By Leo Babauta
This is a list of some frequently asked questions about veganism:
1. Do I need to eat raw food as a vegan?
A: No, not at all. The raw food movement is separate from the vegan movement, though there is obviously some overlap — some vegans are “raw vegans” who eat both vegan and raw. Many, many vegans, however, eat cooked food, and you shouldn’t equate raw and vegan at all. I personally will eat raw food from time to time, but mostly cooked.
2. Does being vegan mean lots of food preparation?
A: Not necessarily. Just like with non-vegan diets, it’s totally up to you. Many vegans eat convenience food (restaurants, frozen vegan food, canned, etc.). Many vegans cook everything themselves. Most of us do some combination, just like everyone else.
3. Will I lose weight?
A: Not necessarily. While it’s true that vegans in general weigh less than non-vegans, and being vegan can be a good way to cut calories (no animal fats) while increasing nutrition (more veggies) … there’s no guarantee of weight loss. You can eat vegan junk food and gain weight or stay the same. You can eat very healthy vegan food and lose weight (if you’re overweight). You can also eat healthy vegan food and gain weight if you’re underweight (focus on high-caloric density foods like nuts and avocadoes). Veganism is not a weight-loss diet. It’s an ethical choice.
4. Safe if I’m pregnant/breastfeeding?
A: I’m not a nutritionist or doctor, but many vegan mothers have had perfectly safe pregnancies, and breastfed healthy vegan children. More info: vegan breastfeeding, vegan pregnancy & breastfeeding, vegan diets & breastfeeding.
5. Will I still benefit if I’m vegetarian?
A: Going vegetarian (which can include dairy & eggs but not fish or meat) is an awesome thing to do. You greatly reduce animal suffering, and vegetarians tend to be healthier than meat eaters (in general). So yes, if you’re currently a meat eater, vegetarianism is something you should try out. Many vegans were vegetarian first, including me, and if you go vegetarian you might later look into the ethics of dairy and eggs and other animal products.
6. Can I do this challenge more than once?
A: Absolutely! This challenge is meant to be an easy way to try veganism, for those who are curious but intimidated, but there’s no mandate that you do it only once, or only for 7 days. You can do it for a month, or two, or indefinitely. Or you can try it for 7 days, then another 7 days next month, or whatever feels right to you.
7. What is the best milk substitute? (Almond, Coconut, Soy, Rice) Are different milks best for different uses?
A: This is purely a matter of taste (and allergies if you have them). Each kind of milk tastes different, and if you’re used to cow’s milk, they probably won’t taste as good as what you’re used to. This is purely because of what you’re used to — I hated soy and almond milk at first, but decided to give them a chance and now really like them much more than cow’s milk. I think it takes about a week to adjust, so give it a chance. Some people don’t like soy or have soy allergies, so they prefer almond milk. Commercial soy milk tends to have more nutrients added, like calcium and iron and B12, so this can be an easy way to get some supplementation. Some people, however, make their own soy milk or almond milk. Rice milk tends to be thinner than the others, but is great if you have allergies to both soy and nuts. Coconut milk tends to be higher in calories, but the taste is preferred by some.
8. The hardest thing to give up is cheese. What is the best cheese substitute you know of?
A: Honestly, you don’t need cheese as much as you think. I really thought I’d have a hard time giving up cheese and it turned out to be a non-issue. Just start by eating foods that don’t normally have cheese — stir-frys, for example, or scrambled tofu or chili. Even pasta can be great without cheese, if you mix it with olive oil, garlic, veggies and some salt/pepper. That said, there are better and better vegan cheese alternatives out there — Daiya seems to be one of the more popular brands, especially for things like pizza, though there are many other good ones and it’s a matter of tasting a few to see what you like best. Just don’t expect them to be exactly like cheese — they all have their own flavors/textures. Check out Kite Hill as well.
