Eating vegan is the freaking best. It makes you feel amazing from the inside out, and provides a massive sense of self pride when you are able to live a life that is in line with your deepest beliefs.
But eating vegan can also be really tricky and confusing. Even though some parts of the world have an abundance of vegan options, others lack them. And perhaps, you are the only aspiring vegan in your whole family, community, or even city.
Maybe you don’t even know where to start eating vegan, despite really wanting to do it. Or maybe you’ve tried a million times and “failed” over and over again.
This post is all about going vegan for beginners, with the greatest detail and compassion. It’s literally (almost, maybe I missed the most minute thing) everything you need to know to succeed. If you’ve tried and tried without success, or if you want to start and do it right: hello! Thank you for being here! You are going to adore this post.
In this post, you’ll learn everything from where to start on your vegan journey, things to watch out for, delicious meals to make, grocery lists, menus, common myths and misconceptions, how to constantly stay inspired, supplements, general tips, and so much more!
This is the ultimate guide to a healthy vegan diet from a girl who has experienced being vegan for over 7 years, had many failures and major successes, and cannot wait to share all this knowledge with you! Ready? Let’s dive in.
What is a Vegan? What Does a Vegan Eat?
According to The Vegan Society, “Veganism is a way of living which seeks to exclude, as far as is possible and practicable, all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose”.
There are many aspects to veganism. For the purpose of this post, we are focusing on eating vegan.
Eating vegan alone can significantly reduce the amount of harm done to the animals and the planet, since it’s one of the biggest sources of animal cruelty and slaughter. There are additional aspects like the clothing you wear, the furniture, personal care, household cleaning products you purchase, and so much more. But for now, let’s start with eating vegan.
So, vegans avoid eating all animal products (including meat, chicken, fish, shellfish, eggs, dairy, honey, and also animal byproducts like casein, gelatin, lactic acid, and others). As a side note: the difference between vegans and vegetarians, is that vegans also exclude dairy and eggs, which vegetarians do include in their diet.
What is left you ask? An abundance of foods: fruits, vegetable, nuts, seeds, whole grains, legumes, seaweeds, and sprouts. There are over 20,000 species of edible plants in the world. All you have left to do is discover them.
While at first, you may feel like you are very limited in your options as a vegan, in reality, a vegan menu is much more varied and abundant than a carnivorous menu. Think about it: a standard diet includes the same things, eaten over and over. Eggs for breakfast, meat and vegetables for lunch and dinner.
On a vegan diet, you’d enjoy beautiful, vibrant and colorful dishes like smoothies, tofu scramble, enchiladas, pies, pizzas, pastas, salads, noodles, sushi, and so much more! Once you start eating vegan, you’ll find that like most people, your menu becomes so much more diverse and flavorful than it was before.
The only difference is that now, you’ll feel so much better after you eat! More on that in the section about benefits of a vegan diet. But before that…
Types of Vegan Diets
As a beginner, you may think that eating vegan is simple (but maybe not easy): all you have to do is to avoid anything that is an animal or comes from an animal.
However, just like there are many ways to be a carnivore (keto, paleo, whole30, etc.), there are also many ways to eat vegan. These include varying your macronutrients – fats, proteins, and carbohydrates (eating high carb, low carb, high protein, or high fat, etc.), as well as choosing an all raw vegan diet, or a whole food, plant based diet.
Based on the available scientific evidence (as will be discussed in the next section), a whole food plant based diet is the best way to prevent and even reverse many diseases. Because of this, it is the diet I recommend you stick to! And later in this post, I will show you exactly how easy it is to do so.
In addition to avoiding all animal products, a whole food plant based diet also means excluding highly refined and processed foods like oils, sugars, protein powders, and refined grains and flours (for more on how to tell if something is a whole food, check out this post). In essence, it means eating plants in their whole food form, with a few condiments to bump up their naturally delicious flavor.
Whether your goal in transitioning to veganism is to improve your health, or whether it is to reduce cruelty to animals and safeguard the environment: transitioning to a whole food plant based diet achieves it all.
