New Vegan: Are Cravings Normal? What About Soy?

I just started my new vegan lifestyle. I want to know if my cravings for meat and dairy are normal, and how much soy is too much?

Meat Cravings

I just started my new vegan lifestyle about a week ago. I was searching the internet to see if my cravings for meat and dairy were normal and came across your website.

I saw an advice letter of another vegetarian asking the same question. I found your responses enlightening and helpful.

I found another letter about too much soy contributing to weight gain. I found this perplexing since so much of the vegetarian products on the market are soy based.

My question is, how much soy is too much? I primarily use soy protein products for dinner like a veggie burger or veggie chicken patty/nuggets, etc. I don’t drink soy milk and the only other primary source of soy is in a butter alternative.

I have given up all forms of animal products: eggs, dairy and meat. I never much liked meat anyway so I figured it wouldn’t be hard to live a completely vegan lifestyle. Boy was I wrong. I miss cheese! And I really miss CHEESEBURGERS.
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I’m going vegetarian for improved cardiovascular health and weight loss. I wanted to eliminate a lot of fat from my diet. Now I think I’ve eliminated too much since my cravings for cheeseburgers, tacos and pizza are at an all time high. Any advice? Thanks! CMW

Savvy Vegetarian Advice:

I tell new vegetarians to go veg gradually because they run into problems like malnutrition, and food cravings when they try to go too far too fast. When you crave a food, it’s your body sending you a message that it’s not getting what it needs. Like the nutrients in meat. You can get the same nutrients from plant based foods, except for Vitamin B12 – and you can supplement for that.

The trick is you have to know what foods to eat, how to get them, and what to do with them. It takes time to learn all about vegetarian nutrition, foods and cooking. Going vegetarian, especially going vegan from day one, is a complete 180 degree lifestyle change.
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My advice is to back up a bit, and take it slow while you learn how to be a vegetarian. If that means – for you – eating some cheese or meat, that’s ok. Just keep working toward your goal, and don’t worry if you don’t get it perfect the first day. Be kind to yourself while you learn this new way of living and eating

Read the free Savvy Veg report, 10 Tips For Beginning Vegetarians, to get the basics. Move on to the Savvy Veg nutrition report, and then buy a copy of the vegan nutrition bible, ‘Becoming Vegan’, by Vesanto Melina. Another good book is from vegan dietitian Virginia Messina, ‘The Vegetarian Way, Total Health For You and Your Family’.

It’s fine to have some soy in your diet, but it is high in fat, so take it easy. Problems with soy and weight gain can arise when people are overweight, if they have hormone related conditions like low thyroid, or sometimes allergies. Soy can act as a hormone disrupter and it’s one of eight major allergens. So proceed with caution.

Processed soy is like other processed foods – most of the nutrition processed out, and lots of ingredients that nobody should eat – e.g. msg, preservatives, coloring, etc. Avoid GMO soy, buy organic, and try to eat unprocessed forms of soy, like tofu, tempeh or soy milk. They do take some getting used to. And don’t just rely on soy for protein. Just because there are so many soy based foods on the market doesn’t mean we have to eat them.

Find ways to get enough protein in your diet through eating a wide variety of whole foods. The Savvy Vegetarian protein articles have lots of helpful info. Start with this one: How To Get Enough Protein In Your Vegetarian or Vegan Diet.

Don’t try to avoid fat altogether. That could be one clue to your cravings. Your body needs small amounts of good fats – found in whole foods like grains, nuts, flax, avocado, olive oil and much more. Read this article for more info: Healthy Fats For Vegetarians and Vegans.

If you need help establishing a healthy vegan diet for weight loss, consult a dietitian, or join a weight loss program such as Anne Collins.

Judith Kingsbury, Savvy Vegetarian

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4 Responses to “New Vegan: Are Cravings Normal? What About Soy?”

  1. J Kingsbury says:

    Hey Zoe!
    Thanks for the helpful comment. If I've been silly enough to buy something that's clearly not good for me, and I inevitably start to crave it – then I read the ingredients. The number of calories per serving is usually a red flashing light. Then there are the suspicious ingredients, with at least 5 syllables! And then there's 'natural flavoring' – the food industry code for MSG. Time to grab a banana and run out the door!

  2. Anonymous says:

    Judy,

    The technique of dissecting food cravings for their nutrient contents is useful for avoiding junk food too.

    When I start thinking it would be a good idea to eat a bag of chips and follow it with a candy bar, I immediately look around for a high quality snack. Fruit, almond butter, and homemade bean dip with tortilla chips are great crutches for me.

    Even if I still want the junk after, it's easier to be rational about it. At the very least, I have less room in my tummy for the junk!

    I just try to follow a simple rule: eat the healthy stuff first, then rethink the craving.

    Zoe

  3. J Kingsbury says:

    seamaden: Thanks for your helpful comments! I've corrected that bit of misinformation about soy allergy.- JK

  4. seamaiden says:

    Great post with lots of helpful tips. I do think that the form of soy makes a huge difference in the amount of fat it contains, and it is worth considering that the non-vegetarian forms of protein one might be eating would generally be both higher in fat and higher in chloresterol. Defatted soy flour or TSP contains almost no fat as well, and while tofu or tempeh contains some, it would not tend to be a type that is actually bad for you. You can also buy lower-fat forms of these products, especially tofu. Where you have to be concerned is in processed soy products like "ice creams" and "sour creams" etc. that would be high in trans fats.

    I'm also not quite sure what you mean by saying that soy contains "eight or more allergens". As I understand it, soy is one of the major eight allergens (included among eggs, milk, etc) but it is not actually that it contains multiple allergens, if that makes sense. You are either allergic to soy or not. It is probably best not to base your diet entirely on one ingredient as this is likely to heighten any sensitivity, but in my opinion, barring a thyroid problem that might complicate the issue or soy allergy, soy can be a healthy part of the vegetarian diet. (Which I think you are saying as well). I absolutely agree that the more pure forms such as edamame/soybean, tofu and tempeh are probably the more healthful ways to enjoy this ingredient.
    And, whole foods in general including many other types of beans, nuts, etc. are proably the best building block for the vegetarian or vegan diet.

    Great response though, and I appreciate your even and fair approach to this topic.

    -sea

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