So you’ve decided that 2020 is the year when you will make the switch to a plant-based way of life. Maybe you’re worried about the ongoing climate crisis (aren’t we all?), and have read the headlines about recent research from Oxford University that has found that the single biggest way to reduce your impact on the planet is to go vegan. Maybe you’ve realised that animals are sentient individuals, and that the abuse that they are subjected to at factory farms and abattoirs aren’t worth the taste pleasure we get from eating their bodies. Or maybe you just think it will be beneficial to your health. Whatever your motivation is, there has never been an easier time to try living as a vegan.
There are more plant-based options than ever.
Before veganism was the on-trend, Miley Cyrus-approved thing to do, there were people living plant-based lifestyles with not many options at all. But gone are the days when you needed to find a health-food shop to get soya milk – as a powder, which you then had to mix with water. Today, a variety of plant milks are easily found at many local supermarkets, along with vegan meal options ranging from burgers to ice cream and everything in between. Whether you’re in the mood for a junk-food feast or a healthy treat, you’re bound to be spoiled for choice.
Read up on health.
Making any lifestyle transition is going to require gaining information, and veganism is no different. The leading health information bodies in the world all agree that a well-planned vegan diet can be healthy for all stages of life, which should be reassuring information. Find out what nutrients can be found in which foods, and how to best plan a diet that works for your lifestyle. Keep in mind that the basis of a healthy whole foods plant-based diet is composed of vegetables, fruit, grains and pulses – not Beyond Burgers (although we sure wouldn’t mind that).
Registered dietitian Jess English of Level Up Nutrition says: “If I had to pick one piece of advice for people cutting out animal products from their diet, ensure that they’re getting adequate sources of vitamin B12 from fortified foods throughout the day. We need B12 to support our blood cells, nervous system and development of DNA. Deficiency can take some time to develop but when it does, the damage can be irreversible.
“You can find B12 in fortified plant milks and yoghurts, fortified cereals and other fortified vegan foods. Check the label to see if it’s fortified and try to get around two to three portions of these foods in each day – if not then you will have to take a supplement. It’s also worth noting that organic foods aren’t supplemented (as it goes against the organic standards) – so essentially you might be just drinking very expensive oat-flavoured water with not much other nutritional value. Always check the label!”
Train yourself on reading labels.
Okay, we all know the basic no-nos of veganism: meat, fish, dairy, eggs. But…whey? Albumen? Isinglass? Going vegan will certainly improve your vocabulary (hey, another benefit), and in a few weeks, you will be an absolute pro at spotting what you can and cannot eat. In many countries, allergens are written in bold on food packaging, and as these include milk and eggs, this can be a great way to check if a product is vegan. Here is a great list of ingredients to keep handy.
Don’t get too caught up in the little things.
Remember that it’s absolutely impossible to shield yourself from every animal-derived substance in the world, as some form of animal parts is found in so many things that we consume. Refusing to eat at a restaurant because of “cross contamination” (such as when vegan food is cooked on the same grill as meat) does nothing to help animals or the environment, as it discourages establishments from offering vegan options. Also, if the packaging says that it’s otherwise vegan but “may contain traces of milk/eggs” , you should still go for it. All that refers to is that it was made in a factory that also handles milk and eggs, and for severely allergic people, that can be an issue.
Find your approach to transitioning.
Want to go cold Tofurkey? Go for it – but do make sure that you are doing it in a balanced, healthful way. Favour a more gradual transition where you slowly phase things out one by one? That works too. In any case…
Don’t beat yourself up if you slip up.
This is bound to happen – we’ve all been there! At some point in your vegan journey, you will eat or drink something that isn’t vegan (like certain brands of wine and alcohol). Be it by mistake or because your label-reading skills aren’t yet up to par, you will at some point realise that you’ve slipped up and ingested something that wasn’t entirely plant-based. Don’t panic, just go back to your vegan ways and accept that errors happen.
Be clear on your “why”.
Most of the time, being vegan is much simpler than we think. But during the times when you may find yourself in a restaurant where all you can eat is a plate of fries, or when a clueless relative tries to annoy you by insisting that “climate change is a hoax” or that “plants feel pain”, remember why you got on this path. What led you to veganism?
“Even if you are not yet vegan, you already have the same basic beliefs that vegans have”, says Greg McFarlane, Director of Vegan Australia. “You already believe that it is wrong to cause unnecessary suffering and death to animals. Using this as your starting point, it will not be hard to learn more and to bring your behaviour and lifestyle into alignment with your beliefs.”
The determination that got you there (and here reading this) is likely to keep you on the plant-based path, even in tricky times (which, luckily, there are bound to be very few of!).
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Feature image of plant-based tacos. Credit: Shutterstock.