Just as with vegetarianism, becoming vegan is not an overnight change. It takes time, practice and a lot of dedication -- after all, you aren't only cutting meat out of your diet, but all animal products including dairy, eggs, and honey. When you embark on your journey into veganism, it's important that you think about your impending lifestyle change and why you are beginning a transition so drastic. Why are you going vegan?
About six percent of the U.S. population live a vegan lifestyle. People decide to embrace veganism for many different reasons, but the popular reasons for veganism are animal rights, the health benefits and to benefit the environment.
Working against animal cruelty is commonly cited as the reason people choose to go vegan. Taking on a completely plant-based diet, as well as avoiding other animal products such as wearing fur or leather, is one of the main ways you can eliminate animal suffering from your life. Many people who practice veganism believe animals are sentient creatures that, like humans, have a right to life.
Unlike vegetarians, vegans also eliminate dairy, honey, and eggs from their diets. Even though an animal did not have to be killed to make these byproducts, the animals that produce the milk and eggs are often exploited for their goods. They are kept on mass production farms and often in less than ideal conditions.
Avoiding animal products isn't beneficial to only animals, but to the environment as a whole. The meat production industry has a major impact on the environment -- about 30 percent of the world's ice-free surface is used to support the chickens, pigs, and cattle we eat; livestock is estimated to be responsible for 18 percent of human-related greenhouse gas emissions; and a cow raised in North America or Europe consumes between 75 kg to 300 kg of grass or grain to produce one kg of protein.
Many argue that going vegan is not only a more ethical life but ultimately a healthier lifestyle to live. A plant-based diet provides you with high levels of vitamin C, fiber, calcium, vitamin D and potassium. Those who eliminate animal meat from their diet can also reduce the risk of colon cancer and lower the risk of obesity.
If you thrust yourself into the vegan world with no preparation, you likely won't last very long. It's important that you come up with a game plan for meals and nutrition.
A common misconception about veganism is that because there are limited types of food you can eat, that you will end up eating the same few things over and over. But this isn't the case -- along with standard fruits and vegetables, there are many vegan-friendly substitutes and recipes you can try out. Make a list planning out your week's breakfasts, lunches, dinners and snacks and make sure there is a lot of variety in your food. Once you discover all the vegan-friendly foods out there, you won't miss animal products.
Take note of all the food you are able to eat and understand its nutritional benefits. Now that you can't get your protein from meat and calcium from dairy, you need to understand what vegan-friendly foods provide you with the necessary vitamins and minerals your body needs to properly function.
Beans, soy products including tofu, nuts, seeds and vegetables including peas, kale and broccoli are all high in protein. Kale, okra, chia seeds, dried figs and almonds supply your body with calcium. For your daily dose of omega-3 fatty acids, eat a tablespoon of chia seeds or six walnut halves. By coming up with a game plan for nutrients, you are living an ethical life while caring for your body.
If you're trying to go vegan and sometimes falter, that's OK. Veganism is a big lifestyle change for many people, and the transition might not go smoothly. While some people can become vegan overnight, some need to enter the lifestyle more slowly.
Instead of going all-in at once, try slowly substituting your food. Try doing this by meal -- for example, you can substitute all your breakfasts into vegan-friendly alternatives first, then move onto your snacks, lunches and dinners. You could also ease into veganism by slowly incorporating vegan-friendly substitutes into your life based on product -- for example, instead of using cow's milk in your cereal and cooking, add soy milk or almond milk. Find the method that works best for you and keep adding to it until you are relying completely on a plant-based diet.
Before you start your journey into veganism, tell people about your new lifestyle choice. If you are the only person who knows that you're trying to go vegan, it's harder to hold yourself accountable. If you tell your friends, your family or your coworkers that you're vegan, it can be easier to stick with your plan.
Don't just stick to the fruits and veggies you've always eaten. When you're exploring veganism, branch out and try different foods that you've never had before. You taste buds will be stimulated by new flavors, and you might just find a new favorite food that will make you forget about how much you love scrambled eggs and bacon.
Tofu and tempeh can be your saviors for vegan-friendly meat replacements. They're both soy-based, high in protein and can be prepared in a wide variety of ways for a many different dishes -- burgers, soups, salads, tacos, stir fries, stews, etc. Tempeh has a strong nutty flavor while tofu has a mild flavor that can be changed drastically depending on how you cook it, so you can manipulate it to fit your tastes.
When you find yourself struggling and craving a burger, just remember why you decided to go vegan. Whether it be because of animal cruelty, the environmental impact, your own health or for all three reasons, taking a step back to remind yourself why you are making this lifestyle change can put everything in perspective and help you stay on the vegan path.