Hello you lovely people.
I was going to make this a video, but as it’s the holidays it is much quicker and easier for me to just write a blog post. I’m currently sat in my pyjamas having a lazy morning, I’m not exactly camera ready…
Some of you have been talking to me about creating new habits for the new year. Getting into fitness, rehauling your diet, etc. and I understand that people are keen to give vegetarian or veganism a shot. I’ll be clear, I am not saying that going vegan is the absolute key to being healthy. I appreciate that other diets can work for others, but in my personal experience cutting out processed foods/meat/dairy and reintroducing vegetables worked for me.
Whenever I talk to people about veganism, the one thing that always comes up is ‘I could never give up cheese’. I don’t tend to buy (non-dairy) cheese very often, as I’m vegan for both ethical and health reasons. Vegan or not, cheese for me is something to have as an odd treat and not a daily part of my diet. If you are trying to be healthier, you are better off reducing your intake. Even paleo (which is the farthest from my own diet) does not feature dairy. If you are considering veganism for health reasons, I really wouldn’t get too hung up on the fact you can’t eat cheese anymore.
But I do appreciate that you don’t want to feel like you are missing out. Part of this post will be dedicated to easy ‘food swaps’. Some of these things won’t be ultra-healthy, but I want to show you that veganism doesn’t have to be nibbling on carrot sticks all day. Of course you all know where to find vegetables and beans in the supermarket, but you might not know how easy it is to get vegan margarine for your toast. If you want this to be a sustainable change in your life, there is nothing wrong with relying on a few familiar dishes! Do not worry about being perfect straight away. There is nothing wrong with eating some imitation products, so long as you are getting more whole foods (and making the ethical choice!).
Before we get stuck into the food swaps, I’ll list some simple tricks to help navigate the world of vegan. If you have these few tools, it will make your life so much easier.
Vegan Tips & Hacks
Buy yourself a cookbook. You will not walk into a supermarket and be hit with inspiration, it just doesn’t happen. You can tell your grandparents that the cash they put in your Christmas card went to a nice cookbook. There are so many to choose from! My first vegan cookbook was by Deliciously Ella, and it seriously saved me. Once or twice a week, I’d pick something easy and give it a go (if I remember correctly, I picked a lovely black bean chilli for my first attempt). Not only will you have tasty meals ready to pick out, but you will have a clear shopping list which takes all the anxiety away.
Or, if you don’t want to spend any money, just find the equivalent online. Buzzfeed have a really useful article, my sister has made the coconut curry a few times. Alternatively, check out blogs. A couple of my favourites are Deliciously Ella, Minimalist Baker, and Sweet Simple Vegan.
Think What You Are Adding, Not Taking Away
Make a conscious effort to involve more vegetables and whole foods on your plate. Try out vegetables you wouldn’t normally eat. Again, this is where recipes come in handy. Not everyone’s cup of tea, but I eat a handful of raw spinach in almost every lunch and dinner. It’s good for micronutrients, so simple to do, and it bulks your meal out.
Watch Your Fibre Intake
While I’m encouraging more vegetables, don’t drastically change your diet overnight from a few lettuce leaves in your BLT to ‘raw till 4’.
Most people do not get enough fibre in their diet, which is key for healthy digestion. However, there is such a thing as ‘too much fibre’ if your body is not used to it. You can sometimes feel a little queasy or bloated if you overdo it.
I’m merely making this point so you don’t feel put off healthy eating if your stomach feels uneasy after all those raw veggie sticks. It’s totally normal, and your body will adjust to the higher levels of fibre. If you happen to overdo it, do not stress. Just drink lots of water and go for a walk, it’ll quickly go away. Slowly introducing more vegetables into your diet is the best way.
Don’t Be Afraid of Carbs
Don’t be afraid of starchy vegetables. Eat sweet potato, butternut squash and parsnips. And don’t shy away from white potatoes either! They have different micronutrients which are equally good for you. If you are wanting to lose weight, stop thinking you need to cut out carbohydrates. They are our bodies preferred source of energy! Avoid refined white carbs because all the good stuff has been stripped away, but wholegrain rice and bread is completely fine. Even bananas are high in carbs, and they are amazing for you.
Read Labels – Look For The Bold Text
If you’re considering veganism, you are probably thinking how on earth do I figure out what is vegan and what isn’t. In the initial stages you will need to check the labels for the ingredients. I can assure you, after a short while you will instinctively know what you can and can’t eat.
A helpful tip is that all allergens in foods are listed in bold. All dairy products (and things like nuts and soya) are considered an allergen. Luckily you don’t need to read every ingredient on a label. You just need to skim read the bold text for eggs, milk and butter. Also, please remember that ‘free from’ does not mean vegan. You can get foods that are free from gluten and milk, but they still contain meat. It’s an honest and frequent mistake!
