Guide To Veganism

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What Is Veganism?

Veganism is now one of the fastest growing movements in western culture, and it’s important to understand that going vegan isn’t just about food or a diet; veganism is veganism, there isn’t really a “vegan diet” (however people often separate eating as a vegan from living a true vegan lifestyle).

While this article is entirely focused on how to stick to a vegan diet, you should always remember that the fundamental ethos of veganism is actually to make every effort to avoid animal products in every aspect of their day to day lives.

In the world of dieting, people assume that sticking to a vegan diet will consist of nothing but carrots, lettuce and the occasional warm soup, however, this is far from the truth.

People become vegans because they do not agree with any form of animal trade or consumption, but this doesn’t stop you from following the dieting aspect of the movement, and if done correctly, it can be a great way to lose weight and improve your overall health.

Like all diets that focus on calorie, fat and sugar intake, a vegan diet is no different if you want to lose weight. Just because you see a meat-free cheeseburger with a vegan sticker on it, doesn’t mean it’s healthy. However, if you just want to switch to vegan foods to avoid animal products, then your diet itself will not actually change.

This may come as a shock to you but the foods in your current diet that consist of animal products will most likely have a vegan version that use plant-based substitutes. This means you can still eat pizza, garlic bread, steak, chicken nuggets, spaghetti carbonara, ice cream, and cheese! Yes, there are dozens of different types of vegan cheese on the market.

The vegan versions of these meals are simply made with plant-based products and are readily available in large supermarket chains and even restaurants so you can see why it’s important to have a basic understanding of what a vegan diet can actually consist of.

How Do I Transition To This Diet?

Transitioning over to a vegan way of life is arguably one of the most important aspects of adopting the vegan diet, and it is crucial that you take it seriously and also take your time, this is not an overnight process and should not be treated as such.

A large majority of dairy and meat products contain harmful chemicals, hormones, toxins, and antibiotics which are used during the farming process to keep animals free of disease and infections.

These ultimately find their way into the food chain, and into your body. So when you begin a vegan diet and start to remove these from your daily consumption, your body will go through some changes as it begins the process of expelling these unwanted, and unnatural substances.

If you consider your consumption of animal products to be high then it’s recommended that you gradually remove animal products from your diet over the course of a few weeks by systematically replacing specific foods; beginning a vegan diet abruptly can often overwhelm beginners.

Your body is most likely used to relying on certain foods, so if you simply remove them all overnight then you could trigger unwanted cravings that will have you dying to consume them again.

People that already have a low intake of animal-based products can usually remove them over a shorter period of time.

The Diet Requires You, As a Vegan, To Eat “Vegan-Friendly Foods”!

vegan food

It’ll come as no big shock to learn that sticking to a vegan diet requires you to eat vegan-friendly food! A “vegan food” is basically any foodstuff that does not contain any animal or animal-derived ingredient. Some may be very obvious and others may not, but don’t worry, we’ll break down the most common ingredients for you to look out for, as well as the basics of which foods to avoid.

How To Tell If A Product Is Suitable To Eat

At first, you might find it a bit of a difficult task trying to determine which foods are suitable for a vegan diet, but do not let this put you off! It will soon become second nature and you’ll be able to identify whether a product is vegan or not in no time at all.

Some products will actually display a vegan symbol on the packaging or the words ‘Suitable for vegans’. For other products, you may need to perform a quick scan of the ingredients. If in doubt, try using an app like ‘Is It Vegan’ that allows you to scan the barcode of the item and get an instant result!

Even if it does not say suitable for vegans, it could still be vegan! Just look for any animal ingredients, if you don’t see any then there’s a good chance it’s vegan. Be careful with products that just say “Natural Flavoring”, this can catch even the most experienced vegan out as there is no way of knowing what this contains. It could be vegan or it could contain an animal product.

Common Vegan-Friendly Ingredients

  • Rehydrated Textured Soya Protein
  • Yeast Extract
  • Methyl Cellulose
  • Maltodextrin
  • Xanthan Gum
  • Carrageenan
  • Gluten
  • Seiten
  • Calcium Chloride
  • Calcium Acetate
  • Gellan Gum

What Foods Should I Avoid On This Diet?

Depending on what your diet currently consists of, this list could be pretty long, especially if a high percentage of your diet is meat and dairy. However, it’s extremely important to remember that most of the food you currently eat can be substituted with a vegan version that’s just as tasty, flavorsome, and “meaty”.

You DO NOT have to give up pizza, burgers, or snacks to follow a vegan diet. The general rule is, ‘if it used to be alive, then you need to avoid’.

