Long gone are the days when only hippies were vegans – the plant-based diet is now one of the fastest growing lifestyle movements in the country.
The Vegan Society says there are three-and-half times as many vegans in the UK today than in 2006, with more than half a million people following the diet, which excludes all meat, fish, eggs, dairy products and other animal-derived ingredients and products. Many vegans also don’t eat foods that are processed using animal products, such as refined white sugar and certain wines.
As well as helping prevent the exploitation of animals, veganism helps protect the planet, as producing meat and animal products places a heavy burden on the environment. It also offers huge health benefits, as research suggests eating a vegan diet is linked to lower blood pressure and cholesterol, and a generally lower risk of conditions like heart disease, type 2 diabetes and some cancers.
But how do you become a vegan? It’s not as easy as it sounds, as animal-derived ingredients and products are often found in unexpected places.
Here are 8 tips to help you begin your vegan lifestyle:
1. Start slowly if necessary
Some people choose to go full vegan overnight, but if such a huge change to your diet and lifestyle seems daunting, try just making small changes at first, perhaps by removing meat or dairy for one day a week and slowly increasing the number of days. Or try changing one meal at a time: having vegan breakfasts at first, then adding a vegan lunch, and so on. Alternatively, become vegan one product at a time, swapping cow’s milk for almond,or soya milk and getting used to that, then changing butter for coconut oil or margarine, etc.
2. Don’t miss out on favourite foods
There’s a plant-based alternative for almost every type of food these days, so vegans don’t have to miss out on favourite foods and treats. For ideas about tasty vegan swaps, visit vegansociety.com and search online for good vegan food bloggers.
3. Plan you diet well
A vegan diet can in theory contain all the essential nutrients you need – but you need to plan it well to make sure you’re getting them all, as it’s also easy to miss things out.
Make sure you eat a wide variety of fruit, vegetables, pulses, grains and nuts, including a daily intake of these nutrients:
Vitamin B12, which isn’t found in plants but is in fortified foods such as milk alternatives, vegan spreads and breakfast cereals. Try to eat these at least twice a day, or take a B12 supplement.
Protein at most meals, from foods including pulses such as chickpeas and lentils, soya alternatives to milk, tofu, nuts, quinoa, broccoli, mushrooms and even potatoes.
Omega-3 from sources including walnuts and flaxseed, or in a supplement.
Calcium, which is abundant in dark leafy greens like kale and broccoli, as well as beans, sesame tahini, almonds and fortified vegan foods including milk alternatives and cereals.
Iron, which doesn’t just come from meat but is found in lots of plant-based sources. Spinach is rich in iron, and so are beans, lentils, chickpeas, oats, dried fruits, nuts, sunflower seeds and grains such as quinoa.
Vitamin C helps increase iron absorption, so consume foods that are rich in both, like green leafy vegetables.
4. Don’t be too hard on yourself
If you ‘crack’ and eat or use something that’s not totally vegan, don’t worry about it, just get back on your vegan path as soon as possible.
5. Try new things
Look online for specialist vegan stores, and experiment with vegan recipes and vegan alternatives to cheese and milk.
6. Talk to other vegans
7. It’s not just food…
As well as not eating animal-derived foodstuffs, most vegans avoid using products tested on animals – so do some research – and avoid purchasing and using all animal-derived, non-food products, such as leather, fur and wool.
8. Don’t forget why you’ve become vegan
Watch videos about veganism, remind yourself of the good you’re doing yourself, animals and the planet by choosing this way of life, and maybe even put some photos of animals up in the kitchen when you’re tempted to stray from your plant-based diet.