Vegan Troubleshooting | Your #1 Vegan Resource

20 Tips for Vegans

by Jon Sasmor

Last Updated October 29, 2018

Here are the tips I wish I had read 5 years ago before I went vegan. Many of these tips might be helpful to vegetarians and omnivores too.

1. Give yourself credit.

Congratulations! Welcome! Please give yourself credit for caring about your body, the animals, and the earth. Thank you for your good intentions!

2. Learn about the food system.

Vegan and vegetarian diets tend to have lower environmental footprints than high-meat diets (Scarborough 2014). This was my first reason for going vegan. Then I saw videos of the factory farms. Please watch the videos and see how animals are treated before becoming commercial meat (e.g. Mercy for Animals 2011).

Today's plants face what must be equally difficult conditions as today's animals: mineral depletion, weakened immunity, soil missing expected friendly microbes, and exposure to unexpected powerful chemicals. (See Missing Minerals, Mistreated Plants, and an Analysis of Concentrace.)

3. Don't expect perfection.

Vegan diet seems to work better for some people than others. Many people thrive as vegans and say that everyone can do so. Many other people decline in health as vegans and warn everyone against veganism.

No traditional cultures seem to be fully vegan. Many have been near-vegan, but with feasts, hunts, or other times of eating meat. Vegan is a relatively new experiment, and it would be unfair to expect it to work smoothly for everyone.

Many factors affect how well vegan diet works for individual people. A few of these are:

4. Consider sticking to whole, unprocessed foods.

The switch to whole, unprocessed foods seems to be the most widely agreed-upon health suggestion. Junk food is everywhere, and much of it is vegan. Most supermarket foods contain processed wheat flour, processed sugars, cheap vegetable oils, and processed table salt. In a crowd, you will stand out more by eating unprocessed foods or by refusing wheat or sugar or canola oil than you do by being vegan.

A decision to eat whole, unprocessed foods may turn out to be much more difficult to implement than the decision to eat plant foods. This was the case for me. I also believe that much of the initial benefit of my change to vegan diet was due to sticking to whole, unprocessed foods. It was by eating mainly fruits and vegetables that I lost 45 pounds in a year while simultaneously eating 3000-4000 calories a day.

5. Consider allowing certain "borderline" animal foods.

This is a controversial suggestion. Some animal foods are more offensive than others to the environmental, health, and animal cruelty principles that we support. For example, a hamburger made from a grain-, hormone-, and antibiotic-fed, physically-abused, factory-farmed cow might have a different profile from a sustainably-harvested, wild-caught sardine.

Vegans and vegetarians who face difficulties might prefer to eat a few percent of their food from carefully selected animal foods. I've heard stories of vegans who feel tremendously better immediately after trying eggs or meat.

Vegan Troubleshooting has a high standard for your life, and we believe you should be treating yourself as well as other animals. A reasonable goal for vegans might be to be able to try any kind of animal food without feeling any positive effect. Otherwise, some people might want to eat as little animal food as possible while still maintaining optimal health.

For this reason, I make the controversial suggestion: only if you feel it's the right choice for you, try carefully selected animal foods from time to time. Yes, many of them are gross, and you are likely to learn that you don't want them! But if there is some nutrient, known or unknown, that your body really needs, it would be better to find out.

Here is my experience:

  • I was strictly vegan for around 3 years.
  • I tried sardines. I found that I felt better in energy and outlook. I couldn't reproduce the sardines' positive effect with omega-3 supplements or flaxseed, so I think other nutrients are involved. For the time being, I eat a can of sardines every other day.
  • Vitamin A seems to be critical to me for healthy circadian rhythm. It makes me sleep for longer periods, feel rested, get tired after dark, and awake at light. Synthetic vitamin A has much less effect than vitamin A from cod liver oil. Plant-based vitamin A (even 2 pounds a day of carrots) doesn't seem to help my circadian rhtyhm at all. So I'm occasionally eating 1/4 tsp of Rosita brand cod liver oil.
  • I tried a can of clams. They tasted terrible to me and gave me anxiety.
  • I tried some eggs a few times. I noticed no benefit. They seem to make me feel more stressed.
  • I tried a small piece of lamb. This was my first meat in about 5 years. The lamb tasted great and gave me a sense of calmness and strength. Unfortunately, I have not found a similar effect with any plant food. For now I'm eating a small piece (4-5 oz) of lamb about twice a week.
  • I tried eating beef a few times. The meat was unpleasantly tough and felt hard on digestion. I felt ok after eating it. I didn't notice any particular effect.
  • I tried eating chicken. Chicken from the grocery store had little taste and seemed unpleasant to chew and eat. I'm also able to obtain chicken from a local ranch. The ranch chicken has wonderful taste. I feel a sense of energy and well-being after eating the ranch chicken too, better than when eating plant foods alone. For now, I eat a little of the ranch chicken almost every day.

