VI Owner, Foodie, Blogger & Planet Enthusiast
VI Owner, Foodie, Blogger & Planet Enthusiast
Thinking of going vegan?
What have you been thinking about recently? Have you been concerned for your health or worrying about the health of our planet or the cruelty of the meat and dairy industry? Perhaps you are thinking about changing to a vegan or plant-based diet and want to give plant-based recipes a go for the first time? Or maybe you’ve started and you’re looking for some additional tips and support. It’s not always easy knowing where to get started, so here’s a guide to help you navigate your way.
Changing your diet
For most people, changing any diet takes a bit of effort and is rarely accomplished overnight. Most of us have been programmed since we were little to eat meat, fish and dairy. It is difficult to teach our bodies a new way of eating especially as we’re often emotionally tied to specific tastes and textures and ‘the way we had it as a kid’; so, eating differently is likely to seem pretty alien at first.
You are likely to experience some level of cravings (I still want scrambled eggs from time to time). This is so completely natural, but the good news is that it gets easier over time and as your taste buds change, you’ll start preferring plant-based food. Don’t feel bad if you do miss meat, fish or dairy, nor should you bully yourself if you slip up, just start again when you next go to eat or drink. And the great news is that these days there are so many more alternative options out there, it’s never been easier.
So, what’s the best way to approach vegan eating?
Keep in mind that everyone is different, and your transition isn’t going to be the same as the next person. Some people are able to completely change their diet in a day and never look back. That’s great for them, but that isn’t most of us. Taking it step by step so that our bodies, both physically and mentally, have time to adjust to each new thing, is usually the best solution to allow you to get used to the diet and stick at it.
Making Initial Changes
I remember I found a recipe for a chana masala with kale. It was the first vegan dish I had made and eaten, and I was instantly hooked to this recipe. I was still eating meat, fish and some dairy at this point, and it didn’t occur to me then that there could be plenty more tasty vegan recipes out there (I know, I know, it’s kind of obvious right?!). I just thought, this is great, it’s healthy, cheap and really tasty. So, if you’re looking to expand your vegan repertoire, why not commit to trying 1 or 2 new dishes each week. This way you can figure out which dishes you like best. Start where you feel most comfortable, whether that’s breakfast, lunch, dinner or snacks and by making direct swaps for what you usually eat so you’ll find it easier to adapt. So, for me, I like Indian curries, so I swapped meat for chickpeas, and for Thai curries, I added tofu. Remember, doing new things can be exhausting to do all the time, so take your easy and learn bit by bit. You don’t want to burn out and set yourself up for failure.
Dairy - The Final Battle
So, you’ve started tackling meat and fish, and now you’re wanting to do battle with dairy. This tends to be the stumbling block that many people face. And why? Well, one reason is that dairy is addictive. It attaches to the same receptors in your brain as heroin and there is a completely logical reason for this. Baby cows need to become big, strong cows (kind of obvs, I know). Therefore, nature needs the calf to want to come back for more milk time and time again. And if you thought milk was addictive, consider how cheese has intensified that addictive element. So, there is a reason you find it hard to put the cheese down or stop wanting milk in your tea. But, don’t let that stop you. There are now more alternative options than ever for cheese, milk and yoghurt, although don’t always think that they’re going to taste the same, because mostly, they don’t. One of my first easy swaps was changing the goat’s yoghurt on my morning granola to a coconut yoghurt. I remember the first spoonful tasted really strange because my mouth was expecting goat’s yoghurt, and I had just shocked it with something it wasn’t expecting. By the end of that first granola bowl I had kind of got used to the taste, and by the end of the week my body had adapted so that it was expecting the coconut yoghurt and loving it in the process! So, don’t give up on your first try, keep going and know that 9 times out of 10, you’ll come to enjoy something you might have never realised you could at the beginning.
One other top tip for a dairy swap is nutritional yeast. If you haven’t yet discovered this incredible high protein, cheesy condiment, packed with vitamins, minerals and fibre, let me introduce you to it now! This is my go-to ingredient when I want something quick and making a pasta cheese sauce out of nutritional yeast, hits the mark every time!
