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Here’s What You Need to Know About Going Vegan

by James Han

Most of us are familiar with veganism, the abstinence of all animal-derived products in one’s life. Our grocery stores are stocked with plant-based patties and egg replacements, restaurants offer vegan substitutions, and many of us know at least one person who’s made the shift and decided to ditch meat for good. Though going vegan has exploded in popularity in the last 20 or so years, veganism, as a movement, has been around in the U.S. since 1944 and the idea of avoiding meat trails back even further to ancient Indian and Mediterranean societies.

Whether you’re concerned about our carbon footprint, have qualms about the ethics of eating industrial meat or are experiencing health troubles, there are plenty of reasons to consider veganism. That said, going in blind isn’t a good idea, since plant-exclusive diets can lack critical nutrients that most humans get from meat and dairy, and knowing exactly what supplements you’ll need, as well as how to make up for meat-based proteins, fats and calories, is the best first step to ensure a smooth transition.

Here, we’ll explore vegan vs. plant-based philosophies, tips for going vegan (for beginners) and how to transition to vegan alternatives.

Vegan vs. Plant-Based vs. Vegetarian: What’s the Difference?

Vegan, vegetarian, plant-based — these terms may sound interchangeable, but there are key (if subtle) differences between them.

What Are the Differences Between Vegetarians and Vegans?

While both groups avoid meat, vegans take it a few steps further and eliminate allanimal-derived products, including foods like dairy, eggs and honey as well as other items like leather and silk. Vegetarians themselves can be broken down into smaller groups, including:

  • Lacto-ovo-vegetarians: people who abstain from meat and fish, but eat dairy products and eggs.
  • Lacto-vegetarians:people who abstain from meat, fish and eggs, but eat dairy.
  • Ovo-vegetarians: people who abstain from meat, fish and dairy, but eat eggs.

As a rule of thumb, vegetarianism is a choice that removes meat (and sometimes animal byproducts) from one’s plate, while veganism is a lifestyle choice that removes meat and all animal-derived products from one’s diet and life at large.

What Is the Difference Between Vegan and Plant-Based?

The line between vegan and plant-based may seem vague, but the difference lies in the motivations for choosing one diet or lifestyle over the other. The term “veganism” was coined in 1944 by Donald Watson, an animal rights activist, to describe the practice of avoiding all animal products and byproducts for ethical reasons. Over the course of the twentieth century and beyond, the vegan movement has adopted environmental and health concerns as key tenets, in addition to animal welfare.

“Plant-based” was coined by Dr. T-Colin Campbell in the 1980s to define a vegetable-based diet that wasn't tied to any ethical considerations. Someone who identifies as plant-based may still occasionally eat animal-derived products (though the bulk of their plate or meals will feature veggies), and may still buy personal care items or clothing that are not vegan. Plant-based dieters tend to focus on consuming whole foods, and may eschew many highly-processed vegan foods.

Is Going Vegan Right for Me? Pros and Cons to Consider

Going vegan can be a life-changing commitment that isn’t right for everyone. Here are some pros and cons to consider.

Pros of Going Vegan
  • You’re reducing your carbon footprint by up to 73 percent. A study by the University of Oxford indicates that avoiding animal products delivers greater environmental benefits than purchasing meat or dairy, even if it’s from a sustainable source.
  • If everyone went vegan, global farmland could be reduced by 75 percent— which would significantly cut back on greenhouse gas emissions as well as prevent continued deforestation and domestication of wild lands to agriculture.
  • You would stop supporting factory farmsthat are responsible for the inhumane treatment of animals raised for slaughter.
  • By replacing meat products with plant-derived alternatives, you’ll be getting more of certain nutrientslike fiber, antioxidants and compounds like vitamins A, E and C.

Cons of Going Vegan

  • You can develop micronutrient deficienciesif you’re not strategic about your supplements or what you eat, including vitamin D, calcium, zinc, fatty acids, iron and vitamin B12. These deficiencies can lead to dire health consequences if left unchecked. Solution? Supplement smartly.
  • You’re likely to be protein deficient, and compensate by eating excessive amounts of carbohydrates. Eating too many carbs can lead to swings in blood sugar and tax your liver. Solution? Add more avocados, hemp seeds, chia, chlorella, spirulina and other healthy protein sources to your meals.
  • Some vegan protein sources — like legumes and beans — are high in anti-nutrients such as lectins and phytates, which can lead to leaky gut. Solution? Soaking legumes and practicing proper food pairing can help offset some anti-nutrient properties.


A Black and Black woman sit on the couch, sharing a snack they are dipping into a spice/ condiment jar.

How to Transition to a Vegan Lifestyle

Today, transitioning to a vegan lifestyle is pretty straightforward. Animal alternatives are plentiful in most grocery stores and recipe sites abound in easy and healthy vegan homemade meals that only require whole foods you can find anywhere. Plus, there are many affordable supplementsthat can help ensure that your nutrient profile is balanced. Here are some thoughts on how to make your transition smooth — and leave you feeling great.

Educate Yourself

In a notebook or document, start jotting stores where you can get vegan essentials and supplements. Think about existing products in your home that aren’t vegan (like leather belts or shoes) and find alternatives online. Having a game plan can steer you as you start making the necessary swaps in your life. Brands like Impossible Foods, Beyond Meat, Miyoko’s and Oatly are some of our favorites for your fridgeand the Sisterhood, PIC Style and People Tree are great for your closet.

Start Slow

You don’t have to go all in — having two or three vegan days a week can be a great place to start on your vegan journey. Think about your current favorite meals, and save recipes online that turn them vegan. (For instance, instead of pork belly in your ramen, opt for tofu or even king oyster mushrooms.) Avoid a “cutting out” attitude and think about substitutions, instead.

Keep Your Pantry Stocked

It’s easy to spiral into a deprivation mentality when you first start your vegan journey. Keeping your pantry stocked with nuts, fruits and healthy snacks can remind you that your options are the opposite of limited.

Don’t Forget to Treat Yourself

You don’t have to cook your own meals every day — in fact, trying local vegan restaurants (and seeing how chefs are innovating with plant-based ingredients) can be an exciting and inspiring way to jazz up your meals. Also, don’t be afraid to enjoy vegan treats now and then. (If you’re wondering which Girl Scout cookies are vegan, check out this article on where you can find vegan versions of your childhood favorites!)

James Han is a writer, editor and content strategist based in Los Angeles. When he’s not deep in a Google Doc, you can find him reading, watching films and taking long walks.
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