How to Become a Vegan: 12 Tips from the Experts | Reader's Digest

How to Become a Vegan: 12 Tips from the Experts

Vegan's not just a buzzword: According to a 2012 survey, seven percent of Americans polled consider themselves vegan, more than those who count themselves as vegetarian. Thinking of joining them? Here's what the experts told us.

By Perri O. Blumberg
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    Ariel Skelley/Getty Images

    Go at your own pace.

    Victoria Moran, author of the book Main Street Vegan recommends removing one kind of animal from your diet at a time ("chicken and eggs are a great place to start"); being "vegan at home" to better control your food; or trying "vegetarian for now" and continuing to eat eggs and dairy. Even Mark Bittman's "vegan before six" could help with transition. Andre Kroecher of Daiya Foods suggests, "Start with the one thing you consume the most and substitute it with the vegan version," such as almond milk for whole milk. Jenné Claiborne,The Nourishing Vegan advises: "Crowd out less healthy, or non-vegan foods with a yummy vegan addition. For example, have a green smoothie before your usual breakfast, or some fruit before an afternoon cookie. By eating the plant-based food first you won't have as much room for other stuff, and you'll develop a taste for the healthier option."

    Courtesy of Olives for Dinner

    Think of it as an evolution.

    When going vegan, "people get so caught up in rules, they become anxious," says Terry Hope Romero, author of the book Vegan Eats World. "Relax and learn to love to cook, explore new cuisines, and be adventurous with food. Most importantly, be easy on yourself. Don't view a vegan lifestyle as the finish line, but as an evolving process of conscious eating." Vegenista blogger Melissa Bechter says, "As my commitment to a cruelty-free lifestyle became stronger than my cravings, I found that eventually I lost my taste for animal-based foods."

    Pictured here: Vegan Macaroni and Cheese on Olives for Dinner

    Courtesy of Sunday Morning Banana Pancakes

    If you want, start quietly.

    It might be easier to become a vegan if you can avoid questions or scrutiny from others. "Don't announce what you are doing; focus on yourself and being conscious of your surroundings, body, and food addictions first," says longtime vegan John Salley, a four-time NBA champion and a partner of Vegan Vine wines. "Be still and strong in your ability to control your own life."

    Pictured: Maple Chipotle Sweet Potato Burger on Sunday Morning Banana Pancakes

    Courtesy of fatfreevegan.com

    Find a vegan support group.

    Once you begin your vegan diet, "you'll need someone to rant to about how many times a day you get asked where you get your protein," says Jill Wiseman, co-founder of e-commerce site Vegan Cuts. Whether your support lives next door or is through a Facebook page, you'll widen your world of vegan-friendly products, recipes, and restaurants. If you don't know where to look, Crystal Tate of Food for Lovers recommends 30 Day Vegan Challenge: "[The] daily tips and videos hold your hand through grocery shopping, dining out, and trying new recipes."

    Pictured: White Bean Stew with Winter Squash and Kale on Fat Free Vegan Kitchen

    Courtesy of Olives for Dinner

    Don't worry about getting enough protein.

    If you're trying to become a vegan, "rich sources of concentrated protein include beans, soy products like tofu and seitan, quinoa, nuts, and hemp seeds," says Moran. Plus, there are vegan protein powders you can add to water and shakes. As long as you include these staples along with protein-rich veggies like asparagus, cauliflower, and broccoli, you should meet your daily requirements. 

    Pictured: Spicy Fava Bean Falafel on Olives for Dinner

    iStockphoto/Thinkstock

    Focus on vegetables (and fruits).

    "Many who claim to be vegetarian or vegan are really starch-atarians filling meat voids with pasta, fries, bread," and other non-plant substitutes, says Ashayla Patterson of the bakery Sweet Artique. Try to eat more healthy, whole foods to give your body the vital nutrients and antioxidants it needs.

    86Lemons.com

    Going vegan doesn't mean deprivation.

