whites, are completely off-limits. But if you follow a little-known rule of thumb, you can lose a lot of weight on a vegan diet.
Unhealthy Animal Fats
Eating a diet high in saturated fats, like those found in meat, chicken and red meat, can contribute to heart disease, cancer and other chronic conditions. And some fats in plant foods, like vegetable oils and corn and soybean oil, are unhealthy too. Limit your saturated fat intake to less than 10% of your daily calories.
Tips For Succeeding On A Vegan Diet
Get plenty of sleep: The best night of sleep for your health is from midnight to 6 a.m., according to the National Sleep Foundation, which suggests people aim for 7 to 8 hours of sleep a night. In general, this will give you better concentration, mental clarity and energy levels throughout the day, according to a recent study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. Keep in mind that when you cut out animal-derived food, you're cutting out a lot of easily digested nutrients and fiber, which will, in turn, lead to greater nutritional deficiencies, Dr. Prather said.
Keep these tips in mind for successful vegan eating:
- Start by incorporating plants, one at a time.
- You can build a healthy plant-based diet over time, starting with a gradual reduction in animal products, like meat and dairy products. Make this gradual change—don't make a drastic switch without eating plenty of protein first.
- Be sure to get enough plant-based protein. Protein-packed plants are a must. Aim to eat one serving of plant protein, like legumes or tofu, every day.
- Don't cut out entire food groups, like grains. Balance is key!
- Be mindful of the food you are choosing.
- Here's what some omnivores have to say about veganism
- Start with limited animal foods.
- Try going dairy-free by excluding all dairy products from your diet, such as cheese, milk, yogurt and even butter.
Why Should You Try A Vegan Diet?
The vegan diet can make your skin glow, reduce inflammation, improve your gut, boost your metabolism and improve your sleep quality. So just because the nutrition is varied and delicious, doesn't mean it's just a fad. “Vegan diets allow for customization, which helps to meet the variety of nutritional needs,” says Kimberly Lincourt, RDN, a nutritionist based in Jersey City, NJ, and author of the book Plan Perfect Pantry Diet. “The nutrient-dense diet is important because it provides plenty of proteins, fats, carbohydrates, and antioxidants—and it's also low in refined sugar.”
A vegan diet doesn't just help you lose weight, though it can. When you remove animal products from your diet, you remove potentially dangerous hormones and chemicals that are found in animal products like hormones, artificial colors and flavors, antibiotics, and steroids.
A vegan diet is also much lower in saturated fat, which can raise your risk for heart disease, diabetes and high blood pressure. And since we're looking at the health benefits, some research suggests that a vegan diet may help reduce the risk of certain cancers like breast and colon cancer.
The Vegan Diet And Health
The vegan diet has the reputation of being healthy for many reasons. When it comes to healthy fats, for example, the vegan diet recommends eating about two servings of extra virgin olive oil a day. A recent review published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that people who followed a vegan diet also experienced a 32% reduction in risk of heart disease and a 12% decrease in the risk of breast cancer compared with people who didn't follow this type of diet.
Additionally, there are lots of benefits to your overall physical health that come with making healthy eating choices, like feeling less stressed out, keeping your weight in check, improving your mood and regulating your metabolism.
A vegan diet is a low-carb and high-protein eating plan that is good for your health. Like most dietary changes, it will take time to adjust to the new diet. The idea behind a vegan diet is to eat plant-based foods so you don't have to rely on animal products to meet your daily protein needs and still feel your best.
There are a ton of health benefits that come with following a vegan diet. A vegan diet helps you avoid high-glycemic foods, which are carbohydrates that spike your blood sugar levels. Carbs stimulate fat burning. A vegan diet can be even more beneficial for weight loss, as long as you're eating enough protein. Going vegan can also improve your heart health, due to the high concentration of antioxidants found in fruits and vegetables.
How To Start A Vegan Diet?
- Begin by removing all animal products from your diet (without going crazy).
- Give up butter and milk for a month.
- Get used to raw or homemade cooking.
- Eliminate all meat, fish, dairy and eggs for a month.
