beyond - tips
to get it right
If you read my last blog post on Dry January then you’ll know that I’m in favour of a more gentler January this year, given the fact that we’ve all got a lot going on emotionally with another national lockdown, homeschooling and the constant fear of catching Covid. Nevertheless, I’m sure some of you are currently giving Veganuary a whirl, and might even have decided to keep up your new-found plant based eating habits into February too. So I wanted to provide some tips and tricks to keep you in tip top health if you have decided to ditch animal products.
The Same Rules Apply
Just because you’ve gone vegan, doesn’t mean you should start eating ultra-processed vegan meat alternatives that are full of sugar and refined vegetable oils. If you’re conscious about your health and eating well, and you wouldn’t usually choose packaged, processed foods whilst doing your weekly shop then don’t start doing so just because you’re looking to replicate your favourite meat dishes. I truly believe that a vegan diet should consist of the foods that are naturally vegan, pulses, legumes, whole grains etc - not fake bacon and burgers, this will not improve your health!
Never, ever to be ignored - protein is essential for humans, we simply cannot live without it. We need it for all our cells, hormones, detoxification - everything. It’s important that we get enough, and crucially, get enough of the quality sources of protein that contain all the essential amino acids that we cannot make ourselves. The body has the ability to synthesise most amino acids (the building blocks that make up protein) itself, but there are some that we simply have to get from our diet, hence why we’ve evolved as omnivores. There aren’t many vegan protein sources that are replete in all the essential amino acids, but soy and tempeh are great options for near-to-like protein amounts. Quinoa also contains all essential amino acids, but the total protein content is lower so you have to eat more to get the same amount.
My top tip? If you’re doing Veganuary and thinking of continuing it, or if you’re vegan, have a protein smoothie for breakfast each day with a full serving of protein (might be 1 scoop or 2 scoops depending on the brand). If you’re an athlete or you train hard, you might need a second one of these later in the day as well as your meals containing pulses, beans, tofu, grains and veggies.
Both beans and grains (eg kidney beans and brown rice) are examples of an incomplete protein; i.e. they contain some of the essential amino acids but not all. However, they are also complementary proteins because when you combine them into one meal they make up for what the other one lacks and what you end up with is a complete protein.
So, if you’re vegan don’t just assume that you can swap out the beef in your chilli con carne with lentils and beans and then serve it with cauliflower rice - you actually need the rice in order to make the meal complete. It’s worth remembering this every time you put a meal together unless you’re having a soy product.
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Watch out for sugar
Generally speaking vegan diets are much higher in sugar due to the reliance on carbohydrates (grains, pulses and legumes all contain carbohydrate), and the common switch to sweet porridge or granola for breakfast rather than eggs, for example. Again I think it’s worth remembering that not eating meat doesn’t automatically equal healthy (far from it), and it’s about the total make up of your diet, the diversity, variety and abundance of different types of plant foods along with quality sources of protein and fat that will keep you healthy and feeling good.
Always aim to include protein at every meal, especially breakfast, try to continue eating seasonally and locally as that will naturally keep your sugar levels low anyway, avoid any processed vegan foods as they’ll likely contain lots of sugar and remember to dose up with healthy fats like olive oil, coconut oil etc as well.
And that’s it, just remember to use your common sense, get your protein, take a vitamin B12 supplement and if you’re planning on going vegan long term it might also be worth looking into other supplements (a good multi vit that has B12 in) if you’re worried about being deficient.