Any animal such as the following should always be avoided:

  • Beef
  • Chicken
  • Turkey
  • Fish
  • Ham
  • Lamb
  • Duck
  • All Seafood

We obviously cannot list every animal on the planet, but you get the picture.

Common Non-Vegan Ingredients To Look Out For

  • Lactose / Lactose Powder
  • Lactic Acid (this can also be plant based)
  • Milk Powder
  • Milk Proteins
  • Cheese / Cheese Powder
  • Egg / Egg Powder
  • Casein
  • Gelatin
  • L. Cysteine
  • Whey / Whey Powder
  • Butter
  • Buttermilk
  • Condensed milk
  • Rennet
  • Paneer
  • Ghee
  • Cream
  • Beeswax

Does The Diet Allow Dairy?

If you’re a big fan of milk, cheese, yogurts, and other dairy products, you may be thinking that a vegan diet will create an enormous restriction in terms of the food you can consume. You may be thinking “I’ll never eat a pizza again” or “I can’t go without my morning coffee” – well this is far from the case.

If you drink dairy, how many options do you have? One, maybe two if you drink goats milk, right?

Well, vegans get to choose from:

  • Rice Milk
  • Almond Milk
  • Soya Milk
  • Oat Milk
  • Coconut Milk
  • Hazelnut Milk
  • Cashew Milk
  • Hemp Milk
  • Flax Milk
  • and more!

There is also a huge range of vegan cheese on offer from Cheddar to Tex-Mex, and Mozzarella to Edam.

How Do I Avoid Dairy When Eating Out?

The difference between vegans and vegetarians is that vegans completely drop dairy from their diet. Thanks to the ever-growing popularity of veganism, eating at restaurants is now relatively easy to do without breaking the rules of the diet. If you can’t go without your morning coffee from Starbucks, they offer dairy-alternatives and so do most coffee chains now as well as independent coffee shops, just ask them!

Again, many chain restaurants and independent foods joints will also offer a wide variety of vegan options and dairy replacements for those following the diet, so if you’re looking for a weekly cheat meal to indulge in, just have a browse on the internet.

“May Contain Traces Of”

You will see this on almost every single food item you pick up for the rest of your life, regardless of the diet you follow. It simply means the product has been produced in a factory, or an environment, that uses the ingredients they have listed under ‘May contain traces of’.

It’s really down to you if you still want to consume this product. Many would consider a product that says ‘May contain traces of milk’ still vegan as long as milk is not a direct ingredient in the product.

It’s really just companies covering their own back. During the production process, if a product becomes contaminated with dairy – or another ingredient – and someone has an allergic reaction to this product due to this contamination then the company would be liable for this.

E-Numbers (Additives)

The ‘E’ stands for European and means that these additives have been tested for safety and been assessed for use in the European Union (EU), these will only appear on EU food packaging. You may see ingredients such as E120, E542 etc which are known as food additives and are not always vegan.

Simply search for the specific E number followed by the word vegan (e.g. “E120 Vegan”) and you will quickly discover whether it is suitable or not.

Is This Diet Expensive To Stick To?

Vegan food has become incredibly accessible in recent years due to more people adopting the vegan diet and wider distribution, this comes with a lower cost and cheaper goods for consumers.

However, like most diets, it depends on what you decide to consume, and where you live; in some parts of the world, it may be rather expensive to buy fresh fruit and vegetables every day compared to other parts of the world.

This is the same with vegan products, you’ll find some stores will have a wide range of vegan meats and cheeses available to buy at very reasonable prices relative to the local economy, other areas may have to charge more to cover delivery & distribution costs.

You can also find a wide range of vegan gourmet foods which can be expensive, but again, this is the same with any diet.

It’s all relative to your income and the local economy, vegan food is now as competitively priced as most animal-derived food.

FAQ

Below you will find some of the most commonly asked questions about the vegan diet:

Does The Diet Have Enough Protein?

Protein is an essential part of any diet, it is responsible for the development of bones, muscles, cartilage, skin, blood, and also helps to repair muscle and tissue within the body. Proteins are simply amino acids and all living organisms need to consume enough protein in order to live a healthy, fully functioning life.

Protein isn’t related to a specific diet in terms of whether you get enough or not, it is related to the food you eat regardless of the diet. You need to make sure you consume enough protein no matter what diet you follow.

Depending on your body goals, your daily protein intake will vary quite drastically compared to other people. If you’re looking to build muscle then you may need to consume up to 3 times more protein than the average person as amino acids are essential for muscle repair and growth.

How Will I Get My Protein Requirements?

