So you want to be vegan…
But how do you know a vegan lifestyle is right for you?
Is a fully plant based diet sustainable?
What else do I need to know as a vegan beginner – besides the diet stuff?
Start learning in this detailed guide written by a vegan Registered Dietitian Nutritionist!
Disclaimer: This article is not providing personal medical or dietary advice. Talk to your doctor before adding a supplement or making major dietary changes. See our Disclaimers for more details.
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Table of Contents
What Does It Mean To Be Vegan?
Surprise! Veganism is a philosophy that extends beyond what you eat.
Here is the definition of veganism from The Vegan Society:
“Veganism is a philosophy and way of living which seeks to exclude—as far as is possible and practicable—all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose; and by extension, promotes the development and use of animal-free alternatives for the benefit of animals, humans and the environment. In dietary terms it denotes the practice of dispensing with all products derived wholly or partly from animals.”Source: The Vegan Society
Veganism is a philosophy that results in a lifestyle adjustment to diet, entertainment, purchasing, etc.
Those who only follow the vegan diet part might be better known as “strict vegetarians” while those who self identify as following a vegan philosophy and lifestyle might use the term “ethical vegan.”
But why would someone choose to make such an adjustment to their lifestyle? Lets go over some of the common reasons next.
Why Choose Veganism?
For the Animals
Ask a vegan why they decided to make the plunge, and more often than not, they will probably mention animal exploitation!
Many vegans believe that they do not need to consume animals or purchase products made from animals.
They believe that animals are capable of suffering and pain, and therefore, would not use them for the sake of taste buds or entertainment.
The grim realities of the animal industry make going vegan for the animals a compelling reason for certain individuals to adopt this philosophy, including myself!
I realized that I could live a healthy life and meet all of my nutrient needs without animal products. You can read more about my story here.
FYI: see FAQ’s below for reasons why this may not be a valid reason for certain individuals.
For the Planet
“Increased demand for aquaculture, animal and marine foods and energy products will intensify competition and potential conflict over land and water resources, particularly in low and medium-income countries.Source: IPPC 6th Assessment Report Technical Summary
Its not much of a surprise that our large demand for animal products, and the way they are bread and “processed” has an impact on the environment.
One research article from Science suggests that animal products may contribute about 83% of the worlds farmland and around 56-58% of emissions. A striking difference from that of vegetable substitutes.
Food is one of the biggest areas of spending for Americans, and most of us are aware that proper nourishment is important.
That’s why some vegan curious individuals may see their food choices as contributing a huge impact on the environment, and decide to go vegan.
As an FYI, there are several things that cause environmental deterioration, and things we can do for the health of the planet, but many vegans believe becoming vegan is one of the most effective.
If we don’t have make changes that could help preserve this planet, what will happen to us? That’s what we will explore in the next reason, that is inter-related…
For Certain Social Justice Issues
As we just learned, certain man made industries contribute to the environmental deterioration and climate change. We also know that the animal industry plays a large role!
It has been hypothesized that if high emissions scenarios continues and increases risk – without changes, the poorest populations will likely be effected first.
Climate change could increase droughts, floods etc, and may also increase the chances of food insecurity for certain populations. In a world where many are already struggling with hunger, this is particularly alarming.
Chapter 5 of the 2022 IPPC report also notes that climate change will add to the increasing stress of outdoor workers and animals to heat stress. Meat and milk production may be reduced.
Unfortunately, those working in the animal industry also have other stressors. Foodandpower.net suggests that slaughter house workers are mostly people of color or immigrants who are lower income.
They also note that meatpacking may be of the most dangerous occupations in the world, with risks including slippery floors (you can only imagine why they are slippery), repetitive motions with sharp knives both of which may result in injury.
A report from Foodchainworkers.org suggests that about 65% of processing workers in food, meat, and poultry processing plants report injury or illness on the job.
Do poor wages and safety concerns exist in the non animal industry food space? Of course. Issues such as overexposure to pesticides, poor working conditions, and even child labor are certainly concerns.
Its also important to remember that animals need to drink lots of water and consume crops as well, and for many animals – they need to consume alot.
That’s one of the reasons why some individuals view social justice issues such as these as a reason for going vegan. They might assume that taking out their contribution to the animal industry will reduce the impact on those who will be affected the most.
What About For Your Health?
Ever heard someone say they are vegan, but then proceed to talk only about diet?
If someone follows a vegan diet but is otherwise not vegan, their lifestyle may not align with the definition for veganism stated above.
