Food is personal and food choices must be based around what feels right to you. Including all plant based foods is a win-win situation all around. The health and environmental benefits of a plant-based diet are numerous but if you’ve been a life-long meat eater or just trying to make a change, it might be hard to know where to start. Like anything else, it will get easier with time and practice. Dive in with an open mind :)
Eating this way is nourishing, delicious and wholesome but before you jump on the all plant-based bandwagon, here are 9 things to expect before going vegan:
1. Vitamin B12 and D3 supplementation is essential
Vitamin B12 helps to keep the body’s nerves and blood cells healthy. Deficiency of vitamin B12 can lead to anemia, tiredness, weakness and nerve problems. Vitamin D3 on the other hand is required for the absorption of calcium in the body. Deficiency of vitamin D3 can lead to weaker bones, muscle pain, fatigue, hair fall etc. Vitamin B12 and D3 are primarily found in animal products and hence a supplementation is essential if you’re a vegan. Natural sunlight is an excellent source of vitamin D as well but if you’re someone who doesn’t get alot of exposure to sunlight, vitamin D supplementation becomes even more important.
2. Reach out for non-dairy sources of calcium
Meeting their calcium requirements is a concern for a lot of vegans since they can no longer rely on dairy products. The key is including non-dairy sources of calcium like kale, bokchoy, spinach, almonds, sesame seeds, fox nuts, soybeans, figs, plant based milk & yoghurt or food products like cereals, fruit juices or tofu fortified with calcium and vitamin D.
3. Explore different protein sources
“You can’t get enough protein on a vegan diet”- honestly, that’s the last piece of advice you should listen to. Vegan sources of protein include soybeans, tofu, tempeh, beans, pulses, lentils, legumes, quinoa, edamame, nuts & seeds etc and including a source of protein in every meal is important to meet your daily protein requirements.
4. Food labels will be your new best friend
Reading the food label and ingredients list should become your new favourite thing. A lot of food manufacturers add ingredients of animal origin such as whey and casein which comes from milk is present in a lot of protein bars, cereals and breads or gelatin & artificial colours and preservatives used in the food products could be of animal origin and hence reading the ingredients becomes crucial if you’re someone who is going to take veganism seriously.
5. Junk food shouldn’t replace animal food products
A vegan diet should not be an excuse to swap animal foods for refined and processed foods. A vegan diet should consist of whole foods to nurture your body with essential nutrients and not junk foods which have no nutritional value. The result is only going to be- frequent hunger pangs and weight gain.
Sure, you’re going to be eating a whole lot of whole foods on a vegan diet but don’t be afraid to try out vegan mock meats or cheeses or plant based milks and yoghurts to help you with your transition phase. You can later switch to more wholesome plant-based protein sources. No hurry. Do be mindful of the sodium and fat or added sugar content in these foods and opt for the healthier option. Why not try a burger for dinner tonight with a mock meat patty, vegan cheese and buns & veggies
6. Take it easy with legumes, pulses and soy based foods
When you start including beans, legumes and lentils in your diet, go slow. A lot of people start from nothing to 1 or more cups per day which could result in indigestion or gas as it does take our body some time to adapt to the new change. So start slow with as little as 2 tablespoons a day and gradually increasing the quantity.
7. Listen to your hunger
It is common to feel more hungry when you’ve just made the transition. Keep in mind that plant based foods provide lesser calories for more bulk. Fruits and vegetables, legumes will provide lesser amounts of calories than you’d find in the same amount of meat, cheese, dairy or ice-cream. So if you still feel hungry after an hour or two of finishing a feel, feel free to grab a bite if you feel it’ll help. Your body will eventually adjust to find it’s own balance.
8. Get creative in your kitchen
It might be a little confusing in the beginning when you don’t know what to make. It’s best to allot some extra time for cooking & meal prep in your daily schedule. Learn a few handful of recipes and consider them as your defaults. Slowly once you start experimenting with more foods and recipes, you will get the hang of it and things will become much easier and quicker too.
9. It’s okay to go slow, but steady
Messed up a meal? Just don’t sweat it. Do as much as possible for you. The path to veganism is more of a zig zag than a straight line. You are changing the way you eat, practically pretty much what you’ve been following your whole life, so there may be some ups and downs along the way and if you trip, just consider it as a learning and keep moving ahead. Try new things and just do your best.