Vegan for Beginners [Ultimate Guide]

We live in a world where new health trends and diet fads come and go like the changing of the seasons.

So many people try to adhere to one way of eating and living and give up after not seeing the results they were hoping for or not feeling the way they were expecting.

With a lot of lifestyle trends, beginning and staying dedicated can be difficult, especially if you don’t ease your way into a new lifestyle. 

Veganism is different. Not only is it easy to stick with once you start, but the reason you decide to adopt a vegan lifestyle will help you stick with the lifestyle.

With an ordinary diet, it is easy to waver and ‘cheat’ at it when things get tough. Vegan isn’t a diet; it’s a lifestyle and a community. A diet is a method to get results; a lifestyle includes every factor of the way you live.

This extensive guide will give you easy-to-follow steps for going vegan for beginners.

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Table Of Contents

Wooden cutting board with knife and fresh garden vegetables spread all over counter

What Exactly Is A Vegan?

Calling oneself a vegan means you’re following the vegan lifestyle. This means that you don’t eat, wear, or use any animal product.

Vegans want to lessen the exploitation and cruelty against animals. This includes not using leather, wool, fur, or beeswax.

Some people will clarify that they eat a vegan diet. This means that they don’t consume any animal products.

Another word you may hear is “plant-based diet.” This is a vegan diet that focuses on eating whole foods instead of processed convenience foods.

Oreos and Fritos are technically vegan but that doesn’t mean you want to eat a lot of them. Plant-based diet followers often eat a whole-foods way for health but may still use other animal products.

Veganism can have a political spark with the animal rights side. But don’t worry, you can still eat a vegan diet without needing to join picketers.

Reasons For Going Vegan

People go vegan for many different reasons. Health, animals, and the environment are the three most common reasons beginners go vegan.

Health

There are some of the health reasons, such as the ability to aid weight loss, the potential to lower blood sugar and help with symptoms of Type 2 diabetes. 

As far as your heart health, adopting a vegan lifestyle can help lower blood pressure. 

Veganism can also aid the symptoms of arthritis, boost kidney function, and help stave off some of the early symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease.

Overall, our digestive tracks are longer than those of pure carnivores. Our bodies more closely mimic that of a Gorilla who are primarily vegetarian, who get their animal protein from insects.

Animals

There are those who go vegan because of their love of animals and their desire to not have an animal suffer so they can eat.

Overcrowded factory farming is terrible for the animals’ health and mental state. By eliminating or even lowering the amount of meat you eat, you’ll lower the demand and save animals suffering.

Environment

People have also gone vegan in an attempt to help save the environment since the production of plant-based products can be less damaging to the earth than can the production of animal products.

Factory farms have a huge negative impact on the environment. Cows produce a lot of greenhouse gases. Most of our farmland is spent growing food crops for farm animals rather than to feed humans.

To give you a better idea, check out this calculator that shows how big an impact going vegan one day has.

Make Sure Your Reason Motivates You

People typically have a reason in mind when choosing to transition from being an omnivore to being a vegan. But if it isn’t the right reason for you, then it may not be the motivator you need to stay the course when the early stages of going vegan get tough.

One of the most common reasons people break from their newfound commitment to a way of life is because it is so drastically different from how they are used to operating, and the change is too much of a shock to manage all at once. 

It’s so important to ease your way into something that’s a complete change from what you have become accustomed to, especially if that change involves a dramatic departure from the way you’ve become accustomed to eating and drinking.

What Can And Can’t You Use On A Vegan Diet?

There are many factors to take into account when considering adopting a vegan lifestyle.

You have to remember that it’s not just about changing the way you eat. You also have to remember to think about your clothing, your cleaning tools, and your line of personal hygiene products. 

Being a vegan and going vegan seems like such a simple concept when we consider the main tenet of veganism, no animal products. The goal with the concept of veganism would be to do no harm to not exploit any living creature.

In reality, this is a little harder to achieve than such a simple concept would suggest. 

An astounding number of products in the modern world are created from animals or animal by-products. For non-food products, the main items you have to remember that aren’t vegan are wool, leather, fur, and beeswax.

What Can Vegans Eat?

Some consider certain fruits outside the realm of veganism because of the way domesticated bees are used to pollinate the plants. I consider all fruits and vegetables vegan but some vegans don’t eat figs or avocados. That’s too extreme for me.

I like starting with a plentiful mindset so I’ll go over what vegans CAN eat before I go over what they can’t. Vegans can eat everything that isn’t an animal or a by-product of an animal.

