You’ve already made the switch to a vegetarian diet, but now you’re thinking about saying goodbye to dairy products too. If you’re worried about taking the first step, there are some easy ways to make the transition a smooth and permanent one.
One Step at a Time
The good news is you’re already a pro at successfully adapting to a new diet. Think about how you first became a vegetarian. Did you eliminate one food item at a time? Or did you do the whole thing in one shot? Whatever worked the first time around will probably work again.
“Everyone is different, but I went vegan gradually. I started drinking soy milk rather than cow’s milk, and then one day I thought why not cut out cheese and eggs and go fully vegan,” says Rosamund Raha, Head of Information for the Vegan Society in the UK. www.vegansociety.com
Jill Ovnik a.k.a Vegan Girl says she also made a gradual modification to her diet. First by giving up meats and then gained confidence as she transitioned into calling herself a vegetarian. It took her about four years of eating that way before she was mentally ready to give up the rest. However, she adds that she wishes she’d given it up sooner. “Dr. Dean Ornish MD has noted that people do best when they make drastic changes rather than small ones that can lead them back to old habits, “ says Ovnik.
Watch Out for Common Pitfalls
Not knowing what to cook or eat is often a major stumbling block when you try any new diet. Raha suggests buying a good vegan cookbook. They can range from simple home style cooking to gourmet cuisine, so pick what you’re comfortable making.
“For me planning is important. My vegan diet is second nature now. I don’t think much about it, but I do overeat and eat too many sweets and processed foods if I’m not conscious of taking care of myself and giving meals some planning time,” says Ovnik.
Another setback can happen when you start to feel isolated because you don’t know other vegans. Joining a group or being part of an online discussion forum can sometimes help get your over the initial road bumps. You can also check out www.vegan-info.com. As well as having some great information and links on becoming a vegan, the site also has a program where you’re paired with a mentor for help and support.
Changing Nutritional Needs
Watching your nutritional intake is also important when you start to eliminate certain foods like dairy. Getting enough calcium can become an issue if you don’t substitute dairy for other calcium rich non-animal sources. You also need to keep an eye on iron and B-12 intake. Raha says she takes a supplement called VEG1 that’s been specially formulated for vegans.
If you add things like soymilk, yeast extract, or even breakfast cereal that’s been fortified with B-12 you can usually forgo the supplement. Calcium from foods like tahini, (try combining it with miso for a great pate), or even orange juice are also great choices. Eating green leafy veggies and pumpkin seeds can be great sources of iron, and if you eat them with foods rich in vitamin C you body absorbs the iron more efficiently.
Ovnik says if you don’t feel well after a few months on a vegan diet it’s a good idea to get your blood tested. She sometimes takes a B12 supplement, but follows Dr. McDougall’s recommendation about getting all your nutrients the natural way, that is from a whole food, plant based diet.
Learning to Cook the Vegan Way
Orvnik has 50 vegan food/snack and meal ideas on her DVD ‘Change Your Food, Change Your Life’. You can also print out a weekly meal planner from her Web site. “I make lots of copies and every Sunday I fill in a week’s worth of meals and make a grocery list,” she says.
She also recommends you visit the Web site for Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine and also www.safediets.org. And also check out www.drmcdougall.com. And another site she recommends is Fat Free Vegan.
Here are links to more sites with lots of great information about a vegan diet; many have extensive lists of recipes if you don’t want to invest in a cookbook.
For information about nutrition for vegan children: www.andrews.edu