Many people ask me how hard it is to stop eating dairy and meat and how to replace, what has been for probably all of their lives until now, a majority factor of their diet. I don’t come across many who are not interested in eating a healthier, cleaner diet, and who wouldn’t like to reduce or cease their meat intake. I don’t think there is any one method for all. Some people are afraid of giving up cheese, some don’t know what to eat for breakfast if it isn’t the customary (in the West at least) milk drenched cereal or buttered toast. All worry about their protein intake.
There are 4 things I would say are the easiest to embrace when that moment strikes and you know you want to be healthier and turn to a plant-based diet.
1. Increase your intake of vegetables, especially green leafy veg and fruit. If you can, invest in a good quality juicer (about £100..will last you for years)and start every day with a green juice (kale, spinach, apple, ginger, turmeric, fresh beetroot, celery, cucumber, kiwi) That alone will make a HUGE difference to your health and energy levels.
2. Exercise. Even if it is just two 10 minute walks a day. It will help your digestion, hasten the detox and make you feel empowered.
3. Drink AT LEAST 8 large glasses of water a day. Be it straight from the tap (you can focus on the healthiest way to intake water at a later stage) or in herbal teas. If you don’t like plain water then fill up a jug and add lime juice, sliced cucumber, fresh strawberries etc to flavour your water.
4. Replace the dairy. Experiment with alternative milks and butters and cheese. I personally LOVE Kara coconut milk and find it very adaptable and versatile. Almond milk is delicious too as is quinoa milk. Make sure you buy unsweetened as you do not want to be adding extra sugar to your diet. Pure make a really great tasting sunflower spread. You can also do like the Mediterraneans and use olive oil in place of butter in many instances. How did I do it? This is exceptional to me and you will find your own way. The world of produced veggie cheese has come a long way. VEGUSTO and Daiya in the USAmake delicious cheeses. Melty. stringy. garlicky. strong. How ever you like yours. I challenge you not to like it.
Back in 1999 I turned vegetarian first and I began by using fake ‘meats’ in the meals I’d been used to in my diet. I really couldn’t tell the difference in taste or texture in spaghetti bolognese or shephards pie. Instead of bacon sandwiches, I ate tomato sauce sandwiches (try it…don’t knock it. you can even get fake ‘bacon’ bits and frying thinly sliced mushrooms or aubergines can replicate the smokey flavour too). I ate pasta with fresh basil & tomato sauce, and used soy cream to make dishes like carbonara and pea & garlic cream pasta. I made my own gravy from flour, tamari sauce and vegan stock cubes. Back then I got into stuffing all sorts of veggies with mushrooms, garlic, brown rice and breadcrumbs. And a plate of caramelised roasted vegetables were never far from hand. Soups are extremely quick and easy to make and really satisfying. With the addition of beans and mushrooms I was getting all the protein I needed. I didn’t feel like I was missing anything. In fact, I felt very pleased with myself. I saw navigating the supermarket labels to detect animal products as a detective investigation. I took to task with excitement the turning my old meals into plant based diners. By body was starting to show signs of thanking me too. My skin cleared up and I felt happier and more ‘me’. I moved on from those meals and began to drop the need to substitute. I found great Indian dishes and many Middle Eastern dishes were vegan anyway, with bold flavours to satiate me.
I purchased vegetarian and vegan cookbooks. Now, we are lucky there are so many online (including mine!). I contacted the VEGAN SOCIETY and the VEGETARIAN SOCIETY & (USA) VEGAN.ORG for help and guidance. For eating out I used the Happy Cow website which lists restaurants and health food shops all over the globe. Slowly, my body started to guide me to the foods that made me feel good and steered me clear of the foods that it didn’t seem to get on so well with. I discovered I was gluten intolerant. That is an easy one to flip to now as such high numbers of us are realising we exhibit better health when going gluten free, so our shops are filling up with gluten free breads, pastas, and everyday products. The whole thing of searching labels for ingredients really opened my eyes to the utter crap that manufacturers pad processed foods out with and what they add sugar too (to ensure consumers stay addicted to them).
