How to switch to a vegan diet

How easy is it to go vegan? Read BBC Good Food's tips for following a vegan diet and learn how to cut out animal products and create vegan recipes using specialist substitute ingredients. 

Fresh vegetable selection

Who took the challenge?

Marianne Voyle, BBC Good Food sub-editor: My partner and I rely heavily on meat for all meals. I’m also a cheese addict, so was keen to find out if I could manage without it.

The challenge: follow a vegan diet for two weeks

Meat production has quadrupled worldwide since the Sixties, with major environmental implications. Following a plant-based diet helps to reduce our carbon footprint. I wanted to do my bit by going vegan and not eating foods that contain animal products, including meat, fish, shellfish, dairy, eggs and honey.

How to switch to a vegan diet

The first hurdle was telling friends and family – the words ‘bland’ and ‘lack of protein’ were thrown about, and I worried that socialising might be hard. After some research, I concluded that protein wasn’t a problem – there’s enough in veg, beans, nuts and seeds. It’s harder to get omega-3 (it’s present in chia seeds and walnuts, but not in the same active form as oily fish) and The Vegan Society recommends vitamin D and B12 supplements. Concerned about losing weight, I spoke to Kerry Torrens, Good Food’s nutritional therapist, who advised me to increase my portion sizes.

Week one

Vegan parmesan cheese
As my options were now limited, I spent time prepping soups, curry pastes, sauces and snacks. I kept porridge oats at my desk to have with almond milk, banana and nuts in the morning. It was hard to find food on-the-go, as so many items contain milk and eggs. I also hadn’t realised that not all wines are vegan. Veganism is all about finding creative recipe solutions. I made a lovely butter ‘chicken’ curry with a base of ground cashews and coconut cream, and replicated a carbonara with oat-based cream, smoked tofu and vegan cashew ‘parmesan’ (if you want to try making your own, check out our guide to making vegan cheese).

Week two

Vegan cupcakes
I was surprised that desserts and cakes tasted the same. I found some great vegan bakes in specialist cafes in London. Going vegan doesn’t deprive you of dessert! The real struggle was cheese – none of the dairy-free versions I tried hit the spot. There are a few vegan mac ’n’ cheese recipes that use squash and nutritional yeast (yeast flakes that provide a cheesy flavour), but it tastes so different I question whether they should tease people with the name!

The verdict

Going vegan wasn’t right for me. If I didn’t eat constantly, I felt weak and hungry, and I lost weight. It’s all about finding a balance and eating what makes you feel healthy and happy. I’m not ready to give up dairy (I couldn’t go without my beloved mac ’n’ cheese), but I didn’t miss meat, so I’ll be cooking more veg-based meals. But who knows? This could all change if I find that elusive vegan cheese.

Top five tips for going vegan

  1. Give yourself time to adjust to a vegetarian diet before giving up all animal products. Switching straight to a high-fibre diet could upset your stomach.
  2. Buy a mini chopper or blender to make pastes, sauces and soups.
  3. Instagram accounts are useful for restaurant recommendations, plus we have plenty of vegan recipes to choose from.
  4. If you can, visit a few vegan restaurants and cafés to see what great things you can eat on a vegan diet.
  5. Specialist ingredients can be expensive. Chia seeds, nutritional yeast and nuts are much cheaper if you hunt around online.

More on following a vegan diet...

How to become vegan
Top five vegan ingredients
A balanced diet for vegans
Our ultimate vegan recipe collection
Best sources of protein for vegetarians

Have you tried a vegan diet? Let us know your experiences in the comments section below...

Comments, questions and tips

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Radka Feichtingerová's picture
Radka Feichtingerová
23rd Oct, 2019
Can I just say how much I appreciated the fact that Marianne admitted that going vegan is not for her. I just finished watching two "plant-based" documentaries and I am quite persuaded to give it a go but I have already done it many times and it has never worked out. And after hearing how I should go vegan because of the planet and animals, etc. I really do appreciate the fact that there is somebody who is on the other side and says that the vegan diet is not the best diet ever. Also, who's not just forcing himself/herself to follow the flow and be vegan despite his/her own comfort. Thank you so much for this article.
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24th May, 2017
I switched to a vegan diet in January this year. I love it but do occasionally eat fish because I love fish. I did it by going on an on line course from the Irish twins (The Happy Pear) who own a cafe in greystones near Dublin. The course was a Happy Heart course as at age 60 I have a raised cholesterol level and need to get it down. These guys run their Happy Heart courses monthly. They also have a you tube channel featuring vegan recipes and their 5 minute meals which I found immensely useful. The course guided you through the reasons for a vegan diet and provided a meal plan for the four weeks if the course. The course also included the sources used to justify a vegan diet. I loved the course. It was very informative and am now part of an on line group where we compare notes and ideas on recipes. Because it was a course it gave me the basic training and guided me through a process from being a meat eater to a largely plans based diet. I have a husband and two adult children living at home. They also are eating more vegan dishes. Very often I prep a vegan dish for me then add meat or fish to the dish for them. Spaghetti bolognese is created in 3 pans 1 with cooked meat 2 with lentils and the third the bolognese sauce. Then there is a choice for all tastes.