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 from original and
  • Loading
    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.

    POPULAR RIGHT NOW

    Your Comments

    • Xiphos

      Alternate title “How to help people become retards in 12 easy steps!”

    • ShirlSumm

      I do like eating “vegetarian”, and do so as much as possible. But I don’t think I could go all out Vegan. Kudos to you all who do!!!!

    • Heather Moore

      I’ve been vegan for 21 years. Best move I ever made. I not only feel healthier, I feel happier knowing that my food choices don’t harm animals or the environment. Plus, vegan food is quite tasty and it was simple to go vegan, even 2 decades ago when going vegan wasn’t as mainstream.

    • Mooninnorfolk

      These tips are really good! My husband did the John Salley stealth transition. The rest of the family was veg, but we didn’t know he was until we got served something with meat by accident at a restaurant and tried to “palm” it off on him and he recoiled in horror. Busted!

    • veganamericanprincess

      These are excellent suggestions from well-respected experts. Glad to hear that 7 % of people polled consider themselves vegans.

    • Daniel K. Wilson

      I’m amazed from my discussions with people how many so-called “vegans” eat cheese, fish, etc. from time to time. These people are not vegan, according to the definition of what vegan is. I think the above numbers may not be accurate, as so many “vegans” aren’t even vegetarian. For some, it’s just cool to say so…

      • ToxicTea

        Everyone evolves at their own pace, and any reduction in animal suffering and environmental degradation should be celebrated and encouraged, not judged and criticized.

        • Daniel K. Wilson

          Agreed about one’s growth ToxicTea. But is it a judgment or criticism to say that non-vegans are incorrect to call themselves vegan? If I told you I was J.D. Rockefeller, would it be judgmental of you to say that I wasn’t?

      • disqus_qLt7Ssufvx

        At least with cheese when you buy it you can just read the ingredients and see if it lists rennet or not, or microbial enzymes instead and not rennet and apparently there is also, vegetable based rennet. Rennet is from the cow, microbial enzyme and vegetable based rennet are not. In restaurants though you wouldn’t be able to know unless they honestly told you what was on the ingredient list from the packaging of the cheese which they probably threw out and I highly doubt they would show it to you.

        • Peaceful Revolution

          knowing if there is rennet in a cheese helps you know if it is vegetarian or not. cheese production, vegetarian and not, involves forcibly impregnating a female cow, taking her baby as soon as it is born to be killed for veal (males and “excess females”), or fed cheap formula so she can eventually replace or expand the dairy herd, after 4-6 years of this horror (and it is a horrible life, have no doubt about that) the mother is killed for cheap hamburger. why there would be discussions about cheese on a post about veganism is beyond me. to be vegan is to understand that animals are here for their own purpose, not for us to use and exploit. humans need to wean themselves from cow breast milk.

    • guest

      i’m a veg and even i think this list is kinda sub-par. i don’t think it was devised by a vegan/vegetarian.

    • MaryFinelli

      Going vegan is the best thing one can do for themself, animals, and the environment. For lots more great info, visit Vegetarian Resource Group.

    • Neil

      You do realize that being Vegan is a philosophy and not a diet ?

      • Sferd

        It’s actually both. Some people are ‘ethical’ vegans, some are ‘health’ vegans and some are a bit of both. Either way, less animals are being eaten or harmed.

        • Daniel K. Wilson

          Actually, it’s not “both”. Not according to the creator of the word, Donald Watson. Of course, everything gets watered down after time and after the media gets hold of it…

          • Nikki Hurst

            one who is not in it for ethical reasons can simply say they follow a plant based diet – “vegan” does have an actual definition, however, people do use it to describe their diet even if they’re not necessarily living the entire lifestyle. “total vegetarian” is another word that can be used.

            • Daniel K. Wilson

              True Nikki. My point was that the word’s definition is getting watered down to include diet only, vegan sometimes, etc. If I smoked sometimes, it would be incorrect of me to say I’m a non-smoker. If I abused animals occasionally, I’m an animal abuser. If I murdered someone, I’m a murderer. Of course, I could go around saying that since I only did it that one time that I’m not really a murderer, but again, it would be inaccurate. The other point is that people who eat cheese and salmon are calling themselves vegan, when that wouldn’t even describe a “total vegetarian”. These false claims or confusion around veganism aren’t really helping veganism or the animals…

            • OneFlew

              If it’s partly an aspirational statement among less-than-perfect vegans I’m not sure that this necessarily does great harm or perpetrate great untruths. There are few such self-descriptions that aren’t vulnerable to a degree of such ‘slippage’. Indeed, if we police the labels too enthusiastically then we’re at risk of playing into the stereotypes of vegans as humourless, po-faced fanatics. I follow a 100% plant-based diet but don’t buy all the philosophy of veganism (I don’t buy all of any philosophy). However, people understand the word ‘vegan’ in relation to diet a lot better than ‘plant-based.’ The contemporary meaning of the word clearly does extend to plant-based diets among those who aren’t philosophically pure.

            • Rich

              You don’t buy all of any philosophy? I agree that it’s beneficial for vegans not to come across as po-faced, but veganism is simply a rejection of the exploitation of animals. Would you not 100% buy into rejection of the racism, sexism and homophobia philosophies? They are all exploitation and they are all wrong. We’re just much less further down the road when it comes to speciesism. (so much less further down the road that I imagine some will scoff when they see the word ‘speciesism’, like it’s not actually a real thing).
              Like I said, I agree that it’s wrong to chastise people too much for slip ups and so on when they are making an effort, but ideologically we should be aiming high.

          • Ruth

            The Oxford English Dictionary (free online version) agrees with you on the definition, but not all dictionaries do. And medically, a vegan is defined as “a strict vegetarian who consumes no animal foods or dairy products,” regardless of whether that person is “ethically” vegan or is just someone who eats a plant-based diet. Whether we like it or not, the meanings of words do evolve over time and the functional definition of vegan seems to be changing to include both “diet-only” vegans and “ethical” vegans. So how about just agreeing to disagree for now and spending our energy on exercise or volunteering at a no-kill shelter or something else constructive?

    • judyb

      We went Vegan “cold turkey”6 years ago after reading an article about the benefits. It has put my RA into remission, and I do not take any prescription drugs. I will be 73 in two months. Love living without pain.

      • http://www.naturallifeenergy.com/ Aqiyl Aniys

        Excellent Judy. I am so glad for you. I have been eating a plant based diet for 2 years now and it has been wonderful to me. I have lost 25lbs and returned to my weight and energy when I was in my 20′s. I am in my 40′s now. Best thing is I haven’t been sick in 2 years. not even a cold.