Happy New Year plus two weeks give or take a few days. According to the people who investigate these things, a lot of New Year’s resolutions are starting to fall by the wayside. Many who vowed to give a vegan diet a try might find their resolve weakening just about now.
I shared a few tips for making the transition with my delightful friend JL Fields on her radio show Easy Vegan last week. But there are lots of things that newbie vegans can do to make their diet feel more practical and sustainable.
1. Embrace your cooking style.
In their annual click bait story on the “best” diets, US News and World Report suggested that eating vegan means spending lots of time in the kitchen. This is a poorly-informed and limited view of veganism. Vegan diets are diverse and so are vegan cooking styles; they can be as laborious or as fast and simple as you like. Time saving options for vegans include canned beans, frozen vegetables or vegetables that are trimmed, washed and ready-to-cook. Veggie meats, pre-cooked grains, prepared hummus, and spaghetti sauce in a jar all make vegan cooking a breeze. And as you explore vegan options, you’ll learn that even some cooking-from-scratch techniques are not especially time-consuming. It takes about 60 seconds to rinse dried beans and dump them into a slow-cooker with water and salt.
2. Eat (some) processed foods.
Sure, whole plant foods are packed with all kinds of good things like fiber and phytochemicals. You should emphasize them in your diet. But if you’re too strict about what constitutes a “whole food,” you may eliminate foods that can make your diet healthier, like tofu or soymilk. Or you might be convinced to avoid processed ingredients that make meals more appealing like tomato paste, hot sauce, and vinegars. Even foods that undergo more extensive processing can play a role in a healthy vegan diet. If you’re craving meat and cheese, commercial versions of these foods may help.
3. Pop pills.
You aren’t going to develop a nutrient deficiency in just a few weeks but vegans do need supplements over time and you might as well start now. It will give you a little extra peace of mind about nutrition. At the very least you need a supplement of vitamin B12 unless you are using fortified foods on a regular basis. Depending on where you live you are very likely to need vitamin D. Even people who live in sunny areas sometimes need supplements. Vegans may also benefit from supplements of omega-3 fats; we don’t really know if these are necessary, but it probably makes sense to err on the safe side.
4. Feast on fats.
Some vegans do just fine on very low fat diets, but this way of eating isn’t for everyone. Fat makes food more appealing and satisfying. It enhances flavors and textures. It’s also really good for you when it comes from nuts, seeds and vegetable oils. These foods reduce heart disease risk and can help with nutrient and phytochemical absorption. If you’re craving animal foods, simply adding more fat-rich plant foods to meals may make a difference.
5. Peanut butter: Don’t leave home without it.
It’s not so hard being vegan at home, but out in the world, things get trickier. When you’re hungry and there is no Taco Bell in sight, what do you do? One way to avoid the problem is to always carry snacks. For me, it’s peanut butter and crackers. And, if I’m traveling, I bring a little jar of faux parm with me. As long as I can get a platter of pasta with olive oil and garlic, or even some plain rice and steamed veggies, I can transform a mundane dish into a reasonably satisfying meal. These two items may not be your exact choices, but find what works for you and tuck it into your purse or backpack.
6. Acknowledge that being vegan is good enough.
Assuming that you aren’t subsisting on a steady diet of Fritos and Oreos, and that you are meeting nutrient needs and eating mostly whole foods, your diet is probably pretty good. Giving up oil or gluten or soy or nuts or cooked foods won’t make it any better. Extreme versions of veganism don’t make vegan diets healthier, they just make them more difficult.
7. Forgive yourself for not being perfect.
No matter how dedicated you are to eating a vegan diet, you might find that your commitment is sometimes overpowered by a craving. Or maybe it’s a sense of discomfort in a social situation or the inconvenience of finding vegan foods away from home. These are slip-ups, not failures. They don’t mean you aren’t cut out to be vegan. Accept that you’re transitioning to something new and that a few missteps are inevitable for almost everyone.
In short, if you’re struggling with staying vegan, look for what is tripping you up and find a solution. Maybe you need to simplify your food prep, or carry more snacks or add more fat-rich foods or comfort foods to your meals. Don’t force yourself to take on more burdens regarding your vegan diet than necessary and above all things, don’t beat yourself up when you lapse. Keep moving forward, because veganism really does get easier as you learn the ropes.