How Can I Make the Switch to a Vegan Lifestyle?
Many people are considering making the shift to a vegan diet—for their own health, as well as the health of the planet and animals. But how do you get started? Today I’m answering your top nutrition questions on how to make the switch to a vegan lifestyle.
Question: I’m looking to make the conversion to a vegan lifestyle. Where should I start? I’ll give you another hint. I spend 6 days in the gym. So I’ll need my energy/protein. -Dave
Dave, it’s not as difficult as you might think to make a switch to a vegan lifestyle. And people of all ages and lifestyles can make the change—even those who are physically active. If you take a look at the world of athletics and physical fitness, you will see that it is crowded with plant-based athletes, including wrestlers, body builders, football players, and runners. The important thing about taking on a plant-based lifestyle is to plan well. If you don’t meet your nutrient needs, then you may feel a lack of energy, and become discouraged and drop this diet. And there are multiple benefits linked with the vegan diet, including improved health, lower risk of chronic diseases, lower inflammation, and reduced environmental impact—not to mention benefits to animals.
I recommend two approaches for taking on a vegan diet: 1) Take a one-month veg challenge; 2) Start increasing plant foods and in your diet over a period of a few months—gradually eliminating animal foods—until you arrive at a vegan diet. Either way, the diet should be balanced and filled with nutrient-rich, whole plant foods at each meal instead of highly processed plant foods (i.e., snacks, sweets, fast foods). A vegan diet should include whole grains, plant proteins (pulses, soy foods, nuts, seeds), vegetables, fruits, and healthy fats (olives/oil, avocados, nuts, seeds) at each meal. In addition, it’s important to supplement with vitamin B12, and consider supplementation with algal oil (DHA and EPA) and vitamin D, depending on your specific needs. It’s always a good idea to make an appointment with a plant-based dietitian, who can help you develop a meal plan that is right for your specific needs.
If you are an athlete, you will need more protein and calories than the average person, so you will need to include more servings of plant proteins, as well as whole grains and healthy fats, to meet your higher energy needs. There are lots of resources for helping you make the switch—finding a few friends who are vegan can also help you feel right at home along your journey. Check out some of these resources for some of my favorite ways to make the conversion to a vegan diet:
You’ll also find a wealth of vegan recipes on my blog, such as my Chana (Chickpea) Masala with Brown Rice.
Please let me know how it goes!
Eat and Live Well,
Check out the other nutrition questions I’m answering at The Plant-Powered Dietitian:
About Ask Sharon:
As part of my program “Ask Sharon”, I am answering the top question of the month submitted through my blog, Facebook, Twitter or Instagram to answer here. You can even win a prize! Don’t forget to submit your burning nutrition question this month via my blog, or other social media. Here is my favorite question this month.
Image: fresh produce at a local farmers market, Sharon Palmer, RDN