Parmesan, ice cream or even just honey.
When it comes to thinking about taking up a vegan diet, these are the things that immediately pop into my brain, and the thought of giving them up feels somewhat impossible.
I’ve decided to embark on this experiment for a several reasons.
Namely, I’ve already been a vegetarian for many years, so going vegan feels like the next logical step for me, especially since I love animals and am fundamentally against factory farming which is essentially designed to maximise production and minimise costs.
Two Netflix documentaries also helped reinforce my desire to remove animal products from my diet.
What the Health explored the health benefits of a vegan diet in great detail, explaining how it can help decrease the risk of heart attacks and strokes.
The show also uncovered how the farming industry has manipulated us into believing that meat and milk are important for a healthy diet.
Fitness is also said to increase significantly with a vegan diet. This is where the documentary The Game Changers got me excited.
Did you know that the strongest man in the world eats an exclusively vegan diet?
And that many ultra-fast runners rely on a purely plant-based diet?
So the idea that you need protein shakes made from whey or eggs to build muscle is an absolute fallacy.
Alongside the obvious motivation of wanting to avoid animal suffering, there are several other reasons as to why it was worth trying to make it without parmesan and co.
I was intrigued as to how different my body might feel going without animal products too.
First off, what is vegan diet?
A vegan diet is made up of plant based foods such as vegetables, grains, nuts and fruits, as well as foods made from plants.
Vegans do not eat foods that comes from animals, so this includes dairy products, eggs, meat, fish and honey.
A study from 2020 shows that there are an estimated 2.6 million vegans in Europe – a number that has doubled in four years.
The change was easier than I expected
Although I was unsure to begin with, making the shift to a vegan diet ended up being a lot easier than expected.
As a vegetarian, I already don’t any meat or fish and on the whole I try to eat healthy, which is why, for example, I also use plant milk rather than cow’s milk.
What I find particularly difficult, however, is cheese!
I’m a country child from the Allgäu region in Germany and practically grew up with dairy farming.
In our house, cheese was served at almost every meal – from my beloved Kässpatzen, to raclette, to the good old Brotzeit with spicy mountain cheese in the evening.
And in case I haven’t already mentioned it, I love parmesan, with it elevating absolutely any pasta dish.
But after a while, I found making do without cheese a lot easier too.
A vegan Parmesan is now available from ground seeds and it tastes fairly similar to the real thing. You can also make it yourself from ground pine nuts, for example, meaning it’s also packed full of proteins and important fatty acids.
When I get a craving for a slice of cheese, I help myself to my plant-based version that you can find in almost every supermarket.
Otherwise, it’s been genuinely fun for me to try out new recipes and discover new alternatives.
Legumes, which have previously taken very little space in my diet, are now a regular staple on my plate.
It’s incredible how many great dishes you can conjure up from them!
A vegan diet does, however, prove a little more difficult when going out, because I live in a small town and not in a main city where you can find numerous vegan dishes on every corner.
But if you look, you can now find vegan options (unlike gluten-free dishes) even in rural areas.
Since everything quickly becomes more expensive when eating out anyway, I didn’t eat out much over my vegan month and instead took to cooking more myself.
A commitment that was definitely worth it, as my results show!
The advantages of a vegan diet
After a short time, I have become accustomed to my new vegan lifestyle, incorporating the right foods into my meals almost automatically.
If the desire for something like a burger overcomes me, I simply treat myself to some vegan alternatives, preferably ones that aren’t filled with too many additives.
This leads into what is probably the biggest advantage of my vegan month. I’ve started to pay much more attention to nutrition as a whole.
Now I check a lot more closely exactly what is contained in end products, finding myself putting back items on the shelf where necessary.
I also cook a lot more myself as well as paying meticulous attention to really incorporating as much fruit, veg, herbs, nuts, seeds, grains, legumes as possible into my daily routine.
Naturally, direct improvements in my health are hard to measure.
But what I can prove thanks to a professional scale is that I have lost some body fat, which is confirmed when I look in the mirror.
Another added bonus: I definitely have clearer skin after a month of experimentation than I did before.
This is no doubt due in large part to the elimination of dairy products, which, like sugar, can cause blood sugar spikes and thus lead to skin blemishes.
I’ve also found that after mountain tours and long bike rides I feel much more energised and recover faster – and thus more ready to workout again.
Tips to make a vegan diet work
If you’re thinking about a vegan diet, these are some tips to get started.
The be-all and end-all of a vegan diet is balance. Sure, spaghetti with vegan ready-made bolognese is quick and easy.
However, they also contain few substances that our body urgently needs.
Particularly important for vegans are not just vegetables and fruit, but also legumes, which provide proteins and good carbohydrates from whole grains.
Dr. Michael Greger, in his book How not to die, has summarised 12 foods to include daily in a vegan diet. You can download the list here.
If you find yourself struggling to commit to a vegan diet, try planning your vegan month in January.
So many restaurants and supermarkets are getting behind Veganuary so it’s much easier to test the waters when everyone around you is in the same boat.
Cheese, burgers and feta – most of what the heart desires is available in vegan form.
They might not all be the most healthy alternatives but the actual flavours can often be very similar to the original.
So if the desire does overwhelm you, it’s still far better to reach for the substitute product.
The craving for these products will naturally diminish at some point.
Vegans get all the nutrients they need, as long as they eat a balanced diet.
With one exception: vitamin B12 should be taken as a supplement, as it is only found in meat and dairy products.
By the way, animals also absorb B12 through their food.
It is found in the earth and is stored in their bodies via grass, etc.
Those with iron deficiencies should seek medical advice before going vegan and pay attention to iron-rich foods such as sesame seeds, pumpkin seeds, oats, dried fruits etc.
The best recipes for vegan nutrition
Cookbooks have definitely helped open the gateway to delicious vegan foods.
You can find an edit of the best vegan cookbooks here including BOSH! by Henry Firth and The 20-Minute Vegan: Over 80 Easy, Tasty and Quick Plant-Based Recipes by Callum Harris.
My conclusion on a vegan diet
After a month of trialling it, I do think I’ll continue with a predominantly vegan diet. But what do I mean by predominantly?
At home, it’s a lot simpler to incorporate vegan dishes into your daily schedule.
But when it comes to eating out with friends and socially, I’m happy to make exceptions so that things aren’t too restrictive for me.
One thing I will continue to eat at home will be honey. Because I also don’t tend to eat sugar, I use exclusively honey for sweetening.
For me, this is still the most natural and nutrient-rich way to bring some sweetness in the food.
In particular, Manuka honey, which also has many other benefits, I will not be taking off my grocery list any time soon.
But I can say with certainty that I’ll definitely be back for Veganuary in 2024!
This article originally appeared on Glamour DE.
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