A beginner’s guide to going vegan

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Ah, the dreaded ‘v’ word. You may have seen it at your favourite cafe or on a Facebook post; perhaps it has recently become a title your friend has taken on and you’ve heard enough about it now to be curious. Maybe you’ve been thinking about this veganism thing for a while – this holy grail of health that is one of the internet’s favourite buzz words.

Basically, there’s been a lot of hype about veganism and this has sparked a lot of discussion and debate. When it comes down to it, though, it is like many other lifestyles – there are many ways to approach it, but the general idea is pretty simple. Let’s start with a neutral definition.


Veganism (noun)

UK  /ˈviː.ɡən.ɪ.zəm/ US  /ˈviː.ɡən.ɪ.zəm/

The practice of not eating or using any animal products, such as meat, fish, eggs, cheese, or leather:

Strict veganism prohibits the use of all animal products, not just food, and is a lifestyle choice rather than a diet.


When you think about it, veganism doesn’t have to be a big deal; the main hurdle to get over is the thought that it is ‘too hard’. The aim of this article is to show you how easy it can be to adjust your daily choices and get started on a more vegan lifestyle.

Quick disclaimer: I am not a medical professional, nutritionist or dietitian. This guide is informed by research, my own years of experience as a vegan and the experiences of other vegans I have spoken to (the wording there totally makes it sound like we are part of a cult, but we don’t bite and you don’t have to lock up your children or anything – promise). If you have any concerns, be sure to see a doctor about what personal needs should be met for you to safely and sustainably take on a vegan lifestyle.

Where to start?

Before we start talking about diet changes, it’s important to recognise the reasons why people go vegan. It is much easier to commit to a change when you have a strong belief in your reasoning for it. If you’re serious about committing to this lifestyle change – even if it is for a relatively short period to achieve a health goal or similar—do some research into the causes vegans support: positive environmental change and sustainability, animal welfare and activism against speciesism, health, and so on. At the bottom of this article will be some links to useful web resources you can check out to educate yourself.

Okay, onto diet.

Many main meals centre around the general formula of proteins, vegetables, and carbs. While vegetables are inherently already vegan, there is the fact that meat is still widely viewed as the main source of protein in many meals. On top of that, many carb-based dishes use dairy as a complement: for example, pasta with cream and cheese, pizza with cheese, cream-based sauces and so on. Understandably, trying to figure out where to start is a bit daunting and when you first start out, it will seem like meat and dairy is everywhere.

Often, people see this as challenging and limit themselves to only eating plain salads or only eating fries and bread with vegan butter, and not taking in any important nutrients; this is often (but not always) the reason the lifestyle “doesn’t work” for people or “made them unhealthy”. There are definitely many options that allow you to be vegan and enjoy your food, too – both whole foods and junk foods— but to get to that stage it is important to find food sources which serve as suitable replacements for the meats and dairy you’re used to.

Protein

The great thing about vegan protein sources is that they’re very versatile. Any one of the following foods can be used in an endless array of dishes and you’ll be able to experiment with them yourself easily and find many recipes on the internet. The list below is by no means exhaustive, but will give you a good start.

Chickpeas and beans

Chickpeas and many varieties of beans have a high protein content per serving—about 15 grams per cooked cup. They are also sources of complex carbs, fibre, iron, folate, potassium, and other nutrients. You can use them in both savoury (think burritos, chili, baked chickpeas and beans) and sweet dishes (The blog Chocolate Covered Katie has a good cookie cake recipe and black beans can add a high protein twist to a classic chocolate cake), making them a super versatile, inexpensive and delicious source of protein.

Quinoa

You may have heard health gurus and magazines harping on about quinoa being a superfood; considering the grain is a complete protein and high in fibre, iron, and many other nutrients, they have cause for their praise. A cup of cooked quinoa contains about 8-9 grams of protein.

Often described as tasting like something between brown rice and plain oatmeal, quinoa is very easy to prepare and is a great base for meals. It can be used to buff up salads, can be cooked as porridge, and act as a replacement for rice in meals, such as burritos, paella and risotto. Like chickpeas and beans, quinoa is usually very accessible and can be found at your local supermarket or grocer. In some stores it may be slightly more expensive than the other protein sources on this list, but for all of its benefits, it’s worth the extra buck.