This is because it’s a long-term lifestyle that will keep you physically healthy. You’ll be a shining example of a healthy vegan, encouraging others to give it a try. And you’ll be able to maintain the lifestyle long-term, rather than quit due to ill health. It’s a win-win situation for all!
There is no judgement here for anyone who does not desire to eat a healthy vegan diet. Any form of a vegan diet is a wonderful step towards creating a more loving world. However, if you dig the junk food vegan thing, this post is not for you, my friend.
Benefits of Eating Vegan + a Whole Food Plant Based Diet
The benefits of eating vegan have been well documented by studies, leading the American Dietetic Association to assert that “appropriately planned vegetarian diets, including total vegetarian or vegan diets, are healthful, nutritionally adequate, and may provide health benefits in the prevention and treatment of certain diseases. Well-planned vegetarian diets are appropriate for individuals during all stages of the life cycle, including pregnancy, lactation, infancy, childhood, and adolescence, and for athletes”.
Here are just some of the amazing benefits of eating a vegan diet:
- Many studies have shown that it is extremely beneficial for weight loss, without counting calories and obsessing over portions due to its high fiber content and exclusion of processed foods. For example, a review of 12 studies with over 1,100 people found that people lost 4.5lbs or 2kg over an average of 18 weeks more than those that were eating non vegan.
- A whole foods plant based diet can prevent chronic illnesses like heart disease, cancer, diabetes, cognitive decline like Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.
- A whole food plant based diet is the only diet ever documented to reverse the #1 killer in the United States: heart disease!
I’d also like to share some of the benefits I have personally experienced, because I think personal stories are very valuable. I, along with many of my clients, have experienced heightened energy levels. I wake up in the morning excited to get going with the day, and it takes me minutes to get out of bed, almost never feeling groggy or tired upon rising.
I’ve also been able to get rid of extremely painful menstrual cramps, which left me debilitated for years. You can read more about my story here.
Eating vegan has also allowed me to start a spiritual journey to loving myself, and healing from my past of sexual assault and PTSD. It has given me a head start on learning to connect with my body and listen to its needs – something I never considered doing before going vegan.
Lastly, a few years after going vegan, I started to lift weights, and have been able to get into the best shape of my life on this lifestyle! You can read more about gaining muscle on a vegan diet here.
How to Start Eating a Healthy Vegan Diet: Step by Step
Now that you know what a vegan diet is and its benefits, it’s time to learn the step by step process of transitioning to eating a vegan diet.
While some people are able to transition overnight, from one day to the other, this is very rare. Most people transition over a long period of time, and have many ups and downs in their journey.
Here are the steps I recommend you take when transitioning:
1. Remove processed foods from your cupboards
In this stage, you will learn how to make food without processed ingredients. This doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll go vegan. It means you will start cooking homemade food regularly, and enjoy cooking more.
Here are details on finding foods that are not processed. Essentially, if a food has ingredients you don’t recognize, skip it and don’t bring it into your home.
This first step will involve some major cleaning of your cabinets, getting rid of processed foods.
2. Next, educate yourself about why eating vegan will change your life
In the second stage, take the time to saturate your mind and heart with reasons to start eating vegan. If you don’t have a reason, you surely won’t stick to this lifestyle.
When you surround yourself with positive information about the vegan lifestyle (and there is so much!) you are so much more likely to get excited about transitioning.
Find your “why” – what is the main reasoning, the passion behind making this transformative decision for you?
Check out the “Additional Resources” section below on ideas about inspirational films and books to check out that will help you determine your “why”.
3. Dabble in eating vegan by changing up your breakfasts
Start to change your breakfast to the myriad of plant based options available. My favorites are smoothie bowls and oatmeal, which I stick to daily. For ideas, check out this meal plan.
4. Transitioning your other meals to vegan
When you become comfortable with your breakfast being vegan, and it feels like an effortless routine, star with the next easiest meal for you, whether lunch or dinner, and pick from these amazing recipes to try several times a week.
