Teen Vogue – Being vegan means you don’t consume or use any animal products, which means everything from not eating cheese (I know, I know), to not wearing leather, and only using beauty products that are cruelty-free. Most people choose to try a vegan lifestyle for one of the following reasons: to save the planet by reducing the impact on global warming, for ethical reasons and animal rights, or to improve their health. All are very valid reasons to try it even for a short period of time. Being vegan means being more conscious of what goes in and on your body, and it can require planning ahead whenever possible to set yourself up for success.
Like anything, adopting a new lifestyle doesn’t happen overnight. Here are some tips that should help get you get started. Chose a few at a time and implement them slowly. (And of course, make sure you talk to a health or nutrition professional to make sure your nutritional needs are met on a vegan diet!)
Look for the cruelty-free symbol
Remember that every dollar you spend is a vote you cast for the world you want to live in. Before purchasing any beauty or home care products, look for the cruelty-free symbol to ensure that an animal wasn’t compromised in the development of the product.
Make your own milk
An easy vegan alternative to milk is homemade raw nut milk. You can make this using the same recipe with virtually any nut. My favorite is Macadamia/Coconut milk.
Kore Kitchen’s Vegan Coconut-Macadamia Milk:
- 3 cups coconut water from a fresh cracked young thai coconut (about 3 coconuts)
- 1 cup soaked raw unsalted macadamia nuts
Rinse the macadamia nuts under water and add to a blender with the coconut water. Blend on high for a few seconds until blended completely. Strain into a large bowl with a nut milk bag or cheese cloth. Add milk to a Mason jar or pitcher and store in the fridge for 3-5 days. Note: coconut water has a natural sweetness, but if you want a sweeter milk blend the mixture with two Medjool dates before straining.
Buy faux products
Faux fur or faux leather looks the same, is cheaper, and if layered properly, can keep you just as warm.
Know your proteins
The most popular question vegans get asked is, “Where do you get your protein?” Beans and legumes, gluten-free whole grains like quinoa, buckwheat, and brown rice, nuts, and seeds, are all staples of the vegan diet and all contain plant-based protein. Spirulina, a blue-green algae, is another great, sustainable vegan protein source. There are also many high-quality, plant-based protein powders to use; one option is Epic Protein by Sprout Living, which contains 26 grams of protein per serving, and is made from yellow pea, brown rice, sacha inchi seeds, and some incredible superfoods.
Remember to make up for lost vitamins
Whole-food-based supplements are usually recommended for anyone choosing to follow a vegan diet. Taking supplements is a personal choice, and remember that you should always try to get your daily vitamins and minerals from the food that you’re eating first, not through vitamins. Look for whole-food based supplements, and avoid tablets, which tend to contain glue binders and are hard to absorb. While everyone would most likely benefit from taking these supplements, below are the ones recommended specifically for vegans.
- B12: This vitamin is necessary for protecting the heart, brain, and nervous system. It’s most commonly found in foods like dairy, animal meat and organs, seafood, and eggs. A sublingual form (the kind that melts under your tongue) is best for optimum absorption.
- Vitamin D: This is an essential for everyone as most people are deficient in Vitamin D. Even if you live in sunny California and are sun-bathing for a couple hours every day, you most likely are still not getting enough. Vitamin D is essential for immune function and helps you absorb calcium and build healthy, strong bones. Vitamin D is fat soluble and good to take with food for best absorption. Shoot for 1,000-2,000 IUs a day.
- Iron: Red meat is one of the most common sources of iron, which is definitely absent in a vegan diet. Iron is an essential mineral for blood production. Luckily, it’s also found in many plants. Raw cacao is rich in iron, as well as spinach, beans, and legumes.
- Iodine: This mineral is necessary for normal thyroid function, and for the cells to convert food into energy. Iodine is prevalent in seafood and sea vegetables. Unless you like the taste of seaweed, it’s recommended to get this in supplement form.
Say goodbye to cheese
Being vegan means giving up cheese since it’s the byproduct of an animal, but there’s always nutritional yeast to substitute for a cheese-like flavor. It’s rich in B vitamins, a crucial vitamin that tends to be low in the vegan diet.
Realize you may have to do more research for restaurants and eating on the go
Plan ahead for trips, sporting events, and being on the go. Research healthy vegan restaurants and grocery stores near you. It’s hard to find healthy vegan items in some places so you always want to be prepared with some back-up options, just in case. Fresh fruit is nature’s perfect “to-go” food since it comes in its own natural packaging.
Don’t buy processed foods (even if they’re vegan)
Don’t eat or buy processed vegan convenience foods. Although many foods like chips and candies are technically “vegan,” they don’t suit the vegan lifestyle and should not ever be chosen over a whole food.
Find vegan recipes of your favorite dish
Being vegan isn’t about what you can’t have; it opens you up to a world of all the wonderful items that Mother Earth provides that you can have! Don’t get frustrated, there’s always a vegan version of your favorite dish, so make sure you do a little bit of Internet searching before you completely give up.
In the beginning, being vegan may also mean you have to put a little more effort into menu planning for the week and leave more time for cooking your meals. When you’re first starting out, it may be hard to figure out what a dinner or lunch that revolves around vegetables instead of meat might look like. Choose some recipes that excite you, and get to know new ingredients like quinoa and tempeh.
Everyone’s body is different, and everyone’s lifestyle is different. Not all of us can thrive on a vegan diet, and that’s OK! Don’t make others feel bad if they order a steak at dinner. Simply focus on yourself.
Listen to your body
Whether you try going vegan for a day, a week, a month, or years, you will definitely benefit from the experience. If nothing else, you will learn to get in touch with and listen to your body, which is imperative for any lifestyle you choose to follow. Pay attention to what gives you energy, and what makes you feel lethargic. That will help you come to find your unique balance.
Written by Meryl Pritchard