Thinking of going more vegan or vegetarian for the climate, or already taken the plunge and committed to doing Veganuary? Good news! There’s never been a better time to start on the path to a predominantly plant-based diet.
Shops and cafes are releasing more vegan options than ever. Online, you’ll find inspiring Instagram accounts for plant-based products and recipes, and documentaries about the positive health impacts of reducing animal products in your diet.
More and more people are choosing to go plant-based for health, environmental, economic or ethical reasons. These 10 tips will be useful if you’re doing so too.
1. Go back to basics – most food is plant-based!
Some of the most nutritious – and cheapest – plant-based foods are probably already on your radar, maybe already in your kitchen. Think tins of chickpeas, beans and lentils. Grains like pasta, rice, cous cous, noodles, bread and all the fruit and vegetables you can imagine, many of which come tinned or frozen. Then there’s all the different types of tofu, nuts and seeds, and all the various nut butters.
Don’t forget, lots of flavour comes from spices, herbs, oils, stock cubes and other seasonings. Also, many ready-made sauces now come in vegan versions.
2. Know your nutrients – and the classic vegan alternatives
Maybe you’re worried about missing out on filling protein, that umami taste sensation or those tender, melty textures you’re so used to? There are plenty of solutions.
Did you know that seitan – which you can make at home using wheat gluten – is as high in protein as meat? And some yeast extracts, nutritional yeast flakes and coconut milks are fortified with vitamin B12. (Many people think this can only be found in meat and dairy but there are plenty of other sources.)
You don’t even have to switch to margarine – vegan butters now even come in blocks, which work really well on toast and can be used in baking too.
In terms of texture, many vegan cheeses melt really well. Oh and tofu scrambles like eggs, and jackfruit pulls like pork.
Sticking to a vegan diet doesn't mean you have to totally give up your favourite foods! pic.twitter.com/ezqsm4T27H
— BuzzFeed UK (@BuzzFeedUK) January 8, 2020
3. Find your favourite plant-based milk
If you love a latte or a cappuccino, or a creamy cup of builder’s tea, there’ll be a plant-based milk to satisfy your cravings for a cuppa – you just gotta find the one for you. Many swear by oat milk – it has advantages over soya for not curdling in coffee, and uses less water to produce than almond milk.
If you want to go really pro, you can even make your own at home, saving on money and packaging. And cream cheese can even be made from cashews – no live farm animals required.
4. Get the family on board
Cooking for a carnivorous household? Show them how good plant-based food can be. Try out the many excellent substitutes for meat and cheese products – and look for vegan versions of classic comfort food recipes.
On a budget or don’t fancy buying loads of processed products? Anything made with mince can be made with soaked, cooked lentils, for example – making easy family meals much cheaper and arguably a whole lot healthier too.
5. Plan your meals, keep it simple, and cook your favourites in bulk
When you get home from work, tired and hungry, the last thing you want to do is spend 45 minutes having to think creatively about your meal. Planning out even just a couple of simple plant-based meals you can whip up quickly will stand you in good stead for a month-long marathon. Maybe cook in bulk and freeze it if you can.
6. Pack for snack attacks
Pack snacks. Buy nuts, or your favourite high-protein bar, in bulk online. This can really help if you’re travelling, or if you live, work or commute in an area void of good vegan food options. And everyone loves the friend who always has snacks.
7. Join a #vgang
You won’t be the only person trying Veganuary, and anyone who knows any new or passionate vegans knows that they love to share advice. Ask family and friends, and post about your experiences on Facebook or Instagram. You could even arrange to buddy up with a pro you can call on for recipe-planning or advice.
8. Progress, not perfection
Set realistic goals, and don’t be too hard on yourself if you don’t meet them perfectly. Even doing one day or one meal a week will help reduce the pressure on our environment (and bodies) from meat and dairy. Celebrate each meat and dairy-free meal as a triumph – they all count!
If you’re doing Veganuary for the first time, why not plan a weekly ‘cheat’ meal? Choose high-quality, local farm produce – the transition to predominantly plant-based eating should also support farming communities.
9. Focus on the benefits
Colourful plates of well-prepared vegetables, beans and grains are delicious and nutritious (and hugely Instagrammable).
Vegan junk food is also a big deal right now. And guaranteed you’ll feel much more virtuous after a seitan burger or bucket than their chicken equivalent.
Keep a note of how much you’re saving and how much better you feel, so you can see the benefits building up.
10. Attraction, not promotion
This should go without saying, but do be kind to others when enthusing about your new regime. Lecturing people on their diet never works. Tempt the skeptics with a delicious plant-based meal or recipe instead.
Also, know that when it comes to food, it’s personal – and everyone has an opinion. You don’t have to justify what you eat or don’t eat to anyone. But if you do get questions, you could take the opportunity to explain why you’re doing it, and what the benefits are for you.