In a perfect world, I would have posted this last week, but the world is not perfect and neither am I. The second month of the 2017 Vitality Challenge is Vegan Month. This month, I've chosen to explore how it feels to adopt a vegan diet.
I've been flirting with veganism for a long time and am curious if it fits into my life without an overwhelming amount of disruption. I don't think it will be much of a stretch since I practice a vegetarian lifestyle already and cook mostly vegan meals, but I anticipate challenges. While I will mostly be focusing on what I put in and on my body, I recognize that veganism spreads further into one's lifestyle in the form of leather, wool and down and one could even argue that it is truly impossible to lead a 100% vegan lifestyle. I have mixed feelings on this topic and it's a debate to save for another time and place. This month's challenge is about progress, not perfection and the benefits and challenges of eating a vegan diet.
- Eat foods that contain no animal-derived ingredients including the less obvious ones like gelatin.
- Do not purchase any new personal care items that contain animal-derived ingredients and do not purchase any new items made from leather, suede, fur, down or wool.
I have more expectations around obstacles than I do around outcome. My expectations around outcome are a combination of anecdotes from others and knowledge of my own body. Although one of the most frequent things I hear about people who go vegan is that they lose weight, I don't anticipate weight loss being an outcome for me. My diet was already roughly 90% vegan, so this won't be a dramatic shock to the system and my body has a tight grip on its set point. The main areas of my life I expect to be impacted and will be keeping my eye on are:
- Weight - maybe drop 1-2 pounds
- Athletic Performance - as long as I'm prepared with meals, I don't think this will suffer. I have just re-introduced hill repeats and speed work into my weekly running routine and will monitor my progress
- Energy Level - As long as I get enough B vitamins, I don't see an issue here. My last blood test as a vegetarian showed normal protein levels in my blood.
- Brain Function - again, as long as I get enough B vitamins, I see only improvement in my future.
- Supplements - did you know that vitamin D is made from sheep lanolin? Have you ever seen sheep lanolin? It may as well be made from ear wax! The problem is that gelatin capsules are not even vegetarian, let alone vegan and that a vegan vitamin D supplement is expensive. Considering that the staples of a vegan diet are cheap, I consider it a draw.
- Switching to black coffee - the unflavored plant-based creamers are gross and I don't like sweet coffee and a creamy cup of coffee in the morning is like drinking a cozy, warm hug.
- Pizza nights - this is one of the few times that I buy cheese and I really do love the flavor.
- Making sure to make nutritious choices, not just vegan ones. Sure, I could eat Amy's Mac and Cheez every night, but that's not going to fuel my life the way whole foods will, nor would it be as satisfying.
- Diligence in label reading and researching hidden animal ingredients with names that don't indicate that they are animal-derived.
I have a bit of a head start and have some go-to resources for meal inspiration, preparedness and products. Find them below. The biggest challenge to a vegan diet is lack of preparation in that prepared vegan food is more difficult to find and often costs more. That is not to say that this is also true for preparing vegan food. In fact, I find it to be quite the opposite in that it's more convenient and less expensive.
- Label-reading tips
- Supplements - I only take a B12 and Vitamin D - I have not had any issues with iron, calcium, protein, etc in the years I've not been eating meat. I eat a lot of beans, whole grains and dark leafy greens. While I take these supplements by the advice of my Endocrinologist, I recognize that it is up to me to eat foods that reduce the need to take any additional ones. There is a lot of conflicting advice and I would encourage you to listen to your body and choose your food wisely.
- Daiya salad dressing - caesar and blue cheese in particular; their cheddar-style slices are also good, but they're more of their own thing rather than a cheese replacement
- Upton's Naturals products across the board - their BBQ Jackfruit is AMAZING (not to be confused with the Jackfruit Company - I regret to say that I don't care for the taste of their product, though I must be in the minority as it's gaining distribution quickly)
- Vegenaise has a great flavor for recipes like chickpea salad.
- Three-grain tempeh is a great addition to a stir-fry or to sautee with garlic and add to a salad.
Product sites like those above offer recipe ideas for their product, but there is no shortage of vegan recipes on the internet. One of the things I do to be prepared is to make a large-format meal on the weekend that I bring to work with me for lunches. When I get tired of it, I'll freeze the rest and go to Chipotle instead. It saves money and with just a couple of hours, it provides healthy, convenient meals for the whole work week.
- Oh She Glows is my go-to website and recipe book. Her recipes are easily adaptable and often don't require shopping for a bunch of obscure items that you'll never use in any other recipe. I've tried a lot of her recipes, so here are a few of my favorites:
- Chickpea Salad (sandwich or on an actual salad or just by the spoonful!)
- Golden Lentil Dal - I once ate this every day for lunch for two weeks before I tired of it.
- Vegan Chili - SO easy, great for winter and easily adaptable. I don't bother with the vegan sour cream, but I'm sure it's amazing.
- Rice Crisp Treats - BIG hit at parties and you don't have to tell anyone that they're vegan. Not nutritious, but delicious! One way to cut costs is to buy the bag of puffed rice. Also, I use peanut butter (just the plain, ground peanuts) instead of almond butter because it's cheaper and easier.
- There are a few more that are great, but a little more labor intensive. If you want any tips on how to make these recipes easier or cheaper - reach out and ask. I usually double each recipe for enough to make lunches for the week and use up all the ingredients.
Are you trying out veganism or vegetarianism this month? I'm interested to learn about your motivations and experiences. Your comments and emails are welcome.