Just to make it clear, we are not saying that a healthy vegan diet with appropriate supplementation doesn’t have health benefits, and we also aren’t saying to not consume a vegan diet if you can do it safely (see “Vegan Beginners FAQ” for an expansion on these topics).
And on the flip side, perhaps going vegan for your health means having a more positive outlook on life because of adopting veganism? However, we cannot verify that, since we are not aware of any studies that show vegans are happier than non vegans.
In summary: There are many reasons to choose this lifestyle. You may be motivated by one, or them all!
Personally, I was initially interested in being vegan because of what I learned about the dairy industry, but then the environmental and human welfare benefits helped me stick with it! You can read more about my own story here.
The Vegan Beginners Diet Guide
Lets start by defining the very basics, and then get into the more “fine” details of a nutritionally sound vegan diet!
What Vegans Could Eat Vs What They Avoid
By virtue of the philosophy, vegans do not eat:
- Meat (including poultry)
- Any food product that has animal derived ingredients
- Vitamins and minerals in food products that were derived form animals
Keep in mind that animal products can sometimes be found in “traditionally thought of as vegan” foods. For example, who knew some peanut butters could have honey or even egg protein in the ingredients list?
What are some ingredients you may not have considered that contain animal products? Here’s a several (FYI: not a comprehensive list):
- Vitamin D3 sourced from labs wool wax
As an fyi: some (but not all) vegans also avoid certain foods with refined sugar processed with bone char and foods with natural flavors because they may contain animal derived ingredients.
I do not personally know any vegans who have voiced concern about animal products in those two things, but If this is a concern to you, you could contact the company.
What’s left on a table for vegans to eat? Everything else that does not include animal derived ingredients (pending you are not allergic)! Examples include:
- Legumes (beans, peas, lentils, soy)
- Other foods made without animal derived ingredients.
So now that you know vegans do not eat any animal products, you may be wondering: what should I eat instead?
After all, most of us think of meat when we hear protein, or dairy when we hear calcium… right?
And sure, those animal products do provide those nutrients, and we need them in varying amounts, but the truth is: you can also meet your nutrition needs on a healthy vegan diet with supplementation as appropriate.
In fact, the one of the most renowned nutrition organizations: The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics makes it very clear:
It is the position of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics that appropriately planned vegetarian, including vegan, diets are healthful, nutritionally, adequate, and may provide health benefits for the prevention and treatment of certain diseases.Position of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: Vegetarian Diets
But how can we shift toward a nutritionally adequate and healthy vegan diet? We’ve compiled a few points to keep in mind…
1. Know and eat your Nutrients
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One of the biggest mistakes I’ve noticed many new vegans making is that they do not do learn about plant based alternatives for nutrients that may be more tricky to obtain (without thinking about) on a vegan diet.
As we just mentioned, animal products do contain important nutrients, however, we can also get many of them from plant based sources!
Here is a list of nutrients that vegans should keep on their radar (Fyi: not a comprehensive list):
- Vitamin B12 (vegans must obtain a reliable source (such as using a supplement-talk to your doctor about supplementation)
- Vitamin D
- ALA (an essential omega-3 fatty acid)
Going over each of these nutrients in detail would make for one really long post, but your in luck!
Our article Vegan for Beginners discuses these nutrients (plus more) and ways to get them in colorful ways on a vegan plan. You won’t want to miss it if you are a new vegan, or someone who wants to learn more about plant based nutrition!
As an FYI, some nutrients may need to be supplemented for a variety of reasons. Talk to your doctor about your unique needs.
Using an nutrient tracking app like Cronometer (affiliate link*) can help you get an idea of your nutrient intake when used correctly. I love how their free version already includes so many nutrients!
A Registered Dietitian can help you properly use apps like these, and answer questions you may have (even other burning questions you may have about other topics like weight loss and different foods effect on blood sugar), which leads us to our next tip…
2. Have a Vegan Meal Plan ( Hint: A Dietitian Can Help!)
Time to put your newfound knowledge to use! Having a general idea of how to structure your meals can help.
Myplate.gov has a nice visual of how you could structure your plate and includes fruits, vegetables, vegan protein sources, grains and dairy (of course keep in mind that the dairy group would be named something else for vegans 😉 ).
Its also certainly worth noting that fats can aid in the absorption of certain nutrients. Learn about healthier fat options in our article on grocery shopping as a vegan.
And don’t forget about other gatherings! Have a plan – such as a vegan meals to share as an option at potlucks, suggesting vegan alternatives to other restaurants, etc! Who knows? It could be a great conversation starter!
