How To: Go Vegan
How To: GO Vegan
Adopting a plant based diet, or going vegan can seem like quite a daunting and mammoth task initially. It feels like you are stepping into a Narnia closet, not really knowing what to expect on the other side of that closet door. It can sometimes feel like you are relearning how to be. And essentially you are. You are stripping yourself from all the false ideas around food, health, longevity and ethics which are so engulfed in today’s society and marketing world. Ideas such as oranges give you vitamin C and milk gives you strong bones as well as starting to understand that more times than not the terms “cage free” or “free range” mean little to nothing, these are often terms that try to pacify the internal conflict about consuming animal products, terms that have been carefully constructed for marketing purposes to allow the consumer to feel like they are making an ethical food choice.
You are essentially un-learning all that you’ve learnt, and to many people that is quite an overwhelming and intense task! And that is totally fine, it is overwhelming. The body of knowledge available to us all is overwhelming, the options and different avenues of pursuing your search for health and longevity is overwhelming because there is always some new theory or scientific research that is coming out with new information on what the most “natural” way to eat is, or what we as humans are “born to eat”. It is overwhelming, particularly when you are dealing with the psychological effects of coming to terms with the fact that much of what we’ve been taught is simply not true, that much of what we’ve learnt and have therefore come to normalize is in fact just clever marketing and often it can be quite maddening when you first discover this because you feel as though you’ve been living in a conspiracy movie where the government is trying to hide vital information from you because the truth doesn’t make money.
You are re-aligning your values, morals and beliefs. It takes great bravery and courage to really sit back and look at your belief systems, to challenge them and to re-assess what you find meaningful and ‘right’ and it takes even another layer of bravery to then put it into action to change your real world habits and ideas making tangible changes in your life and therefore having an impact not only on yourself but on the world around you, even if that impact may start out small.
I’ve been asked by many friends, family and people interested in transitioning to a plant based lifestyle, “What are you top tips on making the transition? How do I make the change?” Below are some of my tips to making the transition to going vegan easier:
1. DO YOUR RESEARCH – Doing thorough, dedicated research is one of my first and most important tips. Learning about the devastating impact of the meat & dairy industry on the environment, on the well-being of animals and on your own well-being should create enough understanding and motivation to keep you dedicated to giving it a real chance. It really helps to connect to reasons for going vegan that are outside of yourself. Often if your main motivating factor for coming to this lifestyle is purely for personal reasons it can be a lot easier to “fall off the wagon”, as it were. Connecting to something bigger than yourself helps you, motivates you and inspires you deeply to keep going even in those moments of finding it slightly trickier in the initial stages of transitioning. For example: you’re out with your friends at a restaurant that doesn’t cater to vegans other than the garden salad on the menu. If you’ve connected to reasons bigger than yourself (environmental, ethical, health and the like), you are much more likely to stay committed to your decision to steer clear of animal products even in times like the above scenario when it might be slightly harder. If you haven’t yet connected to reasons bigger than yourself, in moments like the above scenario it is much easier to say, “oh well, it’s just one meal.” Or, “I’ll start tomorrow” or, “it’s just a little bit of cheese on the cheese and tomato sandwich”. When you’ve connected to the bigger picture, those moments of seeming discomfort seem so insignificant because you've connected to a real understanding that every meal, every decision is making a difference – even if it seems small. Being clued up about the plant based facts also immensely helps in social scenarios where people might ask you about all things vegan like if someone asks “where do you get your protein from?” or if people try to find holes in the vegan movement and bring up things like, “plants have feelings too” or, “we are built to eat meat” or “carbohydrates are bad”. Some amazing documentaries and books that I highly recommend reading/watching to help clue you up with the facts are:
· TO WATCH: Food Matters, Forks Over Knives, Cowspiracy, Earthlings, The Big Juice Experiment, Fat Sick and Nearly Dead.
