A vegan is a strict vegetarian who eats plant products only--no animal products or animal byproducts. That means in addition to not eating red meat, poultry, and fish, vegans also do not eat dairy products or eggs. Many, but not all, vegans avoid honey also.
Motivations for being vegan vary by individual, but typically they are either the result of wanting to eat a healthier diet, religiously focused, or based on a desire to reduce animal suffering. For some individuals, a combination of these reasons might apply. Regardless of why you want to be vegan, there are several things you can do to facilitate your transition to following a vegan diet.
- Eating vegan at home is simple to accomplish since you will have complete control over food selection and preparation. When you prepare food yourself, you have the added benefit of knowing precisely what you are eating. You will discover that preparing your own food is the surest way to successfully follow a vegan diet.
- Finding tasty replacements for favorite non-vegan foods is relatively easy. There are vegan alternatives to many non-vegan foods. The vegan counterpart of scrambled eggs is a tofu scramble made from tofu, various spices for flavor, and nutritional yeast. The vegan counterpart of traditional yogurt is cultured soy or "soy yogurt." Soy yogurt is available at many conventional supermarkets, so finding prepared vegan foods is not that difficult.
- Buy organic produce whenever possible. You would think vegetables would definitely be considered vegan, but a carnivore-friendly world can easily find multiple uses for animal byproducts. Conventional cucumbers, for example, contain a waxy coating that very often is not plant derived. If conventional produce is your only option, peel the produce prior to eating.
- One favorite food that many new vegans have trouble eliminating from their diets is ice cream! There are vegan alternatives to ice cream that are tasty and satisfying. These include frozen nondairy desserts made from soy milk, rice milk, or tofu. If you love being in the kitchen, you can purchase an ice cream maker and make your own frozen desserts.
- Cheese is another product that can present a problem for vegans. Not all soy cheeses are free of dairy components. Many contain casein, a milk protein. Read labels carefully. Natural food stores are generally your best source for finding vegan cheese products. Most soy cheese products stocked in mainstream supermarkets contain casein.
- Read labels carefully. Many foods marketed to vegetarians are not vegan. The vegetarian burger you are considering purchasing may very likely contain eggs, as many brands do. Often, vegan products clearly show this on the product packaging.
- Packaged foods that contain vitamin D3 such as cereal and even some commercial brands of soymilk may not be vegan if the vitamin D3 is derived from fish, which it often is. This is why reading labels is so important.
- There are even vegan alternatives to cream cheese and sour cream. These products are usually available at natural food stores. Often, just as with soy cheese, the soy-based cream cheese alternatives contain casein. Again, read labels carefully. A cheesecake made with soy cream cheese tastes similar to a low-fat cheesecake, so being vegan does not mean you have to compromise flavor.
- By conservative estimates, sugar is not considered vegan. Some cane sugar is filtered through bone chars of animal origin. Usually there is no way of determining whether or not sugar was filtered through a bone char either through the lack of product labeling or any noticeable difference in taste. If you want to develop stricter standards over time as you embrace a vegan lifestyle, you could use cane juice, raw sugar, or even forgo sugar altogether and use either maple syrup or grain-based sweeteners. You might find it helpful not to be concerned about sugar initially. As you transition to a vegan diet and become more familiar with its requirements, you could modify your sugar consumption at that time.
- If you desire to be strict with sugar consumption from the beginning, simply purchase a vegan sugar product such as evaporated cane juice and use it when baking. Many vegan sugars can be substituted in a 1:1 ratio when baking. When using liquid sweeteners such as maple syrup or grain-based sweeteners such as barley malt, most recipes require modifications to adjust the ratio of liquid to dry ingredients. This might take some experimentation to end up with a tasty, edible final product, but that is part of the fun.
- Vegan baking requires particular attention to reading labels. Many chocolate chip brands contain dairy ingredients. There are several varieties of chocolate chips on the market that do not contain dairy, and natural food stores also stock chocolate chips made from grain-based sweeteners.
- Maple syrup represents another gray area for vegans. A miniscule amount of fat is added to maple syrup during the production process to reduce foaming. This fat may be of animal origin. In order to confirm whether the fat used in manufacturing is of vegetable origin, it is best to contact the manufacturer directly.
- Be wary of vague terms such as "natural color." The terms natural color can include many different ingredients that are not necessarily plant-derived. Some colorings are derived from insects.
- When eating out, it is important to inquire about how the food you plan to eat is prepared. French fries or tortillas are sometimes fried in lard, an animal fat. Always check before ordering.
- To ensure you get the recommended calcium intake for your gender and age, include in your diet good plant sources of calcium such as leafy greens and tofu. Adequate protein consumption is also not that difficult for vegans. Seitan is made from wheat gluten and is a firm-textured meat substitute. Seitan contains over 60 grams of protein per 8 ounce serving. It is available commercially or can be easily made at home with a few ingredients.
- Do not feel overwhelmed with all the hidden sources of animal byproducts in many foods. If you are not vegetarian already, you might find that a gradual transition to becoming vegan will facilitate the process. First, you could eliminate red meat from your diet, followed by poultry and fish. Then, finally you could eliminate your consumption of dairy and eggs. Lastly, you could pay attention to smaller amounts of animal byproducts that end up in foods as a result of the manufacturing process.
- Eating in most restaurants often is not difficult for a vegan. There are very few establishments that at least do not have salad options on their menus. Eating in very formal social settings, however, is possibly the most difficult aspect of adhering to a vegan diet. Often, there are no vegan options available. You have to decide how you want to handle this situation. Some individuals who eat vegan every day of the year find, that in formal social settings when no other option exists, straying from their vegan diet is acceptable. Whether you find this a suitable option depends on your reasons for being vegan. If your reasons for being vegan are motivated by health concerns, annually drifting from a vegan diet will unlikely have severe negative health consequences. If your reasons for being vegan are religiously motivated or based on a desire to reduce animal suffering, you might be unwavering in making diet modifications for the sake of social acceptance.
- Contacting product manufacturers is the best way to clarify any concerns you might have about ingredients contained in their products. Be advised, though, that manufacturing processes do change from time to time, and a product that was once considered vegan may not always remain vegan.
With careful planning, eating vegan can be accomplished even in a world of carnivores. You can enjoy extraordinary health benefits and actually expand your range of appetizing food choices beyond what you ever ate before becoming vegan.