As we get older, we quite often become more aware of our dietary choices as our health and (most likely) decreased metabolism begin to weigh more heavily on our minds… and waistline.
With the discussion of health comes a constantly evolving list of dietary recommendations and fads. Some people join a Cross Fit gym and switch to a paleo diet, some people get into intermittent fasting or the ketogenic diet. Others try out flexible dieting while counting their macros, and some may stick to an entirely gluten-free diet (even if they don’t actually know what gluten is). And then, of course, there is vegetarianism and veganism.
Let me preface this by saying I have never imagined myself as someone who would make the decision to become a vegetarian. While health and fitness has been a driving force in my life for many years now, I’ve always had room in my (generally very clean) diet for meat and, quite frankly, cheese is pretty much my favourite thing in the world. And for the record, I have a serious lactose sensitivity — like most of the world it seems — but hey, we love the things that hurt us, and cheese has literally been shown to trigger the same part of the brain as hard drugs… so I really can’t take responsibility for my cheese addiction.
With that said, following the development of some less-than-fun dietary intolerances over the past few years, I’ve gotten into the habit of carefully identifying (and then eliminating) certain foods that I notice aren’t jiving with my system. And guess what? To my despair, I realized that I seem to feel much better when I don’t consume meat. For the first time, I’ve been forced to consider that maybe my vegetarian and vegan friends are really onto something…
Recently, a Netflix documentary called What The Health has become a hot topic between cries of support, sudden revelations from the masses of our friends vowing that they are now switching to veganism, or people who are skeptical of the findings (and the obvious intent) of the film.
Basically, the ‘investigative’ documentary revolves around filmmaker Kip Andersen, who apparently uncovers the secret to preventing and even reversing chronic diseases (spoiler alert: the secret is Veganism), and he investigates why the nation’s leading health organizations doesn’t want people to know about it. I’m not going to lie to you, the documentary brings up some pretty relevant (and scary) points, and may make you re-think your carnivorous and dairy-indulging ways.
While we may not all be cut out for a life of tofu, bean burgers and fake-cheese, here are some pointers for those of you considering switching to the Vegan side:
1. Ease Into It:
Victoria Moran, author of the book Main Street Vegan recommends removing one kind of animal from your diet at a time (“chicken and eggs are a great place to start”); being “vegan at home” to better control your food; or trying “vegetarian for now” and continuing to eat eggs and dairy.
Love milk? Try substituting almond or cashew milk. Cheese addict? Try switching to part-skim cheese, then goat cheese, then vegan cheese. Need that ice-cream fix? Try dairy-free coconut or cashew ice cream (it’s actually delicious, take it from me). Love steak and chicken? Try cutting your meat intake down to just fish, or having chicken once a week instead of every night.
Becoming a Vegan doesn’t need to be a jarring, overnight transition. Allow yourself to adopt a transition process that works for you.
Be prepared to face the continuous scrutiny and scepticism of your meat-eater friends when they constantly ask you, “But… where do you get your protein?”
Let me ask you, when was the last time you came across someone who was actually protein deficient? Probably never. In fact, protein deficiencies are pretty rare outside of developing countries and quite often, people are actually consuming too much protein in their diets (and yes, this can be a bad thing). In fact, a number of studies show that there seems to be a problem with eating too much animal protein. Lots of meat, milk, and cheese in the diet is frequently related to higher death rates and cancer in middle aged people.
So, let’s chill on the protein debate. Plus, protein is actually found in all plant foods. Beans, broccoli, cauliflower spinach, spirulina, tofu, lentils, quinoa, hemp, tempeh (and more) all act as relatively rich sources of concentrated protein, and there are vegan protein powders you can add to water and shakes.
3. Get Fancy in the Kitchen
Salt bae? More like seasoning bae. Animal products include a lot of fat and salt, which are generally the factors that make certain foods so damn addictive (and also bad for you).
To keep your Vegan meals interesting, play around with rich and complex flavours and seasoning. Walnuts, avocados, pine nuts, sun-dried tomatoes, olives, fresh basil, unrefined sea salt, dried fruits, chia or hemp seeds, rosemary, cilantro, utilize your spice rack like never before… whatever you do, get creative.
After all, eating healthy doesn’t have to mean eating boring food and flavours, and neither does eating Vegan.
Listen, cravings happen. Just because you’re Vegan, doesn’t mean you need to miss out on all the fun. Oreos? Vegan. Duncan Hines Homestyle Frosting and/or Cake Mix? Vegan. Taco Bell’s Bean Burrito (minus the cheese)? Vegan. Chipotle Sofritas? Vegan. Ritz Crackers? Vegan. Spicy Sweet Chilli Doritos? Vegan. You get my point. Click here for an extended list of Vegan junk food options.
5. Start With the Food you Know and Love
Fact: Going Vegan will likely expand your palate dramatically, as you begin to dabble in different global cuisines and traditions that are plant-based (and surprisingly delicious).
Fact: However, this doesn’t mean you have to bid your favourite dishes goodbye. Look at some of your favourite dinner recipes and see if there is a way to make them meatless and/or dairy-free. If you’re not sure, fire up Pinterest or Google and within seconds you’ll likely scroll across a Vegan version of your prized food staple. Start there.
6. Get Familiar with Vegan Restaurants Near You
As with spin classes, yoga, a general fear of gluten and a penchant for skinny jeans, Veganism has become something of a trend in most cities. Luckily, this means that Vegans aren’t subject to a life without restaurants and take-out.
Take some time to get familiar with the Vegan options in your city. If you live in Toronto, the options are practically endless. Check out Kupfert and Kim, Bolt, Fresh, Veghed, Live Organic Food Bar, Cosmic Treats (vegan comfort food), just to name a few. Craving a Big Mac without the meat? Head over to Doomie’s in Parkdale for their famous Vegan Big Mac — I haven’t tried it yet myself, but I’ve been warned that once I do, I may never be the same (AKA, it’s really, really good).