Swapping from a standard Australian omnivorous diet to one completely free of all animal products can be daunting, I completely understand! I see many clients time and time again wanting to transition to a vegan diet because they understand all the facts regarding the health, environmental and ethical benefits that a plant-based diet can provide, but simply don’t know where to start. So I’ve compiled a list of top tips to help you get started.
1. Don’t go vegan overnight
Yes it is possible for some people to go vegan overnight. If that’s you, that’s fantastic! But for the majority of us, thinking about what we need to eat for breakfast, morning tea, lunch, afternoon tea, dinner and dessert starting tomorrow can be quite overwhelming. Personally for me, I went pescatarian, then vegetarian, then eventually vegan. I needed that long process to get used to the changes involved. Every step in the right direction counts. Do some research about veganism before, speak to someone who has already transitioned or speak to a health care professional. You know you the best, and you need to find out the best method that suits you, your lifestyle and your dietary habits.
2. Have a support network
The number of vegan individuals, products and restaurants in Australia is on the rise. This also means, there are more people around that don’t look at you with a really weird expression on their face when you say “I think I want to go vegan”. People are becoming more aware and open to different dietary habits and beliefs. If you have some friends that are vegan or vegetarian already, that’s fantastic! Ask them about their journey and for any good recipes or tips. Most people are happy to help! If you’re alone in your transition, join some Facebook groups in your local area. In Brisbane alone I think I’m on about 10 different Facebook pages (it can get overwhelming if you join too many!) – but some include Plant Powered Brisbane, Brisbane Vegans, Brisbane Vegans Unite just to name a few. In addition to this, there are also a growing number of events around, such as the monthly Brisbane Vegan Markets which always provide a great opportunity to meet other likeminded individuals.
3. Check out local vegan restaurants
I cannot recommend the website Happy Cow enough. It’s an easy to use online guide to find vegan/vegetarian friendly restaurants in your local area. One of the biggest tips I give to my client’s is to go out and eat! This is the best way to try a variety of new foods, textures and flavours (like tofu, tempeh and legumes) without the risk of having a cooking experiment go horribly wrong. Write down what dishes you like and use them for inspiration. When I was an omnivore I really enjoyed chicken curries, so I started trying to find vegan restaurants that had similar dishes. If you follow me on instagram (little plus @plantnutritionwellness) you would know my biggest quick and easy, go-to weekday meals is my tasty chickpea and tofu curry!
4. Try lots and lots of different milks ("mylks")
We live in an era where if you head to the local supermarket you are sure to find almost ten different types of milks or “mylks”. There's cow, almond, soy, hemp, cashew, macadamia, oat and rice just to name a few. When trying a different milk for the first time, be open to the different textures and flavours and try many, multiple times. Just like when children are first trying a new foods, it can take 10-20 exposure of a food to actually start to like and accept it. I personally found soy milk to be my preference and the easiest to switch over as it is quite thick and creamy, similar to cows milk.
5. Phase out meat slowly
Try and reduce your meat bit by bit. Start off with having meat free Mondays, then move into meat-free lunches and possibly still having meat for dinner. Then, incorporate more veggie-based proteins in with your meat dishes such as tofu, tempeh, chickpeas or legumes. Next, slowly start to reduce the portions of meat you’re having and include some solely plant-based dishes. Eventually, increase the plant-based dishes and see how long you can spread out the meat dishes.
6. Swap it, don’t stop it.
This is probably my biggest recommendation. Time and time again I see client’s come into my clinic with nutritional deficiencies after starting a vegan diet. This does not have to happen. I repeat, this does not have to happen. When cutting out parts of important food groups – e.g. meat from the meat and alternatives food group and dairy from the dairy and alternatives food group, it is important to make the appropriate swaps to ensure you are not reducing the nutrients you are consuming. For example, when cutting out meat ensure to swap this to tofu, tempeh, legumes and nuts/seeds to provide adequate protein and iron. When cutting out cow-based dairy products, ensure to swap to calcium-fortified plant milk (soy, almond, etc.) as well as include calcium-set tofu and plenty of Asian greens in your diet to provide adequate calcium. Most importantly of all, Vitamin B12 must be supplemented! Although I may be biased being a dietitian myself, I HIGHLY recommend speaking to a health care professional, such as a dietitian, who specialises in vegan nutrition to ensure you are getting all the essential nutrients you need when making the switch.
Kiah Paetz is an Accredited Practising Dietitian and founder of Plant Nutrition and Wellness. She operates her private practice clinic at North Lakes, Hamilton and offers online consultations via Skype/Facetime. For bookings, please call 3040 6911 or contact firstname.lastname@example.org