Veganism is on the rise. It is the fastest growing lifestyle movement as there are three and a half times more vegans than there were in 2006! Many people turn to veganism because of animal cruelty and some due to health reasons. A vegan diet is often seen as the healthiest diet out there, but there are a lot of things that can go wrong if you don’t know what you’re doing. If you are smart with it, it can be a very healthy way of living.
The last thing you want to do when turning vegan (or vegetarian) is to just cut animal products out of your diet and not replacing it with anything or changing any other part of your daily nutrition. This means you could be cutting out a whole macronutrient (protein) from your diet, and this is a recipe for disaster. This could leave you feeling tired, with hormonal issues, sleep issues and much more.
It is totally possible to be healthy, if not healthier, living a vegan or vegetarian lifestyle, but it requires some learning, research and organisation.
Here are my top tips -
- Variety - this is something many of us struggle with, even meat eaters. It’s so important to have a variety of foods in your weekly diet so you get a range of nutrients. Just eating one food everyday because you know it’s got enough protein or fats (such as almonds for example) will mean you’re missing out on other nutrients in some other foods (such as walnuts). I would recommend creating a list of foods you enjoy eating and try to get through the whole list every two weeks.
- Complete protein - these contain all 8 essential amino acids which we need for optimal health. All animal products are complete proteins but there are also vegan complete proteins. These include quinoa, chia seeds, soy (always go for organic, fermented and GMO free, NOT processed soy such as yoghurt, milk, sausages etc. Opt for miso, tofu and tempeh), buckwheat, hempseed and spirulina. You can also use protein powders in smoothies to increase the amount of protein you’re getting daily. Pulsin have a great range of vegan protein powders. Try to have these as often as possible. If you don’t, see the next bullet point….
- Combine proteins - when you combine a legume (beans and lentils) with grains you create a complete protein. So for example, butterbean and vegetable curry with brown rice and rice cakes with hummus. You also get complete protein when combining nuts and seeds with legumes or grains. For example porridge with almond nut butter.
- Avoid processed vegan foods - these are just as awful as non vegan processed food and usually contain GMO soy. The one vegan ‘processed’ food I think is great are Dee’s sausages. They are beans, pea protein, herbs and spices. So not really processed at all!
- Menu plan and meal prep - plan what you’re going to be eating in the week so you are not left hungry, on the spot, not knowing what to eat. Meal prep is also a great way to stay organised. Each week you could make a big salad, cook some grains and beans, a stew, soup, and/or some dips (such as hummus). Then you know you have food in the fridge to grab on the go.
- Herbs and spices - these will keep your meals varied and interesting! Don't be shy to use lots of them in all meals.
- Add essential fats - this is important if you’re vegan, vegetarian, or a meat eater. However when you’re vegan you need to make sure you’re getting the all important omega 3’s. Plant sources include flaxseeds, chia seeds and algae! Algae is obviously taken in supplement form, but it is in the easily utilised form of EPA and DHA, rather than the form of ALA which is what you get from flax and chia. ALA has to be converted to EPA and DHA which can be difficult for many of us.
- Don’t forget the veggies! - remember, the more veggies you eat the better! They will bulk your meals, give you plenty of nutrients and bump up your fibre intake. These are what will make you feel fabulous!
There is so much you can eat when you’re vegan, so it’s important to focus on those foods, rather than focusing on the foods you can’t eat. Remember though, you can eat those foods, you’ve just chosen not to! Some of the most delicious meals I’ve had have been vegan, so you’re not missing out on flavour if you’re in the transition to a vegan diet.
I’m not telling everyone to go vegan, I am not vegan myself. I believe that everyone has a diet that suits them, and some people suit eating meat. However, if you do eat meat, it should be organic, grass fed and you should know where it’s come from. I do believe that everyone would benefit from adding more vegan meals into their lifestyle, so even if you do eat meat, following the points above can still be helpful to improve your health.
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