8 Things To Do When You Start a Vegan Diet

Find out more about the vegan diet plan and how you can make the switch.

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Veganism is a long-term commitment to avoiding ways that others exploit or use animals used cruelly for food, clothing, or another purpose. Many people choose to eat a vegan diet for their health, the environment, and the welfare of animals.

Maybe you've decided to start a vegan diet because ethical concerns have led you to embrace veganism. Or perhaps you've heard that plant-based foods can promote better health. 

Either way, there are benefits to eating less meat. You can improve your health and well-being and decrease the risk of the following:

  • Heart disease
  • Stroke
  • Obesity
  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Certain cancers

Whatever your reasoning is, before you jump on the no-meat-eggs-or-dairy bandwagon, you should know what you're getting into. Here are eight things you may need to do before starting a vegan diet plan.

Monitor Your Vitamin B12 Levels

Vitamin B12 is an essential vitamin that your body needs to support the nervous system, form red blood cells, and synthesize DNA. Vitamin B12 occurs naturally only in animal foods, like fish, meat, poultry, eggs, and dairy.

Going on a vegan diet means consuming no animal products at all. So, you'll want to ensure you get enough vitamin B12-fortified foods to avoid a deficiency.

Symptoms of a vitamin B12 deficiency include:

  • Fatigue
  • Heart palpitations
  • Weight loss
  • Numbness and tingling in the hands and feet
  • Pale skin
  • Depression

If you suspect you are low on vitamin B12 or have started a vegan diet, let a healthcare provider know. They can monitor your vitamin B12 levels and recommend a supplement.

Make Sure You’re Getting Enough Iron

Iron comes in two forms: heme and non-heme. Vegan diets contain only non-heme iron, which your body less readily absorbs than heme. In other words, you may need more iron to get the same benefit.

Good vegan sources of iron include:

  • Nuts
  • Beans
  • Fortified grain products
  • Tomatoes
  • Spinach
  • Lentils
  • Oysters
  • Breakfast cereals

Find Foods That Meet Your Calcium Needs

Dairy products are a main source of calcium. Therefore, vegans may not get enough calcium in their diet. Calcium is a key mineral that makes up your bone structure and keeps your tissues strong and flexible. Most adults between 19–70 should get a minimum of 1,000 milligrams of calcium a day.

The key is eating a variety of dairy-free, calcium-rich foods, such as:

  • Kale
  • Broccoli
  • Chinese cabbage
  • Calcium-fortified fruit juices
  • Milk substitutes, such as soy milk, almond milk, and oat milk
  • Tofu
  • Cereals

Bonus: milk substitutes, cereals, and some orange juices are also high in vitamin D, which helps your body absorb calcium. If your calcium levels are low, a healthcare provider may suggest a calcium supplement to ensure you get enough calcium.

Determine Vegan Protein Sources

Every meal should contain proteins, which are the building blocks of life. Proteins break down into amino acids that promote cell growth and repair.

If you decided to start a vegan diet and were previously getting your protein from foods like meat, fish, poultry, or eggs, you will need a new source of protein. Luckily, there are plenty of vegan protein options, such as:

  • Beans (kidney beans, black beans, and lentils)
  • Nuts (almonds, hazelnuts, mixed nuts, and peanuts)
  • Seeds
  • Peas
  • Tofu

As you adjust to different protein options, ensure you eat enough protein every day. The recommended protein intake varies with each person, depending on your overall calorie needs.

Most adults should aim for a protein intake of 10% to 35% of their total calorie needs. So, if you need 2000 calories per day, about 400 calories should come from protein.

Read Food Labels More Often

Checking food labels and verifying ingredients is a must for a vegan diet. An item that appears to be vegan may contain non-vegan ingredients. Some examples include:

  • Casein and whey, which come from milk, are present in many cereal bars, bread, and granola.
  • Gelatin and tallow are derived from meat.
  • Carmine is a red food coloring derived from the dried bodies of female beetles.

Other than food, some vegans also choose to avoid cosmetics and toiletries that may have animal-derived ingredients. For a complete list, People for Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) has ingredients to avoid, including alternative options.

Don't Ditch Your Favorite Restaurants

As veganism becomes more popular, so do vegan options on restaurant menus. So, there should be plenty of options for a vegan diet plan if you want to dine-in or take-out.

Also, even if your item of choice looks vegan, tell your server about your dietary restriction. Letting your server know you're vegan can ensure that no animal products, like butter or chicken stock, are used to make your meal.

Keep the Cost Down

Meat can be an expensive item at the grocery store. So, you're already saving by cutting out that cost. And even if you're buying more produce than ever, you can still find ways to cut costs, like:

  • Swapping some of your fresh produce for frozen
  • Buying items, like beans, nuts, and grains, in bulk 
  • Buying fruits and vegetables from a local farmer's market instead of grocery stores

Starting a vegan diet doesn't always mean you have to spend more on your food.

Start Slowly

You don't have to become vegan overnight. There's no rush. If you've decided to start a new diet plan, don't feel you have to do it all at once.

Instead, you can start by slowly cutting back. Focus on adding more plant-based foods and swapping out animal-derived foods. Eventually, you can cut out animal products entirely if you choose to.

A Quick Review

If you decide to try a vegan diet, there are a few things you should keep in mind before you start.

You may need to monitor your vitamin and mineral levels—specifically vitamin B12, iron, and calcium. Your diet will be different, and you may need to find some good protein sources, like beans, peas, and nuts. Read food labels often, and find restaurants that accommodate vegan diets.

Also, be sure to let a healthcare provider know that you're following a vegan diet plan. They can monitor your vitamin and mineral levels.

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Sources
Health.com uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  3. National Institutes of Health. Vitamin B12.

  4. National Institutes of Health. Iron.

  5. Pawlak R, Berger J, Hines I. Iron status of vegetarian adults: a review of literatureAm J Lifestyle Med. 2016;12(6):486-498. doi:10.1177/1559827616682933

  6. National Institutes of Health. Calcium.

  7. National Institutes of Health. Vitamin D.

  8. National Library of Medicine. Protein in diet.

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  10. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. Animal-derived ingredients list.

  11. People for Ethical Treatment of Animals. Animal-derived ingredients resource.

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