So you wanna be vegan or how to:
* 1. Stop Eating Animal Products
* 2. Learn About Special Foods For Vegans
* 3. Eat Vegan Food
* 4. Get All Your Nutrients
* 5. Be Strong And Stick With It
So the needless cruelty, environmental devastation, bad karma, heart attacks, prostate cancer and plain old obesity associated with eating animal products has finally gotten to you. Or maybe you just can’t get enough broccoli. Whatever it is, be it for health, moral, and/or environmental reasons — you’re thinking you want to be a vegan. Great! We’re thinking we want to explain how to go about being one. It’s a match made in heaven.
In case you didn’t know…
A person who eats only plant products, eating no meat, honey, dairy products or eggs, is called a vegan (although some vegans do eat honey). We decided to write about veganism instead of vegetarianism because we thought we might as well explain the toughest form of non-meat diet and let you use the information any way you want. This article will be helpful for anyone who wants to be a vegan or vegetarian, or for someone who wishes to reduce the amount of animal products in his or her diet. It will not be helpful for lions.
One last thing: we’ve assumed you passed your last physical with flying colors. If you have any health problems at all, you should check with your doctor before altering you diet. In fact, even if you’re in better shape than Carl Lewis, you should tell your doctor that you’ve become a vegan, simply because it’s always good to tell your doctor these sorts of things. When hearing of your veganism, (s)he’ll probably be happy for you. (Of course, if your doc isn’t happy, then do whatever (s)he tells you to do!)
1. STOP EATING ANIMAL PRODUCTS
Before you make a wise remark, realize that this obvious step can be quite difficult. After all, you don’t know what to eat yet instead, do you? Not to worry, we’re here to help.
Many people like to eliminate animal products from their diets in stages. For example, you might want to stop eating pigs and cows the first week, birds the second week, fish the third week, etc. After six weeks or so you’ll have run out of categories and you’ll find that you’re a vegan. We very strongly recommend this method of conversion. It has been our experience that the transition to veganism is easier and more likely to last if you use this method.
On the other hand, some folks prefer the grandness of a sudden conversion and want no part of our gradual method. That’s fine so long as you can stick to it. However, going from a traditional meat-based diet to a vegan diet is a big change, and it is easy to become frustrated and convinced that you can’t do it. It is, of course, nonsense to say that you can’t do it — we know you’ve read The Little Engine That Could. Mostly people who have anemia are the ones who have any real difficulty with being vegans, and even they can do it with appropriate iron supplementation. So long as you’re smart about it and you follow the incredibly brilliant directions with which we’re providing you, you’ll be just fine. So take yourself out for one last meal of your favorite dead thing, muster up your willpower and get ready to change your life for the better.
2. LEARN ABOUT SPECIAL FOODS FOR VEGANS
In fact, we suggest you learn about nine:
2. Milk alternatives
3. Meat alternatives
4. Cheese alternatives
6. Nutritional yeast
8. Veggie burgers
9. Protein powder
Of particular importance, and of particular dread to many people, is that you should get used to the idea of eating tofu and other soy products. Tofu is high in calcium, is mostly composed of complete protein (see section 4), and it is incredibly versatile. This last feature is the most important where the new consumer of tofu is concerned. Chances are, when you first fork up a chunk out of a slab that you sliced off a wad of tofu, you are going to think it’s about as appetizing as the stuff underneath your refrigerator. You will need to experiment with different types of tofu in different dishes until you find one that appeals. The reason it turns you off at first is that you’re probably preparing it wrong and it’s unfamiliar. As you become more familiar with it and better at cooking it you will probably get to like it. If nothing works and you cannot like tofu, there are other wonderful soy products to try such as tempeh (see below), textured vegetable protein and tofu ice cream. These will all add non-animal protein and calcium to your diet.
There are soy milks, rice milks and multi-grain milks with many brand names, flavors and qualities. No matter which one you try, it will taste funny at first because you’re expecting milk and it doesn’t really taste like it. Never fear though, because for every one of these products that suck, there is one that is very tasty. You’ve just got to keep a positive attitude and think that the one you’re gagging on is one of the sucky ones and that you’re bound to find a good one eventually. Many milk alternatives are fortified with calcium and vitamins, and these are preferable for vegans.
