I started eating vegan 2 ½ years ago, and I stick to it about 95% of the time. It is not my religion, I do not consider myself “vegan”, but I do eat vegan most of the time. Pure vegans seem to get very offended by this and don’t care for the “most of the time vegan”. I choose to eat this way to be healthy and because my childhood intolerance of dairy returned when a few years ago.
Prior to that time, I began incorporating many more vegetables in my diet. I had 2 young kids and fed them a majority of fruits and vegetables and began to wonder why I wasn’t doing the same. We began making smoothies for breakfast which included kale, spinach, collard greens, carrots, beets, frozen fruit among other nutrient dense foods. We were enjoying an extremely nutritious breakfast every morning and then rewarding ourselves by dinner for doing so well at breakfast. Well that made no sense at all. I would feel great all day, full of energy, and then full and bloated after dinner.
My husband and I then decided that we were going to start eating vegan and maybe stick to it for 3-6 months. We felt so good, we’re still eating the same way 2 ½ years later. He “cheats” about once a month usually with a dinner out splurging on some high quality animal protein, and I do it about every 3 months in a much smaller quantity because larger quantities wreaks havoc on my digestive system.
Starting out, we kept to the smoothies for breakfast, eating salads and guacamole for lunch, and then winging dinner. At first, we did feel very deprived. I was hungry all day and night and wanted to eat everything. I realized a few weeks in that I just needed to remove the thoughts of deprivation and focus on the large quantities of food I was able to enjoy without every feeling full and bloated. Once I changed my mindset, everything became easier.
I believe the biggest problem people have when they switch to a new way of eating is their mental attitude. Next is not to fill the void with foods lacking nutrients. Many people move away from eating vegan or even vegetarian because they don’t feel good. They feel poorly because they are eating large quantities of nutrient free foods – white flours, breads, pasta, candy, processed goods, and coffee. These foods do not provide energy, don’t leave us full for long, and spike insulin levels.
The last issue I encountered was dinners. I didn’t want to cook separate dinners for our family. I started looking at many cookbooks, searching the internet for tasty and nutritious dinners everyone would like. I found many very complicated laborious dishes that often included tofu and seitan, neither which I am a fan. I decided that wasn’t working for me so I started creating my own recipes – dishes that were easy, quick, family friendly, full of nutrition, and meals or sides where animal protein could be added if anyone desired. I then published my own book to share with the hopes of everyone including more whole foods, vegetables, and fruits in their everyday diet.
The book is titled, Chop Chop! Jumpstart a Healthy Lifestyle with Quick & Easy Vegan Dishes. It contains 100 recipes spanning snacks, salads, soups, entrees, desserts, smoothies, juices, and cocktails.
Tips to eating vegan or adding many more vegetables to your diet:
1. You don’t have to start cold-turkey nor does it have to be your religion. Try vegan at breakfast and dinner. Eat heavier, higher protein food at lunch when our digestive systems are better capable to handle it.
2. Don’t substitute animal protein with bread, pasta, and processed substitutes. They will spike your insulin levels, leave you hungry shortly after, or deplete your energy. There are many very processed hamburger substitutes with loads of oils and salt. Stay away from highly processed foods in general.
3. Smoothies are the easiest way to get tons of vegetables in your diet. There are several recipes in my book or just experiment on what you like or maybe just don’t hate. Use a wide variety to cover as many vitamins and minerals possible.
4. If you’re eating on a plate, make that plate at least half vegetables. Eat them raw, steamed, sautéed or grilled. Boiling typically removes many of the nutrients which get lost in the water.
5. Remember your B vitamins. Animal protein is the only food we can get vitamin B12, although we typically don’t deplete our supply for 2-3 years. There are supplements and nutritional yeast that will provide a good amount.
6. Remember protein and calcium. Greens provide tons of calcium. Eat plenty of beans, lentils, and whole grains like quinoa for good amounts of protein.
7. Eat whole grains. Skip the white flour and choose whole grains like quinoa, millet, and brown rice. These are typically better on the digestive system, provide protein, won’t spike insulin levels, higher in fiber, and keep you full longer.
8. Read labels carefully. There’s often hidden ingredients in packaged foods. Know what you are eating.
By incorporating whole foods rich with nutrients in your daily diet, you will experience a greater sense of focus, more energy, and a more youthful look. It is amazing what adding multiple servings of vegetables to your day can do to improve your overall health and wellbeing. Good luck!