How To Start A Vegan Diet That Is Actually Healthy
Starting a vegan diet can be challenging in many ways. Maybe you’ve tried the vegan diet and it did not go well, or you would like to start or ease into a more plant based diet for health or weight reasons.
Today you will learn how to start a vegan diet that is actually healthy, what a plant based diet is, the benefits and possible deficiencies, how to ease into a healthy vegan diet, transformation stories, how to stay motivated, create meal plans, and more. Below is a quick overview of this article for your convenience:
- What can you eat as a vegan?
- Whole food plant based diet vs. vegan diet
- Are vegans healthier?
- The vegan food pyramid
- Possible vegan deficiencies
- Is it cheaper to be vegan?
- Transitioning to a healthy vegan diet
- 22 Changes to consider for an easy transition into a healthy vegan diet
- How to stay motivated during a vegan transition (+transformation stories)
- Challenges you might face
- Can I lose weight on the vegan diet?
- Helpful Resources
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What can you eat as a vegan?
Let’s talk about what you can’t eat as a vegan first. You cut out everything that is animal food or comes from an animal: Meat, fish, milk, other dairy, eggs, and such. That leaves you with what you can eat: Vegetables, fruits, legumes, whole grains, nuts and seeds. Of course sugar is vegan as well as maple syrup and even snacks like potato chips and oreos.
Whole food plant based diet vs. vegan diet
The whole food plant based diet focuses on whole foods instead of just vegan foods. For example: Olive oil is vegan but not a whole food. Oils are processed and all the fiber is removed. Oils even contain saturated fat (similar to animal fat). There is nothing in oil that your body needs, and therefore you can simply cut it out.
Are vegans healthier?
If you choose to start a vegan diet, I suggest leaning towards eating whole foods most of the time. A whole food plant based diet is the healthiest vegan diet. If you don’t experience health issues, it is okay to include oil and sugar on occasion, but try to keep your consumption focused on whole foods as much as possible to get your best health benefits.
The vegan diet is indicated as the most healthy diet concerning body weight, nutritional intake, and nutritional quality (source).
The vegan food pyramid
It is also important (as in any diet) to balance all macronutrients (carbs, fats, protein). The vegan diet is naturally very high in carbs, but it can be very high in protein as well and still low in grains. For example, my vegan weight loss pyramid is very high in fruits and vegetables and low in grains, compared to the vegan food pyramid by nutritiously that is high in grains but still high in fruits and veggies.
Possible vegan deficiencies
No matter what diet you follow, you need to make sure to get adequate nutrition. You can track your daily food intake with cronometer to get an overview of all your vitamins, minerals, fats, carbs, protein, calories, and more.
Whether you’re vegan or not you can eat too much fat or eat too starch heavy. You may not eat enough fruits and veggies (yes, even on a vegan diet). So all food preferences can have health risks. For example: 97% of Americans are potassium deficient but only 6% of Americans are vegan. This means that non-vegans experience this deficiency.
In this post I will talk about possible deficiencies that are more typical for a vegan diet, but a well-planned vegan diet should not be problematic. The only necessary supplement vegans should take is B12. Any other nutrient deficiency is not vegan specific.
Is it cheaper to be vegan?
You can spend a boatload of money on any diet if you buy exotic superfoods. The statement that “eating healthy is expensive” is a total myth. Here is an example: One of my older chicken fajita recipes (before I went vegan) costs about $2.00 to $2.20 per serving and my new vegan fajita rice bowl recipe is $1.70 per serving, and this sweet potato chili is only $1.30 per serving.
It also depends on your shopping habits, such as buying snacks, juices, and other non-essential items which can drive your grocery bill up. After starting a vegan diet you most likely won’t be going to the drive-thru and eating out as much, which will help save you a lot of money.
Transitioning to a healthy vegan diet
Like mentioned above, you don’t just want to eat vegan but rather eat healthy (whole food plant based). With this in mind, there are multiple practical steps you can take to ease into a healthy plant based diet. Focus on one small step at a time to manage this change in habits. You can do this on your own time. For example: If you feel really overwhelmed you can start to cut out only red meat on week one. If you are more motivated you can start to cut all meat out in week one.
