How do you switch to a vegan/plant-based diet? This is a question I get asked a lot in real life and when recently someone asked me I realized: I’ve never written anything about this. That’s a sin, because such a post would be so convenient to refer these people to. This way I provide a detailled overview. So today it is finally a here: a guide on how to go vegan*.
Why go Vegan
The list of things I want to write about on this blog is long, very, very long. That’s a good thing! But it also means that I haven’t yet provided all the information I want just yet. And why to go vegan is one of them. That question will be covered by a number of posts. I have written about ethical reasons to not consume dairy or eggs, but meat and honey are still on the list. Also, that’s only the ethical part, but there’re also other reasons. Health, environment and compassion for others humans to name a few. Besides that, veganism is not only about food. Vegans don’t wear leather, wool or any other product made out of or taken from animals. They don’t go to zoos, circuses or dolphinaria either. More about that later. Today is about the practical side of eating vegan. I want to provide practical steps to help you in this process.
The easiest way to go cold turkey vegan is to substitute every single item. What it simply comes down to is to buy a substitute for everything you would normally buy. In The Netherlands this is best done at Albert Heijn or Ekoplaza (all organic and so this costs more), they literally have everything except for one thing. Vegan eggs are not available yet, use tofu for scrambled eggs and baking powder for baking. Other than that: cook like you normally do, but buy the vegan alternative for every animal products. Need gravy? Buy vegan gravy. Need yoghurt? Buy vegan yoghurt. Need whipped cream? Buy vegan whipped cream. It’s literally as simple as that. It is costly because unfortunately vegan products aren’t subsidized by governments like animal products are, I have to say that, but it’s the easiest way. Later on the process you can cut down on costs again.
2. Pick Your Favorites
After you tried a vegan alternative, you decide whether you like it enough. If you do, stick to it. If you don’t, pick another brand. Some brands just taste better than others. I am planning on making a list of all my favorite vegan products for every animal product. This way you can refer to this list. I’ll hope it’ll be on here soon. In regular supermarkets there are some products which only have one vegan alternative, like fish (I think Albert Heijn only has vegan fish burgers to substitute fish for example). But that’s an exception. Most products have multiple vegan replacements. Cow milk for example. There are at least 30 types of plant milk. Same goes with yoghurt, meat, mayonaise, honey and the list goes on. So if you picked a vegan alternative you don’t like, pick another one! See which one is your favorite. And if you tried all flavors in the Albert Heijn and you don’t like anything, order online. Veggie4U is the place to go for vegan food. They have so many different brands. From Lobster to Marshmallows. It’s a Walhalla and I personally haven’t even tried 10% of all their food because they have so much to offer (literally and figuratively).
There’s one supplement every vegan should take: vitamin B12. You need to eat that in pill or spray form. B12 is vitamin which is essential and only found in animal products. Here’s why: the animals get it supplemented too. B12 is a plant-based bacteria which is found in healthy soil (therefore you should obtain enough by eating plants, just like animals used to). Yet, we use so many pesticides on our lands and so this bacteria has died off. That’s the reason it’s supplemented to animals and that’s why vegans (who don’t then eat again those animals) need to as well. The dosis recommended by the Dutch nutrition center (which I don’t completely trust since they’re sponsored by the meat and dairy industry. But well, it’s the best source I have now) is around 2,8 micrograms each day (but this depends on your age). I recommend this brand**, which is 250% of the recommended dosis, but vitamin B12 can be stored in the body and I take the supplement once every 3 days. They are organic, plant-based and zero waste.
But then, I personally also want to raise attention to Omega 3. Omega 3 is provided in a healthy plant-based diet by different kinds of food. However, the traditional Dutch diet is not varied at all. Dutch people eat a lot of bread and little fruits, vegetables, beans and nuts. Therefore find it necessary to raise your attention to Omega 3. When I went vegan I made easy switches just like I mentioned above but never ate anything that contains Omega 3 simply because those food are not typically Dutch. Omega 3 is found in linseed(oil), chia-seed, rapeseed, walnuts and algae (guess where fish get it from?). Except for a few walnuts here and there I never ate any of those things because I had barely heard of them. And so my advice to you is: implement these products into your diet! All the seeds and algae powders can be put in vegan yoghurts or desserts, walnuts can be eaten whole and add algae to your salads (you can buy dried flakes and they’re honestly delicious!) or eat them as a snack (my favorite).
What I also want to mention: in The Netherlands most people (non-vegans and vegans) have a deficiency in Vitamin D. Vitamin D is a vitamin which you get from sunlight and so being outside as much as you can is best (not only for vitamin D!). However, scientist think that the sun in The Netherlands is just not strong enough (especially in winter) to provide Dutch people with enough vitamin D. I therefore supplement this too. The dosis recommended by the Dutch nutrition center (which I don’t completely trust since they’re sponsored by the meat and dairy industry, but for now I don’t have better sources) is around 10 micrograms each day (but this depends on your age). I use this brand**, which is 10 micrograms per pill, I take one a day. They are organic, plant-based and zero waste.
