Did you go all out vegan for January?
Maybe you tried bits and pieces from the ever growing vegan section in the supermarket?
Or dabbled with a vegan recipe or two?
Perhaps a vegan burger or meal out?
How did you find it? I hear reports of anything from I felt amazing to I was hungry all the time, or weird things happened to my digestive system! Maybe you’ve tried and it’s not for you end of, or maybe you’re thinking you’ll adopt aspects, in this blog you’ll find my top tips if you are planning on using a plant based approach going forwards.
What is vegan anyway?
If the whole vegan buzz has passed you by here is a quick run down on what’s in and what’s out…
Following a full dietary and ethical vegan stance means anything you eat, drink, wear or use that is derived from animals is out.
NO Meat, fish, dairy, eggs, honey, leather, wool, products tested on animals (and for many this extends into an ethical/environmentally minded lifestyle)
Others prefer to prioritise the dietary side of things, so what’s in for those following a vegan approach;
YES to plants, vegetables, fruit, grains, beans, pulses, nuts, ‘milk’ and ‘cheese’ derived from grains, beans and nuts, some choose to include meat alternatives usually made from soya protein or myco-protein (watch out not all are vegan though!).
The rise of #Veganuary has provided, I suppose you could call a ‘safe’ opportunity for people to try out plant based alternatives with perhaps a little less judgement. It’s more socially acceptable than ever before to veer from the ‘norm’, whatever the heck that is these days. Personally I prefer the term plant-based than vegan….but each to their own. The press, social media, friends, family and even the nutrition world feels the need to pigeon hole you into your dietary preferences so you are either IN or OUT of a dietary approach. My view is doing what is best for you and your health and well being.
Here are my top tips & points to consider if you plan to stick at a plant based approach….
1. I’m going to put this out there from the get go, it’s OK to change your mind! You might be one of the stacks of people are trying vegan options recently and may choose to continue for a week, a month, a year or longer BUT if you start to think maybe full on vegan isn’t right for you, that’s OK! Don’t continue if you’re not getting on with it or you start to feel under the weather – it might be you just need some guidance but don’t just ignore any changes in your health!
2. Carrying on from above….think about why you are giving veganism a go? Perhaps it’s environmental, maybe it’s because of your love of animals, some choose it for health reasons, others because it’s ‘trendy’ (is it though!?) and some purely out of curiosity. You might have a totally different reason or it might be a bit of everything, either way take time to think why and therefore is it right for you.
3. You’ve tried a plethora of high street vegan offerings, identified your favourites but what can I make at home that’s vegan? There are oodles of vegan recipe books, blogs, online resources (here’s a great one) filled with ideas of what to eat, places to eat. Some great books include:
You’ll be hard pressed to walk down any high street without seeing adverts for vegan sausage rolls, plant milks for your latte, vegan fast food or a buddha bowl. But at home in the depths of winter what’s on the menu – it’s not really salad weather is it? Well great news, at this time of year some hearty one pot, slow cooker or Instant Pot meals can easily be made vegan. Think chunky soups, chilis with stacks of veg, lentils & bean instead of mince (consider a 50/50 mix of a plant based mince with lentils), big ol’ veggie stews are nourishing, coconut milk based curries (Thai, Indian or Malaysian) are packed full of flavour and nutrients. Experiment and use herbs and spices in abundance to add flavour and get the added healthful benefits! Think ginger, turmeric (link to my favourite one!), chili, paprika, oregano, mixed Italian herbs, rosemary…don’t be afraid of them!
4. Are vegan alternatives healthy? Many people find themselves simply swapping meat for meat alternatives (steaks, sausages, bacon etc), dairy milk for nut or grain options, cheese for coconut based ones and so on. Whilst all of these options may well have a place in your diet, it can get pretty boring and is it actually healthy? Most of these are heavily processed options, at times more so than their non-vegan counterparts. Processed is anything not in its original state, heavily processed can involve several stages, of adding or taking things (e.g. nutrients) away, changing the look, texture, colour and so on. These processes often involve additives, synthetic versions of nutrients, chemicals and delights most with names no one can pronounce! The issue is our bodies can get confused by these ‘food like’ products. In short, don’t solely rely on alternatives they aren’t always nutrient dense or healthy. One plant based ‘steak’ I looked at today has approximately 20 ingredients (it was a bit vague simply listing ‘herbs & spices’ not which ones) versus a steak that is…well let’s hope, just beef. Now I know there is an argument about what the cow has had added to its food that I’m not going to get into here, I’m just illustrating one aspect.
5. Is your vegan diet meeting your needs? In short, it depends on what it is you are actually eating (just like eating any other way) and what your nutrition requirements are based on your health, your exercise levels, your lifestyle etc. There are plenty of vegans, vegetarians & meat eaters for that matter, who barely eat anything fresh (yes I mean, fruit and veg) or eat real food think something you grandmother would recognise. Vitamin B12 is not found in plant based options unless it has been added (i.e. fortified). For example in things like nutritional yeast like this one. It might be appropriate to consider supplementation BUT this should be done under the guidance of a healthcare professional. Whilst there are plant sources of other nutrients such as iron (in the non haem version), omega 3, Vitamin D precursor, variety helps ensure you get all the micro nutrients you need. Protein is one of the big ones many assume you will be short on following a plant based diet – so how much protein do you need and what are plant based sources?
How much protein? As a guide, 1g of protein per kg of body weight is recommended for adults those following a vegan approach (suggested as 0.83g protein per kg body weight for non-vegan adults). Aim for a protein serving that is the size & thickness of your palm with every meal. Quality and variety is also important with protein, vegan sources include: beans including edamame (soy), chickpeas, lentils, nuts, quinoa, buckwheat, rice, pea or hemp protein powders (Pulsin are a quality brand with plain or flavoured options). Myco-protein and soya based protein are of course protein sources but shouldn’t be relied on as main source.
If you are looking to continue or even start a vegan approach and would like help understanding if it’s right for you or want to make sure you’re maximising plant based for your health then feel free to get in touch to arrange a free introductory chat or a Nutrition & Lifestyle MOT session with Registered Nutritional Therapist Helen Spriggs.