Here are ideas for "borderline foods" that might partially satisfy important principles and might make some vegans feel better:

  • Sardines (See Wilson 2017 for more about sardines. Others have suggested sardines for vegans: Veganista 2017, Jackson 2012, Deville 2011.)
  • Shellfish such as oysters or clams (See Cox 2010 for the case for eating oysters. Wilson 2018 warns that shellfish are caught near shore and may be contaminated with toxic metals at this time.)
  • Fish oil or cod liver oil (People vary in ability to make bioactive forms of omega-3 and vitamin A from the plant-based forms of those nutrients. Both fish oil and cod liver oil are high in omega-3. Also, cod liver oil is high in vitamin A. See Minger 2016, Masterjohn 2016, and Kresser 2015 for more about vitamin A and cod liver oil.)
  • Eggs from well-cared-for chickens
  • Maybe even a little bit of lamb, chicken, grass-fed beef, or other responsibly-raised meat

6. Eat organic when you can, especially for seeds, grains, and legumes.

Genetically modified foods are modified NOT to be tastier or more nutritious, but instead to withstand more potent herbicides added to the food. These herbicides may not poison us directly, but they do poison the trillions of gut bacteria that we rely upon to help digest our food and to give us nutrients in the form we need (Samsel 2013). The gut frequently has been called our "second brain."

My personal opinion is that the herbicide called "Roundup" (active ingredient glyphosate) will end up being a cover-up scandal as big as or even bigger than the harms of smoking cigarettes. Important major crops (canola, soybeans, alfalfa, beets, corn, cotton) have been GMO engineered to be "Roundup Ready" and accept more of this poison. (Food Democracy Now! 2016.) Almost all of production of these 6 crops is the high-glyphosate GMO form, unless they are organic, which prohibits Roundup. To add insult to injury, 2% of the Roundup production is used as a drying agent to slightly accelerate the drying of various dry grains, seeds and legumes. This 2% of the Roundup however may represent 50% of what ends up in food. It may explain why, in one study, the highest levels of glyphosate were found on Cheerios, which is not GMO.

My best idea would be to avoid canola, soy, and corn oils entirely. Alternatives include olive oil (choose an authentic, unadulterated olive oil, sprinkle on cooked or raw food) or coconut or avocado oil (raw or for cooking). Also I'd stick to organic only for all dry goods (grains, beans, soy, bread, cereal, etc.). These suggestions would be significantly more expensive to implement but I think the cheap oils and non-organic dry goods will cost you more in the long run.

An analogy: in sports, the doping drugs and the drug-testing programs are in a tug of war to see who can get ahead, the doping players or the anti-doping regulators. In my point of view, the toxic chemicals used in agriculture (and elsewhere) are way ahead right now of government regulations to restrain them.

To prove a chemical toxic: Scientists must observe the chemical's effects upon a large group and for a significant time. They must get funding to do so, with most funding coming from industry or government. The government regulatory agencies are populated with members of the industry, who are the only ones who even are familiar with the playing field. Additionally, if any chemical appears toxic, industry will aggressively lobby and conduct smear marketing. As things stand now, toxic chemicals will hurt us for decades before they might be regulated.

The corrupt interconnected network of the science, agricultural, government, educational, medical, and pharmaceutical systems is discussed with fascinating stories in Dr. T. Colin Campbell and Dr. Thomas M. Campbell's book "The China Study." I give a high recommendation to reading the final part of "The China Study." ("Part IV: Why Haven't You Heard This Before?"). The conclusions contained in Parts I-III of "The China Study" are widely debated, so I mainly recommend reading Part IV.

The organic labeling system isn't perfect, but organic food is well worth the price.

