I never thought in a million years that I would stop eating meat, but here I am. Being in the health and fitness industry for the past 5 years, and being involved in my own fitness for the past decade, I bought into the belief that I needed to eat animal protein to be healthy, maintain lean muscle and to keep weight down. Nothing could have been further from the truth though.
I waited to write this blog for a while now because I didn't want it to seem like I'm a converted vegan preaching to everyone who eats animal products, or that I'm shoving the bible of veganism down anyones throats, I'm simply writing this article to share my experiences and own thoughts through my process of switching to a whole food plant based diet. Through my experiences, you can take what works for you and discard what doesn't. We all need to follow our own convictions and this is me putting mine out there, not in judgment of anyone else, but in hopes of helping people who suffer from digestive issues, metabolic diseases, sleep disturbances, inability to lose weight, skin irritations or breakouts and a host of other medical and health concerns.
Not only do I hope to help people get healthy, which is what my job entails, but I'm doing my best to be more kind and gentle to our animals and environment, and more importantly, saying no to a system that doesn't have humanities best interest at heart. A food system that doesn't actually care about what we need or about being ethical in any way shape or form, but a system that only cares about how much money they can make for as little effort as possible, is a system I choose not to be a part of.
Becoming vegan or even vegetarian is both rewarding and satisfying on so may different levels and we need to make our own choices about what we really think is healthy, instead of letting a food industry that feeds us utter garbage to decide what we need. It's time for all of us to think for ourselves, educate ourselves and be accountable for the choices we make. No one is responsible for your health but you, don't think for one minute that the government or food industry cares about your health and well being. If we were all healthy thriving individuals with no need for medicine, how profitable would that be to a multi-billion dollar industry?
Switching to a vegan diet the healthy way
There are many people who start eating a vegan diet but still consume processed products, refined sugars and many other sub optimal ingredients. It's important to stay true to what being healthy really entails, not just switch one sub-optimal food for another. It's important to eat whole foods that are plant based containing no herbicides, pesticides, artificial colours, flavours, preservatives, MSG, hydrogenated oils, carrageenan, sugar, GMOs and to eat as little corn and soy as possible. It's easy to switch to a vegan/plant based diet and just eat a load of junk just because it's technically "vegan". The whole point of changing the way you eat to be healthier is to follow all the fundamental principals of healthy eating, not just follow another diet.
How do you switch over to a vegan diet and what are some things you should consider?
1. Start eating a vegetarian diet to ease your way into a vegan diet
Many people start out vegetarian before switching to vegan. This is a great way to ease into a diet that is more centred around eating plants and plant based foods. Vegetarians eat eggs and dairy, where vegans eliminate all animal products. For me this was not ever going to be an option after I saw the way that animals were treated in dairy farms and in chicken battery farms for egg production. Not only did I not want to engage my body or my dollars in those industries, I feel the consumption of dairy is one of the leading causes to many health concerns including, but not limited to: skin issues, digestive distress and hormonal imbalances. Because of the growth hormones and antibiotics given to cows, we can expect to experience the consequences that come with consuming their milk, which is laden with added hormones, steroids and antibiotics that interfere with our own hormonal system, and not in a good way.
Eliminating dairy has been a game changer for me on a very physical level. I used to always be congested, I had an uneven skin tone, skin irritations would show up on my legs, I had irregular periods and awful digestive patterns. When I eliminated dairy, all of those problems went away. I wouldn't add dairy back in for anything after experiencing the health changes I've had. You could try and persuade me with all the cheese and ice cream in the world and I wouldn't bat an eye. My health is the most important thing and when you feel healthy, you'll never want to go back to your old ways.
2. