This year, I’ve been overwhelmed by just how many people are trying out Veganuary.
Far from being a random experiment, more and more people are getting onboard and – hurrah! – trying out a vegan, plant-based diet throughout January.
Every supermarket I’ve been in over the last few days has a special aisle dedicated to vegan food, while I now hear people chatting about going plant-based while I’m out and about or drinking coffee with friends.
In just the space of a year, it seems that going vegan has become an acceptable, mainstream way of life. However, for some, it can be a little bit overwhelming when switching from a meat-eating diet to a vegan one. I found it tricky at times, too! Which is why I’ve decided to put together my top tips on going Vegan (the healthy way) to help ease you in…
For me, this was the trickiest one to navigate! Whether it is food, work or relationships, I am not a patient person and I usually charge into everything head-first once I decide to go for it!
However, if there was ever a lesson to learn from my (many) mistakes, it is this: go easy and tread carefully when it comes to going vegan. Few people go vegan overnight and stick with it.
When I first went vegan, I did just this. I went from eating meat, eggs, dairy – everything, basically! – to a vegan diet overnight. And, boy, did I feel it! While my diet was technically very healthy (high in protein, lots of pulses, rainbows of fruit and veg), I felt exhausted and really struggled.
With three small boys, this just wasn’t sustainable, so I switched back and decided to rethink it. In the end, I eased in slowly – and it worked! I started out by cutting back on meat, then became vegetarian. I then slowly cut back on eggs and dairy, until I knew I was ready to give it up completely.
By the time I switched to a vegan diet, I felt incredibly healthy! No more Zombie skin and no more crippling exhaustion – I felt energised and ready to go!
If you are thinking of making the switch, you could ease yourself in with Meat-Free Mondays, or try Veganuary throughout the month of January. Or, you could simply try and switch out some of your main meals and try vegan dishes, instead. You’d be amazed at how much you find that you really love! (This coming from someone who used to adore steak – trust me, you can do it!)
Let’s face it, you could easily go vegan by simply surviving on Oreos (yes, they are vegan – who knew?!), chips and beans. However, I would bet my life that your body will object…
Instead, I recommend that you do your research so that you can go vegan and feel healthier than ever before.
For instance – don’t just think about protein sources (some of my favourites include tempeh, tofu, black beans and chickpeas). Instead, consider that you need to eat complete proteins (proteins containing all of the nine essential amino acids). Complete vegan proteins are quite rare (sources include quinoa, buckwheat, soy and seitan), but when you mix certain protein sources with a wholegrain, you’re left with – voila! – a complete protein. Examples of this include peanut butter on wholegrain toast, hummus with wholegrain pitta, or rice and beans.
However, don’t be scared – it is very easy to hit your protein goals on a plant-based diet, even if you are big into exercise like me!
Another tip I found useful is to supplement! There are certain vitamins and minerals that vegan diets are often lacking in, and these can easily be found in supplements. I take the following supplements:
- Vitamin B12 (I actually take a complete B-vitamin supplement), which is key for staving off fatigue – it helps with protein metabolism and the formation of red blood cells
- Vitamin D (although I used to take this before I went vegan and even vegetarian – many of us in the UK lack in the sunshine vitamin!)
- Iodine for healthy thyroid function
- Calcium to strengthen bones and teeth and to support muscle and nerve functioning
- Iron to make new DNA and red blood cells (Although, as a word of warning, don’t take iron and calcium supplements together! I separate mine by a good few hours. It also helps to take your iron supplements with a source of vitamin C, such as berries or red peppers)
- Plant-based omega-3s for anti-inflammatory fats and to boost brain, skin and eye health.
Many vegan diets (although not all) can also be low in fat and calories. You may need to eat more, or consider adding fats, such as avocado, coconut oil (I love Vita Coco), nuts or flax seed to your diet.
Finally, aim to eat the rainbow, every single day! Each different colour of plant-based foods contains different sources of goodness. For example, orange foods such as squash are rich in beta carotene, while red foods such as tomatoes contain lycopene.
It can feel a little overwhelming to go vegan at first. However, it doesn’t have to! There is so much inspiration online, and all kinds of recipes available to you.
Veganise Your Favourite Foods
While it may seem like you’re swearing off lots of your favourite foods, I promise that you can veganise all kinds of things – there are very few foods I genuinely miss since going vegan!
If you love bolognese (who doesn’t?), then you can switch out the meat for lentils or mushrooms like in this recipe – I’ve even seen recipes with walnuts! You could make meatballs using roasted aubergines, burgers with black beans or chickpeas, and when it comes to desserts – the sky is the limit!
My favourite, simple vegan dessert for chocolate lovers is to make a simple Chocolate Ganache Tart, made using full-fat coconut milk (or soya cream) and dark chocolate. It couldn’t be easier!
Ensure You’re Getting Enough Protein
I touched on this earlier, but it’s crucial when you’re going vegan to ensure you’re getting enough protein.
Of course, many meat eaters are always scratching their heads, and asking: “But HOW?” But, it’s actually much easier than you may think!