9. How do I know what to order when eating out at a non-vegan restaurant? Is anything safe?
A: This is a little more challenging at first, when you don’t know your way around most restaurants, but after awhile it gets much much easier. First, you can look for vegan, vegetarian and vegan-friendly restaurants at Happy Cow. Second, even if you don’t do your research, some restaurants are better choices than others — Thai, Indian, Middle Eastern, Ethiopian and other Asian restaurants tend to be good choices. Just specify that you don’t eat meat, egg or dairy, and ask that there not be any meat, chicken or fish in the broths. Most restaurants in Western countries understand this. Third, there are often things that are close to vegan that can be veganized — ask for something without the cheese or chicken, for example. There are lots of good choices at most restaurants. Worst-case scenario, have a salad without meat/cheese or dairy dressing, and eat before or after you go to the restaurant. Then vow to try a vegan/vegetarian restaurant the next time you go out. Read more.
10. Where can I find quick recipes for vegans? I feel like all of the recipes are so long and involved, I end up just eating salad all the time.
11. Is it bad to have too much soy?
A: While you can have too much of anything, the “soy is bad for you” scare is false. Soy in moderate amounts (what a normal person would eat in a day) is perfectly healthy. You can have soymilk in your cereal, tempeh for lunch, tofu for dinner, and be perfectly fine (I’ve done this many times myself). Read more.
12. Is there anything wrong with eating vegan buttery sticks? What about olive oil?
A: Well, eating too much of any kind of fat isn’t great, but using some Earth Balance (vegan butter substitute) in your baking or other cooking is fine. Olive oil is even better — a moderate amount of olive oil is healthy. You can even get Earth Balance made out of olive oil! Canola oil is another good choice. Avoid margerines with trans fats, and “vegetable oil”.
13. What’s a good egg substitute for baking? Is there a way to mimic a scrambled egg?
A: Egg substitutes depend on what you’re doing with the baking. I’ve used Ener-G egg replacer (basically a couple different starches mixed together) with lots of success in pancakes and baked goods, but bananas are good in some cases, and other vegan baking recipes don’t call for any kind of egg substitute. One of my favorite vegan baking books, Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World, uses a mixture of soymilk & apple cider vinegar and is amazing. Here’s a vegan baking cheat sheet.
14. Are frozen vegan dinners bad for you?
A: No. Any kind of convenience or prepared foods should be eaten in moderation (vegan canned chili/soups, frozen vegan nuggets, frozen vegan pizzas, etc.), because they tend to be 1) expensive, 2) higher in sugar, fat and salt, and 3) have other ingredients than whole foods. However, in moderation, they’re totally fine, and are a good way to get started as a vegan without too much hassle. They’re often healthier than non-vegan frozen dinners.
15. Where is the best place to get protein and calcium?
A: Whole foods are the best sources of almost all the nutrients you need. Beans, nuts, soy foods (tofu, tempeh, soymilk), seeds tend to be highest in protein, though most foods actually have some protein (brown rice, for example). Read more on protein. For calcium, you can get good amounts of calcium from dark leafy green veggies (which are great for many nutrients) such as kale, spinach, chard, broccoli, bok choy, mustard greens and the like. Read more about calcium and bone health.
16. How can I tell if I’m vitamin deficient?
A: Well, it’s not something to worry about if you’re just going vegan for 7 days — you can’t get a vitamin deficiency in that time. However, vitamins and minerals are good things to be aware of over the longer term, and I highly recommend reading Vegan for Life and educating yourself about nutrition needs (even if you don’t stay vegan). If you’re worried about deficiencies, you can talk to a doctor and get tested for key vitamins/minerals such as iron, vitamin D (which even non-vegans tend to be deficient in), and B12.
17. What about vitamin B-12? Should I start taking supplements immediately?
A: You won’t get deficient in B-12 in a week, or even a month. However, vegans should definitely educate themselves about B-12, which is one of the only vitamins/minerals you won’t find in abundance in whole plant foods. You can get it in fortified soymilk/tofu, fortified nutritional yeast (Red Star brand), or take a B-12 vitamin or multivitamin. Read more.
