Going vegan can sometimes feel like a minefield. But with these 20 helpful things you need to know before making the change, you'll be armed with facts and ready to go!
More people than ever before are ditching meat and dairy and going vegan. In fact, it’s estimated that there are now 79 million vegans around the world!
But being vegan is more than just eating a plant-based diet. Being vegan impacts every part of your life, which can make it daunting for people at the start of their vegan journey.
To help you on the path to veganism, we’ve put together a list of all the things we wish we’d known before we went vegan.
1. Know your ‘why’
If you know why you want to be vegan, it will be easier to stick to the diet and lifestyle changes you’re about to embark on.
For example, if you’re motivated by environmental reasons it’s advisable to arm yourself with knowledge and facts about the environmental benefits of switching to a fully plant-based diet.
Therefore, if you feel like giving up, you’ll have plenty of reasons on hand to motivate yourself and keep going.
2. Not everyone will understand
Before you go vegan, you’ll need to prepare yourself for the fact that not all your family, friends and peers will ‘get it’ or understand your choice.
We’ve all been conditioned into thinking what happens to animals in the agriculture industry is normal and completely acceptable.
But when you decide to stop consuming these products, you can expect a lot of questions and confusion.
You’ll be offered non-vegan food, given products tested on animals, and some of your peers won’t understand why you can’t accept.
But stay true to yourself, remain calm during lines of questioning, and follow your heart.
3. You can still eat out at your favourite restaurants
While vegan options were scarce up until a few years ago, now the majority of chain restaurants either offer a separate vegan menu or multiple choices for those seeking to exclude animal products from their diets.
These days, you definitely won’t be missing out or making a meal out of the garden salad and fries like we used to!
Additionally, fast food options for vegans include the KFC Original Recipe Vegan Burger, the Meatless Meatballs or TLC at Subway, the Beyond Meat Breakfast Sandwich at Starbucks, and Burger King’s Vegan Royale – just to name a few.
There is a vegan option pretty much anywhere you look, so you don’t ever need to worry about being caught hungry. There’s almost too much choice!
4. You won’t need to shop at specialist shops
Gone are the days when vegans had to gather their hemp tote bags and head over to their local health food shop to purchase their meat, dairy and egg-free products.
Now, all major UK supermarkets are fully stocked with vegan products. Some even have dedicated vegan aisles for quick and easy free-from shopping!
From ready meals to milk alternatives, yoghurts and cheeses to meat-free meatballs, you can find everything you need at your local mainstream supermarket.
5. You will likely need to take a multivitamin or supplement alongside your diet
While you can find the majority of your essential vitamins and micronutrients naturally in a vegan diet, there are a couple of things that require supplementation. These are vitamin B12, iodine and vitamin D.
Vitamin B12 is made naturally by bacteria in the soil. Traditionally, people and animals would have obtained this vitamin by eating food from the ground.
However, food production systems are now so sanitised that animals natural diets have been depleted. That means that these days, meat, eggs and dairy foods only contain vitamin B12 because farmed animals are given supplements too.
This means that there is nothing sub-optimal about taking a B12 supplement on a vegan diet. Furthermore, everyone should supplement their diet with B12, not just vegans.
Iodine is found in seaweed and algae, and because the fish that humans consume also eats algae, this means that fish products contain high levels of the mineral.
While seaweed products such as wakame and nori do contain small amounts of iodine, it is not enough to attain healthy levels.
Therefore, those on a vegan diet will need to supplement their diet with concentrated sources such as tablets.
Vitamin D can be found in plant foods such as mushrooms and fortified whole grains such as bread and cereals. However, the best source of vitamin D is actually sunlight.
As the UK is cloudy and dull for the majority of the year, it is important for everyone – not just vegans – to supplement the essential nutrient to ensure a healthy body and diet.
All the above nutrients can also be found in fortified dairy alternatives and some mock meat products. However, the easiest and most surefire way to ensure you are ingesting the correct nutrition is to take a multivitamin or direct supplement.
6. Vegan doesn’t always = healthy
With ever-expanding ranges of vegan junk food and meat alternatives, it isn’t so easy to eat a healthy vegan diet anymore. A few years ago, you’d struggle to find a vegan pizza, burger or cake.
But now, these treats are everywhere, and while they don’t contain all the nasties found in animal products, they still aren’t exactly healthy.
As the old saying goes, ‘everything in moderation’, so you don’t have to avoid these vegan alternatives, but if you want to see the health benefits of veganism it’s best not to indulge in them too often.
Instead, focus on a wholefood plant-based diet made up of fruit, vegetables, grains and legumes with the occasional vegan cake or burger.
7. Going vegan doesn’t have to cost more
Opponents of veganism often cite it as being too expensive. But this doesn’t have to be the case.
