Switching to a Vegan Diet? Here are 7 Tips to Start Your Journey

Here are some healthy tips to start your journey of eating a vegan diet, including making veggies the star of the meal and finding new plant-based proteins.

An Asian woman cutting vegetables on a kitchen counter filled with fruits and vegetables

So, you’ve decided to start going on a vegan diet. Well done! There are many benefits to yourself and Mother Earth by excluding all animal meat and animal-sourced products from your meals. According to The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, vegans are thinner, have lower total and LDL cholesterol, and modestly lower blood pressure when compared to vegetarians – who have a lower risk of cardiovascular diseaseobesity, type 2 diabetes, and some cancers.

Meanwhile, agriculture produces a lot of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions all over the world. A study by the World Resources Institute gives a telling example: Making just one pound of lamb generates around 30 times more GHGs than a pound of lentils. 

Making the switch to a vegan diet might not be easy at first, so we’re here to help. Here you’ll find great tips to create your very own vegan diet plan and more!  

Gradually Ease into a Vegan Diet 

Creating a gentle, smooth transition into your vegan diet is crucial to ensuring that this can be a long-term success. A Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) physician Kong Teck Chuan advises beginners to target incremental changes in the initial stages.

“Come up with a plan. Take it step-by-step instead of going to the market and buying everything you see,” physician Kong from Eu Yan Sang says. This is especially important if you’ve been eating oily, greasy food all this while.

“So, when we are used to oily, greasy food and you switch to this new diet, our body needs time to get used to the change,” physician Kong continues. “Some people may feel tired because they don’t have the amount of calories that they’re used to. So, during that period of change, go slow and get enough rest. Learn to be kind to yourself and do it gradually. Remember that our digestive system and cravings need some time to adjust to the new way of eating. And even if you end up just reducing your intake of meat, it is also good progress.” 

The easiest way to start switching to a vegan diet, physician Kong recommends, is to lower – not eliminate – your meat portions while increasing fruits and vegetable servings. Also, you can opt to go vegetarian 2-3 times a week, or eating vegetarian meals right until dinner time. You can also switch from a vegetarian to a vegan by progressively cutting out eggs and dairy.

Plan Around What Could Be Missing in a Vegan Diet 

No, we don’t mean char siew. There are many key nutrients that you could lack if you don’t balance your vegan diet properly. Protein, calcium, iron, vitamin D, vitamin B12, and omega-3 fatty acids are often cited as the essentials that could be deficient if all you eat are carrot sticks and cucumber slices. The good news is that you can ensure you get sufficient amounts of these nutrients, as long as you eat a wide variety of plants and vegetables, as well as fortified foods and beverages. 

We’ll cover iron and protein sources in a bit more detail below, but some examples of what you should add to your vegan diet plan are sesame seeds and pulses (for calcium), rapeseed or linseed oil, chia seeds, hazelnuts, walnuts, pecans and green leafy vegetables (for omega-3), fortified breakfast cereals for vitamins D and B12, and so on. A food supplement like chlorella is also a worthwhile addition. It can help to boost your immunity, is high in fibre, and is packed with vitamins and minerals. 

Adding the sources of iron in a vegan diet

Spinach soup cooked with carrots and corn in a bowl
There are plenty of sources of iron in a vegan diet, such as spinach, soybeans, lentils.

Vegans have consistently lower iron than vegetarians and meat-eaters. Those on a vegan diet need almost double the amount that a meat-eater needs because your body does not easily absorb plant-sourced iron. After taking this into account, vegan women need 32 milligrams of iron per day, while vegan men need 14 milligrams. You need iron to help our red blood cells to carry oxygen, to have healthier skin, hair, and nails, and to have better energy and focus. So, to ensure you’re not iron deficient, eat plenty of greens, such as spinach, kale, and broccoli. A dietary supplement could be beneficial too. 

According to physician Kong, foods like flax and sesame seeds, almonds and legumes are rich plant-based sources of iron. In the same way, you can also 8 Treasures soup (Ba Zhen Tang), astragalus (Huangqi) or Chinese Angelica (Danggui) are iron-rich herbs to nourish your blood and qi. 

Adding the sources of protein  

Healthy adults need 0.8 grams of protein per 1 kilogram of body weight per day. Compared to the other key nutrients, it’s relatively easy to consume sufficient protein in a vegan diet. In fact, it’s healthier – a piece of steak has 33 grams of protein but 5 grams of saturated fat, while a cup of cooked lentils has 18 grams of protein, 15 grams of fibre, and almost no fat. So, besides lentils, eat plenty of chickpeas, quinoa, and tofu. Plant-based protein powders, made of soy, brown rice, and hemp, can be an option as they include essential vitamins and minerals. 

Avoid Over-processed Foods and Beverages 

There’s no denying that going on a vegan diet will mean consuming a certain amount of processed foods and beverages. However, that doesn’t mean buying every single meat substitute, power bar or plant-based milk available. Some low-quality vegan products may be just as bad as junk food with high amounts of sugar, sodium, or other nasty additives. Always read the ingredients label before bringing them to the cashier. 