Check out my simple Pumpkin Pasta recipe here
Diving in Headfirst
Hats off to all you who’ve made the transition overnight. If you want some motivation to do this, watching Cowspiracy, Forks over Knives or Earthlings massively helped me. If you plan to make an immediate change, however, make sure you do your research and stay prepared. The two easiest ways to fail is that you’re caught off guard by being somewhere where there are no vegan options, and not keeping up with the daily macro and micronutrients your body needs. (I’ll go into this in more detail below).
Whichever the path you take, it’s important to remember that you’ll be doing more good to your body, the animals and the planet, each day you commit to eating more plants and less meat, fish and dairy.
Easy Plant-Based Swaps
Here are some top plant-based foods which you can quickly and easily swap into your usual meals:
- Chickpeas – swap into curries, or crush and add, with vegan mayo, herbs, seasoning and salad, to a sandwich
- Beans – add to stews, chilli, top on salads or roast sweet potatoes
- TVP (textured vegetable protein) – sub for lasagne, chilli, shepherd’s pie
- Tofu – fry with soy sauce and rice vinegar and add to stir-fries or roast with some cornflour & soy sauce or other seasonings and add to roast veggies. Scramble with spices to make a breakfast scramble dish
- Tempeh (cooked, fermented soybeans) – Use in salads or sandwiches, or roasted for a delicious roast dinner.
- Toast toppings – mashed avocado (with lemon, salt, pepper and chilli flakes), peanut butter, scramble as above
- Nutritional yeast cheese sauce – really quick and easy to make to pour over pasta (whole wheat pasta will pretty much give you all the protein you’ll need for this meal)
- Dairy-free milks and yoghurts – use with cereals, hot drinks and pancakes
- Flaxseed – mill the seeds and use 1 tbsp of flax meal with 3tbsp water to replace one egg
- Houmous – Use as a snack with crudités, as a sauce on salads or falafels or instead of mayo in a sandwich.
If you’re someone who hasn’t got much experience with plant-based food, or for those of you who have busy lives and don’t want to be caught out, you may want to have a readymade stock of plant-based swaps. These are vegan options which are quick and simple and can instantly replace meat, dairy or fish for those times when you don’t know what to cook, are exhausted or just really hungry. Foods such as a vegan roast dish, sausages, chicken-free nuggets, dairy-free milk and yoghurts, and even breaded fishless fingers are easy to find these days! This can be especially helpful for those times when you’re tempted to go back, so do use these occasionally as you get going and whilst you are building up your vegan recipe repertoire.
Treat Vegetables with Respect
I found that when I went vegan, I had to give vegetables the same TLC as I had given meat before. That meant stopping just boiling up the veg and leaving them blandly on the side of the plate. Instead I treated them to more herbs, spices and sauces and got creative with my cooking methods…no more boiling here! For some examples, you can look at the Recipe library here.
Eat Right: Get Your Macro & Micronutrients
To start, make sure you get enough calories, eat plenty of whole foods such as brown rice, sweet potatoes, grains, legumes and lentils. Next, pile on those fruits and vegetables, as many and with as much variety as possible. This might mean you want to pay a little more attention than you’ve been used to, particularly at the start. I would recommend tracking your macro and micronutrients, firstly monitoring the calories, protein, carbohydrates and fats you are consuming, and then looking at the vitamins and minerals. I use Cronometer which is an amazing online tool for inputting everything you eat and drink and seeing the tables of nutrients. You’ll know at a glance if you’re short or had too much of anything. It’s worth knowing that some nutrients, such as Iodine, can be dangerous if consuming more than the recommended daily allowance (see below).
You can in fact get everything except one vitamin naturally from a vegan diet. At first, I thought that not being able to get EVERYTHING meant that perhaps a vegan diet wasn’t therefore the natural thing to do. Instead I learnt that in the Western world, no-one gets B12 naturally anymore, and most people are in fact, deficient. There are a few other micronutrients which you may find harder to get every day, so here are my top 3 to be aware of.
Vitamin B12: In the Western world, with all our pesticides and chemicals, we’ve killed off the bacteria which makes B12. Meat eaters consume it from meat as the animals are injected with B12. Vegans can get it from most nutritional yeasts, plant-based milk and yoghurts and other fortified products. A lack of B12 can cause anaemia or damage the nervous system and is linked to our energy levels, so if you’re not getting enough (3mg per day) from fortified foods, make sure you take a regular B12 supplement. Be aware that because our bodies can store B12 for a long time, you might not notice any effect on your body for a year or so.