Lentils

Lentils are a legume that are often compared to beans for their taste. Containing about 18 grams per cooked cup, lentils work really well as a substitute in savoury recipes. A quick search on the internet will turn up hundreds of lentil-based vegan recipes, such as lentil lasagne, dhal, curry, gratin, and many more. Dry, uncooked lentils keep for a long time and are very cheap, accessible and easy to cook, so they are an ideal protein base in vegan meals.

Nuts and nut butter

If you’re not allergic to any kind of nuts, you’re in luck. Nuts and their butters are a great source of protein for vegans and one of the most easy foods to incorporate into your diet.

Arguably the most popular kind of nut butter, peanut butter is very easily sourced and can be used in both sweet and savoury dishes, as well as snacks. For more specific ideas, the spread as it is can be put on sandwiches, crackers, rice cakes, and fruits and vegetables (apples and celery are popular options); it can also be used in cooked foods such as curries and cake. Peanut butter can easily be substituted by other nut butters, such as almond, hazelnut, cashew, macadamia and many more, though they are not typically as easy to find (nor as cheap to purchase) as peanut butter.

These nut butters clock in at 3 to 8 grams of protein per two tablespoons, depending which type you choose. To make your diet as healthy as possible, you can eliminate the sugars and additives found in many store-bought nut butters and go to a bulk foods place (such as The Source Bulk Foods if you live in Australia) – many of those places offer the option to make your own nut butter from the raw ingredients.

On their own, you can eat nuts as a snack—they are high in healthy fats and protein, but because of this they (as well as nut butters) are also high in calories, so if you aren’t looking to gain weight, manage your portion sizes when snacking on nuts. There are many kinds of nuts – peanuts, almonds, macadamias, pecans, walnuts, hazelnuts, pistachios, cashews, you name it – so there is bound to be a kind you can incorporate into your daily diet.

Soy protein sources

Tofu, tempeh and edamame are high protein soybean-based sources; per 100 grams, tofu contains 8 grams of protein, edamame contains 11 grams, and tempeh 19 contains grams.

Of the three, edamame is the least processed form of soy protein. These green beans are a form of soy bean which you can eat as a snack or an appetiser (you may have seen them as a side at sushi restaurants). You can also boil them, roast them or add them to salads and other dishes.

Tofu and tempeh are often used in vegan and vegetarian cooking as ‘meat replacements’ for their texture and for the way they take in. Firm tofu is useful in many savoury dishes, such as vegan burgers, stir fries and baked tofu; another variety, silken tofu, can be used to make vegan chocolate mousse and other desserts. In contrast to tofu, tempeh has a nutty flavour – a popular way to prepare it is to marinate it and bake, grill or pan fry it until crispy. Once cooked, the tempeh can be added to dishes in a similar way to tofu.

Nutritional yeast and spirulina

I have put these two in the same category not because they should be consumed together but because they are both more additives to meals than foods that stand alone on their own.

Nutritional yeast comes in the form of yellow flakes (they look sort of like fish food) or powder. Personally, I have nothing but the highest of praises for this additive—not only is it a source of protein (around 4 grams per two tablespoons), but it also contains B vitamins, including B12. Vitamin B12 is important to intake when on a vegan diet because it is one of the only things you cannot reliably source from plant wholefoods—this is because B12 is produced by the bacteria that occurs naturally in the digestive systems of animals; it can also be found in small amounts in soil and plants, which animals consume. This is why people who consume meat have access to B12 in their diet, whereas vegetarians and vegans—who consume neither meat nor soil—need some supplementary food products. On top of being a rare source of vitamin B12 for vegans, nutritional yeast also has the additional benefit of adding flavour to dishes; many vegan dishes call for nutritional yeast to add a nutty or cheesy flavour and creamy texture to dishes. You can use it as a garnish (in place of parmesan on pasta, for example), or add it while cooking in modified dishes like vegan macaroni and cheese. Nutritional yeast is not as easily accessible as the previous food items on this list; if you can’t find them in your local supermarket, try a health foods shop or a bulk foods place.

