I was out one day when I got a frantic call from my partner. She had watched a documentary on Netflix and wanted us both to watch it together. Now, this isn’t a totally alien thing. She gets very excited about all manner of things. But I was excited too. We are into the same things. As it turns out, this documentary was the start of my vegan journey. I’m starting to have a plant-based diet.
The documentary in question is The Game Changers. Now I know you might think that one documentary shouldn’t necessarily change a whole lifestyle. It hasn’t overnight. But over time, I am starting to make changes with what I do. The short bullet point reasons for considering vegan that got me in the TV show were –
- Protein comes directly from plants anyway
- It has a massive environmental impact to produce meat for our plate
- Athletes experience better performance from eating a plant-based diet
As a man approaching 50, I want better performance. I want to be fitter as I get older. I’ve got 3 boys all around teenage years. It is clear that I need to stay fit and healthy.
I wrote an article for this site a few months back around Veganuary. I will admit that I only wrote it as a feature piece with that being popular at that time of the year. And I explored a little, but more as an expose for other people rather than seriously considering it myself.
Join me as I talk about my vegan journey. The road to a plant-based diet might not be a smooth one, but I think it is worth it. Let’s take a look.
Buying Plant Based Diet Foods
You’d think it would be easy. Just head into the supermarket and buy loads of fruit and vegetables. Well, that’s a good start. Places like Aldi and Lidl have plentiful fruit and veg at really good prices. But, unless you change your diet wholesale to just fruit and veg, I don’t think this provides all of the answers.
We ate things like –
- Spaghetti Bolognese
- Chicken tikka masala
And the like. So, this means major changes. As I have already said, we have 3 kids too so rather than making different meals for us and them, we decided to look at alternatives. There are loads of vegan diet websites on the internet, so I’m not looking to copy what they have already done. But a chicken tikka masala sauce made from chickpeas, walnuts, tinned tomatoes, coconut milk and garam masala was lovely. In place of the chicken we used roasted butternut squash. All of the kids loved this one too.
Replacement minced beef can come in many forms. Soya is something you can buy from the supermarket, as is Quorn. But we wanted something natural. Walnuts, cauliflower, tomato paste, soy sauce and paprika whizzed up and baked makes a pretty good replacement. It is exciting to look for new ways of making the same meals. And I feel leaner and lighter on a plant-based diet too. More of that later.
Other Places To Shop For A Vegan Diet
We all have a certain budget for our food shop. Mystery shopping can help. But you still need to make meals for the whole family for the whole of the week. Nuts and the like can cost a pretty penny at Tesco or Sainsburys.
There are some other options. There are some online shops that offer big discounts if you buy in bulk. Getting nuts by the kilo (or 25) can save you huge stacks of cash. But you need to consider how many you will use, where you will store, etc. If you make these a regular part of your diet, then the savings can make a big difference. But I’d suggest you give vegan a go before committing to that much cash – and that many nuts!
There are shops that sell loose nuts, where you can take a contained, scoop away and save a little money alongside saving the planet. And the local Halal shop can be a great place to buy items that are not necessarily on our normal diet or shopping list. They have all manner of foods there and people who know what they are talking about.
I’m told that just after Christmas when shops are selling off items like nuts is a great time to buy too.
Vegans And Protein
Let’s get the question of protein out of the way right off the bat. If you speak to people about veganism, then the first thing they throw back at you is a lack of protein. The world has grown up believing that you only get protein from animals. While it’s true that many meat products and eggs in particular have a high protein content, the source of that protein is the vegetation that the animals themselves eat. The animal is the ‘middleman,’ delivering the protein that they have gained from their diet.
So, we need to look at the kind of plant based diet foods that are filled with protein. So far, I’ve found that you can do very well on –
- Nuts and nut butters (I particularly like Almond Butter)
- Pulses such as lentils
These foods are high in protein. You may need to make changes to your diet to incorporate the protein you lose from dairy and meat. For me it’s oats for breakfast, nut butter instead of marmalade on my toast and then adding things like kidney beans to pasta sauces. A good old chickpea curry goes a long way too!
Protein plays an important part in the function of the body. It builds muscles and develops bones as well as being the building block of much of our body – hormones, enzymes and other chemicals. It does amazing things inside the body and we need a good supply of it. How much? It depends on your body weight. Use this calculator to work it out. It takes factors such as your weight, height, age and level of activity to generate a recommended level of protein intake.
Protein isn’t the Achilles heel of vegans. Rather it’s something that you need to take into account when planning your meals. It doesn’t generate a huge problem, just requires a little thinking differently.
If there is such a thing as an Achilles heel then it’s Vitamin B12. It is missing from the diet of meat eaters too. Apparently, it is found in soil – and we wash our food so thoroughly now both in production and at home that we are missing this vitamin from our lives. That’s not to worry, though. We can simply get this Vitamin B12 from a supplement, whether we’re vegan or not.
Eating At Home
With all this in mind, let’s take a look at what eating at home looks like when on a plant based diet. We started with what we normally ate. With three boys under the age of 14 at home, it wasn’t going to be ways to just replace all of their diet with plant based foods overnight. We had to box clever here.
With some meals it was easy. Pizza night just meant the grown-ups had roasted vegetables on top of their pizza while the kids still had their favourite – margarita. We haven’t removed meat and animal products completely from the kids’ diet. We have reduced it significantly. Spaghetti Bolognese was a vegan meal for us anyway with the exception of one ingredient – minced beef. So, we looked for alternatives. More on eating with the kids later.
The last thing we wanted to do was replace a pretty good meat-based diet with a processed food vegan diet. So, we looked at different ways of replacing the mince. Pulsed cauliflower and walnuts were a great combination. Simply pulse, coat in soy sauce, tomato puree, season and bake and you have something that looks and feels like minced beef. This was an immediate success.
It was just a case of working through the meals we already ate one by one and looking for healthy nutritious alternatives. There is so much out there already written about recipes that it would be foolish if me to repeat. Do your own research on the subject. I just think that if you are making changes then make then step by step. Trying to do the whole thing overnight can cause some pain,
Eating With Kids
When it comes to kids, explaining the world around them is always a good idea. There was far too much, “because I say so,” in my life as a child. I can’t work in the same way. I need to know what’s going on. My kids need to know what’s going on.
So, we talk to them about the change in diet. We offer reassurance at times. Our reasons for going vegan are most definitely not the same worldview as our kids. We’re not political about it. I don’t feel the need to convert people to my way of thinking, although I’m sure the planet would thank me.
We have worked through some family classics and removed the animal products from them. It wasn’t difficult at all to manage. Most of the time the kids picked at the meat in their meals, checking it for gristle, bones and blood. We now don’t have this is part of our nightly mealtime routine.
Kids are impressionable so it’s not a case of pushing views on them. But educating them is a really good idea. In later life I want them to make their own decisions. At this moment in time their diet is a combination of their decisions and mine.
Vegan Food: Eating Out
Now I thought this would be a real challenge. Eating healthy is a challenge in some places full stop. But there are plenty of option when it comes to the vegan looking for a plant based diet option. Some places are ahead of the times, others are far behind. And it follows a familiar pattern from my experience. Eating a full meal, the kind you have in the evening gives you plenty of options. There are a handful of choices in most restaurants and at least one pretty much everywhere. But the meal we have in the middle of the day is another beast altogether.
I don’t find it easy to find anything except from pretty much a salad in many places.
That’s where vegan and vegetarian cafes come to the fore. You will most probably find at least one in a city near you. And the food is wonderful. You can kind of feel like you are off the beaten track when you step into a vegan café. But you really shouldn’t. It’s those who are eating in Greggs or McDonalds that should stop and think about what they are doing. Even a mystery shopper can find something to eat when they are mystery dining.
If you find a good vegan café then visit it as often as you can. They deserve loyal customers and the kind of support that will keep them open for a very long time.
Plant Based, Vegan, Ovo, Vegetarian
There will be many different terms thrown around as you go through your own journey. These are interchangeable to some and strictly different for others. Let’s take a look at some of these terms –
- Plant based is what it says on the tin. All food comes from plants. It means that you look for plants to provide all of your food needs.
- Vegan is someone who doesn’t eat animals or animal products such as dairy or eggs. This can be on religious or ethical grounds. For me, it’s to do with the environment and my health and wellbeing.
