Considering going vegan, but not sure where to start? The experts share their top tips below to make the transition easier…
It’s no secret that veganism is gaining momentum around the world. More and more of us are cutting out meat and animal products in favour of following a plant-based diet. According to The Vegan Society, the number of vegans in the UK quadrupled between 2014 and 2019 – and in 2022, research by Ipsos found that 46% of Brits aged 16 to 75 were considering reducing their intake of animal products in the future.
With demand comes supply, and the rapid rise of veganism in the UK has led to a boom in the plant-based food industry. In 2018, the UK launched more vegan food products than any other nation. And as of 2020, each one of the top 10 UK supermarkets and top 10 UK restaurants has its own vegan range or offering. Surveys have found that several key factors are driving this movement – including the well-reported environmental, health and ethical benefits of veganism.
However, making the transition can be challenging. "You can’t just switch to plant foods and expect to be healthy," warns dietitian, Dr Carrie Ruxton, "if you don’t research and plan, it’s easy to become deficient in certain nutrients."
According to the NHS, it’s possible to get the nutrients you need from eating a varied and balanced vegan diet that incorporates fortified foods and supplements. Food choice is key as it can be all too easy to make unhealthy plant-based choices, especially if you stick to a narrow range of foods or rely on cakes, biscuits and salty snacks to keep hunger pangs at bay.
Here, the experts dish out their top advice for making the transition easier.
Tip #1: Get organised
"My biggest piece of advice would be to get organised," says registered nutritionist and founder of The Nutrition Consultant, Charlotte Radcliffe. "Plan your meals ahead of time and make sure you have all the ingredients you’ll need throughout the week. Without a plan, you can fall into the trap of eating the same foods repeatedly, so find some recipe inspiration and make a meal plan that gets you excited to eat vegan," continues Charlotte.
Thankfully, there are many vegan recipes available on social media platforms like Pinterest, Instagram and TikTok, as well as food websites including BBC Good Food, BOSH! Recipes, The Vegan Society and Vegan Food and Living. You can also find food inspiration in one of the many cookbooks dedicated to easy vegan meals like One Pot Vegan, Leon Fast Vegan and Five Ingredient Vegan. In fact, Waterstones now has more than 10,000 books with the word "vegan" in their title (as of January 2022), compared to just 944 in 2018.
Tip #2: Transition slowly
"You don’t need to 'go vegan' overnight," says Harpreet Sohal, registered dietitian who specialises in plant-based nutrition, "adding more plant-based foods into your diet, without being fully vegan, can still have positive effects from a health, environmental and animal welfare point of view."
A slower transition will likely make the change a little easier – especially for lifelong meat-eaters. Consider going vegetarian or check out our guide on how to go flexitarian first.
"Quickly increasing the amount of high-fibre plant-based foods in your diet might make you feel more bloated initially, but a slower transition can help reduce this," notes Charlotte. Her advice? "Start by swapping out one or two animal-based foods for plant-based alternatives and keep doing this over time until you’re eating a completely vegan diet."
Tip #3: Eat healthy fats
"Some people may experience increased hunger or a dip in their energy levels when they first go vegan," says Charlotte, "and this is likely to be a result of not eating enough food."
A varied and balanced diet comprising of a range of plant-based foods, fortified products and supplements can help support and maintain energy levels. Try to base meals on potatoes, bread, rice, pasta and other starchy carbs (wholegrain versions are best) and aim to drink six to eight classes of fluids a day.
"One way to ensure you’re getting enough energy through your diet is to add a portion of healthy fats to every meal, such as avocado, houmous and tahini," advises Charlotte. As part of a healthy vegan diet, the NHS recommends eating nuts and seeds rich in omega-3 fatty acids (such as walnuts) every day and choosing unsaturated oils and spreads (and using them in small amounts).
Tip #4: Stock up on protein
"It’s a myth that vegan diets can’t provide you with enough protein," says Harpreet. To get the protein your body needs, Harpreet and Charlotte recommend including plant-based protein with every meal, such as lentils, beans, tofu, tempeh, nuts, seeds and chickpeas.
