Going from being an avid meat and dairy eater, consuming both on a daily basis, to eliminating them entirely from my diet to try a “Vegan week”, wasn’t as hard as I thought it might be. I learned quiet a lot, from what it means to be a Vegan and how it can have a positive effect on the environment, to discovering that there’s a wide variety of tasty foods and recipes available to Vegans.
I think there’s still a stigma around Veganism, but I feel it is definitely because a lot of people are uninformed about it, and tend to turn their nose up at “being Vegan” and react with statements such as “What do you eat, lettuce?” There really is so much more to it, and I’m really glad to be able to share some of the things I’ve learned with you.
My week as a Vegan
I still had the same breakfasts as I would usually throughout the week consisting of berries, nuts and yogurt, only swapping the natural yogurt, for a dairy free alternative. No real difference in taste at all! On the weekend – jam & Vegan margarine on toast, something I rather enjoy, but hadn’t eaten for a long time.
Lunches – So I started off the week on salads of spinach, rocket, beetroot, walnuts, tomatoes, carrots, cucumber, peppers and pomegranate seeds. Not bad, but even better with some leftover vegan lasagne I’d made the night before. Then there was my vegetable soup (recipe below – yum!!), that I made mostly from leftover veg in the fridge, no biggy, but fulfilling and yummy!
Dinner – This is where it gets more interesting. Throughout my week I tried meals like; Lentil Lasagne, Sweet Potato Burritos, Lentil Ragu, BBQ Pasta Burger, and even Chocolate Pudding!! Although my meal plan for the week was carb-heavy, this was purely co-incidental, I have many more Vegan recipes to hand that do not contain pasta or bread.
Each recipe I chose was not only very filling and refreshingly tasty, but also extremely easy to make. Here’s just a few of my favourites from this week that I highly recommend you give a try.
Cooking time: 40 minutes (add an extra 40 beforehand if you are cooking your lentils from scratch)
- 3 tbsp olive oil
- 2 carrots
- 1 onion
- 250g home cooked lentils
- 350ml passata
- Half vegetable stock cube
- 1 red chilli (deseeded if you aren’t too keen on heat)
- 2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
- 300g pasta
- Boil kettle
- Peel & dice carrots, and put them into a large pan with the oil. Cook on a medium heat whilst finely chopping the onion, and then add this to the pan and cook for 10 minutes or until the onion is browned.
- Add cooked lentils, passata and vegetable stock cube, with a tin of hot water (use the empty passata tin), also adding the vinegar and chilli. Simmer for 25 minutes, until the ragu is thickened.
- Cook the pasta and drain.
- When the lentil ragu is ready, take off the heat and mash with a potato masher. Return to the heat for a few minutes.
- Once the sauce is heated through, serve with the drained pasta.
I was surprised with this meal as I couldn’t believe that such a simple recipe could be so tasty, and weirdly it seemed quite creamy as well. I think adding a bit of garlic to the sauce or serving with Vegan garlic bread and grated Vegan cheese on top would be superb!
Spicy Veggie Soup
Cooking time: 30 mins (this includes prep), or prep and leave in slow cooker for a few hours and just blitz afterwards!
- Half a butternut squash, diced
- 2 medium sized sweet potatoes, diced
- 3 carrots, chopped
- 1 onion, diced
- 500ml vegetable stock (add more hot water to cover veg if needed)
- 1 chilli, chopped
- 1 tsp oregano
- 1 tsp turmeric
- 1 tsp garlic granules
- A pinch of chilli flakes
- In a large pan, fry off the butternut squash, potatoes, carrots onion and chilli for 7-8 minutes until tender.
- Add the rest of the ingredients, ensuring there is enough vegetable stock to cover the vegetables.
- Simmer for 20 – 25 minutes or until the vegetables are cooked through and soft. Alternatively you can put all the ingredients at this stage into a slow cooker and leave on high for 3-4 hours.
- Blitz in the pan using a hand-blender.
I love making a decent soup, especially at this time of year! And it’s such a good option for prepping for a few days in advance.
Vegan Chocolate Pudding – obviously my favourite meal of the week!!
Cooking time: 50 mins including prep
- 150g plain flour
- 30g cocoa powder
- 30g Vegan butter/margarine
- 170g golden caster sugar
- 10g baking powder
- 120ml non-dairy milk (I used almond milk)
- 170g brown sugar
- 30g cocoa powder
- 420ml boiling water
- Pre-heat the oven to 210°c (190°c fan oven)
- Mix all cake ingredients in a blender then spoon into an oven proof dish
- Combine the brown sugar and the cocoa powder for the sauce, and sprinkle on top of the cake mixture
- Cover the whole thing in the dish, with the hot water.