7. Consider eating more vegetables and fewer fruits.

Fruits and vegetables are equally reputed to have a variety of health benefits. Some vegans base their diet almost entirely on fruits and raw leafy greens, perhaps adding some starch at dinner. These vegans emphasize eating very low fat (5-10% by calories). The low fat intake seems extremely important to those eating a lot of fruit because fructose in fruit and fat, together, somehow seem to do a lot of damage to energy metabolism. (Graham 2018; Freelee 2016.)

I can't recommend a high fruit diet or eating very much fruit. Among people I know and many more posting on the internet, the failure rate of the high fruit diet seems very high, especially when you include those who say it worked well, but still they decided not to do it anymore. I ate around 2/3 of my calories from ripe fruit for a while, and found my energy level to be very unstable. On a longer term basis, many people say that fruit eating seems to worsen blood sugar problems, hypoglycemia, cholesterol, triglyerides, and weight gain (McDougall 2018; Wilson 2016; Chris and others 2011-2018).

Eating a lot of salads or cooked greens didn't work well for me either. They seemed to make a kind of nervous energy or anxiety. Greens don't seem to have a good balance of nutrients to eat in large amount, at least for some people.

Well-cooked root and cruciferous vegetables seem to work extremely well for me. 10 cups a day of cooked vegetables are the most energizing plant food I've found so far!

Don't take for granted the reputation of foods such as fruits and greens. As you try out different kinds of plant foods, you may find that some work better than others for you.

8. Read what both enthusiasts and skeptics say about vegan nutrition.

VegVisits has published a wonderful Vegan List of successful vegans. publishes thorough information about how vegans can meet currently accepted nutrition requirements.

Veganism is a new experiment in human history. It is likely that we don't yet know enough about nutrition to keep all vegans healthy using current nutrition guidelines, let alone to keep everyone at optimal health. To look for gaps in current knowledge, it may be helpful to look at what those who criticize veganism say. Maybe we can take carefully selected supplements and make vegan diet work. Or if it's not working, we could eat the minimal amount of carefully chosen animal foods.

Here are some omnivores' resources for vegans:

9. Make your own beauty and household products, or buy vegan natural ones.

Like processed foods, many beauty and household products are loaded with bad ingredients, including synthetic chemicals that may harm us as well as other creatures in the environment. (EWG 2018; Wilson 2017.) Some products contain toxic minerals too, such as aluminum in deodorants and fluoride in toothpastes. Some products contain hidden animal-based ingredients. Unfortunately, many beauty products are tested on animals who may be treated with cruelty. (Humane Society International 2018.)

You might like to try making beauty and household products yourself from natural ingredients. It's safer, better for the environment, and it's a great family activity!

Here is a recipe for toothpaste, with only 2 ingredients:

  • Place a few tablespoons of baking soda in a jar.
  • Melt a bit of organic coconut oil if it's not already liquid.
  • Slowly add the liquid coconut oil to the baking soda, while stirring.
  • When the texture becomes a paste, the toothpaste is ready.

I put a little on my toothbrush every day. It took a few days to get used to the change from regular toothpaste, but it makes me glad every day to use this simple homemade toothpaste.

A few commercial products I use often and like are:

  • Grandpa's Pine Tar Soap
  • Unscented Dr. Bronner's Liquid Soap, diluted in a foaming dispenser
  • White Vinegar for cleaning, available in gallon jug in grocery store
  • [updated 3/26/2019] Dr. Bronner's Sal Suds laundry detergent
  • [updated 3/26/2019] Bon Ami powder cleanser

Here is an article with a lot of good ideas for homemade household and cosmetic projects: Make Your Own Vegan Cleaning, Makeup, and other Household Products (Perreault 2018).

Your natural, vegan creations will be helping your body, the earth, and the animals. Have fun experimenting!

10. Use nutritional supplements, but with caution.

We are lucky to have access to isolated and concentrated nutrients and superfoods. Nutritional supplements may help to balance soil depletion and increased toxin load in the modern world. They also provide the vitamin B12 that all vegans need.

Our bodies are beautifully complex systems, with nutrients and enzymes interrelated like gears. To respect our bodies' natural systems, we should be careful with large amounts of isolated supplements. Too much of one nutrient may indirectly cause imbalances of several other nutrients.

As an example, high dosages of methyl folate, an active form of vitamin B9, may cause an immediate improvement in methylation symptoms, but still may destabilize the methylation cycle in the long-term. The methyl folate supports one part of the methylation cycle, but also binds and inactivates the GNMT enzyme. Without enough GNMT to allow excess methyl groups to escape the biochemical cycle, the body has weakened ability to maintain a steady methylation level.

