Thinking about going vegan? Whether it’s for Veganuary or just because, this is the post for you. Read on for recipes, tips on how to get started and answers to some of the most common questions.
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What is veganism?
What is veganism to you? At the very least, it’s excluding animal products from your diet, right? This is often referred to as being plant-based, or dietary veganism. Many people go further than that: avoiding animal products in their clothes or furniture and rejecting anything that involves the exploitation of animals. This is known as ethical veganism.
“Veganism is a way of living which seeks to exclude, as far as is possible and practicable, all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose.”The Vegan Society
Why go vegan?
There are lots of reasons to go vegan. The most important thing is that you do it for a reason that resonates with you. Here are just some of the reasons you might consider it:
For the animals
One of the main reasons for going vegan is animal welfare. Most people realise that killing animals for meat is wrong on some level but many people think eggs and dairy are ok, especially if they buy “free range”. Thankfully, people are starting to realise that this isn’t the case.
Around 60 billion land animals are killed for their meat every year: that’s 8 times the world’s population! The Vegan Society has some damning information on the dairy industry and the egg industry. Even when you buy free range, the animals involved suffer. If you feel up to it, do click through and read. It’s shocking to think that these animals suffer so much.
For the planet
Those billions of animals don’t appear out of nowhere – they need land, food and water. Often they are fed with food we could eat ourselves, and the food they eat has more calories than we would gain from their bodies. The meat and dairy industry also require an incredible amount of water, with some organisations saying as much as 70% of the planet’s freshwater being used for farming.
It’s not just land, food and water either. According to the UN’s environment body, the overuse of antibiotics in farming is a major threat to human health. Here in Wales, slurry from 10 million free-range hens has caused algal blooms along the river Wye. A report from Greenpeace found that the biggest source of plastic waste in the oceans wasn’t plastic straws or cotton buds (though you should still ditch those) but the fishing industry, with lost or abandoned fishing gear making up most of the plastic waste in the ocean.
For your health
According to The Vegan Society, research has linked vegan diets to reduced rates of certain kinds of cancer, heart disease and Type-2 diabetes. Not only that, but it has been confirmed that you can follow a healthy, balanced diet that promotes good health by being vegan, rather than the common belief that following a vegan diet will be bad for you. More on this below.
“After all the information I gathered about the mistreatment of animals, I couldn’t continue to eat meat. The more I was aware of, the harder and harder it was to do”Liam Hemsworth
Why I went vegan
I started phasing out meat and dairy after one of my children encountered a health problem that needed an increase in fibre intake. They’d been refusing certain foods for a while and I had to get creative with the meals I was offering. After some research I found that meat and dairy foods only contain a negligible amount of fibre. It wasn’t enough!
First we found a vegan milk alternative we enjoyed. Then we found some yummy vegan sausages. We talked and talked about how we need to get plenty of fibre into our bodies to help them work properly. Slowly but surely, they started feeling better. We stuck with the diet that worked for us.
I didn’t go into this expecting to end up vegan – I sort of slid into it. More than a year after I started, I realised I might as well go the whole way. I only occasionally ate eggs and cheese at that point and I was enjoying them less and less as time went by.
One of my children was very vocal in their dislike of “being vegan”, despite having the option of eating non-vegan food when we had takeaways or ate at a family members house. Years later though? They’re used to it and we enjoy trying new food together. Like any other family, they usually enjoy the food I put in front of them. My daughter chose to go vegan herself a few months ago, and one of my sons makes an effort to eat less meat even when we go out to eat.
Where I’ve struggled
Surprisingly, meat wasn’t as much of a struggle as I thought it would be. This could be because I gradually phased it out. The biggest struggles for me, without a doubt, are cheese and wine. It’s very hard to replicate what people love most about it in exactly the right combination. I can’t say I enjoy vegan alternatives very much at all – there are a handful I’d try every so often. What has helped me here is moving away from dishes that contain a lot of cheese, and experimenting with recipes to recreate cheesy elements that are important to the dish.
All of my favourite wines were non-vegan, using animal products in the filtration process. Barnivore is a great place to find vegan wines to try, but I find the wines themselves have been very hit and miss.