18. What is juicing? How can I ease into it? What kitchen equipment do I really need to start out?
A: Juicing is a separate thing from veganism, though like raw foodism, there are a number of vegans who juice. Basically, it’s making juice out of fruits and veggies, and sometimes mixing that with powders (protein, green powders, hemp powder, etc.) and drinking that instead of eating meals. I’ve tried it myself. Most people buy a dedicated juicer, or if you’re fancy, try a Vitamix blender, which will make smoothies out of the whole veggies/fruits (instead of just using the juice).
19. How long does produce last in the fridge? Which produce wilts the fastest? Which lasts the longest?
A: Fresh produce — bought within the last 4-5 days — is usually best, I’ve found. It tastes better and has all its nutrients. Root veggies (potatoes, beets, onions, garlic, etc.) tend to last the longest. Berries seem to get mold as soon as you get outside the grocery store, though I just wash them and toss out the bad ones. Skip iceburg lettuce (devoid of nutrition) and get dark leafy greens like kale, spinach, broccoli, chard, and bok choy instead. These tend to last 4-5 days before wilting, in my experience. Frozen veggies are also great for stir-frys, soups, chilis, etc.
20. How can I speed up the time it takes to put together a vegan meal? Is there a good way to prep veggies in bulk so they’re ready for use when I’m ready to cook?
A: If speed is your thing, you can buy pre-chopped veggies, or frozen veggies that are chopped. Diced garlic in a jar. Others swear by food processors. Veggies you can chop ahead of time (in bulk) include onions, peppers, squash, broccoli and zucchini. Using simple recipes also speeds things up — I will chop up a couple cloves of garlic and saute in olive oil as I dice up tofu or tempeh, then toss those in the pan as I chop up some greens, then toss those in the pan with some salt & pepper, and voila! Dinner in 5 minutes.
21. Is it ok to freeze veggies and fruits?
A: Yes, absolutely.
22. Are there any vegan meals I can cook in bulk and then freeze?
A: Lots of vegan meals freeze well. Soups, spaghetti sauce, chili, curries are great ideas.
23. Which nuts are the best to eat? Whats the difference between a roasted almond and a raw almond? Does it really make a difference?
A: Pretty much all nuts are great, and have varying amounts of healthy fats and protein. Try them raw. Raw nuts tend to be a bit healthier, though if you’re not used to eating nuts, you can start with the roasted kind (I did). Eventually work the raw kind in. I prefer raw walnuts and almonds, though you might try some hazelnuts or pecans. Ground flaxseeds are amazingly healthy too.
24. What’s the difference between the different types of tofu?
A: The kind you’ll probably want to use for stir-frys is “firm”. It tends to hold up well in most dishes as a solid cube. I used firm tofu for my tofu scramble too. Silken tofu is often used in soups (like miso soup) or baking (blended into a cake for example), or Chinese dishes like ma-po tofu (without the pork). There’s also super-firm, which tends to be really solid and can take some getting used to. Experiment!
25. Although I know I’m eating enough, I still get vicious cravings for a delicious, heavy, piece of pizza. Will the ravished animal inside me ever die?
A: It’s amazing how your cravings change over time. Yes, you will lose your taste for meat and cheese and eggs over time, though it’s probable that the smell of fried meats or cheese will always smell good. If you’re craving some pizza, try vegan pizza with Daiya cheese. There’s usually a vegan food that will satisfy even the heartiest cravings. Check out these vegan grilled cheese recipes, for example.
26. Whats the difference between fully and partially hydrogenated vegetable oil?
A: Most of the products you see with hydrogenated oils are partially hydrogenated — margerine and commercial baked goods, for example. These usually have trans fats, which are very bad for your health (worse than saturated fats). Fully hydrogenated oils tend to not have the trans fats, and have saturated fats instead (the fat goes from unsaturated to saturated in the hydrogenating process). These are a bit better than the partially hydrogenated oils, but still something to have in moderation. Read more.
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