Before you go vegan…

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Making the switch from an omnivorous to an herbivorous diet can be a bit overwhelming at first. You’ll find yourself thinking about what you could cook tonight that doesn’t include things from an animal, or worrying about whether the restaurant you’re going to will be able to accommodate your new diet choice.

And then there’re the questions from friends like, “Where do you get your protein?” Which is something they would never be concerned with hadn’t you gone to a plant-based diet.

Eliminating animal products from your diet can be very beneficial to your overall health and some might even say beneficial to the planet, but even with something so seemingly harmless, there are still a few things to consider before diving in headfirst.

What to consider as you start your vegan journey

If you’re not exactly sure what “Vegan” is, it’s a lifestyle that doesn’t include animal products, which can be limited to just the diet, but may also include other areas such as wardrobe.

So anything made with or by animals is off limits. Some people make this choice for dietary reasons. For instance, they want to cut out animal products in order to look and feel better. Others do it as animal rights activists or because they want to do their part in preserving the planet by not contributing to the process of consuming animals.

Whatever your personal reason, we have a few tips to help in your transition.

  1. Plan, plan, plan

Meal planning is important when making a change like going strictly plant-based. This doesn’t have to be overwhelming; it can consist of going online—YouTube, Instagram, etc.—and finding options and recipes for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks.

You should also think about how to “veganize” some of your favorite types of foods. For instance, if you like pizza, think about the ingredients you’d need to make it without animal products. Daiya makes a really good vegan cheese.

There a number of restaurants that have great vegan options now, especially in major cities like DC. To make this part of your journey east, there are a number of apps that can help you find vegan restaurants or restaurants with menus that cater to those with dietary restrictions.

Brown Vegan also suggests writing down your “Why?” Why are you going vegan? Think about what that transformation is going to look like for you.

Know that you can accomplish your fitness and nutrition goals while on a plant-based diet. You just need to know your goals and plan accordingly.

  1. Eat “real” food

You might make the common mistake of thinking: “it’s vegan so it’s healthy.” Just because it’s “vegan” doesn’t mean it’s healthy. When you switch to eating mostly plant foods, you’re going to feel the urge to try junk foods that are created to mimic the meat products that you’ve eliminated (and that you probably really miss), and other tasty snacks.

But these “creations” can have sugars, salt, fillers and other potentially harmful and/or fattening ingredients in them, which are added in order to make them palatable.

Try your best to stick to real whole foods, not packaged foods, as close to nature as possible. There are many ways to create foods like burgers at home using beans, sweet potatoes, corn, and herbs and spices.

And who are we kidding? Donuts, cookies, and ice cream are still donuts, cookies, and ice cream. Whether vegan or not, should still be eaten in moderation.

  1. Learn HOW to eat

Take the time to learn how to actually eat. Often times, switching to a plant-based diet will result in a severe lack of daily caloric intake. You will simply take out the meat or dairy, but don’t understand what to replace it with or how to replace it.

Understanding your macronutrients is important whether you’re vegan or not for a balanced diet. Food generally falls along the spectrum of Protein, Carb, or Fat. Knowing what your body needs and how much of each you’re getting into your diet will help you avoid weight gain or unhealthy weight loss from lack of proper nutrition.

Where do you get your protein?

It’s not that you can’t get enough protein on a plant-based diet, it’s that you need to eat enough of the right things in order to get the appropriate amount.

Although we usually think of meat when we think about protein, plants have plenty of protein and contain more than enough if you eat the right amounts.

Peas, spinach, and asparagus are just a few high-protein veggies, but plenty of veggies, including beans, have respectable amounts of protein.

Being vegan does require you to eat more than you might think. When it comes to non-starch vegetables, like green leafy veggies, broccoli, cauliflower, etc., you want to load up.

But also, keep in mind that, “Plants don’t have magical calories.” According to High Carb Hannah, when she first started eating vegan (to lose weight), she thought that plant calories were magical calories and they didn’t count. But the fact is: fruits and starchy vegetables, like potatoes, corn, beans, and squash, are delicious and filling, but if you’re conscious about weight gain, you may want to pay attention to how much of these you’re consuming.

Also, again, be mindful of the processed food products in your effort to “replace” your meat. The meat replacements you’ll likely be eating the most are tofu, tempeh, and perhaps seitan.

Tofu and tempeh are made from soybeans, only tempeh is fermented, which makes it a preferred option considering some people’s disdain for soy products. The fermentation process makes it better on the digestive system.

Always make sure your tofu is organic, as soy is one of the more easily modified foods on the market. And if you’re celiac or gluten sensitive, avoid seitan all together because it’s a protein derived from wheat and cannot be digested properly.

Because of the process, stick to tofu and tempeh as your “meat alternatives.”

4. Don’t overlook the fat

A healthy vegan diet—or any diet for that matter—should include nuts and seeds, including avocados and coconuts. Fat is essential because it helps your body to absorb many of the nutrients you get from food, especially the nutrients like Omega-3, for instance, which you can’t make on your own.

Your body is this spectacular machine that needs you to put the right things in it in order for it to do its job. Fat is one of those important things.

Take your time

Don’t just jump from omnivorous to herbivorous in a week. Take your time, do your research, learn about food and what you should and shouldn’t eat.

Once you’ve connected with why you want to make the transition, try going at it slowly. Instead of cutting everything at once, try starting with, say, dairy in the first couple of weeks, and then cutting red meats the next couple of weeks. Before you know it, with in just a few months, you’ll be completely off animal products.

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