And lastly, if you are feeling stumped about planning vegan meals or have concerns, consult a Registered Dietitian who is well versed in the vegan diet and what vegans eat to get one on one support!
He or she can help you get an idea of how many calories you need per day, along with healthy suggestions for plant foods, and more!
3. Stock Up Your Kitchen
Now that you are aware of some vegan specific nutrients to keep in mind and you have a plan, it’s time to set up your pantry and fridge for success!
That brings me to mistake number two that I hear: unnecessarily excluding certain food groups.
Vegans are not limited to salads and fruit! Brighten up your cart with a healthy variety of plant based foods from the various food groups.
We go into much more detail in our article: How to Make a Vegan Shopping List for Beginners. I’m talking, a breakdown of the major food groups, an example grocery list, and more!
Everything Else About the Lifestyle (Besides Diet)
Due to concerns about animal exploitation, vegans avoid certain products, such as animal derived clothing and furniture.
They also avoid certain activities that may involve the mistreatment or unnatural confinement of animals, such as zoos.
While this is by no means a comprehensive list, we have tried to feature as many as we can think of below!
Things in Products That Vegans Avoid
- Crocodile skin
- Snake skin
- Down Feathers
Activities Vegans Avoid
- Trophy Hunting
- Horse Racing
- Any kind of activity involving forced animal fighting (for example, bull fighting)
As an FYI, some vegans choose to support and/or visit animal sanctuaries in which it is assumed that the animals are not being exploited.
Some (but not all vegans) are very focused on environmental sustainability as well. They might choose eco friendly options as much as possible.
For example, they might purchase local instead of imported cut flowers (if they even buy flowers at all!).
Lastly, it is important to note that no one can completely avoid all products that have been made with animals, as animal products may still appear in products we were not aware of.
How To Transition to Veganism: 5 Tips For Going Vegan
Ok, so perhaps now you are convinced and want to get started!
Wondering how to start being vegan slowly? Consider these tips!
1. Know and frequently refer back to your “why”
Remember why you choose to adopt this philosophy? Now don’t forget it!
Easy enough to say, harder to do (especially when everyone else is ordering ice cream and there are no vegan options in sight)!
So tack your “why” on the fridge, phone, door, where ever else you are bound to look at each day.
2. Find your tribe
Have you ever gone through something, whether it be good or bad and thought, “I wish someone could just get me” or “am I the only one out here doing this?”
The good news is, that there are many other people who have or had feelings like these. Find your vegan community, ask questions, and spread compassion!
3. Keep nutrient needs in mind, and take your supplements
If there is anything you take away from this article, it is to put your health at the forefront.
The vegan diet is so vastly different than what many of us are familiar with, so know your nutrients, eat them, and take your supplements (most vegans will need to take a vitamin B12 supplement at least. Talk to your doctor about this and other supplements you might need).
Check out our article Vegan for Beginners to learn more in depth info about nutrition on a vegan diet.
4. Slowly cut back on animal products
How many of us have tried an abrupt withdrawal, only to come back to the same old habits?
I’ve got great news for you: there is no vegan police going around and making sure you cut out everything at once!
There are many ways to slowly cut out animal products.
For example, you could just make one meal vegan and then build on from there.
Or, you could tackle one animal product at at time (some more great news with that one! Plant Powered You has articles about each major animal product and things to keep in mind when cutting them out. You can find them here) etc.
What ever method is used, keep in mind that there will be setbacks. Again, the good news is that there is no vegan police roaming around!
As we’ve mentioned before, remember: there is no such thing as a perfect vegan. Dust yourself off, remember your why, and the “as far as practical and possible” part of the vegan definition.
5. Get inspired with vegan recipes
Aren’t we so incredibly fortunate to have loads of free vegan recipes available with internet access?
And you can easily modify the search to vegan recipes for beginners, all the way over to more complex culinary creations.
Going Vegan For Beginners FAQ
Is the vegan diet healthy?
A vegan diet can be as healthy or unhealthy as you make it!
Are you eating mainly processed vegan foods like plain potato chips and Oreos? Most of us know that those foods are not the most nutritious options!
But focusing on a variety of whole, nutrient dense foods with nutrients in mind, is generally a healthy eating pattern, whether vegan or not!
The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics Position Paper on Vegetarian Diets further states that “appropriately planned vegetarian, including vegan, diets are healthful, nutritionally adequate, and may provide health benefits for the prevention and treatment of certain diseases.”
Don’t forget to talk to your doctor about supplementation of vitamin B12, and other nutrients of concern.
But Is it actually affordable?
Just like the last section, vegan food can be as affordable or unaffordable -with consideration of where you live.