    "When you remove animal products you lose a lot of the fat and salt, which is often what contributes to the can't-put-it-down taste," says Kroecher. He likes to add rich, complex flavors with walnuts, avocados, pine nuts, sun-dried tomatoes, olives, fresh basil, cold-pressed flax seed oil, and unrefined grey or pink sea salt. Other ingredients to consider include nuts, dried fruits, protein powder, chia or hemp seeds, and Spirulina, a protein-dense freshwater algae.

    Pictured: Vegan Apple Tart on 86Lemons

    Courtesy of Sunday Morning Banana Pancakes

    Rethink how you shop for food.

    Many staples of a vegan diet like grains, beans, and nuts are cheap, and they usually store well if you buy them in bulk. Bechter also suggests you join a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture); shop at farmers’ markets an hour before closing for discounts; and visit VeganCuts.com for daily deals and discounts on vegan food and lifestyle products. You can also find more grocery shopping tips in the book Eat Vegan on $4 a Day, by Ellen Jaffe Jones, or at the site Plant Based on a Budget.

    Pictured: Farmers Market Tacos on Sunday Morning Banana Pancakes

    Beyond Meat

    You can still eat out.

    Even fast-food places are starting to offer vegan options on their menus. In select restaurants, Mexican chain Chipotle serves Sofritas, a shredded, organic tofu cooked with chipotle chiles and roasted poblanos. National chain Tropical Smoothie Cafe will substitute plant-based protein Beyond Meat (which shreds up like cooked chicken) in all salads and sandwiches at no extra cost. New York-based chain Fresh & Co., which also serves the "Vegan 'Unchicken'" says that items with it are among the most popular on its menu and even meat-eaters are opting for it. You can find other choices on this comprehensive list from PETA.

    Courtesy of Sunday Morning Banana Pancakes

    Try more ethnic foods.

    Whether you're eating out or cooking at home, be adventurous. Moran says, "Asian cuisines have tantalizing plant-based options originating from the spread of Buddhism." She also likes Italian pastas; Ethiopian lentil stews; satisfying and spicy Indian curries; and Mexican veggie tacos, fajitas or burritos ("just hold the cheese").

    Pictured here: Green Curry Corn Chowder on Sunday Morning Banana Pancakes

    86Lemons.com

    Experiment with new favorite foods.

    Vegan versions of your beloved recipes will inevitably have different tastes and textures from what you are used to. Instead create other go-tos, or try to incorporate similar flavors in new dishes. "I began experimenting with 'transition foods' to help quell the cravings for cheese and dairy," says Bechter. "When I realized that I could still make some of my favorite recipes with non-dairy alternatives, like pizza, macaroni & cheese, or grilled cheese sandwiches, it became easier for me to cut out the dairy habit." (See our picks of over 20 vegan comfort food recipes here.)

    Pictured here: Vegan Cheesy Veggie Pizza 86Lemons

    iStockphoto/Thinkstock

    Get resourceful.

    There's no shortage of great information on becoming vegan: Googling "going vegan" yields 40,900,000 results! The experts we interviewed recommended everything from blogs (Lunch Box Bunch, FatFree Vegan Kitchen) to non-preachy books (Main Street Vegan, Eating Animals) to groups that set you up with a vegan mentor (Vegan Month). Ashayla Patterson recommends, "[Start] with film documentaries because seeing real people and their stories is often more compelling than reading about the virtues of veganism." Try Netflix instant stream options like Vegucated, Forks Over Knives, Fat, Sick & Nearly Dead.

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    Your Comments

    • Vegan slaughterer

      What a terrific useful piece!

    • Sue H

      I went vegan ‘cold tofurkey’ from vegetarian and found it tough for a few days as I’d not thought at all about what I was going to eat. I just knew I couldn’t consume animal products any more. Finding recipes (searching for ‘student vegan recipes’ will get you cheap and easy meals) and checking out what products you can buy beforehand makes the transition easier. If you’re on social media there are plenty of vegan groups where people are happy to help a newbie so if you want to know anything just ask.

      What I found helped me the most was realising after those few days of worry that I wasn’t responsible for the suffering any more. It was the best feeling in the world and, 20 years later, it still is.

    • mill7231

      7%- wow! What a jump from the something like 0.3% just a couple of years or so ago!