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From Vegetarian to Vegan


You've already made the switch to a vegetarian diet, but now you're thinking about saying goodbye to dairy products too. If you're worried about taking the first step, there are some easy ways to make the transition a smooth and permanent one.

One step at a time

The good news is you're already a pro at successfully adapting to a new diet. Think about how you first became a vegetarian. Did you eliminate one food item at a time? Or did you do the whole thing in one shot? Whatever worked the first time around will probably work again.

'Everyone is different, but I went vegan gradually. I started drinking soya milk rather than cow's milk, and then one day I thought why not cut out cheese and eggs and go fully vegan,' says Ms Rosamund Raha, head of information for the Vegan Society in the UK.

Ms Jill Ovnik, who has produced a DVD and website all about vegan diets, says she also made a gradual modification to her diet, first by giving up meats. She then gained confidence as she transitioned into becoming a vegetarian. It took her about four years of eating that way before she was mentally ready to give up the rest. However, she adds that she wished she had given it up sooner.

Common pitfalls

Not knowing what to cook or eat is often a major stumbling block when you try any new diet. Ms Raha suggests buying a good vegan cookbook. They can range from simple home-style cooking to gourmet cuisine, so pick what you are comfortable making.

'For me, planning is important. My vegan diet is second nature now. I don't think much about it, but I do overeat and eat too many sweets and processed foods if I'm not conscious of taking care of myself and giving meals some planning time,' Ms Ovnik says.

Another setback can happen when you start to feel isolated because you don't know other vegans. Joining a group or being part of an online discussion forum can sometimes help get you over the initial road bumps. You can also check out www.vegan-info.com. As well as having some great information and links on becoming a vegan, the site also has a programme where you are paired with a mentor for help and support.

Nutritional needs

Watching your nutritional intake is also important when you start to eliminate certain foods like dairy products. Getting enough calcium can become an issue if you don't substitute dairy for other calcium-rich, non-animal sources. You also need to keep an eye on iron and vitamin B12 intake. Ms Raha says she takes a supplement called VEG1 that has been specially formulated for vegans.

If you add things like soya milk, yeast extract, or even breakfast cereal that has been fortified with B12, you can usually forgo the supplements. Calcium from foods like tahini (a thick mixture made from crushed sesame seeds - try combining it with miso for a great pate), or even orange juice are also great choices. Eating green leafy veggies and pumpkin seeds can be great sources of iron, and if you eat them with foods rich in vitamin C, you body absorbs the iron more efficiently.

Ms Ovnik says if you don't feel well after a few months on a vegan diet, it's a good idea to get your blood tested.

Cooking the vegan way

Ms Ovnik has 50 vegan food, snack and meal ideas on her DVD, Change Your Food, Change Your Life. You can also print out a weekly meal planner from her website www.vegangal.com. 'I make lots of copies and every Sunday I fill in a week's worth of meals and make a grocery list,' she says.

She also recommends that you visit the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine website, as well as www.safediets.org. DrMcDougall.com and FatFreeVegan.com are her other recommendations.

Here are links to more sites with lots of great information about a vegan diet. Many have extensive lists of recipes if you don't want to invest in a cookbook.

>> veganconnection.com
>> www.vegan.com
>> vegan.uchicago.edu/resource/

For information about nutrition for vegan children: www.andrews.edu