Make a conscious effort to add an additional vegan meal each and every week. A great way to do this is to try several new recipes every week, and choose your favorite ones, until you’re ready to figure out meals for the entire week.
5. Make your full transition to eating vegan
Once you feel very comfortable with dabbling here and there, you’re ready to make the full transition!
You will definitely feel the impact of eating 100% vegan, rather than mostly vegan. Whether it is in your energy levels, mental clarity, or ability to prevent disease: going into it fully will feel amazing, and so worth it!
Important note: if you are in stage 5, and suddenly “fall of the wagon”, do not, and I repeat DO NOT be hard on yourself! When you’re mean to yourself, it doesn’t actually help you get back to a vegan diet. In fact, it does the opposite. So be kind to yourself – you’re an animal too, remember?
I personally “failed” over and over again, for years. And do you know what helped me get out of that cycle the most? 2 things I will talk about later on in this post: finding a vegan community to be part of, and getting really clear about my “why” for doing this. These two have kept me strong in the game without any cravings or need to “cheat”.
6. Maintaining long term veganism
Eating a vegan diet means that you are a minority in the world. And as a minority, you will face some challenges. Here are a few ways to solve them.
In order to maintain your veganism long term, it’s important to meet other vegans. Whether online or through meetup.com, find community so that you don’t feel alone. It will make you feel normal, welcome, and like you have a place to share this important part of you.
In addition, continue educating yourself about the vegan lifestyle – whether by watching the latest documentary or reading a great book. This will remind you of why you are making this choice, which can be a tricky one to make sometimes (as a minority).
Lastly, I highly recommend keeping a list of reasons why you are vegan near you at all times, especially if you feel like you’re struggling. Jot down those reasons, and place the note in your kitchen, so that it’s always visible and giving you motivation to persist.
Sometimes, it can be hard and discouraging being vegan simply because we are a minority. However, the persistence is so worth it – for your health, the animals, and the planet! There are so many reasons to do it, so find the ones that speak most loudly in your heart and repeat them often.
Eating Vegan at Restaurants, Family Gatherings, and While Traveling
It’s also important to learn to feel comfortable with ordering vegan food at restaurants and sharing vegan meals with friends at potlucks and dinner parties.
The most important part of this is learning to speak up for yourself: you are the only person in charge of your health, and your health is worth speaking up about! So let your family and friends know, very gently and lovingly, that you’re on this path and would like their support.
Bring delicious vegan dishes to potlucks to share with everyone, so that you never feel awkward or left out. And be ok with saying no, politely and lovingly, to a non-vegan dish offered to you. Explain your reasons if appropriate, and if not, bring a replacement to share. You can also let the hosts know ahead of time that you’ll be doing this, and that it has nothing to do with their amazing cooking.
When it comes to restaurants, it’s always crucial to be prepared! Check out www.happycow.com to find vegan restaurants all around the world, and if you’re visiting an area that doesn’t have any, you can always call ahead and let them know that you do not consume any animal products (be specific about what they are, not everyone knows), and ask if they can make you a vegan dish.
Alternatively, you can request that they serve you your own meal on a restaurant plate, and you can still pay for it. This way, you won’t feel awkward while dining with friends and family.
Common Vegan Nutrition Myths You’ll Hear + Responses
Whether you have been eating vegan for 1 day or 2 years, you will keep hearing these vegan myths over and over again, until you’re blue in the face… and perhaps you have been conditioned to believe these yourself.
It’s so crucial to be educated about the nutrition myths that are floating around (and if you want to know why we are conditioned to believe these, this lecture is a gem). Learn the facts so that you are educated, and can answer your family’s worried looks and probes about your choices. Here are some common ones:
1. Myth: Plant Protein is Inferior to Animal Protein
Actually: (you’ll get this one A LOT). Just look at gorillas. They don’t eat animal protein, and we don’t need it either. Essential amino acids, which make up protein, all are made by plants. There is absolutely no need to worry about protein on a whole food plant based diet that includes a variety of foods – it’s literally the least of your concerns. I can almost guarantee you’re getting enough, unless you eat a massively restrictive diet.
