Learning how to go vegan is the first step into a whole new world of flavorful food and compassionate living. Going vegan has the single largest impact on your health, the environment and the well-being of animals of any life choice you can make. And it’s super easy to do!
This article is a primer. It’ll expose you to the nuts and bolts about how to go vegan, including the main reasons people decide to go vegan so you stay motivated, what things are and aren’t vegan, how to eat a healthy plant based diet, where to get protein, helpful resources and much more.
We want to make your journey as a new vegan so simple and easy that you have no reason to question your decision to be healthier, reduce your environmental impact and lead a more compassionate life.
What is Veganism?
VEGANISM IS: a philosophy and way of living which seeks to exclude—as far as is possible and practicable—all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose; and by extension, promotes the development and use of animal-free alternatives for the benefit of humans, animals and the environment. In dietary terms, it denotes the practice of dispensing with all products derived wholly or partly from animals. (1979 revised definition)
Veganism vs. the Plant Based Diet
The difference between veganism and the plant based diet causes a lot of confusion. The terms are often used interchangeably, but they refer to two very different things.
Veganism is an ideology to do the least harm to animals and the environment (see above) while the plant based diet is just a way of eating.
People often associate being vegan with being healthy, but that’s not necessarily the case. You can eat nothing but potato chips and Diet Coke, and still be vegan. That’s certainly not healthy nor something we recommend.
A plant based diet simply means you get most of your calories from plants rather than animal derived sources. There are lots of different types of plant based diets, including the Whole-Foods Plant-Based (WFPB) diet that we follow, the Raw Vegan Diet (which isn’t really “vegan”), the Nutritarian Diet, the Starch Diet, the Fruitarian Diet, and the list goes on.
While veganism has a large dietary component for obvious reasons, there is no “vegan diet.” Veganism is a framework for a set of beliefs; the plant based diet is a just a diet that can be very healthy or very unhealthy.
Why You Should Go Vegan
The three main benefits of going vegan are for your health, the environment and the animals. Each person places these in a different order of importance so don’t feel bad if animal welfare isn’t at the top of your personal list.
Health Benefits of Going Vegan
The health benefits of going vegan are profound. In fact, they’re so profound that vegans qualify for reduced rates on life insurance. When the insurance companies start handing out discounts for life choices, you know you’re doing something right.
No one understands risk better than insurance companies so when they give vegans a discount, that means the data supports what vegans have been saying for years: a plant based diet is healthier and less likely to lead to your death.
Vegans have a 15% lower risk of all-cause mortality, 22% lower risk of colorectal cancer, and 34% lower risk of female-specific cancer. But the benefits don’t stop there. Switching to a plant-based diet also helps prevent and reverse Type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, hypertension and obesity.
The list goes on and on. The truth is, our bodies are optimized to eat plants, not animals. Despite what we’ve been taught our entire lives, we are not omnivores. True omnivores like bears and raccoons have retained the carnivorous traits that allow them to eat meat without the negative health consequences.When insurance companies hand out discounts for life choices, you’re doing something right. #govegan Click To Tweet
Our ancestors were never carnivores and biologically speaking, we haven’t evolved the necessary traits to make us healthy omnivores. Just because our ancestors used their intelligence to figure out how to eat meat, doesn’t mean our bodies are designed to eat meat.
The most common misconception about eating a plant based diet relates to protein. “Where do you get your protein?” is the most common question you’ll get from non-vegans. This question is a sign of just how effective the animal agriculture marketing campaign has been.
You don’t need to eat animals to get enough protein for a healthy, balanced diet because all plants contain protein. Cows, horses, gorillas and other plant eating animals get the protein for their enormous muscles entirely from plants. In fact, ALL of the essential amino acids that combine to make protein originate in plants. Protein is a building block of life and all life has it. Animals just recycle the protein they get from plants.
Our fixation on protein is one of the major causes of health problems in western society. Too much protein can cause cancer, kidney disease, kidney stones, osteoporosis and other diseases.Too much protein can cause cancer, kidney disease, kidney stones and osteoporosis. #govegan Click To Tweet
According to the World Health Organization recommendations, only 5% of an adult’s calories should come from protein compared to the 16% consumed in the average western diet. This means you should only be eating 30 to 50 grams of protein per day compared to the 100 to 400 grams consumed by the average American. Athletes need more protein, but the average American isn’t an athlete.
