7 Things You Need to Know Before You Go Vegan

Follow these tips if you're thinking of making the change

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Words by Lisa Hughes
August 10th, 2016

Gone are the days when veganism went hand-in-hand with dreadlocks, tie-dye and patchouli. In recent years, famous faces like Jared Leto, Beyoncé and Rosanna Davison have given veganism a serious makeover. Even action hero Arnold Schwarzenegger has swapped pork for plants.

So what’s it all about and what are the benefits of going vegan? Put simply, veganism means not eating any animal produce. As well as the obvious no meat, poultry or fish, vegans go one step further than vegetarians by avoiding honey, eggs and dairy produce too. By-products like wearing leather are also a no-no.

We know what you’re thinking – if veganism is such a lifestyle change, why do it? Well, short of being the elixir of eternal youth, the vegan diet is associated with incredible health benefits from increased energy to younger looking skin. A well-balanced, varied diet tends to be low in saturated fat, high in fibre and full of antioxidants, all of which are proven to fight against obesity, heart disease, diabetes and cancer. Not to mention, you’re doing your bit for our furry friends.

Veganism is a big lifestyle change and, even though healthy eating and well-being is now pretty much mainstream, it isn’t always easy.

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7 things you should know before you think about going vegan:

1. Start small – Unless you’ve put up a billboard declaring ‘I AM NOW VEGAN SO PLEASE DON’T OFFER ME A STEAK’ no one needs to know you’re changing your lifestyle so you can start slow, make small changes and go from there. Ditch the butter on your sandwich at lunch, try almond milk in your flat white or take part in Meat Free Monday.

2. Read labels –Unless packaging is explicitly labelled ‘suitable for vegans’ you need to check the ingredients and actually know what you’re looking for. Gelatine, casein, shellac and carmine are all derived from animals and are commonly found in food you might think is vegan-friendly. Here’s a great guide to what those weird words on labels mean www.vrg.org/ingredients/.

3. Prepare for questions. Lots of them – Even though healthy eating is hip these days, veganism is still considered radical in some quarters so chances are you’ll be quizzed on your decision, where you get your protein, oh and if you’re in a crazy cult now. The tried-and-tested ‘I don’t eat anything with a face’ still works as an explanation but a better, non-preachy way to talk about your new diet is to explain the health benefits. Lead by example and all that.

4. Get cooking – Cooking from scratch is the only way to guarantee you know what goes into your food. Avoid the substitute ‘meat’ products (sorry, Tofurkey) as these are often just as processed as junk food. Instead, get adventurous in the kitchen, download some recipes (all major chefs like Jamie Oliver have vegan recipes online) and experiment with different flavours and ingredients you’ve never dared try before. You’ll be the Vegan Nigella in no time.

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5. Watch your B12 – Animal produce like eggs and poultry are the best sources of B12 which makes B12 deficiency common in vegans. The good news is you can still get this important vitamin through fortified plant milks, cereals and more. It’s not everyone’s cup of tea but yeast extract is a fantastic source of B12 and is a surprisingly versatile ingredient that can be thrown into pasta sauces and stews. If all else fails, try a vitamin B12 supplement or ask your GP about B12 injections.

6. Calcium – Newsflash! Dairy is not the only source of calcium. In fact, there’s more calcium in sea kelp than a glass of milk. Really! Green leafy vegetables like kale, rocket and broccoli are rich in calcium, as are chickpeas, tahini and mixed nuts so put these on your shopping list and your bones will thank you for it.

7. Do it properly or don’t do it at all – that’s what any lifelong vegan will tell you. We’ve all read horror stories of ‘vegans’ who survived on bowls of mung beans and ended up in hospital. Don’t be that person. If you’re cutting so much out of your diet, you need to replace it with something so a varied, balanced diet full of fresh fruit, veg, beans and pulses is absolutely essential.

For everything you could possibly need to know about going vegan, go to vegansociety.com