How to be vegan and stay healthy


By Roberta King| Nutritionist, Yoga Instructor and Massage Therapist

In aid of world vegan day on November 1st, and in response to watching the rather eye-opening documentary ‘Cowspiracy’ I have decided to go vegan for a month (or more, lets see!). I thought it would be a great experience to share on my blog, and will be posting regular updates on vegan-friendly restaurants, food swaps, recipes, as well as the health benefits of being vegan.

We need to pull the wool from over our eyes and take responsibility for our actions. Eating mass-produced meat is not only unethical, it is also destroying our planet. So while the world is going mad, lets use this time to make a difference. If I can do it, anyone can. Before I turned veggie a few months back, I was a huge meat lover. But that doesn’t mean you have to go to the full extreme, as I have. If you think being vegan is too much, then try cutting back on meat and dairy first, and always choose organic produce.

My reason for sharing this experience is not to preach however, but to show others how easy it has been to live a vegan lifestyle (albeit it only being 3 weeks! But the first weeks are the toughest I’m told). I will also be raising money for the F.R.I.E.N.D animal rescue in Tonbridge that I visited a couple of weeks ago, and will be visiting again later next month. There is no pressure, but if you would like to donate, I know the animals are really chilly this winter, and would appreciate the extra help. Click on the link to do so http://www.friendanimalrescue.org.uk/donate.

Let’s start with breakfast

So easy! There are loads of vegan breakfast options to choose from. Below is a list of my favourites:

  • Baked beans on toast. A classic. I go for the organic, sugar-free baked bean variety from ‘Whole Earth’. The best bread options are found at Artisan Bread Organic. They stock a range of buckwheat, quinoa and rice breads, and they also have a vegan patisserie!
  • Muesli, fruit and yoghurt. I love Rude Health Muesli, in fact I love Rude Health anything. But as far as muesli goes, they have a wide choice containing nuts, fruits and superfoods. They are also sugar-free, but not always gluten free, so always check the label if you’re gluten intolerant. Finding a dairy free yoghurt is slightly more challenging, most soya yoghurts are delicious, but contain a large amount of sugar. There is of course Coyo yoghurt which is stocked in most health food shops. Coyo yoghurts are unsurprisingly made of coconut, and are even sweetened with coconut sugar. The salted caramel flavour is divine!
  • The great British fry-up. You can still just about have a fry-up, just substitute the sausages for a vegan option (Linda McCartney’s vegan sausages are great), then fry up tomatoes and mushrooms in coconut oil for a much healthier hangover cure. Finally add baked beans and toast with dairy free margarine, Biona organic Cocomega coconut spread is healthy and delicious. You’re going to have to ditch the eggs and bacon though I’m afraid!
  • Avocado on toast. Everyones favourite superfood of the moment. Avocado is great for getting that glowing complexion. Try adding chilli flakes for extra flavour, and also for their metabolism-boosting qualities.
  • Porridge or Oatmeal. I’ve been eating this in abundance recently. It’s all I seem to want in these cold winter months. I mix oats in with almond milk, and add cinnamon and maple syrup to taste. I also add maca powder, which is rich in B vitamins, essential for vegans. I then top my bowl with berries, nuts and seeds, for a healthy dose of oomph.
  • Smoothies and juices. There isn’t a specific recipe that I would recommend for either of these, as you can be as inventive as you like. Berries, vegetables, nut milks, muesli, it’s a free for all. Do however, read my blog post, ‘the art of the smoothie’ for a formula to follow on how not to make it taste disgusting.

Easy main meals

Salads. Of course there are salads! With almost any topping you fancy. Artichokes, olives, sun-blushed tomatoes, beetroot, hummus…the list goes on. But who wants to eat salad in winter?! Not me. Below I’ve noted a few of the easiest vegan dishes that I can think of, as I’m no Deliah Smith, and when you work as much as I do, you just don’t have time to prepare a culinary masterpiece.

  • Vegan bolognese (or any kind of pasta). Choose whole wheat, spelt or quinoa pasta, and check that they don’t contain egg, as many pastas do. You can make your own sauce and add a meat substitute, but if you’re really lazy then Mr Organic do a tasty tofu bolognese, which doesn’t contain any nasties. Add sautéed veg for an extra added dose of your five a day. If you are missing parmesan cheese, ‘Follow Your Heart’ vegan parmesan is indistinguishable from the real thing.
  • Quinoa or Organic couscous with roasted vegetables. Clearspring do an organic instant couscous that takes 5 minutes to prepare and is also gluten free. For the roasted veg, I usually go for a Mediterranean style assortment of courgettes, bell peppers and cherry tomatoes, which have been seasoned with Himalayan rock salt and roasted in a garlic infused olive oil. Delicious!
  • Any kind of vegetable soup! I make a mean spinach and nutmeg soup. Its so yummy and it’s packed full of nutrients. Boil 1 potato ( or sweet potato) in with some vegan Bouillon, add loads of spinach, a touch of almond milk, and flavour with chilli flakes, smoked paprika powder, and nutmeg. Other good soup choices are leek and potato, butternut, mushroom, minestrone and lentil. If you’re missing out on the creamy texture then try adding soya cream or coconut milk instead of milk or cream.