Eating a healthy, balanced, plant based diet is part of learning how to go vegan, but it’s far easier than you’ve been led to believe. With one exception, your body is designed to get all the nutrients it needs from plants and the sun, making a plant based diet highly beneficial to your health.
Vitamin B12 (the one exception)
Vitamin B12 is an essential vitamin to your health, but one that your body doesn’t create on its own and one that isn’t readily available in plants.
B12 comes from bacteria that is most easily obtained from eating meat products, but meat isn’t the only source. Many vegan foods are fortified with B12, such as non-dairy yogurts and nutritional yeast. You can also take a B12 supplement.
However, you don’t need to worry too much about getting enough B12 because our bodies have evolved to extract it and store it very efficiently. In fact, you have enough B12 stored in your body right now to last 3 years assuming you stop consuming it today. If you eat B12 fortified foods on a semi-regular basis, you’ll probably be fine. We get our B12 levels tested yearly and they are on the high end of normal.
As you can see, the health benefits of going vegan are numerous and supported by science, at least the science not funded by the animal ag industry. Your body is optimized for a plant based diet and it will thank you for making the switch to one as you learn how to go vegan.
Environmental Impact of Going Vegan
If you’re concerned about the environment, deforestation, clean air, clean water, species endangerment, etc., then learning how to go vegan is the best thing you can do to make a positive impact.
The animal agriculture industry generates more greenhouse gases (GHGs) than the entire transportation industry, including cars, planes, trains and boats. Conservative estimates place it at 18% of GHGs, but a study conducted by WorldWatch Institute places it at 51% of total human generated GHGs.
Animal agriculture is the leading cause of deforestation. It’s estimated that 91% of deforestation is done to either raise farm animals or to grow the food that’s fed to farm animals.
Animal agriculture is the leading cause of species extinction, ocean dead zones, water pollution, and habitat destruction.
Since animal agriculture is the worst culprit in everything that’s wrong with our treatment of the environment, that means making even a small change to your eating habits can have an enormous impact.
Each day, a person who eats a plant based diet saves 1,100 gallons of water. That means in one year of eating a plant based diet, you will save over 400,000 gallons of water.
To put this in perspective, a typical leaky faucet loses about 34 gallons of water per year. That means one year of being vegan is like fixing nearly 12,000 leaky faucets!
Why do vegans save so much water? Because it takes a lot of water to raise animals and the crops they eat. The most widely accepted estimate of the water required to produce one pound of beef is 2,500 gallons. The animal ag industry came out with their own number of 441 gallons, but anyone not associated with raising animals for food agrees this number is ridiculously low. Some scientists calculate the number to be closer to 8,000 gallons for one pound of beef.
The negative environmental impact of our meat-heavy diets is indisputable. We are quite simply destroying our planet with the food we have chosen to eat. Learning how to go vegan and switching to a plant based diet is the only viable solution if we want to leave someplace for our grandchildren to live.
Ethical Benefits of Going Vegan
At the core of being vegan is the ethical and compassionate treatment of animals. The animal agriculture industry has circulated a term that has been widely adopted by those who like to eat meat: humane slaughter. This is the quintessential example of an Orwellian oxymoron like jumbo shrimp or clean coal. There is no way to humanely slaughter a sentient animal that doesn’t want to be killed.
Thousands of studies have been conducted on animal sentience and the overwhelming conclusion is that animals are sentient. That means they can feel pain and fear, and they demonstrate compassion, love and sorrow.
Animals do not have the same level of intelligence as humans so they struggle with rational thought, logic and understanding, but so do 3-year-old human children (and many adults). We have misattributed animals’ lack of intelligence with lack of sentience, and that’s terribly wrong.
95% of our meat comes from animals raised on factory farms, the worst culprits of animal abuse. Animals are treated like non-living things in factory farms. From birth to death, they’re subjected to the worst possible living conditions, pumped full of growth hormones and antibiotics, treated like a cog in a machine, and then slaughtered in horrific ways. The slaughter occurs in sight of other animals who know the one being killed and who also know what’s about to happen to them. Imagine how terrified they must be.
