Like any normal human being, I made some mistakes to begin with. But every vegan knows you have to make these mistakes to learn. I did not start off completely vegan either. I cut out all meat, dairy and poultry, but with an avid fishing family I still ate freshly caught fish. At Christmas I also ate from the large spread of seafood and cheese. Most vegetarians and vegans who made the change late in life will know that family traditions are the hardest part to break. You feel like you are letting your family down if you become the only one to stop doing what they do. I meet people who have not gone plant-based based purely upon this reason. Fortunately with a loving family it did not take long before they respected my decision and became fascinated themselves.
The first 1-2 months is the biggest hurdle to get over. You will most likely crave cheese and meat-like textures. And it is not because you crave that actual food, it is your body craving engrained routine textures in your mouth (except cheese, everyone loves cheese). Fortunately today there are that many non-dairy cheeses and faux meats that one does not have to miss out. Once you have passed the major hurdle, usually 30 days, the craving begins to subside. Even meals without textured vegetable proteins become vibrant and enjoyable to the palate. My family enjoyed most meals I made including vegetable curries, vegetable lasagna, stir-fry, lentil shephard’s pie, tacos and sushi.
But what about protein? But what about iron? But what about B12? But, but, but, but is all you start hearing. Protein is the least of your worries. Every vegetable contains protein and then you have high sources like beans, legumes, lentils and superfoods like hemp seeds, chia and quinoa. A varied diet including leafy greens and superfoods will provide adequate iron. I drink nettle tea, which is one of the highest sources of iron and vitamin C. I also learnt that vitamin C increases you iron absorption whereas dairy inhibits absorption, hence why more vegetarians (lacto-ovo) may be more susceptible to anemia. To prove my iron levels, I donate plasma to the Red Cross Blood unit every few months with text-book iron levels around 140.
Some new vegans might find themselves feeling a little faint to begin with as the body starts to adapt. But you can read the signs and feed your body more leafy greens like kale, and load up on super foods. You will also notice a newly improved digestive system that flushes waste far easier and faster. For any new vegan, I strongly suggest doing your research first, set out an eating plan for the next two weeks, and make sure you are keeping that diet varied. The reason so many people do become anaemic or faint is not because they are vegetarian or vegan. It is simply because they are not eating the right foods or do not know the right substitutes. This is completely normal. Just make sure you are well prepared or ask another fellow vegan for ideas.
The only two things I do recommend you supplement is B12, and omega 3 DHA. B12 can be found in dulse flakes that come from the sea, and some fortified foods like savoury yeast flakes (also known as nutritional yeast flakes for their vitamin B), and some drinks and food. But the best way to supplement it is with a sublingual B12. There are many plant-based sources of the essential fatty acid omega 3 such as hemp oil, flaxseed and chia seeds. However, last year in ecology I learnt that there are two types of omega 3; EPA and DHA. EPA commonly comes from plant-based sources, but DHA from fish. After doing some research I found there is a type of algae that contains DHA omega 3 available in capsules. This is essential for brain development especially for us who are studying.
Two years on, and I have more energy than ever before, no IBS, hardly ever suffer from broken immune system disorders (colds etc), almost no reflux, and a much more positive self. The best part was the weight lost. At 175cm tall, my average past weight was around 73kg with my heaviest ever 78kg after one indulgent Christmas. Now, I fluctuate between 60kg and 63kg. Combined with herbs and exercise, I became a new self that I am proud of and eager to help others do the same.
Ask any vegan why they do it and you might find mixed answers. But the golden three reasons why I am vegan is simple: Saving the environment, protecting our beautiful animals, and being the healthiest I can be.
I hope you have enjoyed reading my past life and hope that it has inspired something in you too. I look forward to hearing your stories and comment.
All the best with your vegan ventures,