4. Inform Yourself
What has helped me in the beginning is to inform myself. Why I am doing this again? I read books and watched documentaries. I personally get very motivated by doing this, because it really makes you more confident in your knowledge. In our current culture of 2020 it is accepted to eat animals and animal products. It is even preached, subsidized and taught from a young age. If you choose not to, people will not understand at first. This can be hard, but if you know what you’re doing it, you’ll be fine. Documentaries and books help in this proces. This way you know why you want to do this and why this is in line with your morals and values. If you are looking for inspiration, check the inspiration button on this blog. I have posts about books and documentaries listed there and soon I will make a list of all the documentaries and books I wrote about by category. For now I would recommend: Cowspiracy, Earthlings, The best Speech You Will Ever Hear and The Gamechangers. I also follow a lot of vegans and vegan dietitians (yes, those excise) online, this helps too. One dietician I really like is Lobke Faasse, she is very active on social media as well. And if you’re looking for vegan recipes, my personal favorites are WatEetJeDanWel ( unfortunately only in Dutch) and Gaz Oakley.
5. Find Support
As I just mentioned: our society isn’t vegan yet. In my case I knew literally nobody who lived vegan and so I was surrounded by non-vegans who don’t understand. People think you’re crazy or radical. And if you don’t know anyone else with the same beliefs who you can to about veganism, life can get lonely. Find support and stay connected to not feel alone. Because, well, you certainly aren’t! There are millions of vegans around the world, just maybe not in your circle. Find them! Follow vegans on social media or join a vegan group who does physical meet-ups. Being around like-minded people is just so much fun!
6. Check Yourself
Ever since I’ve gone vegan I’ve felt great. Never have I felt this good! But I know that this isn’t the case for everyone. And if you don’t feel good or healthy, you can’t be vegan. Sacrificing your personal health is never the purpose. A vegan diet can be everything you need, but sometimes you’re just missing something within your diet (certain vitamins or minerals). I would advice to use the app Cronometer every once in a while. It’s an app in which you can fill in what you eat in a certain day. The app then shows you if you’ve met all your nutritional needs. Check out the post above that I wrote about it. If you don’t feel good or feel good but just want to check in, use the app on a random day. This way you’ll know which foods to eat more of. And be aware: most Dutch people eat too much food in general and too much of specific macro’s, like protein. Marketing is strong and so most people believe they need to eat a lot of protein, while the World Health Organization advices to only eat 0,66 – 0,8 grams per kilograms of weight (for me that means between 36 and 45 grams of protein) . Like I said above: educate yourself. And be aware of marketing, companies want to make money and so they manipulate us to do so. Another double-win advice: become a plasma or blood donor! I am one too and this way your blood and health (like your blood pressure and iron) gets checked every time you go there. It’s such a win-win! You save lives and check on your own health at the same time. If you really don’t feel well, go see a doctor. They’re the real experts. They can run a test to see if you have any deficiencies. If you do, go to see a vegan dietician to fill up the gap. But never ever compromise your health.
7. Remove Products
Then, if you’re a more experiences vegan, you can edit your diet again. That’s because processed food is never healthy. A whole-foods plant-based diet is the diet humans thrive on. So far, you’ve only substituted the animal products by vegan products. This means you still follow a typical Dutch (or any other) diet, which contains a lot of processed food and empty calories. Try getting rid of the substitutes you bought in step 1 and 2 again and replace them with whole-foods. I am still working on this too, because a whole-foods plant-based diet is not something you achieve easily in the Dutch society. Temptation is everywhere and that’s okay too. To name a few examples. One: I recently ditched vegan yoghurt in the morning for a smoothie with fresh vegetables, herbs and fruits. Instead of empty calories I start my day with a bomb of vitamins and nutrient. Two: I am avoiding the instant meat replacements like the Beyond Meat burgers (which are so, so good!) by whole-foods like tofu, seitan or tempeh. It takes some marinating skills, but it is far healthier and less processed. Three: only eating whole-wheat grains. For pancakes, bread, rice, pasta, everything!
8. Be Kind
Then the last, but certainly not least important step! Be kind to yourself. It’s okay if you’re not perfect. You’ll learn throughout the process. You can only do your best. You’ll most definitely fail, I did too. When you think something is vegan and it isn’t for example. Or when you are a guest at someone else and don’t dare to refuse at first. It’s okay! We all went through this. Every day you’ll learn and do better next time. But be kind to yourself! It’s supposed to be fun!
*disclaimer: I am not a doctor or dietician. This post is therefore no medical advice or guarantee. It is just a practical guide to make the process of going vegan easy.
**This post, just like any other post on this blog is not sponsored. I buy every single thing myself and never receive products or money from companies. I do this because I want to present my own opinion, 100% bias-free.