In the small gap of time between returning home from a three-week visit to Malaysia and celebrating Christmas, I decided that in 2019 I’d switch to a plant-based diet and go vegan.
Looking back, it felt like a bit of a snap decision but it felt ‘right’, especially considering at that point I’d been vegetarian for two years and had already switched to nut milks (I’ve never liked cow’s milk).
We’re six months in to 2019, so I thought I’d share an update on how being six-months’ vegan has been.
How do I feel?
First and foremost, let’s start with how I’m feeling, physically and mentally.
There are myriad reasons to go vegan. For me, I chose to adopt a plant-based diet for the animals, for the environment, and also because I personally wanted to. I’ve been loathe to list these reasons in any other online sphere but I feel the most ‘safe’ on my own blog.
Cutting out, or cutting down, on meat and dairy products is one of the most efficient ways to cut down on greenhouse gases contributing to climate change. By eating red meat 3-5 times a week, you could be contributing 1,611kg to your annual greenhouse gas emissions (equivalent to driving 4,112 miles in a petrol car, heating your home for 255 days or taking 5 return flights to Europe).
Switch that to tofu – just as an example – and you are contributing 33kg to your annual greenhouse gas emissions (equivalent to 85 miles in a petrol car or heating your home for 5 days). The BBC have produced a clever climate change calculator to help you establish how to reduce your own greenhouse gas emissions.
Six months in and I feel pretty damn great. Mentally, I feel so great knowing that I’m doing the best I can to curb animal cruelty and reduce my carbon footprint on the globe. Whilst, yes, I do still drive a car once or twice a week, eating vegan meals reduces my carbon footprint up to 74% what it was when I was a meat-eater and even when I was a vegetarian.
This feature on The Independent is brilliant for outlining the benefits of veganism from an environmental perspective.
From a physical perspective, I also feel at my best in years. Adopting a vegetarian diet did wonders for my hair (it was unbelievably shiny), but going vegan has elevated my energy levels tenfold. Well, for the most part.
I couldn’t write this post without mentioning my biggest struggle: eating enough and eating well. It’s such a common misconception that all vegans are healthy and eating raw, pure diets. It’s easy to be an unhealthy vegan too. I think I rest somewhere in-between. The first 4-6 weeks were so great for me, I had fun experimenting with dishes and instantly felt great for completely dropping dairy.
But in the past month or so, I’ve felt lethargic, and I’d noticed that I’ve lost a fair bit of weight, completely unintentionally. So, at the moment I’m using a food tracker (Lifesum) to check I’m getting enough of the right things (i.e. carbs, protein, fibre, fats). I quickly noticed I was massively undereating in the carbs and fats areas and I try really hard to get them in. Hey, if more pasta is recommended, I’m not complaining! I try to eat more volume foods now and it’s really helping.
What has been toughest?
Like I just mentioned, I think the toughest thing is not eating enough food!
I LOVE food so it came as a real shock to me, but a little bit of reading has uncovered that this is fairly common. I’m not a nutritionist by any means, so it wasn’t really a surprise to know that changing up my diet has meant more than a few tweaks here and there.
For this reason, I’d really recommend downloading a food tracker, but only if you’re not susceptible to any eating triggers. It’s been really helpful to get a rough understanding of the sorts of nutrition I’ve been missing.
Snacks are my other toughie. I spend absolutely ages carefully reading the ingredients list on packaging and almost always am met with secret milk in the most random of snacks. It’s certainly not as easy to just duck into a corner shop and pick up a chocolate bar if you fancy it! And office treats? Forget them.
Another thing I’ve struggled with is constantly explaining why I’m vegan and trying to tread a careful balance between being ‘just a person’ and ‘annoying preachy vegan’. 95% of the time, people are really understanding, but the other 5%? Why ask me something you don’t want to hear the answer to. Really. I have an almost formulaic answer now: ‘I do it for the animals and environment. It’s actually really easy and fun being vegan, and I don’t miss cheese because Daiya exists.’
What are your top recommendations?
I’ve sneakily mentioned one already: Daiya does the best vegan cheese. Their Deluxe Mac and Cheeze, found in Sainsbury’s, is a cupboard staple and I always indulge in a portion when Harvey’s out.
Natural food-wise, stock up on pulses, grains and legumes – these are a great source of fibre and are super easy to cook. You’ll find great ranges in zero-waste hubs these days too; we take large Kilner jars and stock up on things like green lentils, quinoa, bulgur wheat and couscous around once a month or so.
Mushrooms, tomatoes, courgettes and spinach will become your best friends to flesh out meals, as they count as volume foods.
I don’t tend to eat many meat replacements but you can’t deny they’re great for boosting meals, adding bonus protein and just to get that junk food hit. I really like the Gardein Crispy Chik’n Fillets, The Meatless Co.’s mince, Waitrose’s Chorizo-style Whirls and the Linda McCartney range.
For those of you who like to eat out, I’d recommend downloading the HappyCow app. My favourite vegan-friendly chain restaurants include Pizza Express, ASK, Wulf & Lamb, Zizzi, Carluccio’s, Sticks & Sushi, YO! Sushi, and Wagamama, who all offer delicious, creative dishes for vegans.
Nutritional yeast will also be a cupboard staple. This contains B12 which is pretty much the only vitamin you’ll lack as a vegan. As I consume a predominantly Chinese diet, the nutty, cheesy flavour doesn’t suit many of the dishes I make, so I supplement with these Vegan Multivitamins.
Which recipes do you recommend?
For many, it’s cooking vegan that is intimidating. I get it.
I have a small but refined collection of recipe books that are yet to fail me. And here are my top recipes that I make all the time:
- Creamy Vegan Pasta Bake with Brussels Sprouts – Love & Lemons
- Yellow Curry Tofu Wonton Soup – Healthy Nibbles
- Tandoori Tofu Tikka Masala – Sanjana Feasts
- Orzo with Tomato, Bay Leaves and Black Pepper – The Green Roasting Tin
- One-Pot Sticky Ginger Rice with Broccoli – The Green Roasting Tin
- Thai Green Curry Pea Soup – Cupful of Kale
What are your favourite vegan recipes? Have you considered adding some vegan meals to your weeks?