Supplements may be not only helpful but crucial to make a vegan diet work. Active-form B12, zinc, magnesium, selenium, and iodine may be among those supplements most helpful to vegans. But even for these and others which may help, it's best not to overdo it. The more supplements and the higher the dosage, the more likely that we cause imbalances of other nutrients.

For this reason, please consider limiting supplement dosages and experimenting to find out when smaller amounts will work for you. These experiments may involve cutting or breaking supplement tablets into parts or opening capsules to take out partial amounts.

11. Get the active forms of vitamin B12 in a top-quality supplement.

Vitamin B12 may be the Achilles heel of vegan diets — it simply isn't in modern plants.

The best cutting-edge information I could find about B12 is collected in the article Vitamin B12: Types, Brands, Dosage Levels, and Methods: If We Don't Eat Animal Flesh Twice a Day, We Might Need a Top-Quality Active-B12 Supplement.

Most B12 supplements are of the synthetic form cyano B12, which many people have trouble metabolizing into the active B12 forms. There also seems to be great variation by brand in effectiveness.

Right now, there are only 3 brands of B12 supplement I can recommend, based upon the reported experiences of those highly sensitive to B12:

  • Enzymatic Therapy B12 Infusion (Methyl B12)
  • Anabol Naturals Dibencozide (Adenosyl B12)
  • B12 Oils Adenosyl Methyl Oil (both Adenosyl and Methyl B12).

For more information, please see the B12 article.

12. Mind your minerals.

Our soils are depleted. Our plants are not as healthy as before, nor as nutritious to us. Modern food is missing most of its minerals.

For more about minerals in plants, please see Minerals Part 1: Missing Minerals, Mistreated Plants, and an Analysis of Concentrace.

My impression right now is that many people would benefit to supplement: cobalt (as active-form vitamin B12), zinc, iodine, selenium, magnesium, lithium, and sodium (as sea salt).

Few people would need to supplement: iron, copper, manganese, calcium, chromium, molybdenum.

Actively avoid: fluoride (dental products, fluoridated tap water), mercury (large fish, amalgam fillings), arsenic (some drinking water, rice), nickel (dental braces, some dental work, some jewelry, some metal eyeglass frames, other metal that touches the body, metal working, hydrogenated oils, rooibos red tea).

13. Watch out for copper.

Copper deserves special mention. Those who have studied hair mineral analysis of vegans seem to think that certain mineral imbalances show up in the hair analyses of almost all vegans, including copper toxicity and low zinc, as well as others. (Wilson 2018; Fischer 2017; Analytical Research Laboratories 1997 and 1987.) I don't know whether there might be other groups of vegans who have good copper balance but never measured their hair minerals.

Copper excess may make the body's copper biounavailable, producing mild anemia, mood changes, attention deficit, low energy, fungal infections, and a variety of other symptoms which, paradoxically, could be the same symptoms as copper deficiency. (Fischer 2018; Wilson 2017; Malter 2001; Eck 1989.)

Nuts, seeds, avocados, legumes, chocolate, coffee, and dried fruit are some popular vegan foods that are high in copper. It may be best to moderate them.

Many multivitamins unfortunately contain copper. It may be best to avoid any copper-containing nutritional supplement.

A small amount of zinc supplementation may be critical to making vegan diet work better, since zinc helps support elimination of excess copper.

For women and teenage girls, birth control pills and devices may cause or worsen copper overload by increasing estrogen levels (Malter 2001).

For more about vegans, mineral balancing, and hair mineral analysis, please see Minerals Part 2: Minerals, They're All Connected: Starting on a Nutritional Balancing Program.

14. Keep healthy teeth.

Teeth may be an indicator of overall health. They should be strong and healthy. They shouldn't require toxic fluoride to be strong.

If teeth are getting cavities or gum disease is present, this is a warning sign. Vegans may be missing fat-soluble vitamins A, D, or K2, or minerals such as magnesium or boron. For more info, please see Vegans' Teeth.

15. Watch out for toxic dentistry.

Here is a controversial warning about modern dentistry. Modern dentistry may be out-of-date and even dangerous. There are many dentists I know who are wonderful, kind, caring people. I mean no offense to any of them. However, I believe that much of what they have been taught is obsolete.

