8 essential 'hacks" for a successful VEGANUARY
“I’m doing Veganuary!” says the non-vegan with a look of fear in their eyes!
A whole month of vegan food may seem daunting, but with the knowledge, openness and willing to experiment with a whole host of new ingredients, going vegan is simple and easy.
I’m Gaz Burrows, a plant based strength coach who loves food. And with that said, it’s important to address some key areas you’d want to consider when going vegan and to highlight some “hacks” to make your experience potentially less stressful.
1 – EASY PROTEIN
“But where do you get your protein from?” is such a common question, probably the first for most and a main concern when switching to a vegan diet.
Lets look at the basic intakes first.
For those who train regularly, looking to increase sport performance or have a basic desire to change body composition, we’d want to aim for anywhere between 1.4g up to 2.2g per kg of bodyweight each day.
That may seem like a huge number to reach, especially when looking at 100% plant based sources. But can be comfortably achieved by consuming foods such as tofu, tempeh, soy, meat substitutes, beans, peas, lentils, legumes, nuts and seeds.
There are also plenty of protein based snacks and shakes available now, including the fantastic Awesome Vegan Protein which I use and recommend!
2 – B12 IS KEY
Vitamin B12 is vital for our health and can lead so serious health problems if neglected. It’s a vitamin only available through non-fortified animal sources, so it’s really important to ensure B12 fortified products are included in a vegan diet.
Foods such as nut milks or “dairy” products, nutritional yeast and marmite all contain B12 and can be included regularly in your diet, or you could simply supplement it. Excessive consumption is harmless, so I’d say supplement then include a range of fortified foods to cover all bases.
3 – REDUCE THE NEED FOR SUPPLEMENTS
With supplementation in mind it can be all to easy to start supplementing for everything, potentially getting lazy with our food consumption in the process.
If we aim to eat a varied diet, we’ll reduce the need to turn to supplements, bearing in mind that supplements are there to do exactly that, supplement.
A diet consisting of tofu, tempeh, soy, fortified plant milks, nuts, seeds, pulses, legumes, dark leafy greens as well as a variety of fruit and vegetables in general will do good in hitting most if not all of their nutritional requirements.
That’s not to say supplementation shouldn’t be considered.
B12, omega 3 fats, zinc, calcium and iron for example are some that may be beneficial should you feel you currently eat to support requirements, yet feel you may be at risk of a potential deficiency or want to cover bases so to speak.
4 – ACCIDENTAL VEGAN ITEMS
Check your labels! There are loads of foods on the market that are vegan that aren't specifically labelled as vegan.
You’ve got the obvious ones; vegetables, grains, nut butters, beans, pasta, bread, bagels, hummus etc through to some not so obvious ones like oreos, skittles, original kettle chips and hobnobs!
Develop a habit for checking labels, a skill which you can take forward regardless of dietary choice, to see what the product contains. A quick scan before throwing it in your shopping trolley can be really beneficial. It’s really easy now with most of the foods you need to look out for in bold.
5 - THE MUST HAVES
If we are prepared, we’ll find the transition so much easier. This includes stocking up on the key vegan ingredients to make our staple meals with.
Include plenty of beans, chickpeas, lentils, nuts, seeds and veg in all varieties, along with tofu, tempeh and fake “meats”. Fortified nut milks, spreads if preferred and non-dairy cheeses/yoghurts. Veg stock, nutritional yeast, vegetable oils and agave syrup along with a range of different herbs and spices are great to have in. Also, stock up on snack bars, fruit, hummus and popcorn or dark chocolate if that takes your fancy!
The more prepared we are in terms of having the staple ingredients in for meals, the less likely we’ll then be panicking, trying to find vegan options in stores or turning to poor quality food choices out of desperation.
6 – FOOD SWAPS
Changing diets will always be tricky at first, as we’ll go through a preparation phase where we look to see how that change will look to our current structure.
This may mean swapping some of the animal based foods we eat directly with plant-based sources, for ease primarily and to take the stress out of trying to find alternative meal options, from the off.
Some key examples include; fake meat substitutes instead of meat, scrambled tofu instead of eggs, nutritional yeast for a “cheesy” taste to foods and more obvious swaps from milk to a plant based milk alternative.
Making simple food swaps at first enables you to still enjoy your current meals and structure without changing too much at once or feeling like you have to spend hours in the kitchen prepping new meals.
7 – TRY NEW FOODS, NOT JUST “VEGANIZE” OLD MEALS
With the previous point said, I think it’s equally important to use this time to sample new foods.
Experiment with meals and try out new ways of cooking. Vegan food can be dull if we’re simply swapping meat for fake meat for example, with the potential problem arising of not liking fake meats! What happens then?!
Try and approach the vegan diet with a new outlook, being open to change what you are currently used to.
For example we could take your typical fry up and just swap the sausages for some vegan sausages, or we could revamp our fry up completely! Scrambled tofu, garlic mushrooms, ½ avocado with a chilli, tomatoes, salted wilted spinach, beans with a slice of wholemeal toast is an absolute winner!
8 – GET A VEGAN COOKBOOK
Probably the best piece of advice I could give when looking to cook and prepare vegan meals is to invest in some vegan cookbooks. Not only will it help you make vegan meals with quality ingredients, but it’ll also enable you to pick up skills and ideas to take forward, regardless of your diet.
I personally learnt so much from just getting in the kitchen, trying new recipes and tasting new foods in brand new ways of cooking.
A lot of people ask what I eat and how they can potentially cook vegan meals themselves and I say the same, invest in some books and try some meals out.
Most of the meals I eat now are ones that I have picked up from cookbooks along the way. From black bean sweet potatoes and chickpea butternut squash salads, through to risottos, stir frys and chillis. I can honestly say the food I eat now is some of the best I’ve ever had.
I highly recommend the Thug Kitchen, Deliciously Ella, Gaz Oakley, Dirty Vegan and Bosh cookbooks in particular as great starting points.
So that’s it, 8 vegan hacks that will no doubt help you during Veganuary and potentially beyond! There is more to consider when consuming a plant based diet but the above covers some key areas.
I'd recommend to anyone going vegan this Veganuary, to spend some time preparing meals, read up and learn about new ways of cooking and health optimisation, join an online support group, ask questions and don't be concerned about voicing any potential struggles. There are always coaches in the field like myself on hand offering support and guidance.
With any change in life approach it with an open mind and be ready to learn. Good luck!