"It’s important to eat a variety of plant proteins within your meals," adds Charlotte, "as this will help you get all the essential amino acids your body needs, so make sure you mix things up."
Tip #5: Swot up on vitamins and minerals
Diversity is key when it comes to getting all the vitamins and minerals you need on a vegan diet. "Try to eat a variety of differently coloured fruits and vegetables every day and avoid eating too many highly processed foods," says Charlotte, "however, don’t be afraid to have fortified products, such as fortified plant-based milk or meat alternatives, as these can help fill some important nutritional gaps."
Here are some of the nutrients you may have to be extra mindful of on a vegan diet:
Usually rich in dairy products, good sources for vegans include green, leafy vegetables, such as broccoli and cabbage, fortified unsweetened soya, pea and oat drinks, calcium-set tofu, pulses and dried fruit, such as raisins, figs and dried apricots.
Iron and zinc
"You can likely meet your requirements by eating plenty of plant-based foods rich in iron- and zinc-rich plant-based foods from different food groups, eg, wholegrains, fortified cereals, pulses, nuts, seeds, leafy green vegetables and dried fruit," says Harpreet.
"If you’re not eating oily fish, plant-based omega-3 sources include walnuts, ground flaxseed, hemp seeds, chia seeds and rapeseed oil," says Harpreet. "Approximately one tablespoon of chia seeds or ground flaxseed, or about six walnut halves per day, should help to meet requirements."
"This is mainly found in animal products," says Harpreet. "Fortified foods are the best source on a vegan diet, like vitamin B12-fortified nutritional yeast flakes, breakfast cereals, plant-based milks, yoghurts and spreads. Aim for three micrograms (mcg) per day from fortified foods."
As vegan sources of B12 are fairly limited, it could be worth considering a supplement.
"Everybody, vegan or not, is recommended to supplement with 10 micrograms of vitamin D daily, specifically during the autumn and winter months," says Harpreet.
Consider: Boots Vegan Vitamin D3
• Contains 90 tablets
• 25 micrograms
Vitamin D is important for keeping bones, teeth and muscles healthy. As the sun isn’t strong enough in the autumn and winter for the body to produce it (and it can be tricky to get from food alone), a daily supplement might help support levels.
Tip #6: Avoid misinformation
"Be careful of nutrition misinformation on social media, as there are a number of unqualified influencers promoting dangerous nutrition advice online, which could have a negative impact on your health," warns Charlotte.
Her advice? "Look out for qualified nutrition professionals who are well-informed about vegan diets, such as nutritionists registered with the Association for Nutrition and dietitians registered with the Health and Care Professions Council."
Tip #7: Check your labels
If you do decide to go vegan, note that unexpected ingredients or preparation processes can catch out even the most experienced plant-eaters. And remember that sometimes people do confuse vegetarian with vegan, so always ask about the ingredients if you aren’t sure.
It can also be helpful to check vegan foods for saturated fat, salt and sugar levels, too – just because it’s vegan, it’s not necessarily a healthy choice. Some meat substitutes can contain animal ingredients like eggs, honey or milk derivatives and so it’s worth checking your labels to make sure.
"Also, check supplements – read every label to make sure they’re clearly marked as vegan-friendly," says Boots nutritionist, Vicky Pennington.
Whether you’re interested in being a part-time plant-based eater or diving into a full-time vegan lifestyle, it’s never been easier to make the transition. As our experts point out, research into what makes up a healthy, balanced vegan diet and planning are key for reducing the risk of becoming deficient in nutrients like calcium, iron and vitamin B12. Hopefully their tips provide plenty of food for thought for the start of your plant-based journey.
Hungry for more? See The Vegan Eatwell Guide for more information about a healthy diet. It applies to vegetarians, vegans, people of all ethnic origins and those who are a healthy weight for their height, as well as those who are overweight.