One study published in The Lancet suggests that a healthy/sustainable vegan diet as compared to pescatarian, flexitarian, vegetarian, and bench mark diets was actually cheaper in high income countries. The “cheapest” vegan diet had a focus on grains.
One thing they didn’t measure however, was the the cost of highly processed foods and drinks. Theoretically, they would increase the price of food.
So, if you want to save money on a vegan diet, try to focus on whole foods, instead of those fancy “meat alternatives”. And don’t forget your legumes and whole grains, which can be quite inexpensive in many places!
Check out or Vegan Grocery List article for an expansion on this topic!
Vegetarian vs vegan diets: Aren’t they the same thing?
Technically, a vegan diet could be defined as a strict vegetarian diet, meaning, no animal products are eaten.
However, there are many varieties of other vegetarian diets, and all (except the vegan diet) include some animal products.
Here is a brief summary of the vegetarian diets (defined as not consuming meat) we are aware of:
- Lacto-Ovo Vegetarian: Includes dairy and eggs, but excludes meat and fish
- Ovo Vegetarian: Includes eggs, but not dairy, meat, or fish
- Vegan Diet: excludes all animal products.
- Subsets of Vegan diets: Some also may further restrict by consuming a vegan diet that mainly consists of fruit (Fruitarian) or raw foods (raw vegan)
Some individuals also self identify to be vegetarian if they include fish, but not eggs or dairy (pescatarian) or a “flexible” vegetarian diet, where animal products are consumed only some of the time (flexitarian), and so forth.
Without one universal and clear definition, it may be hard to describe vegetarian diets based on ones perspective – but one thing is for certain! The vegan diet does not include any animal products – a major distinction from other vegetarian diets.
Is plant based the same thing as vegan?
Nope! Plant based is a very loose term that could mean a diet of centered around plants – with some lesser (and varying) degree of animal products.
And if you’ve taken anything away from this article, its that vegans do not eat any animal products!
So while vegans are always plant based, plant based people may not always be vegan. In fact, I’ve seen several vegans clarify that they are fully plant based if they use the plant based terminology.
Can anyone be vegan?
Not everyone can adopt a fully plant based lifestyle. This may be due to (not a comprehensive list):
- Lack of access to a variety of plant based foods and appropriate supplementation
- Lack of finances for a variety of plant based foods and appropriate supplementation
- Certain medical conditions that may make following a vegan diet difficult (such as an allergy to several plant based foods)
With any major dietary change, it is a good idea to talk to your doctor about the plausibility of the diet depending on your medical history, any supplements you need, etc.
Can anybody adopt the non dietary aspects of veganism? That will also likely depend on your access to vegan products and finances vs. what you can do without.
However, the bottom line is this: you would be surprised to find out how many vegans are still learning about products or accidently buy products with animal products in them!
The animal industry has been in our lives for a long time, and we use them in unexpected places.
What are some going vegan side effects?
New vegans be warned!
Adopting this lifestyle may come with some detox like side effects, like digestive changes.
Luckily, we have a whole article about what you may want to consider if you have negative symptoms. Check it out here.
And lets not forget that good side effects could occur too! Such as feeling better about your choices and certain health benefits (if eating a healthy appropriately supplemented vegan diet that is).
How can I find helpful resources?
It’s important to be selective about what you read in the nutrition space! I’ve read some really crazy misinformation about the vegan diet (and I’m sure you have too)!
Here are some questions to ask when looking for credible sources:
- What credentials does the writer have? Do they have the expertise to provide accurate nutrition information?
- Do they site their sources? Are the studies well designed?
- Are the claims too good to be possible?
We hope that you check out our Resources page for a list of awesome resources for vegans!
And if you haven’t seen our article about plant based diet books to consider adding to your reading list, check it out here!
Summary for the Vegan Beginner
You decided to go vegan out of compassion for the animals, environment or social justice issues.
Remember to be compassionate towards yourself and others as well! Making lifestyle changes can be hard, and not everyone can choose this lifestyle due to a variety of circumstances.
Find a support group, learn about the nutrients of concern on a vegan diet (and eat them!) talk to your doctor about supplementation (especially vitamin B12), and don’t forget your why!
We hope you found this article helpful! We want to know, do you feel more equipped to start a vegan lifestyle? Does eating vegan feel less complicated now (or do you anticipate it being that way over time)?
And while you’re here, why not poke around on our blog?
We answer more burning questions you have like, Can Vegans Drink Coffee, Is Guar Gum Vegan, and What is Eco Friendly Food?
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May the fork be with you…