Iodine: Iodine rich foods such as seaweed or iodised salt are the best for keeping your iodine levels healthy. Other foods do contain iodine but are often too low and can vary depending on the soil they are grown in. Too little and too much iodine can both cause serious problems, so keep an eye on what you’re eating and consider sprinkling a little seaweed flakes onto your lunch or dinner each day. If you’re like me, however, and not likely to add these to your food, take a supplement, but be very careful not to take more than is recommended.
Vitamin D3: If you live in the north, it is worth considering taking a vitamin D3 supplement as us northerners just don’t get enough sun rays during the winter months. In the summer too, many of us are coating so much sunscreen on ourselves that the sun’s rays never reach our skin in order for our bodies to make the vitamin. It’s also worth being on the lookout for mushrooms grown with ultraviolet light as these will be high in vitamin D.
Changes Your Body May Experience
If you’ve ever changed your diet before, you’ll know that your body can react to these changes – and as normal, these changes, if any, will be different for everyone.
The most common change people mention is their digestion – you may become far more regular than you’re used to. This is a healthy sign that your body is functioning well, and unless you are experiencing any pain, is perfectly normal. You may also find that you have a little more gas than you’re used to. This can be especially true after eating lentils and beans, however, this can be reduced by washing cooked/tinned beans thoroughly and cooking legumes for longer, to allow the sugars to break down more. You’ll also probably notice that your body adapts to this change, and you’ll find that the gas reduces over time.
Occasionally, as with any diet, if you make the change quickly, you may get headaches at the beginning as your body adjusts. If you do, this will normally pass after 3-5 days, although, as with any symptoms like this, do see a specialist if this continues longer.
Some people have reported that they have felt weaker, and this is often due to eating too few calories and/or protein throughout the day or being B12 deficient.
BUT, on the flip side I found that I felt a lot lighter throughout the day, particularly after I’d eaten. I lost some weight, without even trying and recovered from exercise much quicker. Quite early on I found I was able to start eating some of the foods I was really intolerant to and now, I can eat about 4/5ths of the long list of foods I couldn’t eat before.
There’s never a better time to start than now. Putting anything off often means you’ll never start, and disappointment sets in. Take a moment now to think about what you can change today. Maybe change your snacks to nuts, seeds and fruit. Or buy some plant-based milk ready for breakfast tomorrow or your coffee right now or look up a new plant-based recipe. Make just a small change immediately because it’ll help you get on your way to making the next change tomorrow. And if you need help planning, check out my How to Plan blog.
If you’ve committed yourself to a vegan diet, well done! There are going to be times however, when you slip up, or at least get tempted to. This usually happens when you’re feeling emotionally or physically tired or ill, or you’re out with friends and peer pressure sets in, am I right? First of all, as I mentioned earlier, the best way to get back in the wagon is not to get all judgey on yourself. The more time you dwell on your disappointment, the longer it’ll take you to get going again. What I would suggest you take away from it though is to remember the feeling you get from tripping up. I use that feeling whenever I get tempted and it helps keep me from giving in to my temptations. So, think about your next meal. What delicious vegan food can you eat to get back on track? Maybe consider your favourite comfort food, just to remind yourself how tasty and satisfying vegan food can be.
I’ve come to the end of my thoughts on getting started on a vegan diet, but I wanted to leave you with one last point. Don’t do this on your own. Maybe you have a friend or family member who you can do this with and share ideas, recipes, your highs and lows. But, if you don’t have a friend / family member who you can do this with, the best place I’ve found is a social media or local vegan group. These are great ways to connect, get support and advice from. You’ll often find that they have great local knowledge (where to shop and eat) and have been through the first steps of changing up your diet and understand what you’re experiencing right now.
Lastly, connect with us here at Vegan Inspire, through our social media channels or message us directly. We’d love to hear you story and help in whatever way we can. Together we can do this!
If you have any thoughts, comments or suggestions for other readers, please do leave a comment below or get in touch with me here!
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