2. Myth: You Must Drink Cow’s Milk for Strong Bones
Actually: Milk does not protect us from bone fractures, and plant sources like leafy greens, vegetables, fruits and legumes have plenty of calcium for us. Plus, have you ever heard of any other species that drinks the milk of another species?
3. Myth: Veganism is Unnatural Because You Have to Take B12
Actually: B12 does not come from animals – it comes from bacteria. Due to sanitization practices, we can no longer obtain B12 from the soil. Also, B12 deficiency is almost equal in meat eaters and vegans. Just take a supplement (and please, please do yourself a favor and do it).
4. Myth: I Can’t Get Enough Omega-3 Without Fish
Actually: Fish are full of mercury, which is not good for our brain. Plus, omega 3 does not come from fish. It comes from algae in the ocean, and we can easily take it in supplement form, in addition to eating flax, chia, hemp and walnuts.
5, Myth: Soy Products Will Make Me Grow Man Boobs (…and They’re Bad for My Hormones)
Actually: Ok, I’m a girl so maybe I’m not the best to answer this one… but in all seriousness, once, a health practitioner told me to stop drinking soy milk to cure my hormonal PMS, but in fact it was one of the things that helped me cure my cramps!
I used to be super scared of soy but these days, after reading the research, I know that it’s incredibly nutrient dense and delicious. Stick to tempeh and edamame, and a bit of tofu rather than super processed sources like fake meats, and you’ll be doing your health a favor.
6.Myth: Sugar and Carbs Cause Diabetes
Actually: Diabetics have actually reversed their disease by eating a carb-rich diet that is low in fat. I highly recommend you check out Dr. Neal Barnard’s work on this.
7. Myth: All Carbs are Bad + Make You Gain Weight
Actually: Carbs have been eaten by humans for millions of years, including when the rates of disease we experience today were unheard of. Still today, people living in the blue zones eat high-carb diets and thrive. Carbs have been used to reverse and prevent many diseases like diabetes and heart disease. People have also lost plenty of weight eating carbs (see the studies mentioned above about weight loss on a plant based diet).
8. Myth: All Fats are Bad
Actually: We need fats to absorb fat-soluble nutrients, but we don’t need to go crazy eating fats. They are a supplemental part of the meal. Avoid animal fat, and focus on whole plant sources of fat. Many studies have also found that nuts do not make you gain weight
9. Myth: Maple Syrup, Agave, and Coconut Sugar are Healthy Sweeteners
Actually: Nope, they actually have very little nutrition in them. Check out this great video.
10. Myth: The Best Way to Lose Weight is By Limiting Your Calories
Actually: True, you’ll lose weight if you do this. But not for long. A vast majority of people who eat few calories gain the weight back because this way of eating is not sustainable. In addition, if you limit your calories you’ll probably be eating unhealthy foods, so your health will suffer. There’s no need to do this when you can eat until you’re full on a whole food plant based diet and lose the weight (again, see the studies mentioned above).
11. Myth: Eating Vegan is Unsafe for Kids and Pregnant Women
Actually: Babies and kids can thrive on plant based diet, as well as pregnant women. Check out these books about this. Plus, remember the position of the American Dietetic Association? The one that says “well-planned vegetarian diets are appropriate for individuals during all stages of the life cycle, including pregnancy, lactation, infancy, childhood, and adolescence, and for athletes”. They’re professionals after all…
Vegan Menu + Grocery List
So now that you’re motivated and can’t wait to start eating vegan, what do you actually eat?
Check out this post about tips for shopping on a whole food plant based diet, and this one on the most important kitchen equipment you’ll need. Here are tips for stocking your perfect vegan pantry.
Get Started on a Healthy Vegan Diet Now with These Super Yummy Recipes!
Download Deliciously Planty, a 1-month meal plan [includes// weekly grocery lists, meal prep guides, bonus video course on nutrition].
You’ll feel like I’m right by your side, grocery shopping and cooking with you. We’ll kick off our shoes and meal prep with a glass of (hibiscus tea?)