Getting enough nutrition in a vegan diet is a fairly common concern even now. However, it is possible to get all the nutrients you need from a well-balanced diet. Here are some of the nutrients you need to pay attention to.
Our bodies use vitamin B12 to make red blood cells, release energy from food and use folic acid. It comes primarily from animal sources and is the main dietary concern for vegans. Not having enough vitamin B12 can cause extreme tiredness, memory problems and can lead to B12 or folate deficiency anaemia.
You can get vitamin B12 from fortified milks, cereals, yeast spread or flakes, or supplements*. My main sources are fortified milks, yeast spread and nutritional yeast. Some meat and cheese substitutes are fortified with B12 too – check the packet to find out. You can read more about vegan sources of B12 on The Vegan Society’s website.
Vegan recipes for B12:
- Sweet Potato, Butter Bean And Quinoa Chilli (Vegan)
- Vegan Cottage Pie
- Wild Garlic and Stinging Nettle Soup
Iron also helps to make red blood cells. Iron deficiency can cause tiredness, palpitations and shortness of breath. Menstruating women need about twice as much as non-menstruating women or men. Coffee and tea can block the absorption of iron, while food and drink containing lots of vitamin C helps your body to absorb more iron.
Vegan sources of iron include dark chocolate (yes!!!), dark leafy greens, tofu, spirulina, beans, nuts and seeds. Vegan sources of vitamin C include citrus fruits, leafy greens, strawberries and peppers.
I love combining tofu and broccoli, or a square of *really* dark chocolate with a satsuma or some strawberries.
Vegan recipes for iron:
- Sweet Potato, Butter Bean And Quinoa Chilli (Vegan)
- Dark Chocolate & Ginger Cornflake Cupcakes (Vegan)
- Wild Garlic Pesto (Vegan)
- The Perfect Vegan Egg Mayo
- Tofu Saag
Our bodies use iodine to create thyroid hormones. The iodine content of plant foods can vary depending on the iodine content of the soil it is grown in.
Vegan sources of iodine include seaweed and iodised salt, although both have their downsides. The iodine content in seaweed varies and current advice is still to cut down on salt – however, I can’t see much harm in replacing the salt you already use with iodised salt. The Vegan Society recommend their VEG 1 supplement*.
I buy Oatly milks specifically because they contain iodine, and we use nori sheets to lend a sea flavour to several meals. Sometimes I use a Vegan Health vitamin spray* if I know I haven’t been eating well.
Pregnancy, breastfeeding and childhood
The Vegan Society and the BDA have jointly confirmed that a well-planned vegan diet is safe for all stages of life, including pregnancy, breastfeeding and childhood. Again, The Vegan Society recommends their supplement* for this. Viva have a great mother and baby guide!
But what about protein?
Protein is the number one thing people ask me about and yet it’s incredibly easy to get enough protein from a plant-based diet. Vegan sources of protein include tofu, wholegrains, nuts and pulses.
These days our protein sources are mostly wholegrains, tofu and pulses but we love a good meat sub too – fake mince, chicken or sausages are our go-tos.
Recipes for vegan protein
- The ultimate tofu scramble
- Tofu saag
- Easy “chicken” korma
- Haggis loaf
- Vegan cottage pie
- Sweet potato, butter bean and quinoa chilli
“In the UK, it is estimated that well-planned completely plant-based, or vegan, diets need just one third of the fertile land, fresh water and energy of the typical British ‘meat-and-dairy’ based diet. With meat and dairy being the leading contributor to greenhouse (GHG) emissions, reducing animal based foods and choosing a wide range of plant foods can be beneficial to the planet and our health.”British Dietetic Association
Will a vegan diet break the bank?
The short answer is no! Like any other diet, you pay more for convenience. If your vegan meal plan is one full of expensive meat substitutes or exotic ingredients, then of course it’s going to be expensive. A vegan diet based on pulses, plenty of fruit and veg, and minimal meat subs is much cheaper. As I guide, I feed our family of four for around £70 a week and I could make it less expensive if I needed to.