While vegan alternative products like dairy-free cheeses and meat replacements can often be more expensive than their animal-based counterparts, they aren’t essential to living a vegan lifestyle.
Instead, seasonal fruits and vegetables and grains like bread, rice and pasta and canned beans are actually some of the cheapest foods you can buy – and they’re vegan!
Take beans on toast for example. It’s a protein-packed and nutrient-dense meal, but costs next to nothing. Like any kind of diet, veganism is as cheap or expensive as you make it!
8. You don’t need to avoid soy products
There is a common misconception that soy products are bad for you, and if you go vegan you should avoid them.
Some anti-vegan men also pedal the false notion that eating soy gives you ‘man boobs’ due to high levels of estrogen.
But if soy had the ability to do this, it would be the fastest-selling supplement in the beauty industry and put cosmetic surgeons out of business!
Moreover, soy does not contain human estrogen but instead a plant estrogen called ‘phytoestrogen’. This does not act on humans, only plants, making soy completely safe for human consumption. You won’t suddenly see a spike in estrogen levels!
In fact, the communities across the world with the lowest incidence of heart disease, cancer and death are actually those which consume the highest levels of soy!
Although it gets a bad rep, soy products such as tofu do not need to be avoided. In fact, many are full of nutrients our bodies need like calcium.
9. There is a huge community of vegans willing to help and encourage you
Rest assured, if you make the amazing choice to go vegan, you won’t be on your own! There is a massive community of vegans on social media channels such as Facebook, Instagram and YouTube on hand to give you advice, tips and help on your journey.
Moreover, programs such as Challenge 22 provide you with a team of mentors and registered dieticians to guide you and answer any questions you have on your vegan trial.
The vegan community is a powerful one, and as compassionate beings, we are all happy to help anyone trying to eat more ethically!
10. Be prepared to spend more time in the supermarket reading food labels
When you’re still learning about what products are vegan, it can certainly add some precious time to your shopping.
While before being vegan you could probably get around the supermarket aisles in 20 minutes flat for your weekly shop, a new vegan will need to spend a little longer checking ingredients.
Milk powder and gelatine are our top culprits for hiding in products that may seem vegan from a quick glance, and you’ll need to make sure you check each product before popping it into your basket.
It might seem like stating the obvious, but focusing on whole foods such as fruits, vegetables and grains can speed up your shopping as there are no added ingredients that require checking – a carrot just contains 100% carrot!
It can be daunting at first to look at a food label and not know if it’s vegan, so make sure you check out our guide to reading food labels.
Checking food labels is a vegan superpower!
11. Your favourite treats might already be vegan
Love Oreos? Good news – they’re accidentally vegan! Biscoff? Vegan! Jammie Dodgers? You guessed it, vegan!
There are plenty of treats that you might not realise are actually vegan that will help you stay vegan on your journey.
Some specially made vegan products can be a lot more expensive, so knowing that your favourite cheap treats like Oreos, Jammie Dodgers and the classic Bourbon biscuit are vegan can stop a plant-based diet from being too difficult to maintain.
Check out our guide to accidentally vegan products in the UK and see if your favourites are safe for vegans.
12. Veganism doesn’t stop with your diet, it’s a lifestyle too
While the main aspect of veganism is abstaining from animal products such as meat, dairy, eggs and honey, it doesn’t just boil down to what’s on your plate.
You also need to consider what’s in your beauty products and toiletries, and what your clothing is made from.
In terms of makeup and skincare, you’ll be looking for a label such as the Cruelty-Free International leaping bunny logo or PETA’s cruelty-free stamp, and a vegan certification.
The difficulty lies in the fact that a product can be cruelty-free but not vegan. This can be due to the product not being tested on animals but containing animal by-products, for example, beeswax, honey or shellac.
With clothing, you’ll be looking to avoid leather, wool, silk, suede, cashmere, sheepskin, down and fur. While this might seem like an extensive list, it is pretty simple to cut them out from your wardrobe.
More and more fashion houses are also ditching animal-based fabrics and instead opting for innovative new materials, such as Stella McCartney which is experimenting with mushroom leather.
With a bit of research, you’ll have a vegan lifestyle down in no time!
Vegans avoid wearing clothing made from leather, wool, silk, suede, cashmere, sheepskin, down and fur. Thankfully animal-free alternatives are easy to find as the fashion world gets innovative with new materials.
13. You don’t have to protest at a slaughterhouse if you go vegan
You might feel pressured by other vegans to engage in hard-hitting activism such as protesting at slaughterhouses but don’t worry, you don’t have to! If that isn’t your cup of tea, it doesn’t make you any less vegan.
Whilst raising awareness is critical in help people make a connection between the foods they eat and the lives at stake, it isn’t always the most effective method of activism.
In fact, there are actually plenty of other ways to spread the vegan message.
Instead of protesting or showing slaughterhouse footage in the streets, softer approaches can often be just as effective.