Spirulina is a blue-green algae – while this sounds gross, the consumption of it isn’t all too foreign of a concept. Spirulina comes in a powder that is similar to protein powders and instant drink powders, and is most commonly used as an additive to smoothies and smoothie bowls, protein balls, and (if you’re brave enough) a glass of water for a kick of protein – there are 8 grams of protein in two tablespoons in spirulina, so it is a kick of protein, indeed. Since it contains all the amino acids your body can’t produce on its own (but are essential to optimal function), spirulina is a complete protein and considered a ‘super food’. Like nutritional yeast, spirulina is not as easy to find and is also a little pricey; your best chance would be to shop around at health shops to familiarise yourself with brands and prices.

Dairy

Dairy is one of the more difficult things to replace in a vegan diet. While the nutrients dairy provides can easily be provided by supplements and other foods, dairy products are typically what makes food culture so enjoyable. Many people are held back from committing to a vegan lifestyle because they cannot imagine an enjoyable diet without milk, cheese, ice cream, yoghurt, and other dairy products. While the following recommendations are not perfect replacements (nothing can quite replace the exact taste and, in some cases, the texture of dairy products), they are options for delicious additions to your diet.

Dairy-free milks

There are many dairy-free milks out there, some being soy, almond, coconut, rice, and macadamia. While truthfully there is a marked difference in dairy-free beverages, especially coffee, many cafes now offer more than one dairy-free milk (as there are a lot of people with soy and nut allergies) and the delicious taste of their dairy-free options can be one you grow to prefer. One way to ease yourself into dairy-free milk is to try out the different kinds of milk and sample them in your drinks at your favourite cafes; you’ll find that you prefer some over others and that some places make dairy-free drinks better than others – you just need to have the patience to find that sweet spot.

Butter and cream

There are currently a few vegan butters on the market – one of the most accessible ‘butters’ is Nuttelex, which can be found in most mainstream supermarkets in Australia. You can also try specialty vegan food shops and health stores for other brands. One thing to note is that while these vegan butters are quite effective replacements, they are not healthy additions to your daily diet; make sure you have a balanced diet that does not revolve around dairy replacement products.

Cream, on the other hand, is a more difficult product to replace. There are brands, such as Tofutti, that do cream cheese replacements, but there aren’t very many that do cream replacements, let alone cream replacements which suitably imitate the texture and taste of dairy-based cream. The majority of currently existing products are soy or coconut based and can be found at vegan specialty and health shops. You can also try your hand at using coconut cream to replace cream in recipes; try Googling vegan coconut cream recipes to test out some preparation methods.

Ice cream

Surprisingly enough, ice cream has become one of the most easy dairy products to ‘make’ vegan. There now exist a variety of dairy-free and vegan ice creams across many brands, such as So Good, Ben and Jerry’s, Magnum, Cornetto, Zebra Dream, and many more. These brands are readily available at supermarkets and vegan specialty stores. You will also find that when you are eating out, most ice cream places will have either a dairy-free ice cream or gelato (sometimes both!) option, and that many waffle cones are vegan.

Yoghurt

If you’re a huge yoghurt buff, then rejoice for coconut yoghurt! Like many vegan ice cream options, coconut yoghurt is made by plenty of brands and is now sold at many supermarkets. If you are not a fan of coconut (the coconut flavour tends to be quite dominant), there are other varieties of vegan yoghurt, though these will be less accessible; you’ll likely have to go to a vegan specialty shop to find them.

Cheese

Of all the dairy products, cheese is probably the most difficult to replace. Unlike other dairy products—such as milk and ice cream, where the texture can be suitably imitated and a variance in taste actually works quite well—cheese is difficult in that both its solid form and taste are hard to mimic, and the way it melts is a difficult ask. There are many vegan cheese products out there, some more accessible than others (such as Bio-Cheese, which is sold at many Coles and Woolworths branches), some more particular in their taste and composition (The Green Edge in Lutwyche, Brisbane sells vegan ‘mozzarella’ and herbed cheeses), though in all honesty, there is not yet one perfect replacement that excels in taste, texture, appearance and melt-ability. One good thing is that if you like getting takeaway, there are several places now that offer vegan cheese options – Dominos in particular does a good vegan cheese option on their pizzas and garlic breads.