- Eat vegan food and drink vegan beverages.
- Start slowly by limiting the non-vegan staples like cheese, yogurt and ice cream.
- Take your time and enjoy the long-term benefits of a healthier lifestyle.
- Start slowly
For some, starting a vegan diet is scary. But it's often the case that people don't know where to start. “Starting a vegan diet is simple, but it can be daunting to commit to for an entire month,” says Lauren Fuller, a registered dietitian nutritionist.
Begin by tracking your calories by taking your weight and dividing it by 2. Next, use the Body Mass Index (BMI) calculator on the National Institutes of Health website to determine your Body Fat Percentage (BFP). Use this number as a baseline for your initial starting weight, and weigh yourself every other week. Finally, find out about your protein requirements with the National Institutes of Health website or by talking to your doctor. That's all you need to get started.
Food To Eat And Avoid On A Vegan Diet
The vegan diet is all about replacing animal-derived proteins and animal-derived fats with vegetable proteins and plant-based fats, so that's where we'll focus. Omitting animal products altogether often makes it difficult to get all your essential nutrients in this way, so keep your intake of several essential nutrients like protein, calcium, iron, zinc, B12 and Folate high and focus on eating a variety of nutrient-rich foods to make up for it.
If you're on a fast-food diet, that's a great reason to turn vegan. You'll be missing out on plenty of unhealthy foods like fried foods, soft drinks, candy, desserts and fast food. Aim for one vegan meal per day, but as many vegan meals as you can for a balanced diet.
Whole-foods-based vegan foods include:
- Organic fruits and vegetables
- Nuts, seeds and legumes
Most vegetables are rich in vitamins A, C, E, K and fiber. And because the majority of plant-based foods are very high in vitamins and minerals, the vegan diet has no nutritional deficiencies, say the doctors at Everyday Health. Whole grains are considered some of the most heart-healthy foods, containing complex carbs that fill you up and improve your blood sugar.
Instead of grains, we're going to tell you to include plenty of beans, lentils, chickpeas, whole grains, oats and quinoa. Because they have more protein and fiber than the grains that we're less familiar with, they'll fill you up longer and keep you feeling full.
How To Get Started As A Beginner?
Having recently become a vegan myself, I feel compelled to give you some insight into how to get started, even if you aren't quite ready to give up animal products. Don't go all in, but do start incorporating plant-based meals into your life as a starting place.
Prep your shopping list. Whether you go in with the idea of what you want to eat or just wing it, it helps to have an idea of what you want to eat. You'll probably end up eating some of your favorite foods, like quinoa or tofu, but you may find it a lot easier to avoid certain animal-based ingredients. Get the staples on your lists like beans, nuts, seeds and fruits and veggies, but also opt for extra protein sources, like dried peas or lentils, which aren't difficult to find in many grocery stores.
While the basic tenets of a vegan diet are easy to follow and you can easily go vegetarian and eventually vegan, there are a few crucial things to know before jumping into this eating plan. Try and plan your first month or two around organic fruits and vegetables and nutrient-dense whole foods, like beans, lentils, nuts and seeds.
Ideally, aim to increase these numbers by at least a third, and explore plant-based milk like cashew and coconut. However you start out, you can really get started with just two to three weeks of this new eating lifestyle. Now that you're on a healthy and sustainable journey, there's no telling where it will take you!
Vegan is not just a trend, it's an approach to living a healthy and balanced lifestyle. If you're ready to embrace a plant-based lifestyle, consider these tips to ensure that you transition into this diet for good. Learn to cook your own vegan meals and snacks. By doing so, you can control what you're eating and get the nutrients you need, from foods that are healthful and beneficial.
Plus, by making the commitment to go vegan, you'll be doing your part to help animals live their lives free of cruelty and neglect. If you're a meat-eater, choose more plant-based protein sources. Opt for lentils, beans, squash, tofu, tempeh and other so-called “protein-rich” foods. You'll be getting your iron, vitamin B12, zinc and fiber needs met, plus tons of protein, thanks to the grains and legumes.
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