Maybe you’ve decided to jump right into a vegan diet or maybe you’re dipping a toe in the water and opting for a gentle transition. Either way, there are lots of things that newbie vegans can do to make their diet feel more practical and sustainable for the long run.
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.
This is wonderfully practical and honest. Thank you, Ms. Messina!
Thank you, Rebekah!
Excellent post. All these tips are reassuring and definitely doable!
How can you say such blasphemy, Ginny? If people aren’t EXACTLY like me, they aren’t really vegan, and must be attacked!
Seriously: As always, a wonderful, understanding, and insightful piece.
When I listened to the interview, I was disappointed in the “Eating You Alive” people who are so anti-oil. I will hesitate to recommend that movie to family who I would like to encourage to go vegan, because I think the anti-oil stance is unnecessary and extreme.
My family loves its vegan diet, and olive and canola oils are a basic part of it.
I’d love to get an update on fats in the vegan diet Ginny. Especially the good poly and monounsaturated ones.
So many in the WFPB field keep calling for keeping the diet low fat. Now, I’ve been vegan for 27 years and I find I need and enjoy my food more when I cook with a little oil and use some fat in my diet. In fact, when I run an average day through chronometer and the like I consistently hit 30 to 35% fat.
I’m healthy, my numbers ie. cholesterol etc are good (~150mg/dl) so I think that for most reasonably healthy folks, some fat in the vegan diet is good. I’d also speculate that even those with some heart disease risk factors might do well with some fat in their vegan diet similarly to low fat. But I don’t think that’s been studied. I think the bigger problem is saturated fat, cholesterol and animal foods.
Anyway, I’m not sure if there’s been any new science on it, but if you know of anything, I’d love an updated blog about fat in the vegan diet.
I’m working on it!
Thanks for posting this. I’m set to advocate for veganism and animals rights for four months as a Tour Operator for 10 Billion Lives, a tour run by F.A.R.M. It’s helpful to learn these tips to share with those seeking to stick their toe in “vegan waters.”
[…] 7 Tips for Sticking to Your New Vegan Diet // To go along with the above article, a few terrific tips from The Vegan RD. […]
I just read your post for the second time. All very useful tips. I have a question regarding tip# 3, “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.”
Dean Ornish recommends fish oil supplements or vegan DHA/EPA supplements. However, the research I’ve looked at regarding supplementation of omega-3s suggests that, for people who have Type 2 diabetes, supplements may be harmful. Are you aware of any research specifically for the vegan algae-based supplements and effects on Type 2 diabetics? Thank you!
Just what I needed to hear. Thank you so much!
You forgot to “enlist the help of vegan dietician” on your list!
Great advice. Other vegans shouldn’t punish those who just started out if they “slip up,” treating them as if they’ve committed a heinous crime. This lifestyle choice is a huge commitment, and it’s a tough transition for people who have been so used to eating meat for so long. Members of the vegan community should embrace those who have taken initiative to abandon their meat-eating lifestyles and cultivate a supportive environment for those having a hard time making the transition. Words like yours are just what new vegans need to hear.
Also, I think it will help newbie vegans to stay motivated if they are reminded of why they chose to embrace this way of life in the first place. For some, it’s all about health. For others, it’s to preserve the sanctity of all forms of sentient life. And for most, it’s to help save our dying planet. They need to know just how much their actions are impacting the world, and this calculator (https://www.blitzresults.com/en/meat/) can do just that and more.