Reviewed and Edited by Stephanie Wells, MS, RD, ACSM-CPT
Many of us have been raised to incorporate animal products into every day of our lives, so changing it up can come with a learning curve. Fortunately, going vegan doesn’t have to be as hard as it seems!
A delicious, protein-packed sausage can be made out of peas, chickpea juice makes for delicious desserts, and there’s even an app to tell you where to get the BEST vegan food near you.
Below are my top vegan tips for beginners to help your transition to veganism go smoothly!
12 Vegan Tips for Beginners
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1. Identify your “why”
You have decided to make a change in your life (congrats!), but now the question is why do you want to adopt a vegan lifestyle? Remembering your reason(s) can help you in challenging moments. When I first went vegan, I often found myself at parties surrounded by dairy lovers and pizza! It can be easy to forget why you are doing something “different”. Your intention will help you power through.
Some common reasons to go vegan:
- Fight climate change
- Lower your cholesterol levels
- Reduce your risk for diabetes
- Help animals
2. Get enough vitamin B12
B12 is an essential nutrient found in animal foods, which makes it more difficult to get on a vegan diet. It supports your energy levels, nerve function, and red blood cell production. We need 2.4 mcg of B12 per day from food in order to prevent anemia. This amount is known as the Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA).
Some vegan foods are fortified and can help you meet these needs. If you are not meeting your needs from foods alone, taking a supplement is another option.
- Plant/Non-Dairy Milks. Some brands which have been fortified with B12 include Silk Unsweetened Soy Milk, EdenSoy Extra, Oatly Original Oat Milk, Coconut Dream Enriched Coconut Drink, and Ripple Original Unsweetened Pea Milk.
- Breakfast cereals. Malt-O-Meal High Fiber Bran Flakes, Kellogg’s Corn Flakes, General Mills Multi Grain Cheerios, and Kellogg’s All Bran Original are all examples of cereals that provide B12.
- Nutritional yeast that has been fortified with B12 (this is an example of one that has)
- Non-Dairy Yogurt (most vegan yogurts aren’t fortified with B12, but the So Delicious Unsweetened Plain Coconut Milk Yogurt is an example of one that is)
Foods like kelp and nori contain small amounts of B12 but are NOT reliable sources. Only fortified foods are reliable food sources.
If possible, it’s best to eat B12-containing foods throughout the day rather than all at once. This allows the body to absorb vitamin B12 the most efficiently. For example, you might use fortified soy milk in your oatmeal at breakfast and use nutritional yeast in a “cashew cheese” sauce at dinner.
If you are not meeting your daily levels via food, a cyanocobalamin B12 supplement is recommended since it’s the most stable and well-researched form of vitamin B12.
It’s recommended that adult vegans take 250 micrograms every day or 500 to 1,250 micrograms twice per week of a cyanocobalamin supplement. These amounts are much higher than the RDA since we can only absorb a very small percentage of vitamin B12 from supplements at one time.
3. Learn how to read labels
When picking up packaged or prepared foods, there are some things to look for on a nutrition label. Vegan beginners don’t always know what ingredients to look for. Check the “allergens” section for milk and eggs. Be mindful that some foods may contain ingredients that unexpectedly come from animal sources.
- Gelatin (best known as the star ingredient in Jello)
- Casein (often found in certain “non-dairy” powdered creamers as “sodium caseinate”)
- Some lactic acid & oleic acid
- Isinglass (fish bladder) used as a processing aid in alcoholic beverages
4. Connect with other vegans
We are social creatures, so building or joining a vegan community can be extremely helpful and fun! Every city I have lived in has had vegan festivals, pop ups or meet ups that can be found with a Google search. Online connections, as in Facebook groups, are also popular. I joined one that hosted monthly potlucks in the park. If all else fails, create your own community! There are other vegans looking for connection too.
5. Download a few vegan apps
Apps are great tools to make decisions quickly and easily. There are many apps and websites that can help make going vegan less confusing. Try out some of my favorites:
- HappyCow: Find vegan & vegan-friendly restaurants near you
- Vanilla bean: Find vegan & vegan-friendly restaurants near you with some additional filters.
- BevVeg or Barnivore: Check which alcoholic beverages are vegan-friendly.
- Bunny Free: See which companies test on animals.
- Fig: Scan any barcode to see whether that food is vegan
6. Make vegan versions of meals you already enjoy
Going vegan may be a big change in your life, but you can still enjoy versions of your favorite foods.
At this point, there are multiple recipes online for almost anything you enjoy, vegan! You don’t have to follow any restrictive vegan diet trends. There is no need to worry if there are no fancy vegan restaurants and bakeries near you. Vegans eat plant-based versions of dishes like beef Wellington, Boston cream donuts, and eclairs from home.
