There are many reasons to switch to a vegan diet. Most vegans I know do it because they don’t want to eat flesh or by-products of dead animals. Some people switch to a vegan diet whilst following in the footsteps of celebrities, or on the search for a healthier lifestyle.
Yes, it is a fairly extreme lifestyle, which is much easier if your immediate family are vegan too. No one wants to be cooking two or three different meals a day. I have been a vegetarian most of my adult life – around 25 years now. I did it for a handful of reasons, the main one being that I didn’t wish to eat animals.
I have always looked towards being vegan but never took the step. The change for me came after an intolerance test I took. As a Nutritional Therapist I had a free test to try, so I did. I did not expect the results I got back. I was intolerant to one of the proteins in cow’s milk and egg white.RELATED: RECOMMENDED PLANS FOR YOU
I have worked with clients who had intolerances and they presented with gut pain, flatulence or bloating when they had dairy, but I didn’t have any of those symptoms. After eliminating all dairy products for a couple of weeks I noticed that my dry skin that I’d always suffered with, got better.
Reintroducing dairy brought abdominal pains shortly after, a sign that my body wasn’t happy with what I was eating.
My point is, there may be foods that your body doesn’t tolerate well, and you may have symptoms that you just don’t associate with eating that food. Dairy is a food that many people have problems with, but because we have had dairy all our lives we just don’t make the connection. Let’s face it – the cow’s milk is meant for the calves, no wonder our bodies try to reject it.
Feeling better on a vegan diet
Improved state of being on a vegan diet includes feeling fantastic, slimmer and healthier. It needs to be said at this point that without balanced nutrition, you can also feel tired, lacking in energy, have headaches and gain weight on a vegan diet. But these symptoms can occur with any regime if you don’t balance your nutrients properly or eat processed food.
Let’s face it, a vegan diet could be chips, bread, cereal bars and coffee. As with any change in dietary habits, it is wise to do it gradually. Give yourself time to adjust to the new flavours and textures.
Join online groups of other vegans for support and recipe ideas. Over the years I have discovered food combinations that I just wouldn’t have dreamt of. Eating as a vegan, or indeed a vegetarian, is entirely different to eating like a meat-eater. Using processed meat substitutes may be good for barbecues or to make the transition from eating meat, but it isn’t a long-term quality vegan diet.
Protein for vegans
Using new foods such as lentils, tofu, tempeh, beans, rice and plenty of vegetables to make recipes will ensure that you receive a variety of nutrients. Proteins come from many sources including quinoa, hemp, soya, beans, rice, peas, seitan, chickpeas, lentils, hummus, nuts, spirulina and vegetables.
Eating a variety of protein sources in a vegan diet you will ensure your body gets what it needs. It is entirely possible to get enough protein on a vegan diet if you are eating a wide variety of foods.
One important fat to make sure you include in your vegan diet is omega-3. This is usually found in fish, but can be obtained from flaxseed, walnuts, hemp, chia seeds and olive oil. Omega-3 can go rancid easily, so take care to keep these products in a cool and dark place such as the fridge.
Other fats to include in your diet are avocados, a variety of nuts, and coconut oil (for cooking). You can sprinkle a little flaxseed on oats or cereals, in a sandwich or add to a smoothie. These healthy fats are important for our nervous system and to help make certain hormones within our body.
Essential B vitamins for vegans
B vitamins are important for energy production and may not be as easy to find in vegan food. You can obtain them from nutritional yeast, cereals, vegetables, fortified foods and supplements.
Lack of certain B vitamins can result in numbness or tingling of limbs and general fatigue. It may be a good idea to supplement your B vitamins when starting out on a vegan diet until you have researched good vegan sources.
The transition to vegan
Going vegan won’t be easy at first for most, and it probably won’t happen overnight. It brings about a whole new way of eating and looking at food and what you put into your body. I routinely read labels in supermarkets, however, most of my food has very few ingredients in. The more ingredients you see on a label, generally, the less likely it is to be good for you.
You may find that as your body detoxes from your old way of eating and gets used to the change in diet, you could experience loose bowl movements and/or more regular visits to the toilet. This is your body starting to work properly and eliminating food more than once a day sometimes.
Buying organic fruit and vegetables where possible may be a little more expensive but will bring you a better quality of food without harmful chemicals attached. Without herbicides and pesticides and any of the hormones they put into livestock, you should start to feel healthier. Your body will thank you for it.
Steaming vegetables or even learning to love them raw will give your body more of the important nutrients it needs. You will be surprised how quickly your body can adjust to this new way of life. Yes, it is difficult, especially when eating out. A lot of things have egg or milk added to them, but you have to get used to reading labels, asking, or just choosing something else!
Herbs and spices play an important role in flavour as well as providing cancer-fighting, anti-inflammatory and iron-boosting properties. Thyme, coriander, ginger and garlic are all great additions to new recipe creations.
Cutting out preservatives and additives and eating a good clean diet is an important part of being vegan. It may also be useful to consult with a Nutritional Therapist and work with them on how to suit a vegan diet to you. Just because I love avocados and hummus – it doesn’t mean you will!
You have to find a way of eating that suits you, and gives your body everything it needs. Snacking on nuts, seeds or other small snacks will help to keep your blood sugar levels steady throughout the day and stop your body having sugar cravings.
Give yourself time, do your research, and embrace a vegan diet. There may well be a dip before you start to feel great, but trust me, if you are covering all your bases and eating a wide variety, your body will love what you are feeding it.