Choose Your Restaurant Meal In Advance
Cutting out meat and dairy doesn’t mean giving up your social life. Veganism is becoming quite fashionable, so most restaurants will have a vegan menu. If you know you’ll be heading out for a meal, check their website in advance. There will be a key on the standard menu (usually under ‘Ve’), or you can access an allergens menu. And don’t be afraid to ask for adjustments, i.e. you can just ask them to hold the dressing on your salad.
Involve Other People
Having a buddy can make life so much easier. I’m not saying you need to convince your friend or mum to go vegan too (although that would be awesome!), but ask them if they’d like to try that new recipe with you. Offer to cook, suggest a new restaurant, etc.
Involving other people can make your choice seem easier and more sociable.
Use Social Media
If you use Instagram quite a lot, follow Accidentally Vegan UK as they give you handy hints about things in the supermarket that are unintentionally vegan.
Keep An Eye On Your Macros
Counting macros (protein, fat and carbs) can be helpful aside from weight loss. It is an easy way to make sure you are getting the right ratio of nutrients. Vegan doesn’t always equal healthy; I don’t want you living off hash brown sandwiches! You want a balance of starchy carbs, plant-based protein, and healthy fats. Macros are person-specific, but a rough guide is 50% carbs, 30% protein, and 20% fats. You can eyeball this, or download an app (like My Fitness Pal, or Life Sum) which will do all the calculations for you.
This tip isn’t mandatory, but if your motivation is to get healthier I think it’s useful.
I wouldn’t necessarily calorie count if your goal is weight loss; in the first few months allow yourself to figure out your diet without too much restriction. I would put money on you unintentionally losing weight in the early days, because veganism will prioritise healthier foods and most takeouts will be off the cards. Think of nutrients, not numbers.
Easy Food Swaps
There is every dairy replacement you can think of. If this is your biggest anxiety about making the transition to vegan, I am here to put your mind at ease. I’m referencing from Tescos’ website because this is where I shop, but a lot of other major supermarkets have these products too.
Hint: ‘lacto-free’ does not mean vegan! Lacto-free just means they’ve removed the sugar component of dairy.
If you generally use margarine or spread (compared to butter) this is dead simple. I can hand on heart say it tastes exactly the same. The most obvious brands are:
There are so many plant-based milks, you just need to try different ones. I choose soya milk because it fits my macros better, but I find oat milk to be really delicious and rich. Almond milk compliments coffee well, just have a play around with the different types.
For the most part, vegan cheese has greatly improved in the last few years.
Just remember that not all vegan cheeses cope with heat in the same way. If you want a cheese that melts, say for a pizza or cauliflower cheese, choose Tescos grated mozzarella. I find this one works best in the oven, and you get that stringy texture too.
If you want a cheese to eat in chunks, say with biscuits, I think Tescos jalapeno and chilli cheese is the tastiest. It works really well in burritos/quesadillas too!
You can also replicate a ‘cheesey’ flavour with nutritional yeast flakes, which is much healthier for you. I’ll add a sprinkle to my mashed potatoes or cauliflower cheese.
You won’t be able to replicate a fried or poached egg, sorry.
However, you can make imitation scrambled eggs on toast. If you crumble tofu with a fork, fry it off with turmeric and garlic, it’s pretty tasty and the turmeric gives you that yellow tint.
You can create a ‘binder’ in baking with flaxseed meal and water if you need to. Personally, I don’t think eggs are necessary for baking (and I’ve never bothered with flax eggs, it’s too much faff for me). I’ve made plenty of cakes with soya milk and oil for the wet mixture, they are still just as good.
Find obvious swaps for meaty textures, it will help you make the transition easier mentally. Tofu is a good swap that you can include in loads of dishes (best way to consume it is to drain, fry till browned, and then bake for 15 minutes).
For curry and chilli, include a variety of beans!
Don’t be afraid to eat processed food. Tescos soya mince is really tasty, I know meat eaters who prefer this over beef mince. Pre-made falafels can be great for chucking on salads or stuffed in a pitta bread. And if you haven’t been introduced yet, get yourself acquainted with Linda McCartney in the freezer aisle. The vegetarian sausages will change your life. I wouldn’t recommend going vegan and just eating freezer food and Oreos… but don’t think these foods are completely off the table. If you compare the macros between meat and soya products, the vegan generally wins! These foods are still the healthier and more ethical choice.
Fret not, vegans still eat just as much chocolate as you! You eat most high quality dark chocolate off the shelves, and there are specific vegan brands too. Chocolate can be a part of a healthy diet; the cacao itself is pretty healthy, what makes chocolate unhealthy is all the sugar and milk added. Dark chocolate is the best choice! And it was always my favourite even before I was vegan. Here are a few that I eat:
- Tesco plain chocolate with a hint of mint
There are loads more: check out your local supermarkets, Holland and Barrett, Ocado, and sites like Vegan Kind.
This list isn’t exhaustive, but I hope it has given you a good idea about where to start. You will figure out what you like, and what you don’t like, along the way. If you have any further questions please feel free to comment below, and I hope you consider veganism in the New Year after seeing how simple the change can be!