Vegans can eat:

  • Fruits
  • Vegetables
  • Grains
  • Beans
  • Legumes
  • Seeds
  • Nuts
  • Spices
  • Herbs
  • Maple Syrup
  • Cheese Alternatives
  • Faux Meats
  • Plant-Based Milk
  • And all other foods that are labeled vegan or don’t have animal ingredients.

That’s a lot of food! There are so many plant-based alternatives that are delicious.

My former meat-loving husband (now 100% vegan) remarks about how close to real pepperoni the vegan alternatives are. He’s also a fan of many of the burger substitutes.

Even the veggie cheeses have upped their game in recent years. They’re now gooey, melty, and taste much closer to the real deal.

Giving up cheese is one of the hardest parts for beginners going vegan. If you’d like some extra tips about giving up cheese, then check out this post.

What Can’t Vegans Eat?

Vegans don’t eat anything that was once an animal or was produced by animals.

Care of the bees is also why honey is not considered to be vegan and is avoided within the community.

Surprisingly, marshmallows are not vegan, nor is anything that contains gelatin, like jams, Jell-o, and even paintballs! It was such a surprise for me to learn just how many products that seem like they should be vegan really aren’t! 

Vegans can’t eat:

  • Meat
  • Poultry
  • Fish
  • Seafood
  • Cheese
  • Butter
  • Milk
  • Dairy
  • Eggs
  • Mayonaise
  • Worcestershire Sauce (Contains anchovies)
  • Honey
  • Whey
  • Gelatin
  • Carmine
  • Casein
  • Shellac
  • Some Bread (Learn which bread is safe for vegans.)
  • Some Sugar (Organic is vegan. Learn more about vegan sugar options.)
  • Vitamin D3 (Usually comes from lanolin. There are vegan versions though.)
  • Natural Flavors (Impossible to know if vegan unless you contact the company.)

While this list may look long, it gets easier to remember over time. The big things to remember are no meat, eggs, dairy, or honey. That will cover 90% of non-vegan foods.

It’s the smaller ingredients like gelatin, anchovies, and carmine that may be easier to forget. Food companies sneak gelatin into products as a thickener. Carmine is used as a red food coloring.

If you mess up, don’t beat yourself up. It happens to everyone. The goal is to keep trying and it’ll get much easier as time goes on.

Make Sure You Do Your Research

There are not really any hard and fast rules about how to begin your transition into eating vegan. It’s just important that you educate yourself first.

Knowing what to expect and making sure that veganism is the right lifestyle for you is absolutely essential to investigate before you even download your first vegan recipe. 

The simple concept of ‘knowledge is power’ applies very strongly to changes like choosing veganism.

There may be thousands of great reasons to go vegan and even more benefits once you make the change, but it’s important to do your research and know what they are before you set up camp in the vegan section of your local grocery store.

There are so many reasons to go vegan. Once you have chosen yours, you can use that to remind yourself why you’re doing this if you find yourself wavering. 

Read lots of books, magazines, blogs, and medical journals on the subject. Watch documentaries or YouTube videos. Talk to other vegans.

The more you learn about the ease of being vegan and its benefits, the more confident you’re going to feel that you’re making the right choice for yourself. 

One of the best pieces of advice I have found in my own research when it comes to transitioning your diet is to add before you subtract.


7 Tips For An Easier Vegan Transition

While some people like going vegan cold turkey, I prefer to make the change gradually. There’s less of a shock to your body and you’re more likely to stick with it.

Here are some tips I recommend you take at your own pace when changing to a vegan:

1. Plan Out Your Meals

Eating vegan food doesn’t need to be fancy or complex. I’m a huge fan of one-pot dinners where you cook everything in one big pot.

Keep your meals simple and plan them out ahead of time so that you know what you’re making every day. Doubling recipes so that you have leftovers to eat is a great idea and takes even more guesswork out of your life.

2. Stock Your Pantry

After you’ve planned your meals, you’ll need to stock your pantry full of vegan-friendly food. While you’ll need ingredients for your meals, it’s also a good idea to stock snacks and convenience foods that you can grab when you’re hungry.

As a new vegan, you aren’t going to want to cook a full meal every time you’re hungry. Easy vegan snacks to munch on are essential to keep cravings at bay.

Make sure you don’t forget the spices. These are the essential spices I recommend for new vegans.

3. Know That You Will Mess Up…And That’s Ok

No one is a “perfect vegan.” Even people who have been vegans for years probably mess up every once in a while.

