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GOING VEGAN

Veganism has come a long way: interest in a totally animal-free diet is at an all-time high, with celebrities like Bill Clinton, Alicia Silverstone, Jay Z, and Beyoncé leading the charge. But before you jump on the no-meat-eggs-or-dairy bandwagon, you should know what you’re getting into. Here are 12 things to expect when you’re going vegan.

You’ll need a B12 supplement

Vitamin B12 occurs naturally only in animal foods, so you’ll want to stock up on a variety of B12-fortified foods as well as a B12 supplement. B12 keeps the body’s nerve and blood cells healthy and helps make DNA, so deficiencies can lead to tiredness, weakness, constipation, loss of appetite, weight loss (the bad kind), nerve problems, and depression. To find out if you need to up your intake, ask your doctor for a simple blood draw.

going-vegan-1…And maybe an iron supplement, too

Iron comes in two forms: heme and non-heme. Heme, which makes up about 40% of the iron in animal foods, is easily absorbed by the body. Vegan diets contain only non-heme, which is less readily absorbed, so you may need to ingest more iron if you want to get the same benefit. Good vegan iron sources include legumes, sunflower seeds, dried raisins, and dark, leafy greens. Vitamin C-rich foods (think: red peppers, citrus, and broccoli) aid iron absorption.

Your friends and family will ask a lot of questions

People are very sensitive about their diets, especially when you challenge what they have always believed. The best way to minimize conflict is to emphasize that you are going vegan for your own reasons and that it seems to work for you. In other words, make it about you, so nobody feels they need to defend their choices.

You’ll have to find new protein sources

Every meal should contain protein. Proteins are the building blocks of life: they break down into amino acids that promote cell growth and repair. Adults need to get at least 0.8 grams of protein daily for every kilogram of body mass—that’s about 54 grams for a 150-pound woman. The best sources of vegan protein include natural soy, lentils, beans, quinoa, and seitan.

You shouldn’t replace animal products with junk

Swapping out meat for white bread, pasta, and other packaged foods sets you up for failure on the vegan diet. It’s not a good idea to trade in animal products, which contain protein, vitamins, and minerals, for processed foods that provide little nutritional value other than calories. The result: hunger, weight gain, and a grumpier mood.

Take it easy on soy-based products

In general, critics overstate the dangers of soy and the promoters exaggerate its benefits. Though scientists are still arguing over the effects of soy on cancer and heart health, one thing is for certain: Consuming too much soy-based vegan ‘meat’ is arguably worse (than) consuming high-quality animal products. Meat substitutes are often highly processed and loaded with sodium and preservatives, so read labels carefully. The healthiest sources of soy are miso, tempeh, tofu, soy milk, and edamame.

You don’t have to make the switch at once

You won’t just wake up one morning magically vegan. It takes work, so it should also take time. Start by adding more plant-based foods to your diet, while at the same time cutting back on animal products, especially those that are non-organic, and more importantly processed, refined foods. Making gradual changes and assessing how you are feeling along the way is key.

going-veganBe prepared to read food labels

If you’re serious about being vegan, checking food labels and verifying ingredients is a must. Just because a food product is not glaringly non-vegan doesn’t mean that it’s suitable for a vegan diet. Casein and whey, which come from milk, are present in many cereal bars, breads, and granolas, while gelatin and tallow (also known as suet) are derived from meat. Then there’s Natural Red 4 (also known as carmine, cochineal, or cochineal extract), which is a food colouring derived from the dried bodies of female beetles. Head spinning yet?

You may feel happier

Animals won’t be the only ones happy with your vegan move. So will you. One reason why: Compared to vegetarian diets, omnivorous ones contain more arachidonic acid, which can spur neurological changes that drag down mood.

Eating out

Word to the wise: Even if your item of choice looks vegan, tell your waiter about your dietary restriction to ensure that no animal products are used to make your meal (think hidden butter or chicken stock).

Plants might cover your calcium needs

It is recommended that adults between the ages of 19 and 50 get a minimum of 1,000 mg of calcium a day, but preliminary research shows vegans may be able to get away with less than that. A study found that when vegans consumed at least 525 mg per day of calcium, their risk of bone fracture was no different than that of non-vegetarians with similar calcium intakes. The key is eating a variety of naturally calcium-rich foods such as kale, bok choy, almonds, soy beans, figs, and navel oranges as well as calcium-fortified foods such as cereals, plant-based milks, and tofu made with calcium sulfate. Bonus: soy, leafy greens, and most fortified foods are also high in vitamin D, which helps your body absorb calcium.