Thanks for all the kind words about my half-marathon – it was a truly unforgettable experience and I’m glad you all enjoyed reading the re-cap as much as I did writing it!
Anyways, on to the topic du jour. I (along with vegans everywhere I’m sure) am met with a spectrum of reactions from people when I tell them about my diet and lifestyle choices. Some are totally against it, (cue an endless exchange of arguing/defending my beliefs), but most adopt a “different strokes for different folks” attitude and are pretty accepting.
And sometimes when chatting to like-minded people, I get something along the lines of “Wow, that’s so impressive.” followed by:
a) “I’d love to be vegan/vegetarian…”
b) “I really want to start eating healthier…”
“But it’s just too hard. I wouldn’t know where to start”
First thing’s first; I don’t think the fact that I’m able to keep a (healthy) vegan diet is impressive, and no that’s not down to modesty. As I’ve mentioned before, I was mostly vegetarian from a young age and went dairy-free during my second year of university. Part of what made my transition to veganism so effortless is that it was that it was just that – a transition, or evolution of sorts. Furthermore, after years of waging a war against food and my weight, I had finally found solace and comfort in eating a whole foods plant-based diet. This, coupled with my ethical views on animal rights and environmental issues made me completely confident in my decision to eat and live compassionately.
It’s fair to say that my individual circumstances made it pretty easy for me to slide into the “vegan” shoes, but I can completely appreciate that it’s may not be, and often isn’t, that easy for everyone.
True, there are a plethora of resources available nowadays for anyone looking to explore a vegan/vegetarian diet and lifestyle- A quick google search will bring up countless “how-to: go veg*n” guides, 30-day challenges and sample menus. While that’s a great problem to have, it can sometimes be the problem! All the information can be overwhelming, and no doubt off-putting or daunting if you’re more of a steak and potatoes kinda gal/guy. And that’s where I can (hopefully) help. Recently, I’ve been getting a lot of really touching messages and e-mails from readers who tell me that my blog has helped them with veganism and eating better, and while that doesn’t make me an expert by any means, I’m thrilled that my recipes and posts have managed to impact others eating choices for the better – and would love to continue to do that by sharing my personal experiences. SO, without further ado here are some of my top tips for the newly vegan or health conscious eater!
1. Add first, subtract later.
This first one comes from the ever knowledgable and astute Gena from Choosing Raw , and It is without a doubt one of the most valuable pieces of advice I’ve ever taken regarding food. Although she originally put it within the context of transitioning to a high raw diet, I think it can be applied to virtually any new style of eating which can seem like a daunting project at times – like veganism.
Instead of focusing on what you can’t have (“what, no cheese?!”), get excited about all the new and interesting foods you can have! Don’t worry about cutting anything out just yet, instead focus on adding one or two new foods every day, and eventually at every meal time. Even if it’s just buying a new vegetable the next time you go grocery shopping or subbing a whole grain like quinoa or brown rice for your regular white rice. Or simpler still, try just having a side salad with your meal, if that’s not something you usually do.
Don’t worry, it’s okay if you’re not that excited about a salad.
The idea is to take baby steps, and try as many new things as possible. Some you’ll like, some you’ll hate, but maybe some you’ll love. And even if that’s all you come out with at the end of the day, that’s a pretty sweet deal.
2. Go back to basics.
Now, it may sound like I’m about to contradict myself with this one, but I’m not. Sure, trying new things is great, but try not to get carried away. If you take a trip to your local health food store and buy every single organic, fair-trade, gourmet vegan food item in existence, chances are you will end up broke with a lot a funny sounding things in your pantry that you will probably never get around to trying (obscure Japanese sea vegetables anyone?)
Take a step back and go back to basics. Beans and rice. Lentils, legumes and whole grains. Fresh fruit and vegetables. Leafy greens. Nuts and seeds (if you can tolerate them). Sure, fancy-shmancy products like soy-dairy or vegan cheese can be apt and comforting replacements for the “real” thing if you’re really missing them, but they’re definitely not must haves. It’s also worth noting that fake meat/dairy products are usually heavily processed, so you’re better off steering clear of them and consuming their infinitely more nutritious whole food counterparts.
Hummus, cashew cheese or guacamole make delicious sandwich spreads and banana soft-serve is just as good if not better than your average ice cream or fro yo, and is way more customizable in terms of flavor. If you must have them, go for organic and non-GM soy products like tofu and tempeh which are generally less processed.
3. Stick to what you know, and eat more of it.
This ties the first two points together nicely. Take a second and mentally take inventory of your diet – you may or may not surprise yourself by already consuming some vegan dishes and foods. A common misconception about vegan food is that it consists of super secret and obscure ingredients you can only find at your local health food store – this couldn’t be farther from the truth. Vegan foods are the some of the simplest, cheapest and most accesible foods that we’ve been living off for years.
So for example, if you have a glass of orange juice every day with breakfast – kick it up a notch and try making your own fresh juice. Do you pile on the hummus every time you’re at a Middle Eastern restaurant? Buy a tub or two (or better yet try making your own) and have it with fresh chopped veggies or pita chips. Realised you reach for the apples whenever you go home to a fully stocked fruit bowl at your parents’ house? Buy some apples and keep one in your bag at all times for a healthy and portable snack.
4. Identify the easy switches, and make them.
Brown rice instead of white, all natural muesli or naturally sweetened granola instead of generic processed cereal – these are what I call the easy switches. Identify one easy switch a week and make it. If you’re a person who’ll gladly eat brown and white bread for example, opt for brown. If don’t happen to mind the taste of soy or almond milk – go without dairy milk for a week and see how much of a difference it really makes to you. Remember, you don’t have to do everything at once, it’s all about baby steps here.
5. Be supermarket savvy.
This has probably been repeated more times than even google can count, but I think it’s a tip everyone can stand to benefit from. Do the bulk of your grocery shopping on the outer aisles of your supermarket, and steer clear of the middle aisles which usually house the refined and processed food items you want to avoid. Think of this way, it’s going to be a lot easier to resist picking up that family-size bag of potato chips if you don’t go past it.
***I just wanted to point out that a vegan diet is NOT necessarily synonymous with a healthy one – skeptics you have been warned, the world of vegan junk food is alive and well! The reason I’ve chosen to gear this towards health conscious eaters as well is that I appreciate veganism (and even vegetarianism) isn’t for everyone. As my old colleague Keith would say “It’s a glove that won’t fit everyone’s hand”. That said, there’s no harm in trying the glove on for size. Because I initially went vegan for health and diet reasons – I’m equally as passionate about advocating a vegan diet for optimum health and nutrition as I am for ethical and environmental reasons, and I truly believe everyone can benefit from incorporating more wholesome plant-based sources of nutrition to their diet.
On that note I’ll be doing a few more posts about transitioning to a healthy vegan diet along with some really simple recipes that anyone can follow, so stay tuned! So far I’m thinking healthy snack options and dairy-free alternatives – if you have any requests or suggestions for a post in this series feel free to mention it in the comments below or drop me an e-mail via the contact form.