· TO READ: The China Study, How Not To Die, Whole, Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease, Engine 2 Diet, The Starch Solution, Becoming Raw, Thug Kitchen, Eat Taste Heal, Modern Day Macrobiotics, Oh She Glows Cookbook.
2. CLEAN OUT - Go through your kitchen, your pantry, your fridge, your cupboards and chuck out all the animal products and junky processed foods. They simply have no place in your kitchen or your belly, and having them removed from your home environment will enable you to make healthier food choices more easily without the temptation of them sitting in your cupboards. Instead of throwing the items out into the trash, try to give them to people in need. This way you are not only doing yourself a favor, but doing a favor for someone else in need. It’s also very refreshing doing a good, solid spring clean and then knowing that everything has its’ place, and also knowing exactly what you have in your pantry. It’s like cleaning your work space or bedroom – once you have cleaned out all the clutter and “fluff” your physical space is clear and clean, but also your mental space. You might find you work much more effectively and positively in the kitchen having cleared out the physical and energetic space.
3. RESTOCK – The fun part! Restocking your fridge and pantry and stocking up on all the good-good foods, the real foods is one of the most fun parts of the transition to a whole foods, plant based diet. Personally, I dedicated an entire day to this. I did a big grocery shop, I bought many house staples as well as many jars of all different sizes and shapes. I then packed everything into jars and put in the time and energy to make the space welcoming, beautiful and clear by labelling, and distributing things in a way that made sense throughout my kitchen. This is a really fun project – play some tunes, rope a friend or two in to help, keep it light and fresh. Make sure to stock your kitchen up well – focusing on whole foods, fresh produce as well as some decadent things for those moments when you want to indulge. Veganism isn’t about restriction, although many people might think so. It’s about making this lifestyle change sustainable, consciously connecting to your food choices by being mindful, aware and deliberate and also connected to a sense of abundance and JOY. You are choosing LIVE foods, not dead foods and that in itself is an expression of the LIFE you want to live. It is one of the most empowering and liberating decisions you could make for yourself and your family. Below are some examples of kitchen staples in my house:
· Pantry staples: beans & legumes (both dried and tinned), tinned tomatoes, rice, couscous, chickpea flour, nutritional yeast, nori, raisins, dates, oats, puffed brown rice, cacao, peanut butter, a variety of seeds, gluten free flour mix, pasta of your choice, soy sauce, your favorite dried herbs & spices (cumin, coriander, paprika, cayenne, thyme, basil & oregano are my favorites)
· Freezer staples: frozen berries (raspberries, strawberries, blueberries), frozen bananas, peas, corn, and brussel sprouts
· Fridge/Fresh staples: tahini, miso paste, lettuce, carrots, zucchini, kale/spinach, cucumber, celery, cauliflower, tomatoes, potatoes (white & sweet potatoes), fresh fruit (apples, bananas, kiwis, oranges, nectarines, watermelons, etc), ginger & garlic, onions, lemons
4. SNACKS - In terms of making this lifestyle sustainable, it often helps to have delicious, healthy, nourishing snacks on hand. If that means preparing some decadent sweet treats and keeping them safe and secure for those moments of “I want something decadent right now!” then do that, if it means having pre-made trail mixes ready to roll for those moments of “I’m hungry NOW” then do that. If that means preparing muffins, bars or throw together meals that you can store in the freezer or in an airtight container for those mornings when you’re rushing late and need to grab something for on the go or for mid-morning pick-me-up snacks, then do that. Some examples of things you can keep on hand if you like the odd snacky something: dairy free dark chocolate, energy balls, homemade oatmeal cookies or health supportive muffins, banana bread, fun trail mixes, nuts & seeds, nori crackers etc.
