Last week, I attended an awesome Twitter chat, put on by FitFluential and featuring Sarah Tobin (#FitVegan). Nora is an athlete who excels at most outdoors sports, including skiing, snowboarding, wakeboarding, volleyball, scuba diving, and rock climbing. She created a unique fitness program that incorporates yoga, weight training, beach bootcamp, hiking, running, and more, and offers nutritional information and meal plans. She has been writing a series called the Fit Vegan Challenge, which is posted weekly on Fitfluential.
The Twitter chat was great. Many people participated, vegans, vegetarians, and others who wanted to learn more about living an athletic plant-based lifestyle. So much information was shared, particularly by Nora, about the benefits of a vegan lifestyle. One of the questions that came up over and over again, was, “how do I start?” I decided to move beyond the confines of a Twitter chat and offer a few suggestions and resources.
Since you’re reading this, I will make the assumption that you have either made a decision to make the switch to a plant based diet, are a vegetarian thinking about “going all the way,” or would like to eat less animal products and are educating yourself about the lifestyle. Wherever you are in your journey, I hope that I can answer a few questions, help you find other resources, and support you in any way I can.
There are many reasons for choosing a plant based diet. Some make the switch for the health benefits. Others for ethical reasons. Still others choose a vegan lifestyle because they have learned that it is good for the environment. Whatever brings you here, I want to say, welcome. If you’re interested, you can read about my reasons for becoming vegan.
Where to Start
So, what first? If you are still eating meat, take the first step by eating less meat. Start by eating one or two meat-free meals per week. There are plenty of resources out there (I’ll list some of my favorites below) that can help you create delicious meat-free meals. Don’t think that “vegetarian” means that you can only eat vegetables. Whole grains, beans, nuts, seeds, soy protein (tofu and tempeh), seitan (a meaty textured wheat gluten), in addition to a variety of vegetables and fruits, mean that your diet never has to be boring.
Many new vegetarians and vegans do what I did. When I gave up meat, I used meat substitutes in my dishes and prepared my favorite recipes. There are a lot of mock meat options out there, and many are delicious. They help to make the transition easier. I made spaghetti, “chicken” burritos, “chicken” piccata (recipe below), and others dishes using meat substitutes.
However, meat substitutes, like other convenience foods, are processed, and many contain too much sodium, and other ingredients that one should avoid in a healthy, whole food diet. I encourage you to use them, enjoy them, and gradually learn to prepare your meals with less processed alternatives. Today I’m more likely to make tempeh burgers or tacos, a spicy bean salad, or just about anything with quinoa (here, here, and here).
If you are a vegetarian looking to switch to a completely plant based diet, you will need to become an avid label reader. Animal ingredients lurk in many processed foods, so sticking with natural, whole foods is your best bet. This list can be helpful, it gives the names of animal ingredients that are used in many processed foods.
Can I Meet My Nutritional Needs?
A well thought out vegan diet can fulfill your nutritional needs, with the possible exception of vitamin B12. Here is a link to read more about it, but most vegans need to supplement B12. I use sub-lingual Deva Vegan Vitamin B12, which is available from Amazon.
What About Protein? Can I Get Enough Without Eating Meat?
In a word, yes. To quote from a post I wrote on this topic, “As any vegetarian or vegan knows, the most frequent question that we are asked is, “Where do you get your protein?” And the vegan standard answer is, “everywhere. Most food has protein and if you are eating enough calories, you are probably getting enough protein.” Read the rest of the article.
There is a lot of information out there. It can be overwhelming. Here is a list of some of my favorite resources for information about healthy eating, a vegan lifestyle, nutritional data, and recipes. Please feel free to ask me any questions that you have. If I can’t answer them myself, I’ll either find out or try to point you in the right direction.
The Vegan RD – Ginny Messina, RD – Nutritional information
Small Bites – Andy Bellati, RD – He’s not posting anymore, but still a great nutritional reference
Jack Norris, RD – Nutritional Information
Vegan.com – Resources for animal activists and other vegan information
No Meat Athlete – Lot’s of information for vegan athletes.
Vegansaurus - It’s like a dictionary for vegans, written with humor.
The Girly Girl Army – For the stylish vegan
Happy Cow – Looking for a restaurant that is vegan, vegetarian or veg-friendly? Here is the ultimate source. They have an app for iphone or android too!
Meet the Shannons – Annie and Dan Shannon are converting the Betty Crocker Cookbook to delicious vegan recipes.
Almost Vegan – One of the first blogs I followed, Amber Shea now has a cookbook (listed below).
Fat Free Vegan – Susan Voisin creates delicious and healthy vegan meals. The photos are beautiful too.
Healthy. Happy. Life – Another beautifully photographed resource for delicious recipes from Kathy Patalsky.
For the Love of Kale – A FitFluential sister, she posts a variety of delicious vegan recipes.
What the Hell Does a Vegan Eat, Anyway? – Amazing food from a blog with the best name ever.
Oh She Glows – Recipes and more from Angela Liddon.
Choosing Raw – Dip your fork into a raw lifestyle with Gena’s blog (she has cooked vegan recipes too).
Better with Veggies – Heather offers delicious vegan recipes plus useful fitness tips.
Skinny Bitch, by Rory Freedman and Kim Barnouin. It’s like listening to girlfriends telling you how to eat healthy.
Viva Vegan!, by Terry Hope Romero, great Latin food recipes.
Vegan with a Vengeance , by Isa Chandra Moskowitz, great, inexpensive recipes.
The Indian Vegan Kitchen, by Madha Gadia, M.S, R.D., a must have if you love Indian food.
The 30-Minute Vegan, by Mark Reinfeld and Jennifer Murray, easy, fast, and delicious.
The Joy of Vegan Baking, by Colleen Patrick-Goudreau, who also has written more philosophical books on living a cruelty free lifestyle.
The Vegan Cookie Connoisseur, by Kelly Peloza, who also writes a blog with the same name.
Practically Raw, by Amber Shea Crawley, flexible raw recipes that anyone can make.
Thrive, by Brendan Brazier, the vegan nutrition guide to optimal performance in sports and life.
The China Study – It’s what made Bill Clinton go vegan.
Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer. He really lays it on the line about what goes on in the factory farming industry.
Vegan for Life, by Jack Norris, RD and Ginny Messina, RD, everything you need to be healthy and fit on a plant based diet.
Well, there a start for you. Oh, and if you need a little push, you might catch the movie Forks over Knives. It’s been a life changer for many people.
Now for the promised recipe. Using Gardein Herb Dijon Breasts, plus a few additions of my own, to create a delicious “Chicken” Piccata. It takes about 30 minutes to prepare.
One package (two breasts) Gardein Herb Dijon Breasts, includes sauce
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup mushrooms, sliced
2 tablespoons lemon juice
2 tablespoons capers
2 tablespoons parsley, chopped
Heat the olive oil in a small frying pan over medium high heat. Brown the breasts on both sides. Add the garlic and the mushrooms. Cook and stir for 1-2 minutes. Add the sauce. and the lemon juice. Stir to mix with the mushrooms and garlic, then reduce heat, cover, and simmer until the sauce has thickened. Add the capers and heat for two minutes. Sprinkle with parsley and serve.
This recipe serves two. Add some rice and salad and you’ve got an easy, terrific vegan meal.
Now it’s your turn. Do you have questions about starting a vegan lifestyle? Would you like to add a link, book, or other resource that you use and would like to share? Any ideas or resources that you’d like to talk about?