Dairy Cows Aren’t Killed…Why Isn’t Dairy Vegan?
This is a common argument made in defense of dairy. People think that because dairy cows aren’t killed, there’s no harm done. That couldn’t be further from the truth. Dairy cows may have a worse life than cows raised for meat.
To produce milk, cows must have babies. This means they must be constantly impregnated, give birth and then have their babies taken away from them so the milk can be fed to humans. The mom and baby cry and scream for each other for days after they’re ripped apart.If you love animals, you won’t eat them or drink their fluids. It’s that simple. #govegan Click To Tweet
The babies are kept in small cages and are often sold for veal, while the moms are perpetually milked. This puts an enormous strain on the moms’ bodies leading to early death, infections and other health issues. Once they stop producing milk, they’re slaughtered just like any cow.
If you truly love animals, you won’t eat them or drink the fluids they excrete. It’s that simple.
How to Go Vegan: Switching to a Plant Based Diet
Once you’ve made the decision to learn how to go vegan, the biggest challenge is swapping out the meat on your plate with plant based alternatives. It takes a little time to figure things out, but it’s easier than you think.
We’ve created a handy Vegan Substitutes Guide to help you with the basics, like milk, eggs, cheese and meatless meats. We’ve also assembled a long list of vegan recipes, including soy free vegan recipes and gluten free vegan recipes.
Going vegan is not a sacrifice. In fact, after a couple weeks of eating only plant based foods, you’ll start to notice an increase in your taste bud sensitivity. You’ll be able to detect more flavors in foods and things will just taste better.Cooking vegan meals is no different than cooking non-vegan meals. Just follow the recipe. #govegan Click To Tweet
You’ll also start to eat a larger variety of foods. Most people make the same three to five dishes every week before going vegan. They eat some form of chicken, fish, pork or beef. How boring! Once you go vegan, you’ll start to eat many different types of veggies and cuisines. It’s an amazing experience and your taste buds will thank you.
The easiest way to get started is to buy a vegan cookbook or bookmark some vegan recipe websites (see recommendations below). Cooking vegan meals is no different than cooking non-vegan meals. Just follow the recipe.
As you learn how to go vegan, you may find it easier to cook veganized versions of your favorite comfort foods during the transition period so it’s not such a large shock to your system. To get you started, here’s an easy Easy Vegan Lasagna recipe. Several family members told us this is the best lasagna they’ve ever eaten. And they made fun of it right up until they tasted it.
Cold Tofurkey or Gradual Transition
A lot of people ask if they should go cold tofurkey (that’s the vegan version of cold turkey) or gradually transition to a plant based diet. Some people opt to make a stopover in vegetarian-ville by cutting out meat but continuing to eat dairy and eggs.
How you make the transition is up to you, but the more quickly you eliminate meat, dairy and eggs from your diet, the sooner you’ll see the health, environmental and ethical benefits of going vegan.
Most experts argue that going cold tofurkey is the best approach. By removing the temptation completely, you’ll more easily and quickly make the transition. Plus, it fast tracks the changes your body and taste buds will experience, which will make you want to stick with it. Once you start seeing the health benefits, you’ll wonder why you didn’t make the switch sooner.
There’s no wrong way to make the transition unless you have a preexisting health condition like diabetes. If that’s the case, you should consult a doctor or registered dietician who is supportive of switching to a plant based diet. Most doctors have zero training in nutrition and still believe outdated information that we must eat meat to survive. If your doctor isn’t supportive, find one who is. PlantBasedDoctors.org has a sizable list if you’re in the US.
Meal Plans and Grocery Shopping
The best way to make a successful and easy switch to a plant based diet is by planning your meals for the week before you go to the grocery store. Then make a list of all the ingredients you need so you don’t forget anything and need to make another trip or settle for something that’s not as healthy or delicious.
We provide a free plant based meal plan. This is designed to make your life easier as you learn how to go vegan and can save you hours of time each month planning your meals. You can even customize your meal plan to match your needs and automatically create a grocery list from your recipes.
Here are a few other free meal plans to choose from, depending on your dietary preferences:
The important thing is to make your transition as easy as possible so you won’t be tempted to return to your old, harmful ways. Planning ahead is the best way to do that.