5. EAT ENOUGH. One thing that can be quite an adjustment when first transitioning to veganism (particularly if you are eating relatively lower in refined fats) is increasing your portion sizes. Whole plant foods are generally lower in calories/energy than animal products which pack more calories into a smaller quantity. So when you first come to a plant based diet, you will find that you perhaps need to increase your intake of food volume. Having said that, my motto is to always listen to the body, so don’t eat beyond satiation but initially you might feel slightly fuller than usual but this is largely also because plant foods contain a lot more fiber and water than other foods (processed foods and animal products). If you are the type of person who doesn’t like to sit down to big meals, then perhaps ensure that you plan your snacks and take things on the go with you to make sure that you do end up with sufficient calories/energy. One of the main reasons people fall off the vegan “wagon”, is because they do not eat enough, they therefore feel lethargic and tired, they get hungry and might get deficiencies and start to crave animal products and then blame veganism for any health issues. It is quite simple: If you eat a varied, whole foods diet and eat enough calories from many sources (and supplement if you need to with vitamin B12) you will get an abundant array of vitamins, minerals, amino acids and phytochemicals that you will be able to not only thrive on but will also enable you to sustain the lifestyle for the long term.
6. NUTRIENTS - In terms of nutrients, plant foods are your best friends. They are extremely high in a multitude of vitamins, minerals, amino acids, phytochemicals and powerful antioxidants. Every fruit and vegetable has a different ratio and range of these nutrients, therefore it is vital that you eat a variety of plant foods in order to get a variety of nutrients. I’m sure you’ve come across the term, “eat the rainbow”. This is one of the greatest tips you could adopt as a lifestyle change – I have written a blog post regarding the importance of eating the rainbow you can click on the link to check it out (https://www.thehealingroot.com/life/healingrootpost-1) . One of my favorite and most effective ways of increasing my nutrient intake is to supplement my meals with fruit and vegetable juices. I jam pack my juices with many greens (that otherwise might be a bit harder to eat in the same quantity) and vegetables like kale, spinach, celery, cucumber, ginger, lemon, beetroot, zucchini, cabbage etc. The power of juicing is unequaled and will have such a profound and positive impact on your life. I have just recently become more engulfed in the world of juicing and plan to write an article on its benefits soon! Getting in all those micro nutrients literally feeds your body on a cellular level as the body doesn’t have to work hard to extract and assimilate the nutrients from the whole foods. In my personal opinion, I think adding juices to an already healthy and healing diet is first prize, not substituting juices for meals. You still want to keep the digestive fire alive by consuming high amounts of fiber through whole foods and juicing removes the fiber.
7. NATURAL SUGAR IS YOUR FRIEND - Forget about the fear of natural sugar – the media so often tells us how sugar is bad for us, but they just as often forget to tell us which sugar. Natural sugars are our body’s primary and most easily accessible form of fuel. Fruit is your best friend, not your enemy. Fruit is queen. Fruit contains a multitude of vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals and antioxidants as well as incredibly beneficial simple sugars which are very easily converted into energy/glucose in the body. I mean think about it, in what world does it resonate true to you that fruit is bad for your health? In my opinion that simply doesn’t ring true, logical or natural to me. Energy crashes? The fiber in sugar stops it from causing too much of a sugar spike, unlike if you were to consume refined cane sugar. Your brain’s only source of fuel is glucose, so why not give your body and brain the most easily digestible and usable form of energy? You might experience a slight dip in energy if eating a fruit-only meal, but to prevent that add in some seeds like pumpkin or sunflower seeds to help slow down the process of the sugar being absorbed and digested. Eating too much fat and protein is taxing on the body as it has to struggle through metabolic processes to convert the protein and fat into a usable form of energy (namely glucose). Personally, I haven’t gone a day since going vegan without eating about ½ to 1 cup of dates and I have never been healthier or happier. I’ve never felt more driven and motivated and energized. And in the mainstream media even natural sugar is shunned due to certain diets that demonize sugar and place all sugars in the same category. Sure, one Medjool date might have the same carbohydrate grams as one tablespoon of sugar but they are by no means to be categorized in the same category of “sugar is bad”. Why? Because dates contain an incredible amount of nutrients, fiber and vibrant life force energy that cannot be compared to that of one tablespoon of processed, life-less and nutrient deficient refined sugar which has no benefits to you.
