Veganism for Beginners
Veganuary is just around the corner and with over 100,000 people having signed up via the official Veganuary website, there are set to be more people than ever giving a vegan diet a try this year.
Having been vegan for over 5 years I am often asked about veganism and a couple of years ago I wrote an email to a friend who had decided to go vegan. It pooled together tricks and tips, advice about nutrition, recipes, vegan-friendly restaurants and a link to the video that originally hit me hard enough to go from vegetarian to vegan.
I’ve decided to turn it into a blog so more people can read it, so, here goes….
If you’re reading this, then you are probably already aware of the detrimental effects the meat and dairy industry are having on people’s health, the planet and not to mention, the billions of animals killed every year for food. Personally I turned vegetarian when I was 6 years old and realised that meat and the animals I loved were the same thing. I then became vegan when, as an adult, someone said to me; “Vegetarians are hypocrites, the dairy industry is worse than the meat industry” and I thought “What are you talking about?!”, and then I did some research and I discovered that they were right. During this research I stumbled upon this video of a talk by animal rights activist Gary Yourovsky and I haven’t looked back since:
Going vegan isn’t just a case of cutting meat and dairy out of your diet, you must educate yourself on what your body needs and how to get enough of it and no, I am not talking about protein, there’s actually plenty of that in everything. Here are the main things that vegans need to make sure they are getting enough of.
Not many vegan food sources contain all nine essential amino acids, the following do so up your intake: Amaranth, buckwheat, chia, chlorella (green algae), flax seeds, hemp seeds, nutritional yeast (known as nooch in America), oats, quinoa, soy, spirulina (blue-green algae).
I have read that there are no decent ways to get B12 if you’re vegan and you should take a supplement but lots of things like breakfast cereals, non-dairy milks and nutritional yeast are fortified with B12 now, so just keep an eye on your intake.
When eating foods with iron in, twin them with foods with vitamin C, which will help you absorb the iron. Avoid drinking too much tea near meals, the tannin in black tea prevents iron absorption. Herbal teas are great for keeping your caffeine levels down and your fluid levels up and some have extra benefits like antioxidants. Nettle tea is full of iron and is really tasty.
Calcium absorption is aided by vitamin D, so twin these foods together too. A teaspoon of blackstrap molasses with porridge and soy milk is a winner. Or add sesame seeds or tahini to your dishes. Houmous is king.
Watch out for this. There are several forms. D2, which is vegan, D3, which comes from animals and therefore is not. Always read the label! Companies put D3 in things rendering them ‘unvegan’, so it’s good to check.
Again several forms but the high quality one is called DHA, which you can only get from fish or from where fish get theirs – green algae! I would recommend a supplement for Omega 3s unless you are regularly adding green algae powder (e.g. spirulina) to your juices/smoothies. You can also get short-chain omega 3s called ALA from flax, hemp and walnuts. Here’s a decent Omega 3 supplement you can buy on the high street:
And here’s one you can buy online:
Iodine is another one that vegans won’t be getting much of as it is mostly found in dairy products and fish. We don’t need a lot (150 micrograms a day), so buying iodised salt is one option to increase your intake but not a very healthy one so a supplement is probably your best option. Regularly adding certain seaweeds to your diet is option number 3… hello Yo Sushi!
If you a pregnant and vegan, make sure you do your own research. Iodine is important for healthy mums and babies.
More info on iodine from the Vegan Society:
A word on supplementing
There will be the people who say that veganism is unnatural, especially if you have to supplement your diet, but my answer to that would be that, firstly we don’t always eat the way we want to. I have weeks where my diet is colourful and varied and I make a green juice with spirulina in every day, and weeks when I’m snowboarding in France and eat bread and lettuce most days because the choice there is awful and I know, vegan or not, I’m not giving my body what it needs. Secondly, I would much rather take a vegan vitamin tablet every so often than eat the corpses of dead animals. So… there.
Eating out as a vegan isn’t just easier than it used to be, it’s bloody awesome now! Five years ago I was used to chips and a side salad or the occasional vegetarian dish minus the cheese, but so much has changed since then and now there are vegan restaurants popping up all over the place and most high street chains have at least one option, with places like Wagamama, Zizzi, Yo Sushi! and even JD Wetherspoon having loads of vegan options.