Eating Vegan on a Budget
When you first learn how to go vegan, you may see an increase in your food budget over the short-term. This is especially true if you buy the processed meat substitutes found in the frozen food section, or if you decide to go organic at the same time. Meat substitutes and organic veggies are more expensive than non-vegan, conventional alternatives so that can increase your budget.
In addition, you may find that your kitchen is lacking some common vegan ingredients like nutritional yeast, spices, agave, maple syrup and vegan mayo. These all tend to be more expensive, but you won’t need to buy them very often. This does make your startup costs higher, though.You could decrease your food costs by $750 or more per year over a lean meat-based diet. #govegan Click To Tweet
However, after you’ve gone full vegan and start eating less of the processed foods and more fresh veggies prepared in a delicious recipe, your costs will decrease. In fact, you could decrease your food costs by $750 or more per year over a lean meat-based diet. You can reduce your costs even further by purchasing frozen fruits and veggies, going to farmers markets or buying in bulk.
The Vegan Junk Food Diet
A plant based diet that’s high in processed foods is what we call the Vegan Junk Food Diet and it’s the quickest route to being either an overweight, unhealthy vegan or an underweight, unhealthy vegan.
There are a lot of veganized comfort food recipes that are much healthier than the heavily processed foods characteristic of the Standard American Diet (SAD). Don’t just cut out the animal products; make your vegan journey fun and exciting by trying new and interesting foods as you learn how to go vegan.
Perhaps the hardest part of sticking to a 100% vegan diet is the challenge of eating out. Restaurants like to sneak meat and animal products into just about everything, especially cheese, butter and eggs. They do this because they’re flavor enhancers and they want you to eat more and keep coming back.Some restaurants will prepare a vegan meal for you that will make your friends envious. #govegan Click To Tweet
When you eat out, don’t be afraid to tell your server that you’re vegan and ask them to leave off the butter that they use to coat everything. You’ll find that a lot of servers are vegetarian or vegan and will be eager to help you. If you call ahead, some restaurants will prepare a special vegan meal for you that will make your non-vegan friends envious. That has happened to us more than once.
Eating out as a vegan is getting easier because more and more restaurants are adding vegan or vegan friendly options to their menus. And there are a lot more vegan restaurants opening, too. Several even cook without oil for us now.
Common Foods that Aren’t Vegan
In addition to meat, dairy and eggs, there are a few other foods that aren’t vegan, such as honey, palm oil, gelatin, crackers, sugar, chocolate, beer and wine.
Honey isn’t vegan because of how the bees are treated. The queen’s wings are often removed to prevent her from leaving the hive. That’s not very compassionate, which is at the core of veganism. In addition, the honey created by the bees is meant to feed their babies. If you take the honey for your food, that means the bees must work twice as hard to produce enough honey to feed both you and their offspring. You’re essentially forcing them into slave labor to keep their children from starving to death.
Palm oil, unless it is sustainably harvested, is at the heart of Indonesian deforestation and species extinction. Orangutans live in the Indonesian jungles that are being burned and chopped to grow palm oil trees. In the process, they’re burned alive, shot or captured and sold into captivity. Countless other species are suffering the same fate at the hands of the palm oil industry.
Gelatin is an animal by-product made from boiled skin, tendons, ligaments, bones and hooves. Sorry to break it to you like that, but we’ve been eating this gross stuff our entire lives. Agar powder is a plant-based substitute so there’s no need to eat animal goo.
Most crackers have egg and/or milk in them, but there are several that don’t. Read the labels to see which ones are vegan.
You might think sugar is vegan by default since it comes from a plant, but only organic sugar in the US is vegan. That’s because most white granulated sugar is processed with animal bone char. Organic sugar is a little more expensive, but it tastes better and doesn’t contain animal ingredients.
Milk chocolate is obviously not vegan, but neither is non-organic chocolate in the US because it’s made with non-organic sugar that contains bone char. Vegan chocolate chips and chocolate bars are easy to find in higher-end grocery stores like Whole Foods or Natural Grocers.