Don’t beat yourself up over it. If you found out that your favorite latte has honey as a sweetener, make sure to order something else next time. No biggie.

4. Stop Caring About What Others Think

You may have family or friends who don’t agree with your new lifestyle. As long as you’re healthy and are working with your doctor, their opinions don’t really matter.

If you’re eating healthy and your doctor gives you a clean bill of health, what you eat is no one else’s business. Everyone has an opinion on your life but it’s YOUR life and you’re the only person you have to report to.

5. See Your Doctor Before Transitioning

Speaking of doctors, it’s always a good idea to see yours before you make any large dietary changes. This is especially important if you have any health issues or are on any medication.

Your doctor can run your blood panel to see if you’re currently low in any vitamins like Vitamin D. Then you’ll know what vitamins you may need to supplement.

This is my absolute favorite vegan supplement. It has only the vitamins vegans typically need and nothing you don’t. Use code BEKIND10 for 10% off!

Vegans will always need to supplement Vitamin B12. It’s really important that you do because it’s essential for your nerves. Getting periodic checkups makes sure you don’t have any nutrient gaps.

6. Watch Documentaries When You Lose Motivation

Huge lifestyle changes require huge motivation. If you’re finding your motivation to be wavering, sit down and watch a vegan documentary.

Honestly, you can watch most health documentaries (not vegan slanted) and they’ll say that eating more vegetables and limiting meat is the healthy thing to do.

Some of my favorite vegan-based documentaries are:

  • The Game Changers
  • What The Health
  • Forks Over Knives
  • Fat, Sick, and Nearly Dead
  • Cowspiracy

Most of these can be found on Netflix. I also really enjoyed the Zac Efron Netflix series “Down to Earth.” While it’s not purely vegan, it goes over what other cultures eat to stay healthy and live a long time.

7. Plan Ahead For Social Events

Social events and parties are a huge stumbling block for beginner vegans. There’s usually lots of non-vegan food and alcohol.

In these situations, I recommend eating ahead of time. If you don’t want to eat a full meal before going to a party, having a snack can help take the edge off your hunger if all you can nibble on is a veggie tray for the evening.

Purse snacks are my secret weapon for unknown social situations. I don’t want to make a big deal about not eating as much as everyone else so I’ll have an energy bar or baggie filled with snacks that I can eat on the sly.

How To Start A Vegan Diet As A Beginner

I’ve broken down how newbies and beginners to the vegan diet can transition in a few simple steps. Each step can take as long as you feel is necessary as your body adjusts to your new eating.

1. Find Vegan Recipes

There are millions of vegan recipes all over the internet for all kinds of foods that shouldn’t be vegan but have been converted by these kitchen masters so that you can still have that one dish you’re craving more than anything else.

The most important factor to remember during all the phases of the transition to a vegan lifestyle is to make sure that your body is still getting all the nutrients it needs. 

This is fully possible on a vegan diet; you just have to make sure you’re continuing to do your research and being vigilant about it. 

Here are a few favorite beginner-friendly recipes:

Browse around the other recipes on this site. Most of them are simple and fast to make.

2. Start Incorporating Vegan Sides

Instead of jumping straight into nothing but vegan food all the time, try something as simple as adding a vegan side dish to your main course which may or may not be vegan. 

This will help get your body used to the increase in vegetables. It’ll also give your taste buds time to adjust their tastes so that they’ll prefer vegan food.

3. Add Vegan Protein Sources To Your Meals

You can start by incorporating more whole grains, nuts, legumes, beans, tofu, and seeds into the recipes you already have.

These are staples to going vegan, so starting by learning how to use, prepare and store foods like these is a great way to get a feel for what it’s going to be like to cook as a vegan. Two of my favorite vegan proteins are tempeh and seitan.

Don’t be afraid to experiment. Start finding and testing out new vegan recipes that sound especially delicious to you because there are so many out there in the world! Get the ingredients and try some of these recipes out! 

4. Become A Vegetarian First

One of the best ways to transition from being an omnivore into being a vegan is to become a vegetarian first and then make the full transition after you’ve become used to that.

It’s easier to eliminate different items from your diet gradually rather than all at once.

As with anything, your health is the absolute most important factor to take into consideration when making any transition from one thing to another. 

It’s like with exercise; if you do too much all at once when you’re just starting out, your muscles are going to end up being sore the next day, and you may have regrets. 

You can start by slowly removing all meat from your diet, including fish and poultry. Try beginning with the things you might miss the least and work on cutting this list down a little at a time.

You can either gradually cut down on all meat products in general, or you can do it by type of meat. Whichever way is easiest for you is the way you should do it. 

5. Make Sure You’re Eating Enough

If you’re used to eating calorie-dense animal products and now are eating lots of vegetables, its easy to accidentally under-eat. Your new food is more nutrient-dense than before but overall contains fewer calories.

If you’re constantly hungry during your vegan transition, you may not be eating enough food. Here are some more tips for staying full while on a vegan diet.

6. Switch To A Plant-Based Milk

One of the most suggested beginning transitions is your choice of milk. Start by switching to a non-dairy option for your morning cereal.

There is an overwhelming number of non-dairy milk options, so don’t be afraid to experiment around with these until you find the one you like best. You can milk experimenting with this for all its worth.

Popular plant-based milks to try:

  • Almond milk
  • Soy milk
  • Oat milk
  • Hemp milk
  • Cashew milk
  • Rice milk
  • Coconut milk
  • Pea milk
  • Macadamia milk
  • Flax milk

These are only a few of the most popular plant milks. So even if you try one kind and hate it, keep trying different ones. There’s bound to be one that you love.

7. Cut Out Dairy And Eggs

Really start paying attention to the ingredient lists on the food you’re buying and try to avoid purchasing new items that don’t make sure of animal products.

Foods including dairy and eggs don’t need to be fully eliminated while you’re trying to phase meat out of your diet.

If you haven’t already been doing it since the experimentation phase, this is a good time to start incorporating more use of seeds, tofu, nuts, legumes, beans, and whole grains into your diet. 

Be sure that you aren’t compensating for the lack of meat-based protein in your diet with more eggs and dairy since you cut those out eventually.

Try instead to use foods like the grains, seeds, and nuts we’ve talked about to fill the protein void that cutting out meat has created. 

The more plant-based foods you can substitute into your diet now, the less difficulty you may have with the full transition when it comes time to make it.

After you’ve been vegetarian or semi-vegetarian for a long enough period of time that you feel comfortable phasing out eggs and dairy, you can go for it! 

8. Cut All Remaining Animal Products

There are no rules and is nothing set in stone about how long any of this should or shouldn’t take. The important thing here is to listen to what your body is telling you and only make these changes when you’re ready.

Everyone is different, so everyone’s journey to becoming a full vegan is going to be different, too.

Once you’re comfortable with taking that last step, it’s time to eliminate every animal-based product from your diet and start truly embracing the vegan lifestyle.

9. Add In Vegan Substitutes

The hardest part of this transition can be giving up your favorite non-vegan foods. The two most common deal-breakers for people trying to go full vegan are cheese and bacon, and who can blame them? There is some good news, though.

We live in the modern era of smart technology and ingenuity in engineering. There are vegan options for just about any non-vegan food you can think of. The trick is just knowing where to look! 

A lot of vegan-friendly versions of your favorite foods are available in most supermarkets, and if they’re not there, specialty grocery stores that cater to vegans are popping up all over the place as the demand for them increases. 

There are vegan versions of some foods that might absolutely astound you. Thanks to modern technology and innovative thinking, there are vegan versions of foods like hot dogs, burger patties, cheeses, and deli meats! 

You’ll be pleasantly surprised when you scan through the vegan section of a grocery store or specialty market to see all of the amazing things you can buy easily while still staying within the vegan guidelines!

There are seriously so few restrictions on what is possible, and it’s really going to make your day when you are still able to have a bacon cheeseburger and still be vegan!

10. Stay Positive

Above all, with starting to transition into veganism, you have to remember to stay positive. Here are some inspirational vegan quotes to help keep you positive.

You may try several recipes that you don’t end up liking, or it may take you test after test to find non-dairy milk that you like, but that doesn’t mean you should quit.

Keep trying recipes. Keep sampling non-dairy milk. Keep researching.

If a vegan lifestyle is something you really want to live, you should never stop fighting to make it work for yourself. Just remember the reason you’re doing this in the first place, and don’t give up!

Vegan Nutrients From Plants

A lot of people take one look at a vegan diet and wonder where to get calcium, protein, and iron if they aren’t eating any of the traditional sources of those nutrients.

Even without eating meat, you can absolutely still get the nutritional values that it contains.

As far as protein goes, there is a reason I have been talking up whole grains, seeds, soy, beans, nuts, and legumes. It’s because these items are full of protein that it’s important to keep as part of your diet.