8. PREPARATION – for those of us who have busy, on the go lives preparation can be a true life saver. One of my best and most helpful tips would be to spend some time when you have a moment on the weekends or in the week to meal prep - you can cook big batches of grains and legumes ahead of time, place in tupper wares or zip lock bags and place in the fridge or freezer for easy access, time efficiency and ease. The same goes with your vegetables and fruit - you can chop them all up and place in air tight sealed bags or containers - helpful in those moments when you get home from work and you want to throw together a vegetable stir fry but don’t feel like the hassle of chopping and washing. You can create little containers or zip lock bags and even label them by recipe for example, “stir fry veggies” and “fruit smoothies” or “taco fillings” and the like. Freeze if necessary or place in the fridge if you know you’ll use them within the next few days. This saves time, energy and effort but still affords you the ability to maintain and sustain your healthy lifestyle without compromising taste, enjoyment or health. You can also spend some time finishing some of your favorite recipes and freeze for the week ahead - like make lentil and chickpea burger patties, create vegan “meatballs”, falafels or even entire meals like soup and curries and freeze for easy go-to options when life gets busy. You can also prepare your favorite cheese spreads, dressings and sauces ahead of time so that making healthy, fast and nutrient dense meals becomes just an assembling job!
9. FOCUS ON WHOLE FOODS & EATING THE RAINBOW – drop the processed foods. Sure, having some processed foods here and there won’t be entirely detrimental to your health goals, but shifting your focus to eating mainly wholefoods will not only do wonders for your bank account but also to your overall vitality, energy and health. Many people have a misconception that eating predominantly wholefoods is more expensive than eating a “normal” diet that contains processed or “fast” foods, and sure in some cases that might be true. But, in most cases this isn’t true and even so, there are so many ways around that. Some examples of getting around high expenses are:
· Buy frozen foods (which actually retain a lot of nutrients and which are sorely underrated in my opinion). Don’t be scared of buying frozen fruit and vegetables - they provide ease, efficiency and actually retain a lot more nutrients than we give them credit for. In fact, some people like plant physiologist at the USDA Agricultural Research Centre in Texas, says that sometimes frozen fruits and veggies can be more nutrient dense than some of the fresh produce that sits in the shelves for a while as they are frozen at peak ripeness which means they are frozen at a time when their nutrient density is at its best. A good general rule of thumb is to buy fresh fruit and veg when said fruit or veg is in season and to buy frozen when fruits and vegetables are out of season or when the fruits and vegetables available are limp and old because then you can maintain a high nutrient intake even when the fresh produce might not be as nutrient dense, affordable or in season.
· Buying whole food starches and cheaper vegetables (think cabbage, potatoes, sweet potatoes, peas and corn, etc). You can make so many delicious meals with very basic ingredients by focusing on simple yet nourishing meals. One very affordable way to eat healthily is to make the base of your meal a grain of sorts (brown rice, couscous, quinoa etc) and then add fresh vegetables to that and top it with a sauce of your choosing. Eating the rainbow is one of the best things you could do for your health and it can actually be a lot cheaper, time efficient and fun than people think. Why is eating the rainbow important? It’s important because each color is an accurate indicator as to which vitamins, minerals and antioxidants said fruit or vegetable is high in. “In short, adding a variety of colorful produce to your diet is an easy way to get a lot of vitamins and minerals without putting in too much effort beyond selecting a bunch of colors.”
· Buy in bulk. Often finding a whole sale shop near you can save major costs! Buying grains and kitchen staples in bulk will therefore be a lot more cost effective and then you can simply supplement with fresh produce which is best to buy every few days. But even fresh produce you can buy in bulk – at markets or you can often get good deals at certain shops, particularly if you agree to do your shopping there always they will often give you a slight discount if you buy in bulk and become a regular.