It’s true. Some beer and most wines aren’t vegan. Many vegans aren’t sticklers for this one because…well, it’s beer and wine. But just so you’re informed, some beers are filtered through isinglass, which is made from fish bladder. Guinness used to use this method, but in 2017, they changed their process and now Guinness is vegan! Also, most cream stouts or cream beers have dairy derivatives. Most wine is filtered through egg whites to remove sediments. You can use Barnivore.com to check your beer and wine for vegan friendliness.Gelatin is an animal by-product made from boiled skin, tendons, ligaments, bones and hooves. #govegan Click To Tweet
As you learn how to go vegan, you’ll have this list memorized and you’ll get super speedy at reading the ingredients on labels.
Life as a Vegan
There’s more to being vegan than your dietary choices. Here are a few other things to consider as you learn how to go vegan.
What About My Non-Vegan Stuff?
You may be wondering what to do with your non-vegan items, such as leather clothes and car seats, wool coats, cashmere sweaters, etc. And you probably have health and beauty products that were tested on animals. Once you go vegan, you realize we use animals like toilet paper! It’s shameful!
Part of being vegan is environmental so throwing perfectly good non-vegan things out and replacing them with vegan things not only creates trash, but also requires more resources to create the replacements.Once you go vegan, you realize we use animals like toilet paper. #govegan Click To Tweet
Another part of being vegan is to do the least amount of harm possible. The damage has already been done for the things you already own so it’s better to take care of them so they last as long as possible to honor the animals who gave their lives for them and minimize your environmental impact.
Most sensible vegans recommend using what you already have, but don’t buy any more of it. That seems like reasonable, environmentally friendly and financially sound advice.
Family, Friends and Holidays
Your non-vegan family and friends will not be supportive. They’ll be judgmental. They’ll worry about your protein intake. They’ll tell you we’re meant to eat meat. They’ll try to get you to eat animal products “for your own good.”
What they’re really doing is trying to convince themselves that they’re right to continue eating a diet that’s killing them, the planet and countless animals. It’s a subconscious defense mechanism that was triggered by you doing the right thing when they’re too scared, lazy or selfish to do it themselves.
Don’t take their criticisms personally. Take their criticisms as justification for your own health conscious, environmental and ethical life choices.
Holidays are the hardest time to be around your non-vegan family. You can bring your own dishes to meals so you have something to eat, but that won’t prevent you from derogatory comments.
Some family members derive joy from sneaking meat to their vegan relatives and then gloating about it. They don’t understand that your decision to learn how to go vegan isn’t about how animal products taste. It’s not like trying to trick a child into eating carrots or broccoli. Veganism is an ideology; not a food preference. Plus, once you internalize where meat comes from, it makes you physically ill to think about eating it.
You might find it easier to skip the holiday meals and enjoy your own delicious vegan holiday recipes. Then hang out with the fam after everyone has eaten.
The Unsupportive Spouse/Partner
If you want to learn how to go vegan but your spouse refuses, you’re in for an uphill battle. It’s much like a smoker or drinker who decides to give up the bad habit, but their spouse refuses. Having the vice in the house all the time makes it difficult to stick to the new way of life.
With food, it’s more challenging because women are typically the first to go vegan while their macho husbands think they can’t survive without meat, or at least won’t be as much of a man without it.
In many cases, that means the wife must cook two separate meals and continue handling a food product that makes them sick to touch and smell. Not a good situation.
You have a few options for handling this. First, you can gradually expose him to the materials that made you want to learn how to go vegan. Show him the documentaries you watched. Share the health and environmental statistics with him. Sometimes you need to plant the seed and let it germinate for a while before people are ready to open their minds.
Second, you can gradually reduce the amount of animal products in the meals you prepare. Start by making veganized versions of his favorite foods, but don’t tell him they’re vegan. Many of the recipes we share are veganized versions of popular comfort foods and no one can tell they’re vegan. What he doesn’t know won’t hurt him.
Third, you can make delicious vegan meals and cook some sort of animal product for him separately. Once you master the art of vegan cooking, he may start to prefer your vegan recipes over his bland animal products.
To take it one step further, skip the plant based seasonings on his meats so he starts to realize the only reason animal products taste good is because of the plants we put on them. It’s a little passive aggressive, but the ends justify the means, at least in this case.
