I told you I'd be back with another blog soon, and for today it's a non-cancer related blog. As some of you may know, I've been taking on challenges throughout this year (2020, what a year) as well as taking part in the 500km Virtual Runner challenge for Sarcoma UK. Back in June I decided to try out a plant-based diet for a week as part of June's challenge.
Should we all be vegan?
Some would say yes, definitely, without a doubt. How can it be right to eat animals and destroy the planet whilst we're at it? But others scream 'NO' from the rooftops, born meat-lovers desperate to justify their meat-eating ways.
Vegans get a lot of slack for being forceful about their lifestyle and for shaming meat-eaters. It is true that you get preachery vegans - but you get preachery people of all wakes of life, a lot of meat-eaters preach about how good meat is, so we shouldn't let those few loud voices sway our opinions on the topic. As with anything there are pros and cons to veganism, many of which I will discuss in this blog.
I love to experiment with my cooking, food and meals so a week of eating like a vegan was fun, but I do have respect for everyone who keeps it up all the time. At the end of this blog I'll discuss my personal views on the diet and whether I've decided to stick with it and why.
What is veganism?
Veganism is ultimately a lifestyle, meaning you refrain from eating animal products, or using any product that involves animal exploitation of any kind. Diet-wise that means no meat or fish, no dairy, eggs, or honey. And in terms of living it means being as animal/environmentally conscious as possible, i.e. no leather, no animal-tested cosmetics etc.
Veganism is a way of living, which is why really I should say I tried a 'plant-based diet' rather than 'veganism' as I haven't made a lifestyle change.
Is a vegan diet healthier than a meat-based diet?
Disclaimer: *I am not a qualified dietitian or nutritionist, I am just a person with strong views & access to google*
Each individual is so different and everyone's needs are so varied that health questions like these really frustrate me. Every 'diet' has its pros and cons and in my personal view the best diet is one you and your body get on with and one that follows a more 'intuitive' eating-style.
Eating a plant-based diet can be one of the most healthy diets, as long as it is balanced and you still consume the right amount of nutrients for your body, however it won't work for everybody and it depends on what you eat. Just because veganism excludes meat and dairy, doesn't mean vegans only eat vegetables (and even if they did that wouldn't make them healthy) - no. Vegans can eat junk food too - vegan pizza, vegan chips, crisps, sweets, ice cream, biscuits, cake etc. If a vegan eats too much food and too much sugar/fat, just like a non-vegan they can be equally as unhealthy.
And even if a vegan does just eat whole grains, plenty of healthy proteins and fats and plenty of fruit and vegetables, if the diet does not contain all the necessary vitamins (or contains way too many of some) it still might not be healthy for that person.
Moreover, some say that eating a meat and dairy-free diet can decrease your risk of developing diseases such as cancer, diabetes, heart disease and can prevent stroke. This may be true, however being a vegan or vegetarian does not make you invincible and these people do still get sick from these illnesses. Not to be a party-pooper, I'm just saying take everything with a pinch of salt and eat what makes you and your body smile. (But also, it's always good to at least cut down on the stuff that's more likely to kill you - ya feel me?)
My week of veganism
Boy did I eat well.
I really enjoyed being vegan for a week, as I am someone who loves a challenge. Now, I am sorry to any vegans out there to call it a challenge, but for me it was. Let me paint the picture for you. At the time, I was the main cook/chef at home, and I live with my family. My family are all meat, dairy and egg lovers. My family did not also want to eat vegan for the week. So I had to stock up very well on vegan replacements, and had to cook 2 dinners every night - one vegan, and one not. It was less about not having enough will power to not eat some cheese, but more about not having enough will power to cook 2 separate dinners and to cook proper food every day and be the only one to be eating differently.
I also realised how hard it is to go out and eat as a vegan. I know things are much improved in 2020 in terms of vegan options, but finding picnic foods in Tesco that are vegan is really hard! All I could eat was falafel and sundried tomatoes - not exactly a fulfilling meal. And then eating at people's houses etc makes you feel like such a burden, and you normally end up getting served salad, vegetables, chips or plain rice/pasta which is exciting for nobody.
Negatives out of the way, the food I ate was delicious, and I did feel good eating this diet. I normally eat quite healthily/as healthily as is enjoyable, but eating a plant-based diet actually did make me feel even healthier than usual, and seemed to improve my digestion. But I found it more difficult to feel 'full' like I normally do (maybe a good thing?). I tried so many new brands and a few new recipes that were definitely ones I will keep in my repetoire.
I have scattered some photos throughout this post but some of the things I ate and enjoyed included:
Wicked vegan meatballs,
Violife 'cheddar' cheese,
Homemade lentil dhaal,
Danna's fluffy vegan pancakes,
The vegan buritto from Chilango,
Linda McCartney sausages.
Overall, the week was great, albeit a challenge, but I think I did a good job of showing how a plant-based diet can be just as exciting and delicious as any other diet.
Tips and Tricks for Newbie Vegans
Meal prep! Bulk cook your meals in advance. I find proper vegan cooking takes up time, and if you're short on time ensuring you eat properly can get difficult. I'd recommend prepping things like curries, vegan bolognese, and stews that you can freeze and eat when you're in need.
Stock up on cans - beans, chickpeas, lentils. They're all great, healthy sources of protein and can be thrown into almost any meal.
Take supplements/make sure they are included in your food. By the end of the week I started to crave fish, and I can only assume that meant my body was craving iron or omega 3. Do your research and make sure you are eating enough of foods rich in vitamins usually found in meat/eggs/dairy. Luckily, most plant-based foods are now fortified with extra vitamins like B12 (normally only found in meat products), but it's still wise to make sure. I found out during this week that women need a lot more iron than men, so if you are a young woman/menstruating person you need to be extra careful with veganism/vegetarianism.
My Final Verdict
I'm sorry, but the day after the challenge I ate salmon. Fish is so yummy and so good for you, I just needed it. I did end up eating a pescatarian diet (cutting out all meat apart from fish) for another month after the challenge, but for the moment continuing to eat vegan isn't something I find fits in with my lifestyle. As much as I would love to go vegan eventually, I get so much joy from food, and all sorts of food, that the idea of restricting myself forever is too distressing. I find it a much healthier and balanced mindset to try and cut down on animal products but also allow myself to eat what I want when I want it - my body knows best what it needs.
Also, proper tea needs proper milk. #sorrynotsorry but no other milk tastes as good in tea as cow's milk (according to moi).
So, my hat goes off to all the vegans out there doing their bit for the animals and the environment, and I will continue to try my best and make sensible decisions, however, for now I'm not ready to make the commitment.
I would love to open up debate here on this topic - what do you think about veganism? Do you think it's a healthy diet? Have you ever tried it? Or maybe you've been vegan for years and want to rave about it?
Comment section below is open! Please like this post if you enjoyed reading (something slightly different to the usual), and subscribe to my website for all my latest updates and to never miss a blog.
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Thanks for reading,
Until next time
P.S. This year I am taking on lots of random challenges, on top of running/swimming/cycling 500k over the year! This is all in support of Sarcoma UK, the national sarcoma charity that funds vital research and provides support for patients and their families affected by the rare cancer. If you want to support me, then you can donate whatever you can through this link. Even £1 would be greatly appreciated, and you can donate completely anonymously!! Thank you!