So, you’ve decided you want to go vegan but don’t know where to start? It can initially seem daunting when switching to a vegan diet, but the good news is that it gets easier with each passing week. These simple tips will help you get started with a vegan diet, making it easier.
1. Know the basics of what to avoid
If you are wanting to follow a vegan diet, there are a number of things you will need to avoid. Vegans do not eat foods that contain animal-derived products. At its most basic, this includes:
- Meat, poultry and all seafood
- Dairy including cow’s milk, butter, yoghurt, ice cream and cheese
- Gelatine (typically found in sweets but also in other products)
2. Always read food labels
Over time, you will get used to knowing what you can eat on a vegan diet and what to avoid. However, in the early days, you will need to read the labels on many foods if you are not sure if they are vegan friendly. This is what to look for on the label:
- First, check to see if the label has a vegan logo or clearly states it is ‘suitable for vegans’
- If this is not clearly stated, check the ingredients list for any animal-derived products
- Check the allergy warnings to see if the product may contain traces of non-vegan products such as milk or egg, for example
3. Know what non-vegan ingredients to look for on the label
While the basic animal-derived ingredients mentioned above are pretty easy to understand, several other animal-derived ingredients may not be so obvious. They can easily be overlooked when checking food labels. These are:
- Shellac – secreted by the female lac insect and commonly used as a food glaze for sweets or fresh produce
- Gelatine – derived from the connective tissues, bones and skin of animals such as cows and pigs. Commonly found in sweets.
- Isinglass – this is derived from fish bladders and is commonly used when brewing beers and other drinks
- Some E numbers may be animal-derived, including E120, E441, E542, E901, E904, E913, E966, E1105. Others may also contain traces of animal-derived ingredients, so always air on the side of caution.
- Cochineal or carmine – Ground cochineal scale insects are used to make carmine which is used as a food colouring
- Omega-3 fatty acids – most omega-3s come from fish (Vegan alternative Omega-3s are derived from algae)
- Vitamin D3 – Most vitamin D3 is derived from fish oil or the lanolin from sheep’s wool (Vegan alternatives are Vitamin D2 and D3 from lichen)
- Dairy ingredients – Whey, lactose and casein, are all derived from dairy and can be found in many different products
4. Know the basic food swaps
Knowing the basics of what to swap for meat and dairy products will help you enjoy all your favourite foods made vegan. The basics are:
- Swap meat for vegan meat replacement products, mushrooms, tofu or tempeh
- Swap cow’s milk for plant-based milks such as almond milk, soy milk or coconut milk
- Swap butter for plant-based alternatives such as sunflower or olive spreads
- Swap yoghurt for vegan yoghurt (usually found in the free-from section)
- Swap cheese for vegan cheese
Check out our essential food swaps post for a more detailed look at this.
5. Eat plenty of whole foods
It can be much easier to know what’s in your food if you are buying whole food ingredients and preparing your food from scratch. This is a good way to avoid having to check all the labels! Whole foods include:
- Whole grains such as quinoa, brown rice and rolled oats
- Legumes such as lentils, chickpeas, beans and soybeans
Also include herbs and spices as well as healthy fats such as avocados, olive oil and coconut oil.
6. Make sure you eat a balanced diet to get all the nutrients you need
Eating a healthy, balanced diet with a variety of plant-based foods is essential to ensure you get all the nutrients you need. Vegan foods can be abundant in carbohydrates, but it is also vital to ensure you get all your other macronutrients as well as vitamins and minerals. Here’s what to consider:
- Eat a variety of vegan protein sources (Read our vegan protein post for more on this)
- Eat healthy fats such as avocados, nut butters, olive oil and coconut oil
- Make sure you get vitamin B12 from fortified foods such as nutritional yeast and plant milks
- Consider taking a supplement – the most important ones for vegans are vitamin B12, iron, omega-3, zinc, vitamin D, calcium and iodine.
7. Give yourself time to learn as you go
By making the switch to a vegan diet, you are doing a wonderful thing for animals, the planet and your health. Remember, it will take time before your new diet is second nature, and you don’t have to read all the labels every time you go shopping. Be kind to yourself and give yourself time to adjust. Don’t be hard on yourself if you accidentally consume foods with some of the trickier non-vegan ingredients in them – it is a learning process!
If you are unsure about any foods, a quick Google search should tell you whether it’s OK to eat or not. Do your research as you go along to help you learn more about living a vegan lifestyle.
Good luck starting your vegan diet. If you have any questions about making the switch to a vegan diet, please feel free to get in touch, and we will be happy to help with advice and guidance wherever we can!