Finally, you can tell him that you just won’t cook animal products anymore and if he wants them, he can cook them himself. It’s a bit of tough love, but once you explain to him that it makes you physically ill to handle it, he should be understanding if he loves you.
Veganism is an ideology of awakening. Once you wake up and realize the harm an animal-based diet does to your health and the environment, and how horrific animals are treated, it can be difficult to continue a relationship with someone who is still asleep and refuses to wake up. That’s a tough way for both of you to live and it will strain your relationship. Keep the lines of communication open and hope for the best.
A lot of vegans have pets, but we usually call them companions or children. The love between a dog or cat and their human companions is real and healthy for both. Vegans absolutely do not patronize puppy mills or breeders. Instead, we choose to adopt animals who might be euthanized if they don’t find a loving family.
Feeding your companions vegan food is a challenge. Unlike humans, cats and dogs are carnivores/omnivores. They’re designed to eat other animals, even though they can process plant based foods.
There are a lot of vegan pet food options available, but your dog or cat may not take to them or may even be allergic to them. If you feel bad buying animal-based pet food, talk to your vet about vegan options before making the switch.
If you want to join the animal rights activism movement, go for it. However, you don’t have to protest to be vegan. Changing your diet and the products you buy, and leading by example are just as powerful.
If you decide to participate in activist activities, we highly recommend a Cube of Truth by Anonymous for the Voiceless. Amelia and I have done several of those, and find them very rewarding and effective.
New Vegan Resources
Learning how to go vegan can be challenging for new vegans, so here are some more resources to help you on your journey.
Vegan and Plant Based Documentaries
Watch these five documentaries and you’ll be more educated about diet and the treatment of animals than 95% of the population:
- The Game Changers – features many of the world’s top athletes who are vegan or eat a plant based diet, and the performance advantage it gives them.
- Forks Over Knives and Food Choices – both discuss the health benefits of eating a plant based diet.
- Cowspriacy – discusses the environmental impact of eating meat vs. going vegetarian or vegan.
- Earthlings – this covers the ethical aspect of veganism and our horrific treatment of animals.
- Vegucated – follows three people switching to a plant-based diet showcasing their trials and tribulations.
Plant Based Diet Books
These are the best books you can read on the health benefits of eating a plant based diet:
- Proteinaholic – a great look into our obsession with protein, and a thorough education in how to understand nutrition studies.
- The China Study – the most comprehensive study of nutrition ever conducted.
- The Starch Solution – your beliefs about diet and nutrition are completely upside down thanks to clever marketing campaigns from the animal ag industry.
- How Not To Die – a comprehensive review of the science as it relates to our most common causes of death.
These are two great starter cookbooks for new vegans:
- Nom Yourself – easy and delicious vegan recipes.
- Big Vegan – loaded with over 350 delicious vegan recipes.
Vegan Recipe Websites
Here are some of our favorites vegan recipe websites:
- LottaVeg.com – this is our recipe index loaded with lots of comfort food, dessert, soy free, oil free, gluten free and a variety of other recipes.
- MinimalistBaker.com – delicious recipes that require 10 ingredients or less, one bowl, or 30 minutes or less to prepare.
- AllRecipes.com – lots of recipes in their vegan recipes section.
- OhSheGlows.com – lots of vegan recipes and most are free of gluten, soy, and processed foods.
- BrandNewVegan.com – lots of vegan comfort food ideas for new vegans.
- VeganInTheFreezer.com – lots of recipes that you can freeze for later to save you time.
Day or night, someone is online to help you solve a cooking problem, deal with a confrontational friend or family member, provide emotional support, or just listen. Here are some good private groups on Facebook to join:
- New Vegan Support – thousands of vegans, both new and old from around the world to offer guidance and support.
- Vegan Recipes to Share – people share all sorts of delicious recipes here.
- Vegan Humor – because we can all use a little humor in our lives.
- My Vegan Dreams – lots of help and support for new vegans.
You don’t have to go it alone. There are lots of people both online and offline who are eager to help you make the most of your vegan journey.
If you have any questions or suggestions about how to go vegan, please leave them in the comments section below. We would love to hear from you and will respond to everyone.
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