Top tips for going vegan
Going vegan doesn’t have to be painful. You won’t have to eat foods you don’t like or miss out on cake and ice cream. Heck, there’s even a vegan Baileys! Here are some tips to help you get on the way.
Take it one step at a time. Rome wasn’t built in a day. Focus on diet first, and when you have that down, move onto other things. You could try swapping out one product at a time, or making one more meal a week vegan. We did a mixture of both, starting with cow’s milk and red meats. My body found this easier than giving up suddenly.
Embrace “accidentally vegan” food. It made my life so much easier when I found out that a lot of the food I already ate was vegan. The game changer? Red Bisto gravy. It’s the secret ingredient in my vegan cottage pie. Oh, and BBQ rib Doritos, which were a regular feature in our lunchboxes for a while.
Be realistic. If you don’t already cook from scratch often, chances are you won’t be able to maintain cooking from scratch every day. Big lifestyle changes don’t often happen overnight – it takes time to develop new skills and learn new habits. It will come. Don’t get frustrated if you don’t get it straight away.
Move on after setbacks. So you’ve caved. Maybe you felt awkward at a party, or you were ill and you were craving an old favourite. These things happen. Of course, we should always try not to give in. When it does happen, it’s important not to throw in the towel. I quit smoking six years ago. For the first few weeks after quitting, I still had one cigarette before going to bed. I didn’t let it (and a couple of drunken cigarettes on nights out) stop me from trying and that’s how I eventually succeeded. Persistence is key.
Remember why you’re doing this. If you are finding it difficult, remember why you made this choice to begin with. You may have made this choice for your own health, or because you know there are sentient beings involved that don’t have a choice. It might be because you know that this is the sustainable option for our planet. It could be all of those reasons. When you get a weak moment (and remember, we all get them), remember why you’re doing this. Take some time to reframe those thoughts, and get back on it!
Have some nutritional info and recipe books to hand. I love this vegan nutrition pullout from Viva – it’s been on my fridge for ages and it’s great to look at when you need some inspiration. I also have lots of recipe books, both vegan and non-vegan. I love to leaf through my non-vegan recipe books and challenge myself to veganise the recipes!
Stick with the method that works for you. If you can manage cold turkey, great! If you need to take it slow and steady, that’s fine too. Do whatever it takes to get you to your end goal.
Easy vegan meals for beginners
People are unnecessarily intimidated by vegan food. It’s unfamiliar which means it’s scary and what do you mean I can’t have cheese? Who doesn’t eat cheese? But honestly, life without donner kebabs isn’t terrible. Vegan food can be as exotic or as familiar as you like. I like to stick near the familiar side, and if you’re just starting out, I recommend you do too. Here are my favourite vegan meals – if they aren’t cheap, easy and tasty, I generally don’t bother.
Vegetable curry. My Easy Vegan Vegetable Curry has to be my favourite staple dish – I cook it every week. It’s a batch cooker’s dream and very easy to vary. I cheat and use a mild madras powder to make it even easier, despite having a book devoted to delicious (omni) curries! I must leaf through it again and find one to veganise.
Pizza quesadillas. Pizza quesadillas was a favourite from our omni days. The kids absolutely loved them! You can just have vegan mozzarella and pizza sauce or put in a few fillings. I’ve been hankering to try vegan pepperoni and olive – I’ll let you know how it goes!
Pasta with vegan pesto or some bolognese sauce. Check the ingredients to make sure there are no dairy products – some pasta sauces contain cream or soft cheese. My wild garlic pesto is a favourite springtime treat.
Vegan cottage pie. There are loads of different versions of this dish out there. The last time I made cottage pie, I accidentally made three of them! One went in our tummies, one in the fridge and one in the freezer. We ate very heartily that week.
Sandwiches with hummus, peanut butter or vegan cheese. Sandwiches are pretty much a British staple, aren’t they? As well as the fillings listed above, you could have chickpea mayo or falafel salad.
Tofu scramble on toast. This is another recipe that has lots of different versions! Many people are almost frightened of tofu but they needn’t be – scrambling tofu is easier than scrambling eggs!
I hope that this blog post has helped you on your way to adopting a vegan diet. If you have any other questions, leave them in the comments and I’ll answer them there!