These foods are staples of a vegan lifestyle because they are full of some of the same nutrients that are in meat. Tofu, a whole grain bagel, and soy milk are all excellent sources of protein in a vegan diet. 

There are also a few different types of vegan protein powder if you still feel like you aren’t getting enough protein from your food alone. You probably don’t need as much protein as you think.

Calcium can be found in more than just dairy. Kale, almonds, and even oranges are vegan-friendly sources of calcium. 

There are also many forms of vegan calcium supplements available if that ends up being something you need to add to your nutrition.

There are more sources of iron than just red meat. A great source of iron can be something as simple as a baked potato. Lentils and flax seeds are also flexible ingredients that can be added to many dishes to up the iron factor in them.

Among all of these, all three nutritional necessities can be found in chickpeas. Chickpeas contain everything listed above in a single, tiny, tasty little food.

Try making your own vegan hummus that’s jam-packed with healthy, nutritional vegan goodness!

Vegan Wellness

At the end of the day, you need to stop thinking about veganism as a world full of restrictions of what you ‘can’t’ eat to maintain the lifestyle. 

One of the best ways to make the transition easier is to think of veganism in terms of how many things you still can eat and that they’re just different from what you were eating before. 

Thinking of it as limitations and restrictions is going to make veganism harder to commit to but thinking about it in positive terms and as the new and different things you are going to learn keeps this a positive experience.

Transitioning from being an omnivore to being a vegan may not be the easiest thing you might ever do, but if you stay positive about the entire process, the experience is easier and happier than you might think.

Choosing Vegan Clothing And Goods

Going full vegan isn’t just about not eating animal products; it’s about not consuming them at all. That means that there are options to do everything in your daily life healthier and more responsibly. 

You might be astounded by just how many non-food things you can get your hands on so easily that are vegan, and since this doesn’t have an effect inside of your body, you can switch to using vegan products with no transition time! 

Just think, while you’re working on transitioning your diet to being full vegan, you can also be transforming your entire lifestyle to match. There are some amazing online retailers that sell vegan-friendly clothing. 

Related: Is Sherpa Vegan?

In most cases, the first thing people tend to think about when it comes to vegan clothing is leather. Vegan leather shoes and purses are a great first step, but there are also other articles of clothing that are vegan while also being stylish and comfortable!

You may not have even thought about pearls or other jewelry items. There are many vegan-friendly pearl alternatives that look authentic.

Don’t forget socks, undergarments, and shirts when shopping online for vegan-friendly apparel. By shopping at vegan-friendly online retailers, you can ensure that you are vegan both inside and out!

Vegan Beauty Products

Beauty products are another area of your life that can get a vegan makeover. In addition to not containing animal by-products, there are some lines of beauty and care products that don’t condone or perform animal testing. 

These products work just as well as their counterparts but you get peace of mind knowing that no animals were harmed for your makeup to be produced.

Since gelatin is a big vegan no-no, making sure to pick the right soaps and cleaning products is also part of going vegan. Carmine is a red coloring made from beetles that’s often used in red lipsticks.

Many retailers have recognized the need to appeal to vegan consumers, so they have made small changes to their products, or if they were already vegan, they have changed to packaging to reflect that.

Because of this change, it has become much easier to shop for and select vegan products without stress or hassle.

Some retailers still haven’t picked up on just how valuable providing more vegan options can be, so if you can’t find what you’re looking for in a brick and mortar store, try the internet.

In addition to being able to find the products you’re looking for, you may also be in a position to support a small business with your patronage, which is never a bad idea.

Final Thoughts

If I have proven anything here, it is that adopting a vegan lifestyle can be easy and done by anyone if they go into it armed with the right knowledge. 

There are so many options and substitutions available today. No one should ever have to struggle with the process or feel alone during it with so much support to be found online. 

Remember to first speak with your doctor and then transition from what you’re doing now into veganism at a pace that your body can keep up with. There is nothing stopping you from achieving your desire to go vegan!

Once you start, you’ll wonder why you didn’t try making this change sooner. 

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Stephanie Mantilla

Plant-Based Diet & Vegan Lifestyle Expert

Stephanie is the founder of Plant Prosperous, a plant-based vegan living, and parenting blog. She has been eating a plant-based diet for over 24 years along with a B.S. in Biology & Environmental Science. She also has over 14 years of experience working in the environmental and conservation sectors. Stephanie is currently raising her son on a plant-based diet and hopes to help others who are wanting to do the same. You can read more about her here.

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