One really good tip as well is to make lots of food ahead. Get yourself some good quality food containers and make big batches of soup, sauces, stews, one pots, curries. Work out what you need for the week and freeze/chill the rest. If you have a sweet tooth. Buy some agave (a low glycemic sugar alternative) or stevia/xylitol (natural healthy sugar) and use that in your tea before gradually weaning yourself off sugar (you will actually taste what you are drinking without it) and in your baking products. Make fruit bars with a base of dates and add, nuts, coconut, apple, cinnamon or ginger etc. in a blender and form into bars. They take minutes, last for ages, are cheaper and not filled with unnecessary ingredients.
Your body may take a few weeks or months (depending on how your diet was previously) to adjust. You may find yourself making more visits to the loo. Your skin may react as first as the toxins flush from your system. You may get a little windy (toot toot) as your digestion adapts. Take a dairy free probiotic pill daily (please no yogurt filled with sugar that claims to be probiotic and good for you!). The juicing and/or increased intake of fresh and uncooked foods (salads and fruit) will have all the enzymes you need still intact without cooking, that will help you to cleanse your body and improve your digestion. DRINK LOTS of water in between meals.
At the beginning I suggest taking a vegan multi-vitamin with B12, (I use this one) so you don’t need to have the worry of if you are getting enough nutrients (I can assure you if you eat a highly organic colourful, varied, non-processed diet not laden with vegan cheeses and too many nuts, you will be enjoying the best health). If you eat a portion of beans or pulses a day and have a green juice and lots of kale/spinach (a note, to help absorption of nutrients in spinach use a squeeze of lemon or high Vit C vegetable). Juicing is such fun and you can play with the ingredients and make your own concoctions. Once you get used to navigating and adapting your diet you can then take it further and focus on nutritional value. But for now, just eat a rainbow of mainly vegetables, some fruits (not too many high sugar fruits like melons or pineapple) and legumes you will thrive. In time you can add more and more raw meals, look at reducing grains. Basically, food is like religion, study it and then take what YOU feel is right for YOU. This will involve listening to your body and noticing how it feels on different foods.
Join a Vegan group in your area. www.meetup.com has lots of them. Search Facebook.com too for vegan groups.
Supermarkets keep lists of their vegan and gluten free products. They will be happy to provide you with a copy. You can VIEW them online too.
Ask for help. Write to me if you need information or support. firstname.lastname@example.org Go on my website or others and look for ideas. If you have a question about substitutes, again, search my site or use Google for the answers you need. This is a lifestyle choice and a change in habits. New habits take a month to develop. It feels good to be able to look animals and yourself in the eye. But, if you trip up then just get up and start again. I warn you, some friends, colleagues and family may get upset or even angry at your ‘behaviour’. Just know that some people react with anger at things they don’t yet understand. As you adopt the lifestyle more and more and experiment with foods your confidence will increase and you will be making awesome meals. Hopefully, in time they will get to see that living plant based is a delicious way to live. They will see it in your face and see how much happier you are. We lead by quiet and proven example.
This is your beginning and there are so many new and wonderful foods for you to try and ways to get to and maintain YOUR optimum health. It’s all out there for you. I hope you know, if you have any questions I’d be happy to help.
Sign up for my newsletter, follow me on Twitter and get all my new recipes and future articles. Protein coming soon. In the ‘search’ bar you can look for delicious meal ideas. Try my 7 day meal plan. Search for articles on sugar, water, juicing, exercise etc.
Good luck! And know that you have choices and they are yours to make. Support is out there (or here) if you need it. Your decision to go plant-based may be over night or over several months. Eventually quality will overtake quantity. Your ongoing health and care of yourself and your environment is for life. Variety is key with your food and lifestyle. If not true for maintaining your zest and interest for life too.