We’re over halfway through our third year of Veganuary and the experience from previous years has made this one seemingly easier. However, if it’s your first time you may be facing various hurdles which could have you counting down the days to a steak or fish-filled February… (Stop wishing the year away, it came around quickly enough!)
We made a list of common problems that we and many other partakers in Veganuary have encountered. With the help of a selection of people who are no strangers to plant-based diets and vegan lifestyles, we’ve managed to get some answers for you! Here are their tips for staying vegan.
Please meet our plant-based panel:
ADAM STANSBURY // My names Adam Stansbury aka The Plant Powered PT and I get men and women fit, strong and healthy on a plant based diet, my mission is to show others that you can transform Your Body and The Planet at the same time.
I have just launched From Meat to Plants an ebook and 7 week program to help and support people transitioning to a plant based diet you can find it here and if you use the discount code Veganuary you’ll receive 50% off in January.
TORAL SHAH // I am nutritional scientist and chef with a Msc in Nutritional Medicine and trained at Le Cordon Ble. I have a Balanced Vegan nutrition and cooking class coming up on 18th January so will be covering most of this with practical tips and delicious recipes. Click here for more info!
MARYN KNEVITT // My name is Maryn, I have been vegan for 17 years. I am a personal trainer specialising in fat loss, strength training and explosive movement. I have recently started up an online vegan retailer called PlanetKind.
DAMIEN CLARKSON // Damien is the Co-Founder of Vevolution a vegan events and online education company. Their new series of monthly vegan events ‘Vevolution Topics’, are taking place at The Trampery in Shoreditch, with food innovation the first topic in focus. Find out more at www.vevolution.co
“I can’t find vegan options when I’m out”
Adam Stansbury (AS): It’s all about asking, making people aware of your requirements and more often than not they will help. Even if you go to a traditional pizza restaurant and ask them to make your pizza without cheese, it’s that easy, I actually enjoy cheeseless pizza more these days. If you’re stuck for places to eat then download the happy cow app to help you locate your nearest vegan friendly joint.
Maryn Knevitt (MK): Many vegetarian items on a menu can be modified to be vegan or substitutions made. In my experience a good chef will always be willing and happy to create something not on the menu for me, they also enjoy the challenge and some of my best vegan meals have been off the menu!!
Toral Shah (TS): We’re incredibly lucky in London as many restaurants are hugely friendly to all dietary requirements, particularly being gluten and dairyry free. If you don’t see anything on the menu, I would speak to the waiting staff to ask what the chef can prepare. Also, if you know that you are going to a particular restaurant in advance, call them several days before your visit and explain what your dietary requirements are and ask what they can make you. They may need to order in some extra ingredients and this gives them some time to plan.
If you have any particular dietary requirements, I would also suggest carrying some snacks with you. I’m quite a fussy eater and hate eating poor quality food so if I am unsure of what might be available, I carry food with me, especially on planes!
“I’ve run out of inspiration. I’m eating the same thing over again and it’s boring.”
AS: Diversity is key, to ensure you’re taking on all the essential nutrients but also so that you don’t go mad and fall off the wagon, make a rule of not eating today what you ate yesterday and you can’t go wrong. Explore and create, get hold of some good cookbooks The Plant Powered Way, Thugs Kitchen and The Happy Pear are a few of my faves.
MK: If you like to cook, check out some vegan recipes on Instagram or Facebook for inspiration. Or go to a vegan restaurant and try something new.
TS: Eating a vegan diet is an amazing opportunity to have more fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds and grains in your diet than a non-vegan diet. However, most people eat the same 7 or 8 vegetables and 2 or 3 grains each week. There are a plethora of vegan and vegetarian cookbooks which can be adapted to vegan living. I particularly recommend Anna Jones ‘A modern way to eat” and GK stories along with Ottolenghi’s books. There are lots of great blogs too such as Cookie and Kate. Go to your local farmers market and see what seasonal vegetables are available. I would also explore cuisines which are naturally often vegetarian for example such as Indian and Sri Lankan food, Buddhist cultures always have some vegetarian days so Thai, Chinese. Burmese and Laotian food is worth trying. I usually like to visit health food shops to see what new vegan/ gluten and dairy free products are also available.
DS: Going vegan definitely challenges you to mix up your food eating habits. It can be difficult to break the mindset that a meal needs to contain one big centrepiece piece of protein. We get our local organic veg bag and this always throws up weird and wonderful vegetables for us to find new recipes for.
If you feel that things are getting stale make a commitment to make a new dish at least once a week. There are loads of great vegan food blogs and websites out there. A couple of our favourites at the moment are: Kind State of Mind, Bexfast Club and Bosh TV.
“I’m really tired and worried it may be due to doing Veganuary.”
AS: Keep a realistic perspective, many people are tired this time of year with more darkness and shorter days, it’s easy for people to blame your new vegan eating habits as the cause. Remember that you’ve removed Meat, a very calorie and nutrient dense food group therefore you must replace those lost calories with a greater proportion of plants, so make sure you are eating plenty of volume to fill you up, and keep hydrated, I think dehydration in the winter is a big factor in the majority of people’s energy levels.
