Offering you tips to stay healthy on a vegan diet at this time of year might seem a little counterintuitive. What with it being the Holidays and all.
I have a good reason, though. It’s very nearly almost 2020, which means it’s very nearly almost Veganuary.
You’ve signed up, right? High fives if you have and if you haven’t, I’ll just assume it’s because you’ve been busy.
Go sign up now, I’ll get out my vegan soapbox while I wait.
A Brief Message from My Vegan Soapbox
Don’t worry, I’ll be quick about this.
If you get sick on a vegan diet you’re doing it wrong.
*kicks soapbox back under bed*
A Little Backstory
Vegans, much like ex-smokers, can be annoying. Sporty and I are both. When we first quit our pack-a-day habit we’d make a big show of crossing the road to avoid inhaling secondhand smoke.
Ugh, I’m blushing as I type this.
While not quite as militant as new vegans, our silence was every bit as self-righteous. Thankfully, we’ve stopped being so judgey. Along with being rude and unnecessary, it also smacks of double standards.
Sporty’s German and I’m half Afrikaans. It’s safe to say we were both extremely enthusiastic carnivores prior to becoming a plant-based advocates.
I Went Vegan, and Now I’m Sick
We’re very much live and let live nowadays. What you eat is none of our business. Still, it’s hard not to get annoyed when people say things like a vegan diet will kill you or eating vegan will make you sick and unhappy.
Sporty and I have been living a plant-based lifestyle for about eight years now and we’re anything but the emaciated stereotypes people assume of our ilk.
We’re fit, strong and lean-ish. The ‘ish’ a direct result of our snacking habits, rather than poor diet. News flash: healthy snacks still accumulate on one’s midriff when you eat too many of them.
We have a ton of energy and don’t suffer from any of the lifestyle diseases that plague so many people today. Yay us.
Did we win the genetic lottery? I’d argue no. We could have done worse, sure, but overall I’d say we’re pretty average. Besides, genes only play a small part in determining longevity.
“Your genetics load the gun. Your lifestyle pulls the trigger.” —Dr. Oz,
So, why do some people get sick after they transition to a plant-based diet? Isn’t upping your intake of fresh produce supposed to make you healthy? In theory, yes, but there’s more to a vegan diet than eating your greens.
People who hate vegetables but still want to be vegan for ethical reasons will have an even tougher time staying healthy. With meat, dairy and eggs off the table, what’s left when you can’t stomach Brussels sprouts?
Um, bread and pasta, that’s what.
You Need a ‘Go Vegan’ Plan
You can’t just stop eating animals products. You need to make an effort to nourish your body. Food activists like Michael Pollan suggest we stop worrying so much about the nutrients and simply focus on eating ‘real food.’
That’s useful advice up to a point, but as The Vegan RD points out, “The idea that the nutrients will ‘sort themselves out’ doesn’t always hold up for vegans.”
Sporty and I used to take this approach to our health. We assumed eating enough fresh fruit and veg to earn us suspicious looks whenever we walked into Pick n Pay was enough. It wasn’t.
Initially, figuring out how to get the nutrients you need on a vegan diet can seem daunting. But like anything new, it doesn’t take long for the learning curve to level out.
Planning out your daily menu ahead of time is a great way to ensure you tick all the nutrient boxes. This also eliminates the need to make decisions when you’re hungry, which, as we know, is not the time to be deciding stuff.
3 Tips to Stay Healthy on a Vegan Diet
But first, a disclaimer. These tips are based on our personal experience as tree hugging bunny lovers. We’re not nutrition experts. What I’ve outlined below is really just a combination of common sense and learnings we’ve picked up along the way.
1. Supplement when Necessary
With the exception of vitamin B12, a plant-based diet can provide all the nutrients you need to thrive. That said, you may need to supplement your vegan diet with vitamin D, iodine, iron, calcium and possibly omega-3 fatty acids.
If you’re concerned, you can always get a vegan nutritional test done. It’ll highlight any deficiencies you may have, enabling you to rectify matters before you get sick.
It’s also an excellent way to stop well meaning friends and family from nagging you to ‘just eat a little chicken.’
Don’t be put off by the need to supplement. Remember, you’re choosing to eat this way for more than just your health. Given the state of the planet right now, going vegan is the sensible thing to do.
Some might argue that adding the occasional organic, pasture-fed steak to your diet makes better environmental sense. But since there’s no such thing as human meat, I don’t agree.
2. Go Easy on Yourself
The stress of trying to be perfect can often negate the health benefits of a vegan lifestyle. Aim to do your best. Be mindful of what you eat —especially when you’re out— but don’t be hard on yourself.
Sporty and I still slip up on occasion. We’ll buy something without properly scrutinizing the ingredients or order a dish that sounds vegan and forget to interrogate the server.
Sometimes, we’ll be specific and the restaurant will make a mistake. It happens Try to learn from each situation and make a commitment to do better next time.
We’ve found it’s better to keep trying than to beat ourselves up for our missteps. Sorry Yoda, sometimes trying is an option.
3. Make Friends with Your Kitchen
Eating plant-based is more mainstream than ever. Vegan restaurants and even vegan grocery stores are popping up all over the place. But that doesn’t mean it’s always easy to find nutritious food on the go.
You don’t need to be the next Nigella or Jamie Oliver, but if you want to make a success of your new vegan lifestyle, you must at least know where the kitchen is or be rich enough to hire a personal chef.
If you’re not, you can always invest in a copy of the personal chef’s cookbook. Hardly the same thing, I know, but still better than nothing.
Other than getting sick, the main reason people give up on being vegan is because they’re bored with their options. Having the necessary kitchen smarts to prepare your own food will help you stick with your new lifestyle.
As much as we love vegetables, Sporty and I often crave something fun or meaty to sink our teeth into. Something that’s healthy, but not salad, if you know what I mean.
I wasn’t always like this. I used to spend more time at McDonald’s than I did at home. Somewhere along the line I ventured into the kitchen. My initial efforts were underwhelming, but I kept at it and before long I was making meals that didn’t require a bag of salt to bring them to life.
The better I got at preparing food, the easier and more enjoyable it became. My point being that if I can learn to cook I reckon pretty much anyone can. And if you really don’t relish the thought, you can always order ready made meals and freeze them.
Vegan Nutrition Resources You Can Trust
Information overwhelm is real, so probably the best thing you can do when you’re just starting out on your vegan journey is to find a handful of reputable resources and ignore the rest.
For nutrition advice my go-to websites are The Vegan RD and Vegan Health. Between them, they offer a wealth of information on everything from daily nutrition needs and vegan meal plans to sports nutrition and tips for new vegans.
They even cover how to avoid becoming an ex-vegan.
For culinary inspiration, my current faves are The Happy Pear, Chef Cynthia Louise and The Blue Zones. They’re all focused on easy-to-prepare and tasty food. The Blue Zones and Chef Cynthia do have some recipes that aren’t 100 percent vegan, but those are usually easy enough to adapt.
A Little Inspiration to Keep You on Track
It’s easy for me to say being vegan is healthy, but don’t just take my word for it. Take a look at these vegan transformation stories to see for yourself why eating plants is good for you.
I also listed a bunch of resources in my series Eating a Plant-Based Diet for Beginners. Okay that’s it, if you want more you’ll have to ask Google.
There you have it, three tips to stay healthy on a vegan diet with a side of soap box whatnot for good measure. Sorry not sorry.