Veganuary is a charity campaign encouraging people to try being vegan for January and, if possible, throughout the rest of the year. This annual campaign has seen huge numbers of people getting involved from nearly 200 countries.
So, what do you need to think about when transitioning to veganism?
How can you make a smooth transition to veganism?
Findings from Veganuary campaigns have shown that 60% of people have found the transition to veganism easier than anticipated. The rise of vegan food on the high street (including both take-out and restaurant options) as well as the wide range of meat-free alternatives and snacks now available is likely to have helped many people switch to eating plant-based. Cooking from scratch is always going to be a healthier option and while this may seem daunting it’s not difficult to ‘veganise’ many of your favourite home-cooked meals using these alternatives.
Find your preferred dairy alternative
Oat and soya milk have a richness which is similar to cow’s milk while those made from nuts, seeds and rice tend to be waterier. Each alternative has its own unique flavour and out of all of them, soya has the highest amount of protein which may be an important factor for some people. What you choose is a matter of personal preference so try all of them to see what you prefer. Always look for fortified varieties to help maintain good intakes of calcium and vitamin B12.
Soya is a good alternative to dairy yoghurt. Other options include coconut milk and nut varieties including cashew, but they do come with a higher price tag.
Find your meat alternatives to help adapt common dishes
There are a number of meat alternatives to choose from which include tofu and tempeh (made from soya), seitan (made from wheat gluten) and Quorn. These foods are all high in protein and also contain a variety of other nutrients including magnesium, iron, zinc and calcium. These options are available in many forms including mince, pieces and shredded which can be used to replace minced beef, chicken, pork and duck in many common home-cooked dishes.
You can find marinated varieties of tofu which are easier to use for beginners. Tofu can also be scrambled as a good alternative to egg for breakfast.
Other interesting alternatives include jackfruit, palm hearts and banana blossom which have been used to emulate the look and texture of dishes such as pulled pork, scallops and breaded or battered fish. While these options make a convincing alternative, they do lack the same protein content.
Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables
It sounds counter-intuitive to talk about fruit and vegetable consumption given the nature of a vegan diet but given only 30% of the population eat ‘five-a-day’, it’s worth flagging up for those going vegan for January. This groups of foods are a key source of vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients that help to protect the body from disease. Including above and beyond five daily servings is important on a vegan diet to glean as many of these nutrients as possible.
Given the availability of vegan processed and ready-made meal options as well as the rise in vegan ‘junk’ food it is easy to exist on this type of diet without eating enough vegetables.
Keep it in mind to always add more vegetables to the dishes you cook. You can boost your intake with smoothies and dishes such as soups, casseroles, stews and stir-fry’s which can be bulked out with plenty of vegetables. Varieties such as spinach and peas are really easy to throw into many dishes.
Explore new and exciting flavours
The absolute key to great tasting vegan dishes lies in the spices and marinades used to make them. Meat alternatives, beans, pulses and grains can be a little bland so make use of dried spices and spice blends, sauces (e.g. cook-in sauces, soy sauce, sriracha, harissa), fresh herbs, flavoured oils and dried fruit to add flavour.
You can create a strong savoury flavour (umami) by incorporating ingredients such as nutritional yeast, mushrooms (especially dried made into a stock), seaweed, miso paste, tomato puree, sundried tomatoes, soy sauce and nuts into dishes. Vegetables such as onions, garlic, beetroot, asparagus and tomatoes also help to create umami which is often enhanced when they’re cooked.
Shop-bought dressings are great, but you should explore recipes from cookbooks and on the web for homemade options which are bursting with flavour and include additional ingredients such as tahini, miso, citrus juices, pomegranate molasses and umeboshi paste.
Don’t be put-off by unusual ingredients that seem a bit ‘fancy’ as they are all now widely available in supermarkets and not too expensive. Many of these ingredients keep for a while and dressings can be made in bulk and kept in the fridge.
Make use of legumes
No vegan diet is complete without these highly nutritious ingredients which supply protein, fibre, magnesium, iron, zinc and calcium. This group of foods are available canned or in ambient packs which is more convenient than soaking overnight and then boiling to cook. They’re really versatile and can be used to make vegan dishes such chilli, curries, soups, stews and salads to bulk them out and increase their nutrient content. Chickpeas and soya beans make a good snack when roasted with spices.
Use a wide range of grains
All grains are vegan and can be used as a base for many dishes. These foods are a useful source of protein as well as zinc, magnesium and B vits. Grains such as rice, barley and spelt as well as pseudo-grains such as quinoa can be used to make salads to which you can add anything to and make in bulk to use across the week. You can also add cooked grains to soups or sprinkle over vegetable salads.
Find nutritious vegan snacks
Some people may find they need to supplement their diet with snacks across the day if they need to eat more food to meet the demands of their lifestyle. Easy vegan snacks include dips with pitta or chopped veggies, dried fruit and nut bars, dairy-free yoghurt (topped with nuts, seeds or dried fruits), rice cakes (topped with nut butter, guacamole or mashed banana), edamame beans, nuts, seeds or roasted chickpeas. Smoothies and shakes are also good and can be made to be high in protein.
Fortified foods and supplements
There’s no reason why you can’t get everything you need on a vegan diet, but it can be tricky to start with for some people. Seek out fortified varieties of foods, especially those containing vitamin B12 which is difficult to obtain on a vegan diet.
Food should always come first but if you’re worried that your diet may not very well balanced then a basic vegan multivitamin and mineral supplement is a cost-effective way to bridge any gaps. Young children, particularly fussy eaters and also teenage girls are groups that will probably benefit from a supplement especially when going vegan.
It’s not that difficult to switch to a vegan diet once you know what’s available and how to modify your favourite everyday meals. Don’t rely solely on ready-prepared vegan dishes and stick to the basic principles of healthy eating (it’s just as easy to eat an unhealthy diet when going vegan). Try and use Veganuary as an opportunity to explore recipes that use ingredients which may be new to you. This campaign is also a great opportunity for you to commit to new eating habits that can extend beyond January and help you to improve your overall long-term health.