Thinking about going vegan? Find out how to transition from a vegetarian diet to a vegan diet the healthy way!
Making the switch from a vegetarian to a vegan diet may sound straightforward. After all, a vegetarian has already eliminated meat and fish from their diet; surely the most challenging part is done?
When asked in a recent survey, ‘What is the number one thing that you would struggle to give up?’, the majority of vegetarians gave eggs as their answer.
However, many also find milk and cheese difficult to eliminate. Taking this into account, it is important to provide evidence-based, practical and realistic advice in order to help vegetarian to go vegan.
Scientific and health benefits of a vegan diet
The literature showing the benefits of a predominantly whole food plant-based diet is vast. A whole-food plant-based diet, like a vegan diet, is one that excludes all animal products.
Instead, it focuses on including a wide range of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds, and legumes.
This means consuming foods that exert anti-inflammatory effects on the body. The benefits of whole foods are that they are rich in fibre, antioxidants, vitamins and minerals, and many other health beneficial components.
Why vegetarians should quit dairy
For vegetarians, the predominant remaining animal products in the diet are eggs and dairy. However, there are many studies showing these products to have harmful effects on health.
A large 2018 review looked at the link between dairy consumption and various cancers. They found the link between dairy consumption and prostate cancer to be the strongest, with milk associated with the highest risk.
The reason for this association could be due to the high levels of oestrogen in dairy milk, and also high levels of calcium.
Calcium supplements have also been shown to increase the risk of prostate cancer. The proposed reason behind this is that high calcium intakes can suppress vitamin D levels, and vitamin D may act on prostate cells to help promote growth and changes in DNA.
A study in 2015 followed 22,000 people with lactose intolerance who were avoiding dairy and compared them with family members who were eating dairy.
These family members were shown to have higher rates of cancers, particularly lung, breast and ovarian cancers. Again, possible mechanisms could be the oestrogen content of dairy milk, as this drives hormone-sensitive tumours.
In addition, dairy milk contains bovine growth hormones which can drive cell growth, and dairy, in general, contains saturated fat. This is associated with overweight and obesity, which is in turn associated with an increased risk of cancer.
Why vegetarians should stop eating eggs
With regards to eggs; although they do offer some nutrition, there are far better options for our health, and that of the animals and the environment.
For example, a portion of tofu scramble contains more protein than the equivalent serving of eggs.
Although the egg yolk does contain some vitamins and minerals, it also contains saturated fat and cholesterol, with one large egg containing on average 1.6g of saturated fat, and 200mg of cholesterol.
This is known to raise our LDL (bad cholesterol). In fact, a recent study looking at over 520,000 people for 16 years, found that eating just half an egg a day increases the risk of dying from cardiovascular disease, cancer, or all causes by 7%.
Eggs are also associated with an increased risk of type 2 diabetes, with the risk varying from 18-42% with one or more eggs daily.
Enjoying the article? Find more advice to help you transition from vegetarian to vegan here:
Easy switches to help you go from vegetarian to vegan
When looking to replace milk, try having soya milk on your breakfast, as this contains good amounts of protein, as well as phytoestrogens which have been shown to have many beneficial effects on health.
A favoured option by many for tea and coffee is oat milk, particularly the barista version, as this closely mimics dairy milk.
Vegan cheese alternatives
For cheese, rather than buying the coconut-oil based cheese widely available in supermarkets, try nut-based cheeses. Nush has an excellent range of soft cheeses and yoghurts. There are also smaller companies such as Bath Culture House that sell a range of cashew-based cheeses.
For savoury cheese sauces to use in meals such as lasagna and as a pasta sauce, you can either blend soaked cashews with garlic granules, nutritional yeast and plant milk.
For those with nut allergies, there are recipes online for a tahini-based cheese sauce.
Nutritional yeast, fortified with B12, is an essential product, as it has a cheesy, nutty taste. Nutritional yeast can be used to top baked beans, stirred through pasta dishes, and even eaten straight from the tub!
Vegan favourite nutritional yeast adds a cheesy flavour to dishes and is also a good source of B12.
Vegan egg alternatives
To replace eggs, you can either opt for egg replacers such as Crackd, or Free and Easy. You can also use whole foods such as chia or flax in baking (1tbsp with 3tbsp water), or mashed banana, apple sauce.
One of the best egg replacement that’s cheap and easy to access is aquafaba, the liquid from tinned chickpeas or other pulses.
Aquafaba can be whipped up to create a range of sweet and savoury dishes such as meringues.
Store cupboard staples you’ll need to go from vegetarian to vegan
It is a good idea initially to create a go-to shopping list of staples when transitioning from a vegetarian to a vegan diet.
These can include long-life plant milks, apple sauce (or make your own and freeze portions as and when you need them), tins of chickpeas and beans, chia and flax seeds, cashews, and nutritional yeast.
How to obtain the right nutrients when switching to a vegan diet
Nutrients you may like to pay particular attention to are B12, calcium, zinc, and choline. However, as long as you are eating a varied and balanced diet, choosing fortified plant milks and yoghurts, and taking a B12 supplement daily, you will not be at risk of nutrient deficiency.
When switching from a vegetarian to a vegan diet, aim for a minimum of 400mls of fortified milk a day. Choose calcium-set tofu (look for calcium sulfate in the ingredients), or add 1tbsp chia seeds to your breakfast/smoothie.
You need to aim for two servings of soya daily and eat as many different types of fruit, vegetables and whole grains as you can.
To increase absorption of zinc, as well as calcium and iron, try soaking your dried pulses, beans and grains overnight, or for at least 2 hours before cooking. You can even try sprouting to increase the bioavailability further.