Veganism has come a long way: Once reserved for peace-loving hippies, 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.
1. 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.
2. … And Maybe an Iron Supplement Too
Iron comes in two forms: heme and non-heme. Heme, which makes up about 40 percent 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, says New York City nutritionist Christian Henderson, R.D. 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.
3. 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," says plant-based dietitian Julieanna Hever, R.D., host of Veria Living's What Would Julieanna Do?" 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."
4. You’ll Have to Find New Protein Sources
Every meal should contain protein, says vegan dietitian Valerie Rosser, R.D. Proteins are the building blocks of life: they break down into amino acids that promote cell growth and repair. The Institute of Medicine recommends that adults 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, Rosser says.