More and more of us are giving a vegan lifestyle a go. Whether it’s for health reasons, environmental reasons or ethical reasons, the case is a compelling one. A University of Oxford study concluded that going vegan is the ‘single biggest way’ to reduce your impact on the planet, and your increased well-being and benefits to the animals whose products you will no longer be consuming are undeniable. However, going vegan can be an intimidating thing to do if you’ve never done it before, especially if it represents a big lifestyle change. Here’s the Innermost vegan primer of what you need to know before you fill your shopping trolley with nut milk, lentils and veggie burgers.
Start gradually - or don’t
If you have a revelation after eating a pork chop and have a midnight fridge clear out of animal products, or you start eating a vegan lunch every day but still enjoy the odd chicken nugget, there’s no right or wrong way to do things. It’s about what feels achievable and good for you.
If as a rule you eat a lot of meat, it could be quite a sudden change to go vegan very suddenly - but if you’re committed, why not take the plunge? A simple way to ease into it is to go vegetarian first and see how you feel. Alternatively, try replacing the products in your diet with vegan ones, step by step. Start with milk, then yogurt, then cheese and work your way down the list.
It’s important to note that any steps at all towards eating less meat are great ones. If you can’t or don’t feel like fully committing to being vegan, eating fewer animals overall and making vegan choices on some days but not others is still a great achievement. It doesn’t need to be all or nothing. Make that slightly self-satisfied social media announcement if you want, but quietly picking up some almond milk instead of cow’s milk at the supermarket still counts.
Telling your friends and family
As veganism is more common than ever, it’s unlikely that you will be the vegan trailblazer of your friend group. It’s probable that even your grandma has tried tofu at least once. If someone is making you feel uncomfortable about your choices, you can gently educate them about why you’re making the decisions you are and treat them with kindness, but you don’t owe anyone apart from your doctor or dietician (and maybe your mum, let’s be honest) an explanation for what you are or aren’t eating.
You’re not going to waste away
It’s a common myth that vegans are deficient in protein, or that it’s hard to get enough protein on a vegan diet. Beans, seeds, nuts and pulses, not to mention vegan meat substitutes and foods such as tofu, are packed with protein. Thankfully, we’ve moved beyond the days of a vegan lunch consisting only of two lettuce leaves and a cherry tomato. If you want to boost your protein intake because you’re working out or simply want to ensure you’re getting enough of the stuff, Innermost has created the best ever vegan protein powder which will fulfil your every need.
The same goes for vitamins and minerals - apart from B12. Commonly found in meat, fish and eggs, you’ll feel tired and low energy if you don’t get enough of it. You can take a B12 supplement, or buy dairy alternatives fortified with it. It’s also worth keeping your calcium intake in mind and selecting plant milk enriched with calcium, to ensure you keep your levels where they need to be.
It’s not all about the money, baby
Meat is expensive, and by buying less of it it’s likely that you’ll save money rather than increase your weekly grocery budget. While there are many expensive vegan products out there, from vegan steak to luxury vegan ice cream, the basis of veganism is vegetables, fruit, nuts, beans and grains. You should avoid processed food with the same rationale you would on a non-vegan diet, in that an occasional treat is fine but eating it all day every day isn’t. What’s life without a vegan cocktail sausage, after all?
Once you’ve mastered veganism in your own kitchen, it’s time to tackle eating elsewhere. As veganism is now so popular, most restaurants, cafes and bars will have at least a couple of options on the menu, if not more. And if they don’t, you can always try that time-honoured forgotten vegan classic of a plate of fries and a side salad (although if you’re also trying to gain muscle mass, it might be worth checking our guide to doing that).
Your friends and family love you, so presumably won’t have a problem accommodating your dietary wishes. If they’re nervous about providing for you, however, simply bring your favourite dish with you when you visit so they can see what you've been banging on about for so long. If you weren’t able to warn your host in advance, perhaps consider a quiet word in the kitchen while you express gratitude for the invitation and give a quick update on your new earth-friendly meal plan.
But what happens if I catch a whiff of frying bacon?
It’s likely that you’ve been eating meat for a while - maybe even your whole life. That’s a hard habit to break overnight, and you should never feel bad or guilty for struggling with this. Even if you’re vegan 364 days of the year but have a wobble and scarf down a fish finger on New Year’s Eve, you haven’t failed.
There are too many vegan meat products on the market to count, with new ones being released all the time. Why not try pulled pork made from jackfruit, fried chicken made from seitan or a plant-based burger which ‘bleeds’ like real meat?
Will I lose or gain weight when going vegan?
As long as your diet is well-planned and you’re not existing on Oreos and Frosted Shreddies (both of which are vegan, by the way) it’s unlikely that your weight will change drastically. Being vegan doesn’t mean you’re on a permanently restrictive diet. Listen to your cravings and eat the same food you did before, just the vegan version. While eating enough fruit, vegetables and protein, of course.