How to maintain a vegan diet

So you’ve decided that you’d like to become vegan, but where do you start? Transitioning to a vegan lifestyle can seem really daunting, but often the idea of a big lifestyle change is a lot scarier than actually doing it.

A tray of healty vegan foods

Whether you already eat a vegetarian diet or you consume meat, if you focus on making one change at a time, the progression to veganism will feel quite natural. It’s important to go at your own pace though, and to decide on a method that works best for you.

We’ve compiled some advice with the help of nutrition coach, Susan Hart, to support you on your transition to veganism.

Do your research

Start reading ingredients lists and learn how to scan product labels to tell quickly and easily if a product is vegan. Familiarise yourself with the less obvious animal-derived ingredients that show up in unsuspecting products.

“Not all vegan products are clearly labelled as being suitable, so get used to reading nutritional and ingredient labels. For instance, milk, eggs and fish are all allergens and as such, have to be displayed in bold, italic or underlined so they are easy to spot,” says Susan.

But some animal products are not as easy to recognise, so be aware of the following:

  • Casein, lactose and whey (all from milk)
  • Isinglass, bonito, keratin and vitamin D3 (can all be derived from fish)

“E-numbers can be non-vegan too, like E120: Carmine, also known as cochineal, carminic acid or natural red 4, which is a red food colouring made from beetles,” says Susan. “Also, E441: Gelatine, which is a setting agent made from ground up animal bone and skin often found in sweets, jelly and marshmallows.”

The Vegan Society and Vegetarian Society are great resources to help you familiarise yourself with shopping do’s and don’ts.

Learn from others

As with anything new, it’s good to read, watch and learn from the experiences of others. Seek out vegan documentaries, books, magazines, websites, blogs, forums, and people. Other people who have already made this transition to their diet can offer valuable insight and support. This can help you to feel more confident in your choices.

Made In Chelsea star Lucy Watson shares her journey to veganism on Happiful.

Add more foods to your diet

Often, when people think of a plant-based diet, they think of all the things they can’t eat – things that are excluded from the diet. But it’s important to try not to see it in this way. Look at it as an opportunity to try new and different foods.

“Great protein sources are quinoa, nuts and seeds, beans and lentils, vegan Quorn products, soy and tofu, tempeh and seitan,” says Susan.

“Try wonderful whole grain carbs like buckwheat, sourdough, couscous, spelt pasta and wholegrain rice. And, of course, interesting veggies and fruit like sweet potato, celeriac, fennel, beetroot, edamame beans, chard, romanesco broccoli, squashes, Sharon fruit (persimmon), pomegranates and jackfruit.”

Begin incorporating more foods into your diet and familiarise yourself with how to prepare and cook with these new ingredients. You can make some simple swaps, such as switching to a non-dairy milk alternative such as almond or soy. This is an easy transition for most people as there’s a lot of options – so experiment to find which you like best.

Keep meals as simple as possible

As with anything, it’s best to not over complicate matters. Start with putting the basics on your plate – rice, beans, pasta, potatoes, vegetables – then build around them.

Susan explains that many of your favourite meals can ‘veganised’, too. “Add vegan mince or some beans to your favourite lasagne or pasta recipe, make or buy vegan sausages and have them with mash and onion gravy or in a sandwich. Make a really tasty curry with cauliflower and chickpeas, but watch out for the naan bread, as it often contains milk. And good old beans on toast has always been vegan!”

Start collecting and experimenting with vegan recipes that appeal to you. Find a few different quick and easy vegan meals that you enjoy and get comfortable preparing them.

Try to plan ahead

If you know you’re going to be out all day and aren’t sure when you’ll have time to stop for something to eat, let alone find somewhere that has good vegan offerings, be kind to yourself.

“When out and about it may be harder to find snacks that are suitable, so always carry a few fruit and nut bars or small bags of nuts and seeds to keep those blood sugar levels steady,” says Susan.

Keep on the lookout for vegan products at your local supermarket, research vegan-friendly restaurants and specialist shops in your area, too.

Don’t let a slip-up stop you

Whether you eat a non-vegan food by accident or because you were really craving it, don’t punish yourself or throw the towel in either.

Susan tells us, “The other day I ordered vegan ‘fish and chips’ and it came with tartar sauce. I later found out it wasn’t a vegan version as it contained egg. These type of accidents happen occasionally, but don’t blame yourself or over think it.”

Get some professional support

A nutrition professional can guide you and help you create a diet plan that works for your lifestyle – as well as ensuring you are getting all the necessary nutrients to stay happy and healthy.

“A nutrition expert can suggest meal ideas that provide you with a healthy balanced diet, recommend specific foods that incorporate your macro and micronutrients like iron, B12 and omega 3 fatty acids,” says Susan. “They can add that extra reassurance that you are on the right track.”

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Written by Becky Banham
Becky is Brand and Social Strategist for Happiful and a writer for Nutritionist Resource.
Written by Becky Banham
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