I took more radical steps and just stopped eating anything non-vegan and threw all the non-vegan food out or gave it to friends. Now, this might not be the best idea because your body is not used to all the fiber and you might not know what food to prepare.
So make sure this is all on your time and keep making small changes.
- Switch white grains (bread, cereal, pasta) with whole grains (brown rice, quinoa)
- Cut out lunch meat
- Cut out red meat
- Reduce meat intake to twice a week
- Cut out all meat and add 1-2 cups of beans a day
- Cut out fish
- Cut out eggs
- Cut out dairy (use almond or soy milk)
- Cut out bread from your diet (unless it is a whole wheat bread without oil and sugar)
- Avoid the drive-thru
- Cut back on going out to eat and start cooking at home more often
- Cut out energy drinks/sweet teas and replace with water, herbal teas, or fruit infused waters
- Switch to a power breakfast with whole oats, nuts, seeds, berries
- Start snacking on veggies with hummus dip in-between
- Cut back on sugary desserts
- If you want that sweet dessert, grab a sweet fruit instead
- Ditch the coffee sweetener and buy quality coffee to enjoy it black
- Instead of cooking with oil start cooking with water (water-fry/steam)
- Eat close to nature: Don’t eat processed items like oils, sugar, juices, but rather eat whole food
- Start reading labels and leave everything out that contains added sugar, oils, and things you can’t even spell
- Cut out all pre-packaged and processed foods
- Work on your dinner plate: 2 cups veggies, 3/4 cup beans, 1/2-1 cup cooked whole grains. If you have a hard time with this, switch to these ratios gradually by adding more veggies each time until you reach the 1/2 plate
You can cut back on meat by eating a vegan dinner every other night. Soon your taste buds will get used to this and you will realize that vegan food tastes good and there really is no need to include meat.
Once you leave out the packaged snacks, fruits will actually taste pretty sweet and fruits alone will satisfy your “sugar cravings.”
How to stay motivated during a vegan transition
Do it on your own time
If you feel overwhelmed, simply take a step back. If cutting out meat is too much, go ahead and try one vegan dinner recipe per week. Then increase slowly. Remember each small step counts and is very important. It is not about being perfect but making better choices. Each small step will bring you closer to better health. It is better to “only” eat one vegan meal per week than throwing in the towel.
Keep educating yourself
One of the biggest motivations for sticking with the vegan diet is consistent education. This can be as easy as watching videos with documented scientific sources. There are many vegan vloggers on Youtube that I subscribe to and their videos helped me so much to stick with the diet long term. Here are some of my favorites:
Meal plan ahead of time
Once you meal plan your whole week it is so much easier to grocery shop and stay motivated during the week. You already have all the ingredients at home to cook healthy and delicious meals so you can meal prep ahead of time or make freezer meals to have dinner ready on busy days.
If you have a hard time meal planning, make sure to check out my pre-planned meal plans to see what I eat during the day, or view my recipes to create your own vegan meal plan. I use simple ingredients and usually stay on a budget with my meal plans. I also like to spend less than 30 minutes cooking.
Read transformation stories
Reading others’ stories on how a plant based diet transformed their lives will definitely help you stick with it!
#1 From heart attack that almost killed, to dropping 55 pounds and running a half marathon.
“I was told I would be on heart medication for the rest of my life. My cardiologist would see me once a year. He said I could eat four eggs per week and that I should stick to lean meats. He didn’t say anything else about altering my diet.”
#2 Cancer remission with a whole food plant based diet.
“Nearly two years to the day after my initial diagnosis I went back in for follow-up tests (another MRI and biopsy) and was shocked to learn that my cancer was in remission.”
#3 How a 7 year old girl got off ADHD meds and reversed prediabetes.
“Eliminating animal products from our diets and eating only plant-based foods has reversed a potentially deadly disease, improved Kira’s focus and energy, and has expanded her knowledge of foods that are grown and not born. She has also lost almost 30 pounds, is no longer on any medications, is symptom-free, and plays soccer and basketball! She has saved her own life by saving the lives of others.”
Challenges you might face
Hidden Animal Foods
You might think you eliminated all non-vegan foods, but sometimes they hide in everything. For example McDonalds fries are cooked in oil but they put beef stock powder on it. Supplements have hidden animal sourced ingredients, too (ex. Omega 3, gelatin). Be sure to make a quick google search before going to restaurants and read each ingredients label before buying things.
