I get asked a lot in the gym about vegetarian and vegan diets and my thoughts on them, if they are healthier and how to maintain a healthy balanced diet whilst not eating meat or animal products. I myself have tried multiple different diets, not only for personal preference but also so that I am able to articulate my thoughts and knowledge on them after living and breathing them for a period of time.
I will quickly say before I start that I won’t talk about any environmental benefits to switching diets as it’s not my remit and people are able to do their own research to decide what they think is best for our world and environment without me influencing this.
Sometime last year I decided to do one-month vegan. I did this mainly because its something I had never tried and let’s be honest it’s a massively growing market so I wanted to check it out😊. It came with plenty of pro’s and con’s but I’ve tried to consolidate below the main points for me.
One of the biggest challenges I personally found was keeping my protein intake high. Now that isn’t to say it’s impossible, it just took a lot of thought with my daily meals and also a lot of trial and error on some vegan protein powders which personally didn’t work for me. I increased my intake of beans, lentils and pulses which are packed full of protein…however I also found they packed me pull of wind so that took both myself and my boyfriend some getting used to!! Although my protein levels did drop in this month, I still found I was able to roughly maintain muscle with a consistent gym programme, but it was certainly harder. I would say that come week 3 my body had adapted slightly to the increase in pulses and I felt less swollen and had more energy. I also lived off peanut butter rice cakes for month for a quick and easy high protein snack which was a highlight!
Second thing I found was that I was amazed as to how many products were not vegan. Of course, you expect the usual suspects, however there was plenty that I wasn’t aware of. For example, some of the Quorn products are not vegan (they have a separate vegan range), some sauces and even things like crisps sometimes contain milk. Luckily, I found out pretty early that Lotus Biscoff spread is vegan so I found myself spoon feeding mouthfuls of this every night after work (I do NOT recommend this in a healthy diet!). I also discovered that some packaging isn’t as clear as you would assume it would be. Lots of things I found were vegetarian, and when I read the ingredients couldn’t see anything that wouldn’t make it vegan but it wasn’t labelled as it. This may be due to manufacturing methods so my rule to myself was that if it doesn’t have any animal products in the ingredients, I brought it.
The final thing I spotted was that the vegan Quorn products I was having were higher in fat than I had anticipated. The first couple of weeks I was scoffing down Quorn pieces, mince, nuggets etc with most meals but quickly found that I would be better off limiting this slightly. I have always really enjoyed Quorn products and would certainly recommend to people, just make sure you read the label and check your portions when consuming.
Oh, and before we move on to the positives, I CANNOT go without mentioning the vegan cheeses I tried! I do believe that overall, there are some great vegan alternatives out there, HOWEVER I don’t think anyone has nailed it on the cheese front yet! I am a cheese fanatic…but some of the vegan cheeses had me almost sick to my stomach! I found a couple of the really subtle vegan mozzarella equivalents I had on pizza were ok, but anything resembling a hard cheese to add onto pasta etc was absolutely foul. I still have nightmares to this day thinking about it!
Anyway, moving on to the positives, I would certainly say that the vegan offering available in supermarkets and other food establishments at the moment is absolutely amazing! Most of the big supermarkets have whole ranges of vegan products, clearly labelled and most importantly providing a diverse and delicious array of ingredients and meals! Gone are the days of vegans just getting salads and soups everywhere! It really does show the massive rise of veganism in the UK. I was even more impressed with the restaurants I went to as well, with almost all of them having at least 2 vegan options and some even having a full vegan option! It was nice to feel that you weren’t the burden around the table and also to feel like you were spoilt for choice. Some of the meals I had were so delicious as well!! One of the highlights was The Vurger Co. in London, which my boyfriend took me to as a surprise and honestly you would never have known the mac and cheese and burger were vegan, they were SO GOOD!!
It was also great to try and recreate some of our favourite meals, but make them all vegan. It made you think outside the box a little more, with some very impressive results! We managed to produce a delicious fully vegan shepherd’s pie using lentils and also a hot and spicy chickpea curry which again really hit the spot! There are some fantastic vegan recipe books on the market and there is also the power of Google, which gives us thousands of recipes at the click of a button. It was nice to get back to scratch cooking and to also follow a recipe again as I am the queen of either winging it or just eating similar stuff everyday because its quick, easy and healthy.
The only thing I supplemented with during my vegan month was vitamin B12 as this can generally be lost in many vegetarian and vegan diets. I also generally take iron, omega 3 & 6 anyway, more for general health and wellbeing.
I would say overall it wasn’t as challenging as perhaps I had first expected. Once the terrible wind and cheese trauma had passed, I actually found I was adapting really nicely to my new lifestyle! Naturally I only really dipped my toe in the water but I can now see how people choose the vegan lifestyle. I went back to eating meat after my month vegan but have since become pescatarian, as my own personal preference.
Overall, it was a great experience for me and I recommend if you are thinking of perhaps dipping a toe in the water like I did to give it a go! Perhaps even as a little challenge to yourself for a month and see how you feel, you never know it may be the best choice you ever make!