Crucial Supplements on a Vegan Diet
While a vegan diet is extremely healthy, due to the condition of the soil today and the fact that water is chlorinated to prevent bacteria, there are several nutrients that you may be missing on a vegan diet.
- Vitamin B12: As a vegan, please make sure to take B12. This is completely non-negotiable, and not doing so can result in serious damage. Please note (as mentioned in the myths above) that B12 doesn’t actually come from animals, and so this is not a vegan issue – most people should be taking a B12 supplement.
- Omega 3: Consider taking a plant-derived omega 3 DHA supplement. While this is controversial, Dr. Michael Greger recommends doing this to be absolutely sure that you’re getting enough omega 3, even if you eat enough of it from plant source (because it does require a conversion process in the body).
- Vitamin D: Lastly, if you do not spend enough time in the sun, do take a vegan vitamin D supplement.
Beyond Eating Vegan for Health
When I first started my vegan journey, it was almost entirely for my health. I watched my mother suffer and heal through a plant based diet, and I wanted to experience these health benefits too.
But as I continued my path, and became a part of the close-knit vegan community in San Diego, I began to educate myself more about aspects of veganism that I had never been open to before: the animals and the environment.
I learned that animals are sentient beings – this means they form relationships, have emotions, and have a cognition of when they are about to be killed, just like us. Inflicting this kind of suffering on living beings is unimaginable to me, and I believe not eating animals is the least we can do to promote a compassionate world.
In addition, eating vegan is also the single most powerful thing you can do for the planet. Here are some facts from the film Cowspiracy:
- Livestock and byproducts cause 51% of global greenhouse gas emissions
- 1 hamburger requires 660 gallons of water to produce, which is equal to showering for 2 months
- Animal agriculture is responsible for 91% of Amazon rainforest destruction
- For every 1 pound of fish caught, 5 pounds are thrown back into the ocean as bycatch
While my mission on this blog is to promote healthy eating, I firmly believe that when the planet and animals are sick, we cannot be well. We are all one; we are all connected.
Eating vegan for the animals has given me such a bigger purpose – both about my food choices and even my work. These days, I choose vegan easily, for the animals. This actually makes me not crave animals for food.
Even if you started this journey for your health, I encourage you to explore the ethical side of veganism to make your conviction and your ability to maintain this lifestyle even stronger.
What I Learned from 7 Years of Eating Vegan
When I first went vegan, I was a 100% raw vegan. That means I did not cook a single bit of my food, and all I ate was raw fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds.
Does that sound pretty crazy to you?
Well, I did that for 4 years, until I found that it was not making me healthier, and that I was actually avoiding many of the healthy foods I should have been eating.
So I changed things around and went whole food plant based, with great health outcomes.
There are many more things I changed during these 7 vegan years, and I want to share my lessons with you. This is so important to me, because I don’t want you to make the same mistakes that I did, and derail your health. Check out this post for my lessons through this journey.
Additional Inspirational Resources
Here are some of my favorite websites, podcasts, films, and books that will constantly inspire you to continue eating vegan:
- Favorite films
- Favorite podcasts: Rich Roll, The Food Heals Podcast, Nutrition Rounds, Live Planted, Thought for Food, Plant Proof, Vegan Danielle; see more here
- Favorite plant based doctors: John McDougall; Dr. Michael Klaper; Dr. Joel Fuhrman; Dr. Garth Davis; Dr. Dean Ornish; Dr. Caldwell B. Esselstyn, Jr.; Dr. T. Colin Campbell; Dr. Pamela A. Popper; PCRM; Jeff Novick, MS, RDN; Michael Greger; Joel Kahn; Robert Ostfeld; Angie Sadeghi; Michelle McMacken
- Favorite books
Latest posts by Marina Yanay-Triner (see all)
- 3 Tips that Make Living Plant Based so Easy, Delicious & Healthy - December 29, 2019
- Healthy Vegan Meals: 3 Easy Ideas for Every Meal of the Day, In Under 15 - October 13, 2019
- Healthy Vegan Lunch Ideas to Last You a Whole Week - August 4, 2019