Apps and social media
There are several brilliant apps that you need to download – right now.
This will help you locate all the vegan, vegetarian and veg-friendly eateries near you, as well as health food shops. You can also plan trips, write reviews and add photos to existing entries. The website is brilliant too.
This app identifies which wine and beer is vegan. (I know… you didn’t think about having to check your drinks as well did you? Luckily, there are lots of options and who wants fish bladder goo in their drinks anyway?!).
Scan items using this app and it will tell you if you can eat them or not – simples!
Here’s PETA’s list of places you can get vegan food on the go:
And their list of chain restaurants that serve vegan options:
Now for the fun bit – cooking beautiful vegan food!
I found that I had to change my idea of what a meal looks like when I became vegan. It’s easy to look at a plate of ‘meat and two veg’ and think that without the meat, that looks pretty boring. Well yes, it does. Cooking good vegan food is all about being creative. It’s about finding interesting combinations, eating the rainbow, bowl food.
Vegan food inspo
A great place to start is online. I use Pinterest to find and save specific recipes and Instagram to connect with other vegans, share my own meals and to stay inspired by following other vegans, seeing what they are eating and getting all excited about food!
Some of my favourite recipes
Tried and tested. Tasty and delicious. If you make them, make sure you take a pic and tag me in them!
– Green wraps Invented by a chef friend. Ingedients: wraps, houmous, chilli sauce, tofu, cajun spice, spring greens, baby sweetcorn, courgettes, mushrooms, asparagus. Squeeze the tofu, slice, sprinkle with cajun spice and bake til crispy. Stir fry the veg then layer up wraps with houmous, chilli sauce, veg and tofu – so so yummy!
- Jamie’s party squash soup http://www.jamieoliver.com/recipes/vegetables-recipes/party-squash-soup/
– Seitan, mash, greens and white wine & caper sauce http://www.theppk.com/2013/06/seitan-piccata/
– Pea Soup(Peas, mint, stock, onion, garlic, soy cream).
– Mushroom soup and truffle oil (onion, garlic, mushrooms, stock, soy cream, truffle oil)
– Chickpea puttanesca and polenta http://keeprecipes.com/recipe/howtocook/chickpea-puttanesca-over-creamy-polenta
– Wild mushroom risotto http://www.jamieoliver.com/recipes/rice-recipes/grilled-mushroom-risotto/
– Quesadillas(wraps, avocado, sweetcorn, red onion, vege chicken/chicken, jalepeno tomatoes or tomato salsa, coriander, vegan cheese/cheese). Or nachos, or fajitas..mexican food is so good for vegans!
– Vietnamese rice paper rolls https://www.bbcgoodfood.com/user/3907931/recipe/vegan-rice-paper-rolls
– Smoky sausage casserole (just use vegan sausages, my fave are the Fry’s ones from Holland and Barrett). https://www.jamieoliver.com/recipes/pork-recipes/jools-sausage-smoky-bean-casserole/
Jamie Oliver has loads of vegan recipes on his website: http://www.jamieoliver.com/recipes/category/special-diets/vegan/
You can find vegan wine in most places now but I want to give a special shout out to Majestic Wine, who let you filter their wines in the search by ‘vegan’. Many are affordable and all are tasty!
Some of my favourite vegan blogs
If you forget, or fuck up, or feel like you’re going to die if you don’t eat that hot halloumi wrap in Pret, just do it, but don’t give up the whole experiment, or feel like you’ve failed. I get drunk and eat cheese sometimes. I get hungry at a train station and can’t find anything that’s vegan… it’s all about ‘every little helps’. Making small changes and trying your best. Just remember, every meat or animal product you avoid is adding to the decrease in demand, which will ultimately lead to less animals being killed and every penny you spend on a vegan product is a vote against animal cruelty.
I hope this has been helpful to those of you who are considering veganism. Feel free to get in touch if you want any more information and please share this blog with other people you think might find it helpful too.
P.S. Here’s a comeback for your arsenal. You’re welcome.