Dentists commonly place toxic metals in our mouths. These include mercury (silver/mercury amalgam fillings), nickel (braces, dental wires, bridges, crowns), as well as silver, cadmium, and copper (also present in silver/mercury amalgam fillings). Additionally, toxic fluoride (toothpaste, dental cleanings, fluoridated drinking water) is used as a tooth hardening agent. (Connett 2018; Wilson 2017 and 2013; IAOMT 2016; Choi 2012.)

When soils were richer in nutritional minerals, and when there weren't so many toxic metals and chemicals otherwise entering our bodies, probably most people could tolerate these toxic dental materials. Today, the toxic load is very high. Therefore, many people likely will have difficulty detoxifying the dental materials and treatments. The dental materials seem to result in serious long-term health issues — physical, mental, or even spiritual changes — that seem to improve for many people when the toxic dental materials are removed. (Testimonials from various years; More testimonials; Resnick and others 2014-2018; Wilson 2017 and 2012.)

Root canal operations are another concern in the modern world. Skeptics say that root canals seal in hollow micro-tubules that are ideal places for permanent, highly toxic anaerobic bacterial infections to make a home and to poison the body continually. Some cancer practitioners say that root canal operations are primary causes of cancer, and that immediately removing teeth with a previous root canal operation could save your life if you have or suspect cancer. (Wilson 2018; Henderson 2014.)

Vegans particularly may want to pay attention to toxicity from dentistry because vegans are at certain metabolic disadvantages relating to detoxification.

These suggestions will sound strange to many people given the still widespread use of toxic materials and procedures in dentistry. You might want to consider:

  • avoiding fluoride,
  • using composite fillings only,
  • perhaps having a dentist very carefully replace mercury amalgam fillings with composite (using lots of suction!),
  • avoiding nickel in braces and other dental implants,
  • avoiding root canals,
  • and maybe even extracting teeth that have past root canals.

16. Monitor your methylation.

Methylation is a type of chemical reaction that plays hundreds of roles in keeping us healthy. In every body system, methylaton plays a role. Heart, muscles, energy, nerves, digestion, detoxification, you name it. Methylation is like breathing. We need methylation for everything else.

Many meat-eaters have issues with methylation - not just vegans and vegetarians. A lot of methylation-supporting nutrients (not all of them) are most densely found in meat. The less meat you eat, the more likely you might be missing or low on nutrients critical to supporting methylation.

Many vegans and vegetarians seem to need methylation supplements to thrive. For more information, including a list of methylation-related symptoms, please see Vegans and Methylation.

17. Identify food intolerances, especially wheat.

Food intolerances to plant-based foods are extremely common and often escape notice. Intolerance to wheat is most common. A few simple steps to identify and work around food intolerances might make you feel a lot better. For more information, please see Food Intolerances.

18. Expect cultural challenges, and seek support.

Vegans and vegetarians face a number of cultural challenges. When I first considered veganism, I thought mostly about food and nutrition. Later I came to think more about how plant-based lifestyle relates to family, friends, and mainstream culture. To be happy and healthy, vegans may need to take action to address the cultural challenges.

For more, please see 5 Cultural Challenges for Vegans and Vegetarians.

19. Take care of yourself.

Like everyone else, vegans have many factors that affect their lives— not just food. Please don't forget to take steps that most people need now, including:

  • Sleep. 7-8 hours or more every night. Avoid or dim screens and use red- or orange- colored lights in the evening before bed.
  • Exercise. Move around, but not too much. Try resting more sometimes to see if you need more rest.
  • Electromagnetic Fields. Make more distance between you and phones, computers, appliances, or high voltage.
  • Meditation. Clear your mind regularly.
  • Nature. Get out of the city or visit the park.
  • Sun. Get a little bit of sun, or at least daylight, every day.
  • Love. Make time for family, friends, and loved ones.
  • Stress. Take steps to reduce stress in your life and simplify. This includes letting go of ways of thinking that cause you stress.

20. Open yourself to growth in personality and spirituality.

In the modern world, our closest connection with nature is often the food we eat, the water we drink, the air we breathe, and the light we receive. Plant foods and supplements can improve our biochemistry in ways that profoundly enhance overall quality of life so that people may become happier, gentler, more connected with other people and with animals.

Foods and minerals seem to have major impacts on growing spiritual feelings. There may be difficult moments as biochemical pathways awaken. There may be beautiful moments of intense love and connectedness.

Please be open and enjoy the journey!