- Ovo is a vegan who does eat eggs. This was a new one to me. Eggs provide protein and goodness that some vegans can’t find elsewhere. So, they only eat eggs and no other animal products.
- Vegetarian is someone who doesn’t eat meat.
Now, you may wonder why I’ve added such simple explanations in a blog like this. Well, it’s linked to buying food, and the way it is marked. When you buy food, there will be certain labels attached. I’ve found vegan labels few and far between. On further investigation , this is often for products that have no animal based ingredients, but the manufacturer or the kitchen cannot 100% confirm without any doubt that there isn’t any cross-contamination of products. In a factory setting, they don’t add any animal-based ingredients but can’t guarantee that some milk powder hasn’t wafted across the room from another product being made in the same place. For me, that’s fine. I’m not dead against animal products, I’d just rather not consume them.
If you look at the ingredients on packets then you will get a very good indication of whether they are vegan or not, even if they are not marked as such. I have found that many things that contain no dairy or meat at all being labelled as vegetarian but not labelled as vegan. If you ask people where you buy your food (or where you eat out) then you will find them usually really helpful with this. If people are not helpful then do your own research.
Plant Based Diet: Making The Change
Like many of these lifestyle changes, there are a couple of ways to do things –
- All in
- Piece by piece
And each has advantages and disadvantages. Going all in means you very quickly need to learn on the job. You will need to know what you can and can’t eat, change your shopping habits and cooking habits too while you’re at it. But until you go over wholesale, I’m sure you won’t consider yourself a vegan at all. Going all in puts you in that place right away.
Doing it bit by bit allows you to do the research you need. You can find out what you need in your diet, buy the right ingredients, stock up on things that you can’t get from the supermarket and transition over.
I moved over piece by piece because it suited my lifestyle to do it this way. We had a freezer full of meat, didn’t know where to buy from and hadn’t a clue on what nutrients we needed to replace from meat – or where to get them from. So, this method worked for us.
The change is far easier than you might think. As you can see from what I have written above, the world is a different place, geared up to help people transition over to a plant based diet. You don’t have to starve, or sit is a restaurant eating nothing while everyone else is tucking into a steak. If you are unsure at all then the internet if your friend. As with any subject online, thee will be masses of information for you to wade through. But look for specifics and you will find the answers you need. I’ve already said in this blog that there are hundreds if not thousands of great sites out there with vegan meal options. Don’t think for a second that you can’t find something new to eat – probably something new every day of the year if you wanted!
A vegan diet is something that you may need a little time to work towards. Your life is quite probably filled with animal based products. There is nothing wrong at all in taking a little time to get in the right place. If you have any questions then drop us a line and we’d be happy to talk about our experience in more detail.
Veganism And Other People
There has been a stigma attached to veganism over many years. Meat has been associated with health, manliness and strength. But watch The Game Changers and you’ll see a different side of these attributes.
There will be plenty of people who have plenty of questions about what you are doing. They bring up things like Vitamin B12 and protein. And you can answer them with your thoughts. It’s not a test that you need to complete in order to be seen as legitimate in their eyes. They will most likely want to know about hoe you are finding things. The odd person will call you a hippie or question you in a more negative way. They are entitled to their views. Just move on.
For me, this isn’t political at all. I’m not looking to convert others or to press my views on the world. I don’t think that ‘meat is murder.’ I’ve just chosen not to eat meat or other animal products. It’s as simple as that.
Summary: A Plant Based Diet
In summary, there are some things you need to know –
- You don’t need meat to survive
- There are other sources of protein
- We all probably lack in Vitamin B12 – take a supplement
- You can eat well on a vegan diet
- You might need to think about where you shop
- Eating out isn’t as difficult as you might think at first
- I’ve found it easier to transition slowly to a vegan lifestyle
- There are hundreds of recipes out there to help
- People will be interested in your journey
Thank you for reading. I’ve shared my vegan journey because I think that others might connect with it. My life has changed, people have told me how well I look, I know how well I feel, and I perform much better at the gym. I can’t see that many downsides at the moment. If I come across them then I’ll be sure to write another blog focussing on what I’ve learned there. In the meantime, thanks for reading and why not check out the rest of the site.