There are also many fake meats, such as veggie hot dogs, veggie pepperoni, veggie burgers, veggie bacon, etc. You get the idea. Some brands contain egg or dairy products, though, so read labels carefully. (We don’t generally like to endorse specific brands, but we particularly like Yves company products — they are tasty and vegan friendly: high in what you want, and lacking what you don’t want.)
Unfortunately, there are very few soy or rice cheeses which are suitable for vegans that we know of. Most cheese alternatives contain casein, a milk protein. There are some non-dairy cheese replacements, but you’ve got to read the labels carefully. The most successful type of vegan cheese is the vegan cream cheese, in our opinion, and, fortunately, it seems that the cream cheese alternatives are more often made without casein than with it.
Tempeh is made from cultured soybeans and pressed into a cake. It has more texture than tofu, because the beans are not mashed, and it also has more flavor than tofu. It is high in protein and it is an excellent addition to stir-fries, pasta sauces and many other dishes.
Nutritional yeast is available in powder or flakes, and it adds a savory, cheesy taste to foods. It is also rich in protein, amino acids and B vitamins, including vitamin B12. It is, therefore, an excellent food for vegans. It’s available at most health food stores.
This meat alternative has a very meat-like texture and is usually sold marinated with strong flavors. It is made from wheat gluten, and it can be quite tasty. It is often expensive, though, so we only have this as an occasional treat.
There are tons of different kinds of veggie burgers now, and they are available at nearly all grocery stores. Some of them are great and some are pretty awful. You’ll have to figure out which brands suits your fancy. Use caution, though: some veggie burgers contain eggs or dairy products. Read the labels.
If you’re concerned about protein (see section 4), and you want to be sure that you’re getting enough, you could use a soy protein powder supplement, which can be mixed into juice without much fuss. Other grains, such as brown rice, have also been used to create protein powders, but they are less pleasant than the soy supplements and we don’t recommend them unless you have a soy allergy.
3. EAT VEGAN FOOD
Okay, so you’ve stopped eating animal products and you know all about special products for vegans. Now, what meal options do you have? Lots! Many people think of veganism as a limiting factor on one’s diet. This has not been our experience. You see, most people eat what they were brought up on and not much else, and American feeding habits are heavily meat-dependent. But this is not so for many other cultures. Veganism can open you up to a lot of new things which you might ordinarily have passed by: Asian cooking offers a huge variety of vegan options, as do the cuisines of Mexico, Italy, and many Mediterranean and African countries. There are many recipes available online, and you can buy yourself any number of vegan cookbooks, a few of which we mention below.
Most people only eat 8 to 12 different meals (with occasional deviations), anyway, so we’ll start you off with eight of our favorite vegan meals. The important thing is to find a bunch of recipes for meals you know you like (or you think you’d like) and start eating those meals regularly.
4. GET ALL YOUR NUTRIENTS
You should watch out for four in particular:
3. Vitamin B12
Proteins are made up of amino acids. Animal products and soy products have all the required amino acids to make up a complete protein. Other plant foods will often have a number of amino acids, but not all of them. Therefore, you need to eat a variety of foods which contain different amino acids in order to make complete proteins. You want to eat things like grains and beans or pasta and beans, because the combination of the two foods has all the amino acids to make a complete protein. It is not necessary to eat the foods simultaneously in order to get the benefit. (People used to believe that.) If you eat a variety of foods over the course of a day and your body extracts all the amino acids it needs to create complete proteins, it will do so. It is only if your diet completely lacks an essential amino acid or if you don’t eat enough foods rich in amino acids in general that you will begin to lack protein. If you eat a variety of foods which you know contain partial proteins, you’ll be ok. Here’s a list of stuff you should be eating regularly:
* green leafy vegetables
* nutritional yeast
* organ meats. Just kidding — no organ meats for you!
The average adult male needs 50 to 60 grams of protein per day, and adult females need 40 to 50 grams of protein per day. It’s not tough to get that much out of a varied vegan diet, but if you’re concerned you should try using a soy protein powder in juices and soups.
