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Congratulations! You're beginning a new lifestyle, and while it can seem overwhelming at times, you're in a safe place! We welcome you to this new, inspiring, powerful, and loving community! Your exploration into the vegan lifestyle will be the best investment you could possibly make for your overall mental, physical, and spiritual health. Your body and mind are going to thank you and reward you with glowing skin, a happy gut, improved moods, enhanced sleep, and you may even find yourself in the best shape of your life! But, where do you begin? Well, I want to share some things that I have learned along the way, through trial and error, and I wish you the best on your own personal journey!
1. Vegans can be unhealthy, too.
In my humble opinion, all vegans are awesome! I admire anyone that can refuse animal products, no matter what their reason is, but, it is possible to be an "unhealthy vegan" as well. We want you to experience all of the amazing benefits that a plant-based life has to offer, so why not take full advantage of your new-found motivation and do it the right way. In a later post, I'll show a more in-depth view, but for now, just remember these few key points:
Watch Your “Bad Carb” Intake - Initially, you will want to fall back on what you know as a means of comfort. When you cut out meat, dairy, and eggs, you may find yourself wondering what else is left in the food pyramid that will still give you the old, familiar, comforting feelings from the old days. Some people fill that void with processed wheat products (bread, pasta, desserts, etc.). You can absolutely still enjoy your favorite floury treats, but try to limit them to less than 10% of your daily intake to maintain a healthy weight.
Remember Your "Good Carbs" - Carbs are important. They give your body the fuel it needs to function properly. Nature has provided us with so many beautiful, delicious, decadent treats to give us the fuel we need. And, contrary to popular belief, bread isn't the sole source. Add turnips, sweet potatoes, yucca, beans, rice, squash, bananas, cherries, quinoa, etc. to your new diet. The list goes on and on, but reach for these guys first before processed flour and you will see the benefits of veganism on your waistline.
Sugar Is NOT Your Best Friend - As you begin to find more and more vegan recipes, you will find that many of them are for desserts or sweet breakfast dishes, like pancakes or French toast. I urge you to try some of those because vegan desserts are AMAZING, but remember: Sugar is just as harmful to you, as a vegan, as it was when you were a non-vegan. If you are craving sugar, turn to fresh fruit first. Try strawberries, watermelon, or blueberries. Yes, there is still sugar in fruit, but fruit is nutritious is many other ways and is always a better option over junk food. You can still "Treat-Yo-Self" from time to time, but again, in moderation.
Make Sure You're Eating a Large Variety of Foods - Explore! There are a million ways to dress up fruits, veggies, and grains to make mouth-watering meals. Don't feel like you have to eat a salad for lunch every day or quinoa and vegetables for dinner every night. Don't get me wrong; salads are great, and quinoa is incredible but mixing it up is crucial to ensuring you're getting all of your nutrients. Try new veggies that you’ve never had before, learn to cook with tofu and miso and nut milk, and keep exploring new recipes and cooking practices. Mix it up and make sure you're getting a healthy dose of protein, fat, and carbs in each and every meal.
2. Clean out the fridge and pantry.
I mean it! Really spend some time looking through every drawer and shelf and ditch ALL of the animal products in your food supply. Don’t leave a tub of cheese spread in the back of the fridge for a moment of weakness when you'll lose hold of your willpower...don't think that way. Be strong! And, don't keep things "on hand" for guests. Commit and you will succeed! Make sure to read the ingredients in your condiments as well. Many are made with milk powder, fish oil, anchovies, bone broth, etc. Pay attention to the details!
3. Understand that trips to the grocery will be more frequent and will take longer.
When you're eating whole fresh foods, they will spoil a lot faster than that box of Hamburger Helper sitting in your pantry. That's ok! That's what real food is supposed to do! Remember, if something stays "fresh" in your fridge or pantry for a very long time, it most likely has added chemical preservatives, and who wants to eat chemicals? You'll find that many of the foods that you once deemed "health foods" are probably not conducive to a vegan diet. Read the labels (ALL OF THEM), and make sure there aren't any hidden animal products in anything you buy. This will add significant time to your grocery run, especially at first, so plan accordingly. When in doubt, stick to fresh produce!
