Why I went from Meat eating, Dairy drinking, Egg consuming person to a VEGAN?
I have been a vegan since the start of 2014. Before that I consumed meat with most of my meals, dairy was definitely in my diet, even though I started reducing the amount, and eggs were, to me a nice way to start the weekend. My family all consumed meat along with most of my friends and they still do. I will say though that by going vegan I have definitely sparked some interest and meat free meals are no longer looked at with such confusion at the family dinner table.
I use to look at vegetarians and vegans and think “that’s so unhealthy”, “you need meat in your diet, and “they must be deficient in so many nutrients”. How naive was I. If you had told me that in a few years I would be following this path and not only loving it but feeling my best and the healthiest I have ever felt, I would have laughed, a lot, really, really loudly.
So your probably wondering what the hell caused someone who so clearly was not interested in being a vegan to jump ship and join the plant eating, juice drinking, kale loving foodies? Well it wasn’t an immediate choice. My interest developed after a few months of reading, listening to lectures and watching various documentaries on animal cruetly, the benefits of being meat free and all the positives that can come when you choose to lead a vegan life. Even the hardest, toughest meat eating male would struggle after processing all the information that I did. Eventually something inside me clicked and I could no longer stand by and consume steak and chicken while still believing I was doing something right and healthy for my body. I also felt that it would be a good challenge and experiment and that I needed to give this a go and see what all the fuss was about. I decided to dedicate one month to being vegan and surprise, surprise that one month turned into two, which turned into three and before I knew it the year was almost up and I was following a vegan diet and loving it.
I like to think of my diet as 90% vegan and then 10% for when ever life decides to get in the way. This works for me and allows me to be flexible and not spend the whole time worrying about “but what if there’s butter in there”. I’m ok with a little bit every now and then, and I think if I tried to be 100% vegan It would end up causing unnecessary anxiousness and obsessivness over my diet and lifestyle and would leave no room for movement. It might work though for other people and I applaud you on your choice. Its not easy and takes a lot of commitment to say you are 100% vegan. When I’m out and someone has made me a salad and it has added feta, I do not throw a fit and order them to remake my salad, I just choose to eat around it or if I feel like it have a tiny bit. Eggs are also like this since they get put into a lot of foods. I choose to eat this way, because it makes me feel my best, because I love, care and respect animals and because I believe we would all be better off without all this animal protein in our diets.
I get asked a lot of questions about being a vegan, so I thought I would go through and answers some of the most common questions connected to a vegan lifestyle and hopefully clear up some confusion and help you realise how easy and rewarding it can be.
What do you eat?
This question never gets old and I love being able to educate people on all the delicious foods that I cook myself every day. My diet is not lacking in flavour, variety, excitement or nutrition. For breakfast I start with lemon water followed by a green smoothie and then Bircher muesli. I can change the smoothie combos for variety and I soak different nuts and seeds each week to ensure I’m getting a wide range of nutrients.
I always make sure to top off my Bircher with coconut yogurt, fruit and some bee pollen. Snacks include nuts and seeds with added super foods such as Acai berries; vegetable sticks with hummus, crackers with almond butter, fruit and leftover green smoothies. My lunch change each day and will either be leftovers from the night before, sushi, or my favorite lunch choice, which is a salad mix up where I combine anything and everything in my fridge for a nutrient rich lunch option. This is also great for days when I’m modelling as I can easily transport it with me. Dinner is also varied, as I love to try new exciting recipes. One of my favorite cuisines is Mexican, which we cook often. Think burritos, chili, guacamole, lots of lime and coriander…. Delicious. We also cook with lots of fresh salads, vegetables, and stir-fry’s. I add tofu to my meals once a week; otherwise I focus purely on vegetables, some grains, fruits and healthy fats, which I get from nuts, seeds, oils and my favorite fruit and a definite daily occurrence, avocados.
Where do you get your protein?
This is probably the most commonly asked question and the first thing to come to mind after you say vegan. The answer is everywhere. Protein is in most foods, from your vegetables, to your nuts and seeds and grains. Obviously there are richer sources of protein, such as leafy greens, hemp, almond milk or almond butter, quinoa, lentils, beans and temph. I never focus too much on how I’m getting my protein and instead I focus on variety and highly nutritious foods, both which provide me with more than enough protein for my diet.
Do you get enough Iron?
This is a topic which concerns a lot of people especially women as they are scared of becoming anemic. When you eat a plant based diet which is varied you are not eating a diet low in iron. Let me say that again…. “a plant based diet is NOT low in iron” My favorite iron rich foods include tofu, whole grain’s such as quinoa, broccoli, leafy greens, fruits and some seeds. The only times when you need to really pay attention to your iron sources are when you are menstruating or if your pregnant otherwise continue eating a variety of whole foods and you’ll be meeting your iron requirements.
Where do you get your calcium?
I love answering this one, as I’m passionate about being dairy free. Even before being vegan I was well aware of the negative affects of dairy and was working towards eliminating it from my diet. I go more into why we don’t need dairy in our life in my article ‘why I chose to be dairy free’, but the simple answer for where I get my calcium from is leafy greens, nut milks and butters, sea vegetables, tahini, beans, broccoli and sesame seeds.
Where do you get your omega-3’s?
