Tips for the New Vegan

If you’re starting a new vegan diet, you probably have questions. I’ve got answers!

5 tips for the new vegan

It’s the beginning of a new year and in addition to requests for the magic bullet for weight loss, I get lots of questions about going vegan. How do I get enough protein on a vegan diet? How do I know I’m getting the right nutrients on a vegan diet? Is a vegan diet the right one for me?

The questions keep pouring in. Though I’m not vegan, I follow a pretty plant heavy diet. And for what it’s worth, I was vegan years ago. Before it was cool and before they started mass producing nut cheese. There are plenty of benefits to eating this way but you have to plan ahead to meet your nutrition needs. Key nutrients of concern include omega 3 fats, B12, iron, calcium, zinc, and others. You’ll need an appreciation for legumes from lentils to pinto beans and chickpeas and a variety of nuts and seeds. And I think you also need a sense of adventure in the kitchen to keep things tasty and interesting.

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As a registered dietitian nutritionist, I’m seeing a spike in the number of people reaching out with sights set on becoming vegan. It’s an exciting change. But sometimes switching to a new way of eating can lead to hunger and uncertainty. Many wonder if they are getting enough of the right nutrients. Sound familiar? You’re not alone.

Though just 6% of the population identify as vegan, people are trying out veganism on a long- or short-term basis and for a variety of reasons. Stemming from desires to improve health, eat ethically, or reduce a carbon footprint, veganism has taken center stage.

To be clear, a vegan diet eliminates animal products from animal flesh, eggs and dairy foods, as well as honey. Devout vegans also refuse leather and other goods that sacrifice the lives or welfare of animals.  If you decide to go this route, for whatever your reason or motivation, there are a few things to keep in mind, nutritionally.

Here are my top 5 tips for new vegans:

  1. Getting enough protein is not as hard as people will make you think. Pulses, edamame, tofu, tempeh, nuts, seeds, and spirulina are a few plant-based proteins that are easy to incorporate throughout the day.  And if you’ve heard that you have to combine the right amino acids to get a complete protein (like rice and beans)– there’s some truth to that- but the old thinking that you have to eat them at the same time is a myth. As long as you get a variety of proteins throughout the day, you should be good to go.
  2. Eat whole. Before you reach for that pack of meat substitute (which could be full of salt, sugar, unhealthy fats, and preservatives), consider your whole food choices. Prep and freeze a batch of black bean burgers for quick lunches or slow cook a quinoa and bean chili overnight and wake up to dinner for days. Your heart and wallet will thank you!
  3. Without effort, you’ll probably miss out on omega 3 fats. Omega 3 fats are often lacking in vegan diets – and in meat eaters’ too for that matter. Since fish is a major source of omega 3 fats, you’ll need another. Fortunately, walnuts, chia seeds and flaxseeds dish a big dose of plant-based omega 3s. There is, however, some concern that that the plant-based form, ALA, is not as effective as DHA & EPA forms shown to benefit the heart, brain, and more. For a vegan alternative to fish oil, consider a microalgae supplement.
  4. Keep an eye out for other notable nutrients. Among others, Vitamin B12, iron, calcium, and zinc, can easily fall by the wayside in a poorly planned vegan diet.  These nutrients are naturally present in animal products. Removing them without a suitable replacement can lead to inadequate intake. Beans, nuts, seeds, tofu, and even some fortified foods can help you meet these needs. Just check the labels.
  5. Think ahead. Plan what you’ll eat or plan to be hungry. Eating out can be challenging as foods like butter, chicken broth, and milk solids are common ingredients in recipes. Ask for details at your favorite restaurants and support those that specialize in vegan cuisine. Prepping vegan meals and snacks can keep you on track too. Let’s face it – drive-through French fries are a vegan option, but certainly not a healthy one. Long day ahead? Pack a hearty bean salad for lunch and take along snacks like nuts, seeds, or roasted chickpeas to fill the gaps.

And that’s just the cashew cream icing on the cupcake! It’s more than possible to enjoy a lifetime of healthy meals eating on a vegan diet – you just have to plan and be willing to try new things.

Before you go, here are a few of my most popular vegan recipes to add to the rotation:

Smoky Chickpeas and Spinach

Smoky Chickpeas & Spinach – One of the easiest, high fiber and protein recipes on the site.

Pumpkin Lentil Curry in two bowls with napkin

Pumpkin Lentil Curry – THis one is packed with protein and fiber and ready in under 30 minutes!

Vegan Chili Cheese Popcorn - Nooch Popcorn

Chili Cheese “Nooch” Popcorn – This easy snack will satisfy your smoky, salty, crunchy cravings!

Vegan Chocolate Avocado Pudding with raspberries and a spoon

Vegan Chocolate Avocado Pudding – The avocado adds a luxurious, creamy texture to this easy dessert.

chocolate almond truffles tossed in cocoa in blue bowl

Easy Chocolate Truffles – Sweet (healthy) dreams are made of these.

And let me know in the comments if you’re following a vegan diet, new to it, and if you have any questions I can answer.


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