The key, for me, is to eat a huge variety of foods. There are lots of sources of plant-based proteins – tofu, tempeh, soy, nuts, chickpeas, lentils, pea protein, black beans, to name just a few. But, to be as healthy as possible, try to eat as many protein sources as possible!
Of course, how much you need depends on how active you are. I exercise daily and have a fairly active lifestyle, and aim for at least 75g of protein per day. However, you may need more, you may need less!
As I mentioned earlier, you should be aiming to eat complete proteins each day (such as quinoa, soy, or hummus and wholegrain pittas), but you should also be timing your proteins, too: make sure you have some protein after you workout, as well as at breakfast and at dinner or just before bed to help repair any muscle damage.
If you’re on the go, a vegan protein can be a great investment. My favourite by far is Form Nutrition Chocolate Peanut, which is made from a combination of pea, brown rice and hemp protein.
Have Fun With It!
If you’ve never gone vegan before, have fun with it! Now is the perfect time to try new things and to experiment with different recipes.
This could be through adapting old favourites, such as switching out meat for lentils in a classic shepherd’s pie, mashing some beans for veggie burgers, or trying something completely new – jackfruit, which makes incredible burgers and has a great, meaty texture, is now a staple on supermarket shelves, and costs less than £1 per tin!
You might also like to try different recipes online, such as for carrot lox (a smoked salmon substitute), or even my favourite, kid-approved Chickpea “Tuna”.
I also love to use cashew or coconut yoghurt (I recommend Nush and Co-Yo), and will even make my own when I have the time!
Vegan baking can be a tricky one to nail, but it is possible to make incredible plant-based bakes and cakes that even your biggest meat-eating friends will love!
Some of my favourite egg substitutes include aquafaba (AKA the brine you find in a tin of chickpeas) – you want to use roughly 3 tbsp of aquafaba per egg needed. You can use aquafaba to make cakes, incredible cookies, lighter-than-air chocolate mousse, and even Vegan Pavlova!
If aquafaba scares you a little, then you can also try baking with chia or flax eggs (simply mix 1 tbsp of ground chia or ground flax with 3 tbsp of water and leave for 15 minutes until it has an egg-like consistency), or simply using coconut milk.
In terms of vegan-friendly fats, you can use coconut oil, vegan butter or even avocados (such as in these Avocado Brownies) in place of your typical fats.
Of course, when you are playing with recipes, bear in mind that you may need to add more or less liquid to your bakes! It can be trial and error when it comes to vegan baking. However, for most cakes, the perfect texture is a “soft dollop” – a mixture that just falls from the spoon.
Plant-Based Ready Meals
After a manic day in the office, or when the kids are acting up (i.e the times of the day where you want to hide in the pantry with a glass – make that bottle – of wine), sometimes we just don’t feel like cooking.
This is where being vegan can be a little trickier – it’s not as simple as speed dialling your favourite pizza restaurant!
However, thankfully there are now plenty of helping hands in the form of delicious, nourishing vegan ready meals! I love the new Sainsbury’s Plant Chef range, which includes butternut lasagne and – my personal fave – miso aubergine with noodles.
Let’s Talk Cheese…
For many, this is their downfall! After all, who can survive without a cheesy Mozzarella pizza…?!
There are many vegan cheeses on the market (Vio Life, which is made from coconut oil, is my favourite), and Nutritional Yeast offers a deliciously cheesy taste on top of pasta dishes, but they do not taste identical to cheese.
Instead, why not try making your own cheeses? There are lots of delicious recipes online for plant-based fetas, mozzarellas made of cashews and much, much more!
Once you’re ready to go, head to your local supermarkets, scour what vegan finds there are and stock up! My favourite shops for vegan buys are local health stores (I love Currant Affairs, if you live near Leicester), Holland & Barrett, Tesco & Ocado.
I always have a huge supply of lentils, chickpeas and tofu in my fridge and cupboards, and I also buy cashews (perfect for vegan cheeses and cheesecakes) and other nuts in bulk, too – it tends to work out much cheaper this way, since buying nuts can be pricey!
Out and About…
In all honesty, this is where I struggle the most. I don’t live in a big city, and I know very few vegans. Because of this, it can be tricky to stay vegan when out and about. However, there are a few things which have made life easier…
If I know I’m going to a friend’s house for coffee, I take a carton of oat milk in my handbag or simply my own herbal tea bags. I also often call up restaurants or takeaways in advance to see if they will cater for me. 90% of the time, restaurants are only to happy to make me a vegan meal!
I’ve also found that it helps to make myself some vegan snacks to stash in my handbag (foods like roasted chickpeas or homemade protein bars) incase hunger strikes. And I often take homemade Chocolate Truffles to girls’ nights in – no one will ever guess they’re vegan!
The most important tip of them all? Be kind to yourself! Mistakes can happen, and you may fall off the vegan wagon. But don’t be hard on yourself – it’s easy to do, and the transition from meat eater to vegan can take time! Instead, go gently, laugh it off, and try again…
Have I inspired you to try going vegan? How have you found the change? Let me know by commenting below!