One thing new vegans can worry about is whether or not the diet will provide them with enough protein. Thankfully there are all sorts of foods that are cheap and readily available that you can use to meet all your dietary requirements for protein. Below we have listed the most common sources of protein for vegans:

  • Meat Substitutes
  • Tofu
  • Seitan
  • Chickpeas
  • Tempeh
  • Lentils
  • Oats
  • Protein Bars

Can You Still Bulk Up & Gain Muscle?

Another fallacy of the diet is that vegans (and vegetarians) are unable to gain muscle, but that’s not true at all (check out this youtuber bodybuilder who adopted a vegan diet for one year if you’re disillusioned). In order to bulk up as a vegan you just need to make sure your diet contains the right amount of calories, protein, and essential fatty acids, just like you would when sticking to a regular diet.

Supplements

If you’re finding it difficult to hit your daily intake of protein and vitamins then you can also include supplements and protein powders (make sure it isn’t milk-based) into your diet.

Many of these supplements will also provide your body with essential amino acids and minerals that you could have easily been missing out on. So, it’s a good idea to look into supplements as they could give your immune system an extra boost anyway!

Fortified foods

A common myth is that adopting the vegan diet will see you become deficient in many vitamins such as B12, and minerals such as Iron, however, most vegan foods including milk, butter, cheese, and meat substitutes will usually be fortified with these essential vitamins and minerals.

You will either see something similar to this on the product: ‘with added calcium, vitamin B12, riboflavin and vitamin D’, or just look at the ingredients list and you will see the actual percentage of fortified vitamins and minerals the product contains.

Vitamins & Minerals

This is the same as any other diet, you need to eat fruit and veg to get your daily intake of vitamins! Or, you can take vegan multivitamin supplements. We would always recommend going for the fresh food option as this will also help you hit your daily fiber intake goals.

A common myth is that vegans are deficient in vitamins & minerals but this is simply not the case. Many people are actually deficient in this area of their diet because they simply do not pay attention to it. You don’t have to be a health freak to follow a vegan diet but if you take note of these aspects of your nutrition, it will lead to a healthier life for you and your body.

Vitamin B12

Vitamin B12 is a nutrient that helps keep the body’s nerve and blood cells healthy, helps contribute towards normal metabolism speeds and helps make DNA. It is an essential nutrient to ensure your body can function normally. Vitamin B12 deficiency can cause a condition called anemia which can leave you feeling weak and you may often find you become more easily susceptible to illness than most.

There is a common myth that by consuming a vegan diet you will instantly become deficient in B12. While vitamin B12 is only found naturally in meat and dairy, most vegan products are fortified with Vitamin B12 and it’s actually quite easy to hit your daily RDA for this essential vitamin.

Vegan milk and cheese are commonly fortified with vitamin B12, and a popular source of B12 is yeast extract. You can take vegan multivitamins which also include B12.

Omega 3, 6 & 9

This is overlooked by many people on ALL types of diets. Omega 3, 6 & 9 are fatty acids that play an essential role in maintaining your heart, brain, immune functions, and help balance your cholesterol levels.

You can take supplements or find these essential fatty acids in a wide range of naturally occurring products such as flaxseed oil, pumpkin seeds, chia seeds, and tasty avocados!

Conclusion – Going Vegan Is A Life-Long Commitment

Over the last decade, we’ve seen an enormous increase in not only the number of people turning to a vegan diet, but also the number of supermarkets, companies, and restaurants adopting and expanding their range of vegan products – it’s never been easier to be vegan.

The great thing about a vegan diet is that you can actually adapt it to fit your own personal goals, as you’re not restricted to the types of meals you can actually eat, as long as they do not contain any animal products.

Vegan diet plans are generally rich in nutrients, vitamins, protein, and minerals with many vegan products even being fortified with calcium, vitamin B12, and omega 3, 6 & 9. Many people that adopt a vegan diet report an overall boost in energy levels, clearer skin, weight loss, and many people even say their concentration levels improve.

If you’re looking to lose weight on a vegan diet you can still enjoy a wide range of tasty foods while losing a few pounds. You won’t be stuck eating carrots day in day out. One of the most popular meat substitutes on a vegan diet is called Seitan, rich in protein and super low in fat meaning you can still enjoy a meaty meal while dropping a few kilograms.

Kath Ross, PhD
Kath Ross, PhD
Health Editor & Fact Checker at DietProbe
Kathryn is a Ph.D Health Editor here at DietProbe. She specializes in diabetes and weight control research and in her spare time she's a professional cat lady and wine connoisseur!
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Fact Checked


This article has been reviewed and fact-checked by a certified nutritionist, and only uses information from credible academic sources.