7. Explore plant-based proteins
While I would not describe getting enough protein on a vegan diet as difficult, it can be different than what you are used to! Here are some of my favorite vegan protein sources and how I enjoy them.
- Tofu: baked, scrambled or fried
- Soy Curls: in a BBQ sandwich
- Seitan: plant-based chicken, beef crumbles
- Beans and Legumes: chili, soups and pastas
- Pea-based “meat”: plant-based sausage, chorizo
- Vegan Protein Powder: in oats or smoothies
- Nut or Seed Butters: peanut butter, almond butter, SunButter (made from sunflower seeds)
8. Increase fiber intake slowly
Vegan diets generally contain a lot of fiber. This is great news! Fiber has many health benefits. It promotes healthy bowels and helps regulate blood sugar and cholesterol levels.
One pesky side effect of eating more fiber is increased gas. To minimize bloating and discomfort, it’s best to increase your fiber intake slowly so your body has more time to adjust. It’s also helpful to drink plenty of water throughout the day, since your body needs water to help fiber move efficiently through the intestines.
Here are some of my favorites!
- Vegan Richa: Recipe developer specializing in easy vegan Indian cooking. Her recipes are incredibly flavorful!
- The Vegan 8: Vegan recipes, most with 8 ingredients or less. Her dessert recipes in particular are delicious.
- Shane and Simple: A “normal dude” and dad sharing simple whole food plant-based recipes.
- Rabbit & Wolves: A classically trained pastry chef sharing vegan comfort food recipes
- Minimalist Vegan: Minimalistic, sustainable vegan recipes. I rarely make modifications when I make their recipes – they’re that good!
- Oh She Glows: Award winning recipe developer, many allergy-friendly
- Sweet Potato Soul: Black recipe developer with hundreds of easy-to-make vegan recipes.
- From My Bowl: easy-to-follow, and budget-friendly vegan recipes that are mostly gluten, oil, and refined sugar-free.
- Sweet Simple Vegan: Couple sharing reviews of vegan products and simple recipes.
- Forks Over Knives: Plant-based recipes using whole foods. I use many of these recipes as starting points, and often add extra seasonings for more flavor.
10. Get inspired
Make mealtimes something you can be excited about!
- Create a Pinterest board.
- Download an e-cookbook.
- Buy a cookbook and bookmark recipes you would like to make.
- Join a vegan Facebook group to see what kinds of meals other vegans are making
- Follow vegan recipe developers on Instagram or TikTok
11. Learn the art of substitution
Many times, you can easily “veganize” an existing recipe by making some simple ingredient substitutions.
To replace whole eggs in baked goods, all of the following can be used:
- Flax or Chia “eggs”
- Unsweetened applesauce
- Mashed banana
- Pumpkin puree
- Silken tofu
- Egg replacer (Bob’s Red Mill has a popular one)
You can also use aquafaba, the protein-rich liquid found in a can of chickpeas, to replace egg whites in baking. They can even be whipped to make meringues!
An egg wash brushed on the top of a food to promote browning can be replaced with melted vegan butter, oil, aquafaba, or a mixture of plant-based milk and maple syrup.
Replacing eggs used in cooking, as in scrambled eggs, can be trickier. Crumbled tofu can be seasoned and sauteed to make a delicious tofu scramble, and chickpea flour can be used to make a hearty plant-based omelet. For the closest thing to scrambled eggs, Just Egg makes a convincing plant-based liquid egg alternative.
Milk is probably the easiest food to switch out when going vegan. Simply use any plant-based milk instead, including soy, oat, pea, almond, coconut, rice, or a blend of different plant milks. If possible, choose one that is fortified with calcium and vitamin D2 for the best nutrition benefits. Soy milk and pea milk provide comparable amounts of protein compared to dairy milk, so these are great choices to include in your daily diet.
Butter is also an easy swap when called for in many recipes. Simply choose any of a number of vegan brands of butter or margarine – just make sure that your margarine doesn’t contain milk or other animal ingredients, which some do. For baking, you may also be able to use applesauce, oil, or avocado, depending on the recipe. For sautéing, you can use cooking oils like olive oil or canola oil instead.
12. Make a grocery list
Grocery lists increase affordability & accountability. They prevent you from forgetting ingredients, so they help you be successful in sticking with your eating plan! Having vegan food on hand at all times that you like is helpful for sticking with it.
Still figuring out which foods are vegan? Check out this Vegan Food List for Beginners!
I know it can feel like there is a lot to learn. We’ve all been there, but nearly a decade in I can assure you that switching to plant foods is worth it! You have already done one of the most difficult parts, which is setting an intention. There is no pressure to go all in on day one or even stay vegan if you don’t like it! Today is just step one.
Thank you for doing something loving for yourself, the animals, and the planet.