- Bake for 40 – 45 minutes
I have never made anything quite like this before. I found the method of using the hot water to cover everything to make the sauce a little odd at first, but when I pulled the cake out of the oven – oh my. I was ready to convert to being vegan just for that! The pudding went down a treat amongst people I shared it with, and was polished off in no time. You know those puddings you get in little pots that come with the sauce on the top and you microwave them? It tasted like that, but better!!
Some great facts that I have learnt:
- In 100g of Soy Beans, there is 73% more iron, 20% more protein, 63% more magnesium and 26% more calcium, when compared to Beef.
- Studies say that replacing animal protein with plant protein sources, can help to prevent heart disease.
- Some Doctors recommend plant based diets for health, whereas a Vegan is someone who uses no animal products whatsoever on a moral basis. So, a person that chooses a plant-based diet might wear leather shoes, whereas a Vegan wouldn’t.
- It is difficult to determine whether alcohol or even soft drinks are vegan friendly without having to search the unrecognisable ingredients online and a lot of alcohol is filtered through animal products. So check online to be safe!
- The estimated daily greenhouse gas emissions of an average 2000 calorie Vegan diet have been shown to be anywhere between ⅓ and ½ less than the equivalent meat inclusive diet. In layman’s terms, Veganism is better for the environment.
- Vegan chocolate pudding is amazing.
Things Vegans get asked of a regular basis
One of my friend’s became Vegan a short while ago, and I love to ask her about it, because it really was foreign to me. Here are some of the things she gets asked the most, along with her answers.
Where do you get your protein from if you’re Vegan?
“Number one worst question to ask a Vegan and the one that everyone gets! People assume that we need meat for protein but if that was the case, where do animals get their protein from? Plants! The top 10 heaviest land mammals in the world are all herbivores – you’ve never seen a skinny elephant, and they only eat vegetation!
Plants are more protein dense and without all of the damaging effects of eating meat i.e. high cholesterol. So Vegans get PLENTY of protein.”
If we aren’t meant to eat meat, why do we have canine teeth?
“If you compare human canine teeth to animal canine teeth, they are non-existent! Canine teeth are designed to wound and incapacitate prey. How many humans go about biting a cow to death and then consume it? Yep, that’s the point! Our digestive systems are also very different to carnivores’; a carnivore’s digestive system is short to pass the meat through in a short space of time to prevent rotted meat sticking in the digestive tract. Humans have longer intestines in the same style as a herbivore, which means that meat sits and rots in there (nice!)”
It’s too expensive to be a Vegan.
“Pound for pound; you will get more vegetables, legumes and nuts for your money than you will animal products. Yes specialised Vegan food is more expensive, but it isn’t necessary for a Vegan diet. Yes nut milk can be slightly more expensive, but think about what that says about your food? You will already buy the staples of a Vegan diet in your weekly shop; vegetables, beans, pasta, pulses. All you are doing by going Vegan is cutting out the animal products, so effectively you’re saving money! Likewise, any higher prices will mean that you’re getting quality over quantity. Since going Vegan my grocery bill has gone down not up.”
How can you build muscle in the gym/exercise effectively without protein?
“See point one about the top 10 heaviest land mammals! Also there are Vegan protein powder alternatives. We are also told that we actually need more protein than we really do resulting in overeating of protein sources and detriments to our health. As an example; according to dietary recommendations, I need 57g of protein a day, but according to “My Fitness Pal” app, I need 100g. This is because to ensure that people hit their ideal protein intake, governments tell us to eat at least double what we need to get us to over achieve our goal, but again this comes with a detriment to our health including a higher risk of cancer, kidney damage and gaining fat not muscle.”
We need dairy for calcium.
“Research has shown (see https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/what-should-you-eat/calcium-and-milk/) that dairy isn’t necessary for calcium and indeed may not actually be the best source of calcium. Instead we can get all of our calcium requirements from plants along with none of the adverse effects of saturated fats from dairy as well as increased risks of certain cancers.”
You used to eat meat, how can you judge me now?
“Nations used to enslave and torture humans, but it is now regarded as barbaric. Likewise, while I may have bought into the propaganda sold to me from childhood about animal enslavement, once my eyes were opened, I stopped. If you think I’m judging you, you’re probably right but that’s because I want people to stop enslaving animals! Ignorance is no excuse for endorsing torture.”
After my week of a fully plant-based diet and learning more about the ethics of being a Vegan, (although I don’t feel ready to fully convert), I am more conscious about where my food comes from, and what ingredients go into certain types of food. Throughout the week I actually didn’t crave or think that much about meat or fish. The things I did struggle with were chocolate and cheese, which I missed.
I aim to cut down on dairy and meat substantially in my diet, already cutting out milk and yogurt, and I am going to use more vegetable based recipes.
I am looking forward to enjoying a more varied diet and feel more confident in trying new things. I would encourage everyone to give Vegan a go, even if only for a short-while just to see if you can do it, and hope that you discover that you enjoy it as much as I did.