Calcium is another concern, particularly for women, and it’s worth being careful about this. The average teen needs about 1200 milligrams of calcium per day, and adults need about 800 milligrams per day. We recommend a calcium supplement. You should note that calcium is listed on supplement bottles in two ways, and one way can be rather deceptive. If you see that your supplement contains 650 mg of calcium carbonate, that means that you are getting 650 mg of the source material, namely carbonate, which might contain only 200 mg of pure calcium. If, however, the label says that it contains 500 mg of calcium (carbonate), that means it really does contain 500 mg of calcium, and the source is merely mentioned in brackets. Look for the brackets. Brackets good. We recommend calcium (citrate), as it is easiest to digest and absorb. Tofu is an excellent food source of calcium, and many of the soy/rice/grain milks are fortified with calcium and other vitamins and minerals these days. Look for those kinds and buy them.
Vitamin B12 is another concern, and this one can be a bit tricky, as there are very few non-animal sources of this essential vitamin. You only need about 3 micrograms per day, so any multivitamin will probably supply you with enough, but there are other options as well.
Vitamin B12 is available in fortified soy milks, nutritional yeasts, and in vitamin supplements. The best kind of supplements are called sub-lingual, so called because they are to be dissolved under the tongue instead of swallowed, so the vitamin goes directly into your bloodstream. Be careful, though, as many supplements come from animal origins, which would kind of defeat the purpose. Read the label and ask your local health food store flake to help you.
Most vegans do not have a problem with iron, contrary to popular belief. It is true that iron from animal sources is more easily absorbed than that from non-animal sources, but that doesn’t mean you’re just out of luck if you don’t eat meat. Green, leafy vegetables, beans and legumes, and whole grains all contain iron, so if you’re eating the stuff we told you to eat to get your protein, you should be doing OK on the iron front.
Pre-menopausal women need 15 milligrams of iron per day, post-menopausal women need 10 milligrams per day, and adult men need about 10 milligrams per day. A tip: vitamin C helps boost iron absorption, so making a stir fry with spinach (for iron) and bell peppers (for vitamin C) would set you up nicely. If you’re concerned, take a multivitamin which contains iron, but don’t take one which provides more iron than you need, as too much iron is just as bad as too little. If you think you might be anemic or tend toward anemia, talk to your doctor about iron supplementation. Your doctor went to school for years to help you out with these sorts of things. (Warning signs of anemia include persistent colds, pale skin coloring, fatigue, heavy menstrual cycles, and lack of concentration.
5. BE STRONG AND STICK WITH IT
There are many pitfalls ahead of you, and we hope that if we warn you of them now you won’t stray from your new diet.
You’re going to have to get used to being very careful when you order food in restaurants. Some restaurants won’t have anything at all you can eat, but most will have something which can be modified to your specifications. Make sure you tell your server exactly what you don’t want in your food. Don’t be shy!
Don’t let people bug you, and don’t get drawn into stupid arguments. When people find out that you are a vegan, they will often seem to feel threatened or irritated and they will ask you for an exhaustive defense of your diet. It’s not your responsibility to defend your diet. You can eat or not eat whatever the hell you want. If someone starts bothering you about it, just give a brief, simple account of your reasons for being a vegan, and leave it at that. If the person persists, change the subject.
Don’t bug other people. When you’re eating with other people and they’re eating meat, don’t be annoying or self-righteous. Vegans who do that set “the cause” back ten years every time they open their mouths. If you want to tell people about your diet, talk to them about it in a non-confrontational, non-gross manner, and they might come around to it in their own time. If you try to convert people with horror stories and moral admonitions, particularly when they’re trying to eat, they won’t listen to you and, quite rightly, they won’t like you.
Get into a routine
Finally, you should get into a routine. You should experiment with new foods at first, just to see what you like, and there’s never any harm in trying new recipes or foods. However, the food you eat should not dominate your life or take up too much of your time. Once you figure out some meals that you like, go ahead and eat them frequently. If your vegan diet is a constant hassle you’ll be more likely to ditch it. Vegans eat the same thing for breakfast just about every day, just like most people do, and they have a number of tried and true favorites they eat for lunches and dinners. Once you get into a comfortable routine, sticking to your diet won’t be a problem.
Whether you do it for your health, the animals, or the environment, being a vegan can be extremely rewarding and can make you feel much better about yourself. We hope the information we’ve provided will help you stick with it.