10. GET CREATIVE - Create new dishes using new ingredients! It can often be quite daunting experimenting with new recipes, let alone with new ingredients or things you’ve never tasted or worked with. But don’t let that deter you - you could discover new favorite foods or dishes that could whisk you away on a taste sensation ride that could very well inspire you and take you somewhere new within your culinary world and perhaps even your physical world. In doing this your body also absorbs vitamins, minerals and other nutrients that it otherwise might not have received from another source within your diet. Approaching your food this sense of curiosity and adventure also introduces an element of fun and creativity, which naturally will pass on positive energy into your food and allow you to receive not only good and varying nutrients but also good energy from your food. You can even create weekly challenges for yourself. For example: commit to introducing/working with one or two new food items per week. Another fun idea is to start a supper club with some close friends every Sunday and introduce two strange or new ingredients and allow the friends to choose to create an element of mystery and fun. There really are infinite ways of making your time in the kitchen fun, exciting, social or personal. Even just trying new combinations of foods can spice your life up, it doesn’t have to be limited to entirely new ingredients! Being a kitchen wiz isn’t just for the trained chef, you might surprise yourself and find that after some trial and error you have a flare in the kitchen. You can also try to rope some buddies in to your new venture and make it a fun way to explore and broaden your culinary horizons and this way you will also be able to motivate and inspire each other along the way.
11. GO-TO RECIPES – it’s really important to have a bunch of what I call my Go-To Recipes that I keep up my sleeve in moments of being too busy but very hungry, or in moments of not feeling particularly inspired in the kitchen but still wanting to eat something that you know is good and wholesome. Below are some of my favorite formula recipes – recipes that I know are good, they never let me down and are totally interchangeable with whatever fruit/veg/produce/food you prefer or have lying around in the house.
· Smoothies or Smoothie Bowls - you can fit a whole world of goodness into smoothies - you can very easily include many fruits and veggies: from sneaking in some powerful greens, to berries with high antioxidant and nutrient levels, to beets or carrots and the like. A fun idea if you have a dehydrator (or if you want you could do it at a low temp in the oven) is to dehydrate spiralized zucchini, squash, beets, carrots etc and use them as delicious crunchy toppings on top of smoothie bowls. It might sound quite strange, but it’s delicious and you’ll be getting in some extra veg!
· Stir Fries - the trusty old stir fry is a fantastic go-to option for anyone in a rush that wants something delicious, easy and healthy. Cooking up your veggies with a delicious sauce (my favorite is a tahini-soy sauce or a miso-tahini sauce) and adding a root vegetable or whole food starch like noodles, potatoes, rice, etc. Stir frying also retains a lot more nutrients than if you bake or roast vegetables because you are cooking the vegetables for a short time on a high heat. For quick and easy prep time you can pre-chop your veggies on days where you have a bit more time and place in zip locks bags or tupper wares for easy access in those moment when you are wanting an easy meal without compromising your health by having to settle for a “fast food” meal.
· Roasted veg with a vegan kale-basil-pecan pesto (you can make the pesto beforehand as well as chop the veg and have it ready to go - allowing for a quick throw together meal of roasted veg tossed in pesto served with quinoa or brown rice)
· Oatmeal (or overnight oats) topped with various fruits like berries, papaya, banana, goji berries, cacao nibs, chia seeds and some other seeds and nuts is a great go to. Personally, I love to top my oatmeal with roasted almond butter, raisins/dates, caramelized banana and pumpkin seeds with a pinch of salt. You can also place in mason jar for an easy on-the-go breakfast or lunch.
· Oatmeal Banana Pancakes/Waffles - you can prepare your pancake batter and leave it in the fridge for the next morning. Make pancakes and then top with your favorite fruits, seeds and you can even sneak some pumpkin and/or butternut into the batter or make pink pancakes by adding in some beets and berries! Top with your favorite toppings. My favorite pancake or waffle toppings are fresh fruit, caramelized banana, seeds, and a nut butter.
