So you’re considering making the big switch.

This can be an exciting and challenging time. Going in with eyes wide open is always best because – after all – you are what you eat and your health depends on it.

So is going vegan healthy? Are there health benefits, side effects?

Well, yes. Yes. And yes.

Going vegan is a drastic change and should be treated with care from the outset. Here’s everything you need to know about veganism.

What does veganism entail?

These days veganism is defined as excluding all meat and animal products from your diet. There are of course many different types of veganism that can include products that have had animal testing (like some shampoos and select medical products) but as a diet, veganism is pretty self-explanatory.

The obvious stuff you can’t eat:

  • Meat – beef, pork, lamb, and other red meats
  • Poultry – chicken, turkey, duck
  • Dairy – including milk, eggs, and (sadly), cheese
  • Fish – including all forms of seafood like mussels, crabs, and oysters

The less obvious stuff you can’t eat:

  • Honey
  • Mayonnaise (damn you, egg yolks)
  • Ice cream
  • Pasta (if it contains egg)

Why go vegan?

Despite how delicious steak is, more and more people are choosing to go vegan every day. The reasons vary, but there are three major motivating factors why people make the switch:

1. Health reasons

People choosing to give up meat and dairy may do so for a variety of health-related reasons. Studies show that eating red meats can increase the risk of heart attacks and increase the chances of weight gain and obesity. Shifting to a plant-based diet is one way to cut down on the kilos.

2. Environmental reasons

This is a big motivating factor for those wanting to lessen their environmental footprint. Climate change has been closely linked to the practices of the animal product industries, with 14.5% of global emissions coming from the production of meat and dairy products alone.

3. Animal cruelty reasons

This is a big motivating factor for those giving up meat. The moral argument against eating meat and animal products is one of the most hard-hitting, with many animal activist groups exposing the cruel treatment of farmed animals, many are choosing to not support these industries.

Make sure you get enough nutrition

Going vegan is a big deal for your body. You’ll want to be prepared to face some (often strange) side effects along the way. Getting the right nutrition is the most important thing to watch as you transition from a meat-based to a plant-based diet.

Watch your vitamin B12 levels

One of the biggest worries from a health perspective is the lower levels of vitamin B12 that a vegan diet provides. Vitamin B12 is usually found in meat and animal products, but can also be derived from some plant-based alternatives. Nutritional yeast is an important substitute, and along with other vegan supplements aid your body through the transition phase and ensure you remain healthy going forward.

What are the side effects of transitioning to veganism?

For anyone who has eaten a meat-based diet their whole life, making the switch to a vegan diet is often riddled with weird side effects as the body changes its behaviour and adjusts to new normals. Here are some of the more common side effects you may encounter:

1. Meat cravings!

It’s almost inevitable. You may even find you’re craving some random meats that you only tried once or twice. That’s totally normal. We’ll discuss some ways of getting over these cravings below.

2. More frequent trips to the toilet.

Indeed, the foods that make up the vegan diet (plenty of fruit and vegetables) are often heavily water-based and will digest far quicker than other foods. This can be a shock at first, however, it’s completely normal and there’s no need to get scared.

3. Slightly different body odour.

This can take some people by surprise, but it’s also totally natural and often for the better (wink). Give it a few months and you’ll forget anything ever happened.

4. Different sleeping patterns

Expect to sleep differently, with different waking times and sometimes vastly different energy levels compared to before. As the body adjusts to different foods, it will naturally evolve to best digest and metabolise those foods. Letting it do its thing is the best thing you can do.

5. Family/friends backlash

Going vegan when you have meat-eater friends and/or family can be a difficult thing to navigate. They’re annoyed because now they have to ‘think’ about your needs when cooking up a steak. You’re just going to have to suck it up and tell them to deal with it.

How to overcome meat cravings when transitioning to veganism?

Overcome by meat cravings? Don’t worry. You’re not alone. Here are some simple ways to call down the hungry giant inside:

1. Keep it saucy

Literally use rich and flavoursome sauces like soy sauce, tamari, red wine, and chilli sauces to boost the density and ‘meatiness’ of your meal.

2. Cook with meat substitutes

The likes of tofu and mushrooms are ideal for some yummy meat substitute dishes. A simple google search will dump thousands of fun meat-alternative recipes into your life.

Try recipes like:

  • vegan tofu ‘scrambled eggs’
  • Vegan tofu burger
  • Vegan butter chicken (cauliflower)

Roasted cauliflower and lentil chipotle tacos (yum)

3. Manage your cravings

Although this seems less inspired than the other two, managing cravings is an important tool for meat-eaters and vegans alike. One way to do this is by tracking your cravings throughout the day or week. This way you can recognise when and how they arise, and then decide which ones you choose to satisfy, thus gaining control over what you eat.

How to get started

Making the first step is always the hardest. But we all start somewhere. First up is making sure you’re all over the necessary nutritional aspects of your vegan journey. Make sure you’re giving your body all the right nutrients, and make extra sure that your fridge is stocked full of healthy vegan friendly products to ease the transition and give you as much choice as possible.