Recently I was asked for a few tips to help out with a new vegan diet. I can understand wanting to be safe, because many times people set out to become vegan or vegetarian and without knowledge, they become discouraged or even in poor health and they end up switching back to their old ways. It doesn’t matter if you’re trying a pescatarian, paleo, vegan, or vegetarian lifestyle–it needs to be an informed decision. It is good to know your body and your current state of health before starting, and to have a plan. I’ll share with you my tips, and I’d love to hear some feedback on what has worked for you! Even if you aren’t thinking of going vegan, I know several fitness enthusiasts who eat vegan a few days out of the week. This post is for you, or for someone you know!
1. Get a blood test: This to me is first and foremost. If you have a good baseline, you will know what nutrients you may be deficient in (or prone to deficiency) so that you can eat and take supplements to make up for the deficit. Great things to test are the thyroid activity, iron count, vitamin D, and B12, to name a few. Vitamin deficiencies are nothing to play with; they can lead to lots of problems including issues with your heart, extreme fatigue, and depression.
2. Vitamins & Minerals: Those who choose a vegan lifestyle will find that they must work harder to obtain vitamin B complex, which is essential for helping the body convert energy. Vegans will also have to work harder to get iron. Quite frankly, if more people got regular check ups and had blood tests, they would likely find that vegan or not, they could do a better job at meeting their daily requirements for vitamins and minerals. It’s good to do research to find out which vitamins are vegan. Personally, I take the Ultimate Woman vitamin from the Vitamin Shoppe. I love that it’s made specifically with the woman’s body in mind. It requires 2 pills a day, but I chose it because it has a good source of iron and also helps me meet my calcium requirement each day. The top iron sources for vegans are:
Spirulina (1 tsp): 5 mg
Cooked soybeans (1/2 cup): 4.4 mg
Pumpkin seeds (1 ounce): 4.2 mg
Quinoa (4 ounces): 4 mg
Blackstrap molasses (1 tbsp): 4 mg
Tomato paste (4 ounces): 3.9 mg
White beans (1/2 cup) 3.9 mg
Cooked spinach (1/2 cup): 3.2 mg
Dried peaches (6 halves): 3.1 mg
Prune juice (8 ounces): 3 mg
Lentils (4 ounces): 3 mg
3. Protein: How do you get your protein? I am asked this question all the time. This is another problem that is seemingly concentrated to vegans and vegetarians, when in reality– it’s a universal problem. There are a ton of people who do not get enough protein. For my 1650 calorie diet, it is recommended that I get at least 62 grams of protein. I focus on getting 20 to 25 grams of protein per meal. My vegan sources of protein are beans, nuts, protein powder, brown rice, pasta, quinoa, legumes and barley. There are other forms like seitan–which have some amount of soy products, but can be great for certain recipes. Since I am a vegetarian, I have the added benefit of protein from dairy and eggs.
4. Soy: Do not fall into the soy trap! It can often be easier to eat a ton of tofu or even worse, all of the processed soy products that exist on the market. Instead, limit your days of these types of foods. Soy sensitivity is real. I have been told by more than one person with endometriosis for instance, that their doctor has told them to steer clear of soy. The consumption of soy products can block certain mineral absorption, affect thyroid activity, and cause the body to produce too much estrogen. It’s good to be informed, so do some research on the effects of soy. Men should most certainly be mindful of their soy consumption, because the estrogen increase can feminize the body. Surely these are not desired side-effects! I will admit that soy research is all over the map right now. One thing is for certain–the way soy is consumed in Asia, is not at all like the processed soy products we consume in North America. In Asia, a lot of the soy products are fermented and consumed in fairly small amounts and thus have less harmful effects on the body. In this way, those who consume it are able to reap the benefits of soy in the diet. Be mindful, and eat soy in moderation.
5. Milk: When it comes to milk, we are afforded many other options outside of soy milk like coconut, hazelnut, and rice milk, to name a few. These are really fun to use when baking for additional unique flavors.
6. Recipes & creativity: The vegan lifestyle does not mean just eat what you ate as an omnivore, and just remove the animal products. Planning meals should be purposeful. You should ask yourself: how much protein do I need? Am I getting a variety of veggies this week? What new recipe can I use to to make this particular item in a new way? Choose a day of the week where you will plan and grocery shop. Try out new recipes so that you do not become bored with the same meals week in and week out. Sometimes, you can simple go to Google and type something like, “What to do with chickpeas”. You never know what delicious recipes you will find. It really is all about exploration. My blog has a ton of vegan and vegetarian recipes that I hope you will make use of.
6b.- I have to add this. If you are vegan or vegetarian, and don’t like veggies…. you’re in trouble! Vegan isn’t a solution for picky eaters at all. Every person on earth needs a diet that is heavily focused on plants. We need the vitamins, minerals, and fiber that they provide. If you have a list of more than 5 veggies that you just can’t stand, you probably should research a new way to prepare them. Don’t be offended– it’s all love. 🙂
7. The social aspect: Being social and being vegan can sometimes be hard when most of the world eats meat– and enjoys it! You’ll definitely want to share with family and close friends your reasons for going vegan. When it’s for health reasons, who can blame you? Whatever your reason, people who care about you most should be supportive. When you are eating out, it can be hard to get a nutritious meal. If you’re attending a social function, be prepared. Have a protein shake about 2 hours in advance, and then go and join the fun. Then, on the chance that the only vegan options are veggies and dip, you won’t starve. All in all, you just need to be creative. If you are at an Italian restaurant, for instance– you can ask if the chef will be willing to add garbanzo beans to your dish for added protein. If you are at a work meeting or conference, speak to the organizers in advance and let them know you would like vegan/vegetarian options. Most people just don’t have any idea what to provide besides salad. Help them out by providing a few suggestions.
8. Keep a food diary: There are many online sources for this. Currently, I use myfitnesspal.com. Even if you keep your account and diary private, this is a resource for you to keep a close eye on what your diet looks like. A diary log will allow you to look at your protein, vitamin and mineral intake, carbohydrates, etc. It can be very very helpful.
These are my tips, but they are not law. You’ll have to do your own research and find what works best for you. I hope this helps!!!