As an Accredited Practising Dietitian and avid health foodie, I already eat many vegetables but I wanted to experience what being ‘vegan’, completely plant based i.e. no animal products in my diet would truly be like.
A few reasons for this:
· I wanted to better relate to my clients who already do follow a vegan lifestyle or interested in increasing plant-based foods. This would look to increase my knowledge of plant-based products and their creative use.
· Great health benefits linked to high plant-based foods and decreased cardiovascular and cancer risk
First and foremost, the weekend before I began my vegan challenge, I made sure that all the meals I was replacing addressed the essential nutrients I would miss from my original daily animal-based food choices. This included dairy, eggs, meat and fish – calcium, iron, zinc, vitamin B12, vitamin D, readily available essential amino acids and omega-3 fatty acids.
After careful consideration, here a few examples of snacks I chose…I was always hanging out for my buckwheat pancakes with a side of natural crunchy peanut butter!
Homemade buckwheat pancakes + soy milk coffee
Fruit + vita-wheats + hummus or a yummy edamame spread
Small handful of nuts or 1-2x fresh dates with nut butter for something sweet
Sesame tofu strips with a side of hummus or homemade guacamole
I have summarised my vegan week experience in the following dot points.
· On reflection, my energy didn’t change, I felt the same energy, positive and driven, neither improved or depleted with the diet changes, however I am not sure how my energy would be if I was to continue this as a long-term (lifestyle) diet.
· My appetite wasn’t as high due to the amount of fibre I was achieving each day with every meal, beans, legumes, lentils, pasta, grains, fruit, vegetables… I wasn’t able to finish most of my lunch or dinner meals, which was very surprising since I usually have quite a high appetite.
· I enjoyed eating a variety of different, coloured and wholesome vegetables and loved creating new recipes, being creative, for example making a pasta sauce with silken tofu and nutritional yeast was very fun and quite tasty, even my brother, an ex professional rugby union athlete approved! 🙂
However, on the contrary, what I didn’t enjoy about the vegan lifestyle:
· The ‘label’ or sense of restriction for key food groups, which we know can still form a very healthy balanced diet if eaten in small amounts
· I am not an athlete, however, I felt very bloated, gassy and uncomfortable if I had eaten a meal high in fibre before my training sessions and whilst this might have been my body getting used to the very high fibre food intake, it is still a very important factor to consider, especially if you’re an athlete needing to compete at optimal level
· I missed the variety of foods that formed a healthy balanced diet on top of my plant based food choices, especially dairy, eggs and fish – readily available sources of vitamin B12, calcium, Vitamin D and Omega- Fatty Acids.
· The abundance of misleading “mock” animal based food products i.e. free from animal patties, fake fish, fake chicken, you name it… anything! And…unfortunately most of these products are >20 ingredients, with coconut oil highest on the list, which we know is 99% saturated fat – again, not the best for our blood cholesterol and healthy oxygen flow to major organs long term.
What I learnt
The experience taught me to further ‘hero’ my plants, be mindful of the amount of dairy I have across the day, to spread my nutrients across a variety of food groups, both plant and animal based. I enjoyed this experience and I know myself and my husband have taken on board positive habits, (especially him, he is eating more tofu and veg based options – win for me!). However, the restriction of such available and nutritious nutrients from dairy and fish just isn’t worth it!
I will continue to embrace vegan meals, however with the healthy balance of whole food animal based options too.
A final note: As manufacturers, restaurants and cafes jump on board the plant-based eating lifestyle, it’s important to consider the health benefits (if any!) of animal-based substitutes, particularly “mock” meats – most of these are heavily processed and may not replace the key nutrients we must consider when opting out animal food sources.