When you just can’t be bothered

There are a whole variety of pizzas, pastas, ready meals and meat substitutions to choose from, that are easily found in health food shops like Holland and Barret, or if you live in London, Planet Organic and Whole Foods. Again, check the labels of things. If there are too many ingredients listed that you’ve never heard of before, or have sugar near the top of the list, then best just to leave it in the shop.

Food on the go, and why there’s always Pret

If you can’t find a Pret near you, you are clearly living under a rock in the middle of nowhere. Like Starbucks, there’s a Pret a Manger popping up on every corner, of every street, in every town. Which is great news for vegans, as Pret categorise’s which of their food items are vegan or veggie, with a helpful green label. If you have poor eyesight however, (or even if you have good eyesight!) it may be somewhat of a difficulty to differentiate between the minuscule writing that notifies you of which is ‘veggie’, and which is ‘vegan’. Caution is therefore needed. Nevertheless, Pret stocks a good variety of vegan options, including, sandwiches, soups, salads, pretzels, and the delicious dairy free chocolate coconut bar. If you’re in London, Crush is also great for smoothies and salads, as is ‘The Natural Kitchen’ and ‘The Detox Kitchen’, of which there are quite a number of now, and are easily found throughout London.

Choosing vegan and staying sugar free

One of the things that I’ve noticed is that it’s difficult to find sugar-free vegan options for things. For example, chocolate! Moo chocolate is so tasty but it’s loaded with sugar again. Most supermarket brands contain milk, apart from some of the super dark chocolate, that’s 85% or something ridiculous, and doesn’t settle that sweet craving.

My advice most of the time for those wanting to go vegan is to check the labels for things. It’s surprising how many food items that don’t include egg or, milk are packed full of sugar and preservatives.You may spend hours browsing the isles of supermarkets at first, but you’ll soon become more savvy when it comes to knowing what contains what. If in doubt cook from scratch.

A note on dairy

If, like me, you don’t enjoy milk at the best of times, then you should find it quite easy to avoid. I find nut milks far yummier anyway, and they are packed full of good proteins. Just make sure you choose the unsweetened versions, or try making your own!

While you may think that vitamin D and calcium are essential for building bone and maintaining its strength, a high intake of dairy should not be the main source of these nutrients, as dairy actually contains a large amount of saturated fat.

Supplements

Really it is only Vitamin B12 that vegans may lack in, as most vegetables, particularly the green leafy variety, provide us with all the nutrients that we need. Vitamin B12 is required for the production of red blood cells as well as growth, repair and general health. Vitamin B12 can only be found naturally in animal products which proves problematic for vegans, and means that we may need to consider vitamin B12 supplements.

I myself use Vitamin Buddy for all my supplement needs. It’s such an easy and convenient way of getting the right supplements for me, delivered to my door. I just fill out a short questionnaire about my diet and lifestyle, and they do all the hard work for me. It works out at less than £1 a day, and it means that I don’t have to think, or shop around for the right supplements. Which is great!

Being Vegan and staying healthy

Making vegan meals healthy, as well as quick and easy to follow doesn’t have to be difficult chore, it’s all about choosing the right ingredients. I’ve listed a few food suggestions below to make life more simple for you:

  • Instead of eating refined or white grains, choose whole-grain options such as brown rice, whole wheat bread, spelt, rye or buckwheat and whole wheat pasta.
  • Ensure you are consuming the recommend daily amount of vitamins and minerals, be that from the food you are eating or in supplemental form.
  • Ensure you are consuming a wide variety of foods.
  • Limit your sugar intake and consume less high fat foods.

Will I miss eating meat?

I don’t really. It is sometimes annoying going out to eat and having to check the ingredients of everything, or to continuously ask the waitresses/chef if things are vegan. But the world is changing, and it is becoming easier to be vegan. Vegans are no longer looked upon as weird tree-hugging hippies anymore, which seemed to be a common notion in previous years. We as people are becoming far more open and accommodating to different tastes and preferences. And although I say I’m not here to preach, I do believe that sticking up for, and standing by what you believe in is a great thing. As a final note, if you’re ever in doubt of your decision to be vegan, watch ‘Earthlings’, sadly I haven’t managed to get past the first 10 minutes yet.

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Roberta King
Nutritionist, Yoga Instructor and Massage Therapist

Roberta King is a nutritionist, massage therapist and yoga instructor based in Tunbridge Wells, Kent. For more from Roberta you can visit her website or check out her Instagram.