Try having encouraging conversations with open-minded friends and family members. You can even share recipes and information on social media.
You’ll soon find that these methods can also have a significant impact.
14. Tofu might become your new best friend
Tofu is probably the most versatile vegan ingredient on the market because you can make pretty much anything out of it. With silken, medium-firm or extra-firm varieties to choose from, the options truly are endless.
Want to make scrambled eggs? Use tofu. A quiche? Tofu. A carbonara sauce? Tofu. Chicken alternative? Tofu.
What’s more, it’s healthy too. Packed with protein, calcium, and iron it’s a great addition to any meal. And it’s even been shown to prevent certain cancers such as breast and prostate, and reduce your risk of heart disease. There’s no reason not to give it a go!
15. You will probably slip up… but that’s ok
There’s no such thing as a perfect vegan. We’ve all slipped up whether it was accidental or not, but that doesn’t make us any less vegan!
Unfortunately, we live in a very non-vegan world and it is easy to slip up or assume something is vegan from a quick glance when it’s not. Just carry on and learn from it, rather than beating yourself up about it. You’re doing the best you can!
Making mistakes can happen to anyone, we've all been there! But don't let one slip-up set you back, just dive back in and make yourself a delicious plant-based meal.
16. You’ll need to find ways to keep yourself motivated
There may be times when you go out with friends and end up eating chips (the only vegan option) while they tuck into a full meal.
While times are changing, unfortunately not everywhere is up to date yet. Therefore it’s important to stay motivated, by reading or watching the things that made you go vegan in the first place.
Moreover, The Vegan Calculator is another great tool to keep you motivated. It shows you how many animal lives, lbs of CO2, gallons of water and sq ft of forest you’ve saved in the time you’ve been vegan. It’s a real eye-opener!
17. If you’re going on holiday, you might need to research vegan options beforehand
Some countries (or even counties in the UK for you staycation’ers) are better for vegans than others. And this means you might need to do some research about where to eat before your holiday.
While part of the fun of holidays is stumbling across hidden gems while you’re there, it can be helpful to have a list of fully vegan or vegan-friendly cafes and restaurants on your travels so you’re never caught out hungry.
The worst thing that could happen is being hungry and stressed looking for food in a foreign country! Trust me, I’ve been there!
Downloading an app like HappyCow to show you the nearest vegan restaurants makes finding places to eat much simpler.
18. Be prepared to answer a lot of frustrating questions
But where do you get your protein? This question will definitely haunt you on your vegan journey!
When you go vegan, the only thing you’ll miss is your patience. It can sometimes be very frustrating having conversations with non-vegans about your new lifestyle.
They’ll ask some infuriating questions and you’ll feel like your brain is going to explode with all your new knowledge that they don’t seem to understand.
Earthling Ed has a great free ebook titled ‘30 Non-Vegan Excuses & How to Respond to Them’ which contains great answers to all these silly questions such as what will happen to all the cows if we stop eating them, and won’t you die of protein deficiency?
It will equip you with communication tips that you need to positively and confidently advocate for veganism, without getting flustered and angry.
Sometimes all the questions about veganism can get frustrating. But take the opportunity to gently educate and inspire whenever tricky questions arise.
19. Be prepared to fart more
We’ve all heard the old saying, ‘beans beans good for the heart, the more you eat the more you…’
Whilst we shouldn’t believe all rhyming songs, there is some truth to this one. When you go vegan, you unfortunately will be a bit gassier. This is due to an increased intake of fibre, found in fruits, vegetables, pulses and whole grains.
But don’t panic too much, as it will most likely be temporary while your body adjusts to the higher levels of fibre. However, what isn’t temporary is increased bowel movements.
It’s common for vegans to go to the toilet a bit more regularly than meat-eaters, but this is perfectly normal and can actually benefit your bowel health.
20. You don’t have to go vegan overnight
The final and perhaps most important thing you need to know before going vegan is that you don’t have to do it overnight.
There is no pressure to suddenly go from being a meat-eater to a herbivore within 24 hours. Instead, you should transition in the most convenient way for you as this will help you maintain your new diet.
Many people find that ‘trialling’ a vegan diet for a bit before committing to it and allowing themselves to make mistakes is the most sustainable way to make the change.
It can help ease you in and doesn’t have the pressure of ‘from today I am fully vegan’.
Another great way to transition to a fully vegan diet is by increasing your plant-based days or meals gradually.
You could start by eating vegan once a week and slowly increasing until your diet is completely plant-based.
That way, you won’t feel like your diet is changing. It will also give you time to experiment with new dishes and find foods or meals you love.
The bottom line is, find a way to make your new lifestyle fun and enjoyable, and you’ll do great!
Are you ready to take the plunge now you’re armed with the facts?
Stay on track with your vegan diet with our super-simple seven-day vegan meal plan.