Going vegan without going crazy

March 29, 2024 Swedish Nutrition Team


In this article:

  • As consumers focus on health and sustainability, plant-based eating and vegan diets continue to grow in popularity. A balanced vegan diet focuses on fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, nuts and seeds and limits ultra-processed food choices.

  • A registered dietitian at Swedish answers common questions about becoming vegan and outlines its health benefits and risks.

  • Want to learn to cook healthy food but not quite ready to go vegan? Join us for a free, online cooking class on April 9.

Plant-based eating and following a vegan diet are becoming increasingly popular as more people are looking for healthy, sustainable food choices that don’t break their budget.

If adopting a vegan diet appeals to you, the logistics of getting started can be a little overwhelming. We talked to Megann Karch, RDN, CD, to get answers to common questions about making the switch from a diet that includes meat and animal products to a vegan plan of eating. Karch is a registered dietitian and clinical nutrition specialist at the Providence Swedish Cherry Hill Campus with advanced expertise in developing healthy habits through better nutrition. Here’s what she shared about going vegan.

Is a vegan diet healthier than a “traditional” diet?

Not necessarily, says Karch.

“A vegan diet is not inherently healthier than a ‘traditional diet.’ It depends on how it’s executed,” she explains. “A well-balanced plant-based diet focuses on fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, nuts and seeds. Vegan versions of ultra-processed foods exist, and if they make up a significant portion of any diet, it will not be a healthier eating pattern,” she explains.

Following recommended best practices, such as the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2020-2025, can ensure you get the nutrition you need.

Why would I choose a vegan diet?

People choose to become vegan for a wide variety of reasons, according to Karch.

“Some people do it because they think it will make them healthier. Others become vegan for environmental or animal ethics concerns,” she says. “I find most people decide to become vegan after watching a fear-mongering documentary or reading a biased blog or book. And while I do think it is important that we are aware of how our food system treats animals and the environment, it is harmful to create fear around food. We can change our consumption patterns without falling into the all-or-nothing thinking of vegan diet or bust.”

Are there health risks with a vegan diet?

As with any eating routine, getting the nutrition you need from a vegan diet requires planning and attention to your daily menu.

“Limiting food sources of protein can decrease your total protein intake and increase your risk of muscle loss and malnutrition,” says Karch. “Certain health conditions – including normal aging – increase the body’s protein needs. It is likely that with careful planning and monitoring, a vegan diet can meet their needs. But it gets increasingly difficult if a person also has allergies to some of the protein-rich plant foods, such as soy.”

Vitamin B12 is only found in animal-based foods, so people following vegan dietary patterns should take vitamin B12 supplements to avoid a deficiency. Bone mineral density can also be problematic with vegan diets as they exclude most high-calcium foods.

“Eating calcium-rich foods like dark leafy greens and chia seeds is important. Find calcium-fortified foods, like a plant-based milk alternative and tofu, and consider taking a calcium supplement,” says Karch. “But be sure to find one verified by a credible third party like the United States Pharmacopeia.

Is making the transition to a vegan diet difficult?

“Everyone copes with change differently,” says Karch. “Some people are energized and motivated by a dramatic shift while others will struggle to break many old habits all at the same time.”

For some people, starting slowly can help ease the difficulties of adopting a new way of eating.

“I would advocate for a transition period where you start gradually increasing your intake of legumes, tofu, tempeh, whole grains, nuts and seeds while decreasing your intake of animal products. Consider starting with a vegetarian diet, where dairy and eggs are still included, as you become more familiar with preparing plant protein sources. You’ll struggle to be a vegan if you don’t like beans, and cooking tofu can be a learning curve,” Megann advises.

To boost your chance of success:

  • Find support by connecting with other vegans to swap recipes and information.
  • Start in stages by removing one meat or animal product from your diet at a time and replacing it with a plant-based protein, whole grain, fruit or vegetable.
  • Don’t make unrealistic goals that attempt to change your eating overnight. Create a menu that fits your budget, schedule and abilities.
  • Start with making a single vegetarian or vegan meal. Then try it for all the meals in a day.
  • Give yourself extra time at the grocery store until you get more familiar with different products and what they contain without reading every label.

How do I feed the non-vegans at my table?

Although you can choose to change your diet and offer those foods to loved ones, you cannot impose those changes on other people.

“When cooking for a variety of dietary patterns, I would focus on making a starch and vegetable suitable for everyone, and then you may just need to prepare separate proteins. Consider batch cooking these proteins so you don’t have to make two every day but can alternate instead,” says Karch. “Over time, your family may become curious about your food and interested in trying it. If they like it, then they may consider having more meatless meals.”

Learn more and find a practitioner

Interested in adding a healthy recipe to your book but not quite ready to go vegan? Join us on Tuesday, April 9, for a free online cooking class where we’ll be making blackened shrimp and pesto quinoa bowls. Register now to get the recipe and get ready for the class.

Whether you require an in-person visit or want to consult a doctor virtually, you have options. Contact Swedish Primary Care to schedule an appointment with a primary care provider. You can also connect virtually with your provider to review your symptoms, provide instruction and follow up as needed. And with Swedish ExpressCare Virtual you can receive treatment in minutes for common conditions such as colds, flu, urinary tract infections and more. You can use our provider directory to find a specialist or primary care physician near you.

Information for patients and visitors

Related resources

New year, new-trition. Get 2024 off to a healthy start.

The connection between food and diabetes

Reduce your sodium intake one step at a time for better health

This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your health care professional’s instructions.

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About the Author

The Swedish nutrition team seeks to bring you expert advice and tips on how to fill your plate with the right nutrients to fuel your body in the healthiest way possible.

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