This is a good question as omega 3’s are so important for your brain and heart. A lot of people consume fish oil thinking that this is the best way to get omega-3’s. The problem with fish oils are, that they tend to become unstable quickly which causes it to produce free radicals. The best sources are in fact plant sources, which do not become unstable. These sources include flaxseed oil, hemp seed oil, soybeans and soybean oils. All you need is 1 tsp of flaxseed oil a day or a small handful of walnuts added to your smoothies. Or as I love to eat them in my morning Bircher.
Do you need to add supplements to your diet?
The purpose of supplements are to provide your diet with nutrients, which you are not getting through your food. Therefore if your diet is high in nutrients and has a variety of foods offering a variety of nutrients there is no need to supplement. However there are a lot of fast food vegans out there who choose to stay away from meat but replace it with fast food burger, fries, packaged foods and soft drinks. In this case then yes you probably want to supplement your diet or better yet start adding in whole foods.
What about vitamin B12?
This is the one exception when it comes to vitamins and being a vegan. B12 is very important as deficiencies are very serious and can cause irreversible affects on your brain and nervous system. The good thing is we don’t need a lot of B12, only 2 micrograms a day. The reason we need B12 is because its synthesized by certain bacteria, which is found in animal guts, and since we don’t eat animal guts we therefore don’t get enough B12 in our diets. Plant foods don’t contain B12 but the thing that does contain B12 is soil and where do plants grow…in soil. Back in the day when we use to eat from our gardens, from spray free foods, we were able to get this source of B12, but now with food being mass-produced and chemically sprayed the levels of B12 are significantly reduced. Because of this, I take a Biotrace B complex every day to ensure that I’m getting significant levels. I also recommend this to everyone as the B12 levels in our meat are greatly reduced from what they use to be.
How did you feel after switching to a vegan lifestyle?
Honestly I felt amazing. I didn’t think that I would notice too much of a change as I already ate a healthy diet and I didn’t think that meat, eggs and dairy would be affecting my body in too many ways, but I was wrong. The first thing I noticed was that I felt a lot calmer and more peaceful. Say what you want about the reasons why, but I have to believe that it has something to do with not having the extra hormones in my body and the high cortisol levels from the meat. I also loved knowing that I was in no way harming animals, which is something that has helped me stay on track as I am an absolute animal lover.
My energy levels were the next area that I noticed. I use to crash in the afternoon and need some down time. I now find that I can go longer throughout the day without feeling drained. I also lost weight when I became vegan. This was in no way my aim or purpose. It was something that happened naturally as I removed the saturated fats from the meat, dairy and eggs and instead replaced them with lots of fresh fruits, vegetables, grains, nuts and seeds. Lastly I felt a sense of purpose, given my choices were not only affecting myself in a positive way but I was looking out for animal rights, our environment and our planet.
Do I crave meat, dairy or eggs?
I really thought that when I made the switch it was going to be a lot harder than it was. The hardest part was the mindset. When I focused on the reason why I was doing it, it made it easier. I had a purpose and something that I believed in. It also helped hugely having substitutes in place for meat and dairy so that I felt like I wasn’t missing out on anything. Take a look at my article on my favorite dairy substitutes which I recommend to everyone even if you are not vegan.
Do I think everyone should become vegan?
No I don’t. Being a vegan is what works for me and is what makes me feel my best. This does not mean that everyone will feel this way. I believe in biodiversity, which means that one person’s food is another’s poison. You need to find what works for you and what makes you feel your best. I do believe however that we are a meat eating society and we are consuming too much. If everyone had meat free Mondays that would be fantastic, but ideally two- three meat free days a week is what I recommend for ultimate health. I do strongly believe that dairy does not need to be in our diet and instead replace it with nut milks, coconut yogurt and cashew cheeses all which I believe taste so much better and provide so many more nutrients than dairy.
What would be the first steps you would recommend for someone wanting to start following a more vegan lifestyle?
The first steps I would encourage them to take would be to start slowly. Swap dairy in your diet with substitutes. Then I would say have one meat free day a week and slowly work up. You might want to have four vegetarian meals and three meat meals, that’s ok. If eggs were a big part of your life slowly cut back to every few days and eventually remove them completely. Its all about small consistent and achievable goals. This is not a diet it’s a lifestyle. If you completely cut everything from your diet, you will not last and will likely rebel and drive to the nearest Mac Donalds and inhale three meat burgers with extra cheese, not ideal. You need to give your body some adjustment time so that you can sustain this lifestyle.
I hope that this information has been helpful and that it has answered your questions about veganism. As you can see a lot of the foods I eat are actually high in iron, protein and calcium so I am able to tick all the boxes at once, making it a whole lot easier to be sure I am getting all the nutrients I need to be healthy.
I want to mention that I am vegan but my partner is not. A lot of you will have husbands, wife’s, flat mates, children all who have no interest in this way of life. That’s ok. I was once like them and they might see how great you feel and start changing or they might not. Matt and I plan, shop, prepare and eat a lot of our meals together. It is possible to be vegan and to live with a meat eater. Its all comes down to planning and respect. As long as your meat eater who ever they might be respects your choice and you respect there’s no matter how hard this might be. Then you can work around planning meals that cater to you both. I will say though that our diet has changed since I have become a vegan as I love cooking and so will often prepare food for both of us. Therefore 60% of Matts diet is probably vegan and the rest contains some meat, although not every night, some dairy, but hardly ever, and the occasional egg. A lot of my recipes on the blog are vegan but like Matt does at home, meat can be added easily to accommodate for those meat eaters.
If you have any more questions or concerns that you have with a vegan lifestyle please ask me and Id love to be able to put your mind at ease and show you how rewarding it can be to make the switch.