Watch Out for Animal-sourced Ingredients  

While reading the ingredients label, also pay close attention to the fine print. Some vegan products may include very small traces of animal- or even insect-sourced ingredients. Rather than malicious intent, this could be necessary for preserving the shelf life of the products or because the product was manufactured somewhere that also produces animal products. If you’re just starting with a vegan diet, perhaps this may not matter that much to you yet; but other vegans may prefer alternative options.

According to physician Kong, “Lack of all animal foods does create a potential risk of vitamin B12 deficiency, so supplementing for this micronutrient may be necessary. In contrast, despite a common misperception, meat consumption is not necessary to obtain a sufficient intake of protein. Although many are concerned that a plant-based diet won’t provide enough protein, this is actually unusual.” 

Choose Quality Over Quantity in a Vegan Diet  

During the early stages after you’ve started going on a vegan diet, you may feel hungry more frequently. A small handful of nuts or seeds should do the trick, washed down with a tall glass of water. Alternatively, instead of eating a mountain of carbs, prepare well-balanced meals that have plenty of high-fibre ingredients in appropriate serving sizes to help you feel full and satisfied longer. 

Cook at Home More Often 

An Asian woman sitting on a yoga exercise mat while holding a plate of fruits and yoghurt
Preparing your vegan meal will be more economical. 

You may be thinking, “All of this is starting to sound expensive!” Although there are more and more vegan cafes or restaurants around now, preparing your vegan meals will be the more economically sound option. “Yes, it could be cheaper – but only if you know what to buy,” physician Kong says. “However, if it’s for your health, then you’d want to invest a bit more to ensure it’s a safe, high-quality product.”  

So, it’s time to do your research, look up recipes, or seek advice from a nutritionist or experienced vegans. If you want to ease your transition into a vegan diet, you can try consuming Si-Shen. This herbal soup can help strengthen the spleen, thus helping to improve your appetite and digestion.

Learn More from Your Local Vegan Community   

You’ll likely have more questions as you progress forward with your vegan diet. There are plenty of resources, community groups, and professional counsel available online for all your questions and concerns about vegan life. The support, encouragement and wisdom gained from your new vegan friends will provide even more benefits than what you’re already getting from your plants-based meals. Good ol’ fashioned cookbooks – e.g., “East Meets Vegan” by Sasha Gill or “Farm to Table Asian Secrets: Vegan & Vegetarian Full-Flavored Recipes for Every Season” by Pat Tanumihardja – can also be a great resource of information.

Going on the vegan diet is not an easy decision, but it doesn’t have to be difficult. If you plan it carefully, figure out your goals for your health, nutrition, and wellness, as well as follow our tips listed above, then we’re sure your transition will be smooth and successful. But no matter what, why not start today by adding more fruits and vegetables to your next meal? Good luck!

References

  1. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. Health effects of vegan diets. March 2009. [Accessed 25 July 2021] 
  2. Harvard School of Public Health. The Nutrition Source: Protein. 
  3. World Resources Institute. Protein Scorecard. April 2016. [Accessed 25 July 2021] 
  4. US National Library of Medicine.The Role of the Anabolic Properties of Plant- versus Animal-Based Protein Sources in Supporting Muscle Mass Maintenance: A Critical Review. [Accessed 25 July 2021] 
  5. American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine.Iron Status of Vegetarian Adults: A Review of Literature. [Accessed 25 July 2021] 
  6. Scope by Stanford Medicine.Ways to boost blood iron levels while eating a vegan or vegetarian diet [Accessed 25 July 2021] 
  7. NHS Health Scotland.Vegetarian and vegan diets. [Accessed 25 July 2021] 
  8. US National Library of Medicine.Comparative effectiveness and safety of traditional Chinese medicine supporting Qi and enriching blood for cancer relatedanemia in patients not receiving chemoradiotherapy: a meta-analysis and systematic review. [Accessed 25 July 2021] 
  9. ScienceDirect.The characteristics and prescription patterns of Chinese herbal medicine in clinical practice for the treatment ofanemia.  [Accessed 25 July 2021] 
  10. Health Essentials by Cleveland Clinic.How to Add Foods That Are High In Iron to Your Diet. [Accessed 25 July 2021]
  11. American Heart Association. Plant-Based Protein Sources. [Accessed 25 July 2021] 
  12. Health Essentials by Cleveland Clinic.13 of the Best Vegetarian and Vegan Protein Sources. [Accessed 25 July 2021]
  13. Good Housekeeping.The Ultimate Beginner’s Guide to Going Vegetarian. [Accessed 25 July 2021]
  14. Scope byStanford Medicine.A skeptical look at popular diets: Vegetarian is healthy if you tread carefully. [Accessed 25 July 2021] 

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