Disclaimer: I don’t endorse veganism as a weight loss method and I don’t advocate raw veganism or the 80/10/10 method. You can read my thoughts on weight and wellness here.
After seeing my recent post on the topic, my sister decided to try veganism for a week. An enthusiastic carnivore, Ellie wasn’t entirely sure what being vegan would entail. Five minutes after announcing her challenge, she asked: ‘Can I eat meat yet? Can I still wear my leather jacket? Can I drink caffeine? Can I swear? Is swearing not allowed because it’s not a very nice thing to do?’
I appeased her with some pineapple and explained the following guidelines. They are based on advice from the Vegan Society, Vegan for Life and Nutrition Stripped, which helped me to learn more about the ethics of veganism and how to meet my dietary requirements on a plant-based diet. I also consulted my GP before giving up dairy and continue to have regular check-ups.
1. Don’t eat animal products – that means meat, fish, milk, dairy, eggs and, for some, honey.
2. Avoid using products that contain animal ingredients / parts or were tested on animals.
3. You need to eat more – and more often – than you may think, because plant-based foods generally have a lower energy density (i.e. number of calories).
4. Aim for 5-7 portions of fruit and vegetables a day. They can be fresh, dried, roasted, fried or steamed, and used in soups, smoothies, ice cream, snack bars or baked goods.
5. Eat protein as part of every meal / snack. Try nuts, nut butters, beans, lentils, chickpeas, quinoa, tofu, hummus and seeds.
6. Carbs are your friend. As a coeliac, I tend to eat brown rice, brown rice pasta, brown rice cakes, gluten free oats, potatoes and popcorn. If I’m baking, I use brown rice or buckwheat flour. Chickpeas, beans and quinoa are good combined sources of carbs and protein, too. I tend to avoid gluten free bread (it’s often full of holes, has a strange texture and costs £3 a loaf), but, if you don’t need to be gluten free, you can enjoy other options.
7. Fat is vital for ensuring high energy levels and healthy brain function. Nuts, seeds, hummus, avocado and coconut / soy yoghurt are all good options. Use olive oil with salads and bread and vegetable or coconut oil when frying, roasting or baking. You could also eat vegan cheese, but I have yet to be persuaded that it tastes good.
8. Although plant-based foods contain nutrients, take calcium, iron, vitamin D and vitamin B12 supplements to make up for any you might not be absorbing.
After our little briefing, Ellie agreed to let me know how she was feeling at the end of each day. Here are the results:
Day 1: ‘I feel fine but I was hungry and haven’t really enjoyed anything apart from fruit. I miss not having to read the back of packets, but day one is complete and I haven’t died!’
Day 2: ‘I was hungry often but I’m not really missing anything yet.’
Day 3: ‘I’m still not missing many things, except mayonnaise and Quorn Picnic Eggs. I think I could do this 50% of the time, although I’d eat meat when I’m with my boyfriend.’
She was briefly distracted by naan bread covered with chicken in Sainsbury’s, but went home with stir fry vegetables, Bourneville chocolate and vegan pesto instead.
Day 4: ‘I still feel fine!’
Day 5: ‘I had breakfast at Sparks Yard in Arundel today and it was so good. They did avocado on toast, but I had toast with fresh baked beans instead.’
Day 6: ‘I feel like I’ve done pretty well. If I was with my boyfriend, I’d eat differently, but it hasn’t been very hard.’
Day 7: ‘I just lost my mind and accidentally bought a chicken wrap. I didn’t eat it though! I’m glad I’ve done this week, but I’ll be even more glad to eat meat again.’
So, give or take a few moments of forgetfulness and doubt over what counts as vegan, Ellie managed quite well. She challenged her perceptions of veganism as boring and restrictive, although she could have spent more time exploring the ethical and environmental arguments for herself. Veganism won’t be an ongoing commitment for her, but I’m pleased that she tried. If you’d like to give a similar challenge a go, you can find resources here.