· Sushi Bowls/Taco Bowls/Buddha Bowls – essentially a mixture of goodies, starting with a base of rice/quinoa/couscous and your favorite veg like corn, peas, shredded carrots, sweet potato, cucumber, lettuce, greens, black beans and avocado either topped with salsa for a Mexican flare or topped with some nori and soy sauce for a Japanese flare or topped with some pre-made falafel balls and a tahini dressing for a Buddha Bowl flare. I generally always top mine with my favorite tahini sauce (made with tahini, soy sauce, water).
12. SAUCES - It’s all about the sauce sauce baby! If you have a delicious sauce, you can make anything taste absolutely delectable. What I often do is make a jar of my favorite sauce and keep it in the fridge so that I can throw some veggies in boiling water to blanch them and then simply top them with the sauce and throw in some brown rice for a time effective, delicious meal. This meal can literally take up to 10 minutes if you have everything you need at hand.
13. ATTRACT LIKE MINDS – It can really help to surround yourself with people who are supportive of or on a similar journey as you. Or people who at least have some similar interests in your quest for health, longevity and ethical sustainable living. This will drastically help your transition to be more fluid and bump-free. I know for a lot of folk, family dynamics can sometimes make this kind of a transition quite hard, but stick to your gut, follow your truth and bliss, believe strongly in your values and be unwavering in standing by and supporting yourself (maintain an open mind and try to create a space of discussion and open communication but stand strong in what you hold dear and believe) and have faith that they will come around. If anything, lead by example. Show them how vibrant, lively, abundant, wholesome and loving this lifestyle is. Perhaps make them some delicious food to show them that it’s easy and delicious and not restrictive! Who knows perhaps you will inspire some of them to try it out and so the ripple effect continues. Viva la vegans!
14. EATING OUT – this can sometimes be a point of difficulty particularly if you are living in a place that doesn’t provide many vegan options (like where I live and have grown up!) but it’s always possible. If you are out and there seems to be nothing to eat other than a garden salad – don’t panic. There is a way. Pull your waiter aside and simply ask him/her what they can do for you, more often than not the waiter will be incredibly helpful and give you some options. Worst comes to worst, simply look at some of the side dishes and choose a few of them to add together to make a veggie meal, and you can even ask the waiter if it’s possible to add a baked potato. Or, you can ask about the pastas – generally restaurants will have egg-free pasta, but double check with the waiter. Or, you can modify an existing menu item by saying “with no cheese” or “no butter” or “no chicken”. It really is one of those things in life that are only as difficult as you make it, yes you can make it a big deal but it doesn’t have to be! It can be easy and painless.
15. OLD FAVORITES – it can be a wonderful and fun venture to try to recreate some of your all-time favorite classic/traditional recipes veganized! This way you can also share and show people that living a plant based lifestyle isn’t just about eating what my grandpa calls “rabbit food”. You can have the comfort food, the decadent food, the “fast food” vegan style. One of my closest friends is currently working in Dubai as a private chef and she has been working miracles in that household by recreating and veganizing all of the classic favorites of the family. She is a kitchen wizard! Turning old French classics laden with butter, eggs, milk and the like into wonderful plant based creations teaming with life and health. You can check out her Instagram: @clairesharrynroberto. What a beautiful gift it is to be able to share that with people.
I really hope this “How To” guide has helped in some way, shape or form in your process and journey to either incorporating more plant foods into your daily life, or to fully transition to a vegan lifestyle. These are some of the tips, tricks and advice I would have loved to be told when I first transitioned, but I am so incredibly grateful for having learned and experienced what I have that has enabled me to share what I think would help to make the transition easier. Share this with any friends or family you know are trying to transition to a more plantifull life - I would also love to hear about your transition into this lifestyle. Feel free to comment down below or pop me an email.
Much love always, Maria