4. At first, Keep it simple!
Don't overwhelm yourself with vegan cooking right away. I know that slightly contradicts my previous point about exploring, but what I mean is, it takes time to learn what staples and flavors will suit your palate best. Start by overloading on all of the fruits, veggies, and grains that you already loved and just add more from there. Cooking, in general, is time consuming. If I'm pressed for time during the week, I make some brown rice and steamed asparagus and call it day. If you're a parent and/or working full time, stick to what you know during the hustle & bustle of the week (sans animal products), and then get creative and have some fun with vegan cooking when you have a little more time. You don't need to be a gourmet chef right out of the gate. If you stress yourself out over making some fancy from scratch Tofu Pad Thai with home made sweet chili jam on Monday night, after work, when you have kids to bathe and laundry to fold, you'll eventually wear yourself out, and order a pizza out of frustration and exhaustion. We don't want that.
5. BUt... When you're ready to truly dive in to vegan cooking, stock up on the essentials.
There are a few items that every vegan should have in their kitchen. Most recipes you'll find will contain a variation of the items listed below. Stock up on these staples from the beginning and your grocery trips will be quicker and easier as you go along.
If you stock your fridge and pantry with these staples, you'll always be ready to start cooking some great vegan meals. Sometimes, I don't feel like running to the store and I'll end up staring into the pantry for twenty minutes or so, trying to figure out what to make for dinner. But, since I keep all of these items on hand at all times, I'm able to whip something up on the fly on those nights when it's hard to make a decision. Maybe, I'll just grab that leftover half-head of broccoli and that sweet potato that will probably expire in another day or two, and before I know it... Voilà! Dinner is served! Below I have included links to the some of the harder to find items on this list. If you don't frequent a health food store or your local Grocery does not have a robust health food section, I recommend checking out Amazon for some really great deals on a few of these staples.
There are a few nutrients that are not as easily available in a plant-based diet. Omega 3's, Vitamin D, and Vitamin B-12. Becoming deficient of any of these nutrients can cause major health problems. In most cases these are not problems that you would notice right away. Omega 3 deficiency can initially present itself as other common ailments such as, rough skin, dry cracking finger nails and flaky skin on hands and feet, but it can eventually lead to Cardio Vascular Disease later in life. The good news about Omega's is that you can also find them in nuts and seeds! Flax seed is a powerful Omega producer! It is possible to get this nutrient without taking fish oil. Vitamin D deficiency although much more common, can result in bone loss, hair loss, and impaired immunity. B-12 deficiency may only initially result in slight weight gain or fatigue, but studies have linked several neurological and cardiovascular disorders to a lack of adequate B-12. But, wait! Before you run off to the drug store to stock up on these guys, know that it is possible to overdose on certain vitamins and become toxic. It is imperative to speak with a doctor and have your vitamin levels checked before starting a supplement regimen.
7. Lastly, know that you're doing a really great thing!
Whatever your reason for making a switch to a vegan lifestyle, know that you are embarking on a truly meaningful journey. When it starts to get hard (and it will), remember all of the good you are doing. Let that be your motivation. You're giving your body an amazing gift by treating it properly and ridding it of poisonous, acidic, dangerous substances. You're protecting your body against heart disease, diabetes, auto-immune disorders, and cancer. Don't stop! Remember that you, and your choices as an individual, matter to the bigger picture. Every time you go to the store and don't buy animal products, you are another customer the meat industry has lost, and that's a few less dollars they get to put in their pockets. You have saved at least one animals life! That matters. It really does. And when you feel like quitting, lean on a fellow vegan for motivation and support. We're out here and we're here for you!