Something you could try is making vegan cheese yourself! At Miss Bliss, Head Chef Scarlett has created a vegan feta cheese recipe (shown below) which you can try at home:

Vegan Feta

1 package extra firm tofu 

2 tbsp white miso 

1/4 c apple cider vinegar 

1 tbsp oil

3 tbsp water 

2 tbsp nutritional yeast 

1 tbsp oregano

1/2 tsp garlic powder 

1/2 tsp salt

1/8 tsp chilli flakes 

 

1. Press tofu between weights for 2 hours . 

2. Whisk the remaining ingredients into a marinade together. 

3. Dice tofu and soak in marinade. 

4. Leave tofu to soak in marinade overnight. 

What else is there to eat?

So, apart from protein and dairy replacements, what else is there to eat as a vegan?

There are quite a few things you probably eat in your day-to-day life that are vegan – most plain bakery bread varieties, for example, are vegan; as are most dry pasta options at the supermarket. Vegetable soups, corn chips, rice crackers, popcorn, Pringles, are all vegan. If you need a quick meal, there are many ‘fake meats’ that are vegan and available at most supermarkets; Fry’s does a particularly good ‘schnitzel’. Many dark chocolate varieties are also vegan, as well as sweet biscuits (you’ll have to double check the ingredients – Woolworths does do a vegan Tim Tam, though!), if you want a treat. If you like honey, rice malt syrup and agave syrup are great and accessible vegan replacements.

The main trick is to get used to checking the ingredients of packaged items; you may be surprised by just how many food products you’re familiar with are vegan and soon enough, you’ll be used to checking. When you’re eating out, many places will offer at least one vegan option or if not, then an option that can be altered to be vegan-friendly – it’s as simple as asking.

 

Web resources for vegan education

The following are resources you can use to educate yourself on veganism in the areas that motivate vegans in their lifestyle. Click on or search any of the below for a deeper insight on why people choose to live this lifestyle.

Health:

Vegan protein sources: https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/protein-for-vegans-vegetarians

Vegan recipes by Angela Liddon: https://ohsheglows.com/

Vegan Recipe Club: https://www.veganrecipeclub.org.uk/?gclid=Cj0KCQiAvqDiBRDAARIsADWh5Tel4kRia6VXOnIHz6ujRBI_Cd9BTreVLDKPLqTvQSE2hIZamwXjdlUaAiOeEALw_wcB

More recipes: http://www.vegweb.com/

Vegan food bloggers: https://chooseveg.com/blog/the-11-food-bloggers-every-vegan-should-follow/

What the Health documentary (available on Netflix)

Forks Over Knives documentary (available on Netflix)

Environmental:

https://sweetsimplevegan.com/2018/05/the-environmental-impact-of-veganism/

https://www.yourdailyvegan.com/environment/

Bite Size Vegan YouTube Channel (a good source for everything vegan related): https://www.youtube.com/BiteSizeVegan

Meat the Truth documentary (available online)

Before the Flood documentary (available on Netflix)

Racing Extinction documentary (available online)

Planeat documentary (available online)

Animals:

https://www.veganaustralia.org.au/animals

https://www.animalequality.net/veganism

Gary Yourofsky’s Best Speech Ever: https://youtu.be/es6U00LMmC4

James Aspey vegan speech: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KHOcox2lvQo

Earthlings documentary (available online)

Cowspiracy documentary (available on Netflix)

Blackfish documentary (available online)


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Rochelle Auman

Rochelle is a lifestyle blogger and a creative industries student at QUT, majoring in creative & professional writing and interactive & visual design. She takes pride in framing the perfect shots and aesthetic in her photos and is passionate about fashion, health and sustainability. In her spare time, she loves writing short stories, cuddling animals and going to cute cafés with her friends. 

IG: @aumanro

W: aumanro

Rochelle Auman

Rochelle is a lifestyle blogger and a creative industries student at QUT, majoring in creative & professional writing and interactive & visual design. She takes pride in framing the perfect shots and aesthetic in her photos and is passionate about fashion, health and sustainability. In her spare time, she loves writing short stories, cuddling animals and going to cute cafés with her friends. 

IG: @aumanro