If you eat the same volume of food that you did before, you are consuming less calories. This is great if you want to lose weight. I lost 5 pounds pretty quickly just by eating a healthy vegan diet without “trying” to lose weight. It came to the point where I woke up in the middle of the night hungry because my body was not used to more nutrients on less calories. I had to bump my food intake by 300 -500 calories to maintain weight. I increased the amount of breakfast and made a smoothiebefore bed.
Most Americans eat 10g of fiber a day, which is way too low (25g recommended). Because of this, switching to a high fiber diet could cause some initial bloating. If this is a concern, start including vegan meals step by step. One week switch up your breakfast, the second week add 2 vegan dinners, and so on. This will help your body adjust. Also, Fennel tea is a great natural remedy for bloating.
As you can see, you have to make sure you are getting adequate nutrition and take it easy. Use cronometer for a while to record and properly adjust your food consumption.
Telling your friends you are eating a vegan diet and going to parties will be a challenge. Your friends might ask questions, start a discussion, make fun of you, or you could be surrounded by great people that are nothing but happy for you. You can come up with a short answer (2 sentences) on why you made the decision to eat a vegan diet just to be prepared when talking to friends and family about your decision.
Before you have a get together ask what food will be available and see if there is anything for you to eat. You can always bring a dish or eat before you go. If you don’t tell anyone that you changed your diet and you bring a dish, people just think you are nice. You can eat what you brought and maybe have some veggies, chips, or other items that are available and vegan at the party. Most likely, the people around you won’t even notice what is on your plate and that you eat differently, hence there won’t be an unwanted discussion or annoying questions.
Learning new recipes and cooking
Learning to cook with plants will be different. You’ll learn a new skill, but there are so many recipes online with many vegan cookbooks for any lifestyle and taste that you can choose from to make this process easy.
You will find that it is actually so much easier and faster to cook vegan meals! My go-to easy recipes are whole wheat spaghetti with marinara sauce and steamed broccoli. I blend one can of beans with the marinara sauce in a mixer and then warm the sauce. Tacos with beans, salsa, or pico de gallo and guacamole is another easy way to make a vegan dinner. Use my recommendation list for more inspiration.
Can I lose weight on the vegan diet?
As mentioned above, it is very easy to lose weight on a vegan diet, and it’s healthy as well. The vegan diet is indicated as the most healthy diet concerning body weight, nutritional intake, and nutritional quality (source). If you choose a healthy lifestyle you will automatically lose weight. But even moreso, you will increase the quality of your life long-term and avoid preventable diseases.
“In a recent study, restricting dietary fat led to body fat loss at a rate 68 percent higher than cutting the same number of carbohydrate calories when adults with obesity ate strictly controlled diets.” (source)
This study shows that if you follow a low carb diet you will still lose weight, but a lot of the weight loss takes place as water weight loss or loss of muscle mass. This might be an option if you only want to lose weight quickly, but if you are really serious about long term fat loss and improved health you should go with the vegan diet and enjoy the (complex) carbs!
The main focus of weight loss should be to reach optimal health on a sustainable diet, not just follow a fad diet for a period of time.
Please read: The Ultimate Vegan Weight Loss Guide
Vegan Diet Recommendations Full List: Be sure to check out the full list of vegan lifestyle and cooking must haves! From most used kitchen tools, to books, weight loss guides, meal planning tools, and seasoning. Head over to check it out.
The vegan quick start guide: This guide will give you easy recipes under 30 minutes to start a vegan diet without feeling overwhelmed. All recipes are low fat and budget friendly. The guide contains a example meal plan with a rundown of the nutritional value plus many health and weight loss/muscle gain tips.
From A to Vegan: If you want to go all in, I highly recommend this comprehensive vegan starter kit to learn everything about a healthy, balanced vegan diet. It will help you with weight loss, more energy, and all around better health. It comes with recipes, meal plans, printables, tracking sheets, and more. You can head over to get more information here.
Vegan weight loss guide: Based on scientific methods that reverse and prevent common diseases, this guide will help you lose weight and find a healthy lifestyle in a non-restricting way. It provides vegan recipes that fuel and fill you, promote weight loss, without counting calories or starving. See what’s all included here.