Vitamin B12 deficiency is a potential challenge on a vegan diet so if you’re struggling with brain fog, memory loss or fatigue you may have a B12 deficiency in which case supplementation or the addition of yeast extract and or yeast flakes into your diet will help.
MK: It’s winter, it’s January, most people are tired after the holiday season regardless of what they eat. Try increasing the amount fresh fruit and vegetables in your diet, some exercise and good sleep. It would take more than a few weeks to develop any deficiency on any diet.
TS: Whilst a vegan diet is generally more healthy as it is lower in saturated fat and cholesterol, vegans are often more susceptible to nutrient deficiencies if they have not planned out their meals. A vegan diet is naturally lower in some micronutrients and can be deficient in vitamin D and K, vitamin B12, omega-3 fatty acids, iron, zinc and calcium.
Many dark leafy greens are high in calcium and iron, even if it is less bioavailable (suggest having vitamin C to increase absorption i.e. a squeeze of lemon juice on wilted greens). Tahini is high in all these minerals – calcium, zinc and iron so include this in your diet – these minerals are important for energy regulation and your immune system amongst other functions.
Vitamin D can be obtained from mushrooms and fortified foods. You cannot get vitamin D from sunshine between October and April so supplementation may be necessary in January when Veganuary takes place. Do check supplements as vitamin D2 is derived from yeast so suitable for vegans whereas other forms may be derived from animal sources.
Whilst vitamin K1 is found in dark leafy greens, vitamin K2 is mainly found in animal tissue and made by bacteria. You can obtain from natto but this japanese superfood is hard to source in the Uk and an acquired taste! The bacteria in our intestines can convert vitamin K1 to K2 but sufficient quantities of greens are required to be eaten.
Very low vitamin B12 levels can cause anaemia and nervous system damage and whilst there are may fortified foods containing vitamin B12, vegans often don’t eat enough to minimise risk of heart disease or pregnancy complications. It is absorbed in small amounts so I suggest taking a regular supplement.
Omega-3-fatty acids can be found in oils of nuts and seeds such as flax, hemp, mustard, rapeseed and walnuts and spiralling. Chia and flaxseeds need to be ground up to absorb the nutrients as the outer coating of the seeds can be resistant to digestion by our digestive systems.
DC: Your body is adjusting to a whole new way of eating. It’s really important that you remember that plant-based foods generally are lower in fat and calories. If you feel tired we suggest eating slightly bigger portions than you would with an omnivore meal and throwing in snacks like smoothies throughout the day.
“Shopping for products is really confusing, it’s taking me ages to check labels and I find it overwhelming.”
AS: Luckily these days most off the shelf products that contain potential intolerant food groups state them in bold, so you can easily spot milk, butter, eggs etc on the ingredients if they contain it but be vigilant you’re about to really understand just how many animal products especially dairy are added, sometimes unknowingly into our food chain. If in doubt focus on natural wholefoods, the meals that you can prepare at home are the meals you can be sure of containing all the right ingredients plus they’ll be better for you.
MK: A lot of products have the vegan label on the front or state that the product is suitable for vegans. Eating fresh and less products also avoids this stress
TS: There is a vegan trademark now and the allergen labelling of UK foods since Dec 2014 requires foods to list all allergens such as dairy clearly on the packet. research new foods online and look at the list of common ingredients that might not be suitable for vegans. This list from PETA is quite comprehensive.
DC: Most allergens are (cow’s milk, eggs, wheat) are highlighted in bold in food packaging. We found that you quickly become adept at scanning products and knowing what products are vegan, it’s definitely something which becomes easier the longer you’re vegan.
“Several of my friends have invited me to dinner, but have been reluctant to accommodate my new way of eating and made me feel really awkward. How can I feel like less of a burden to my friends?”
AS: Unfortunately when you make any big statement around food or drink that goes against the majority, it always stirs up feelings of guilt and confusion in others, sometimes this is then directed at you. Giving your hosts ideas and advice of meals to prepare will help them to help you, they are more in the dark than you are, if they are good friends they’ll want you there and will accommodate your needs and understand your reasons behind the change offering you support or you could always take your own food to help, me and my fiancé just did the family Christmas circuit and we had Nut loaf, vegan cheeses, vegan chocolates and Nut milks in the boot of the car just in case!
MK: Just go with the flow, there will always be an option on the menu or a keen chef! If you receive criticism, just smile and think about why you made this effort in the first place.
TS: I always suggest that you offer to make at least one dish – ask what the theme of the dinner is and make enough for yourself and others to try. You could also offer to help with shopping or preparing the food with the host if appropriate.
DC: Bring a dish with you. Once you show your friends that your new way of eating is perfectly sociable and normal who knows they might try Veganuary next year. I think the biggest tip here is to not make a big deal about it, bring your own food and share with your friends.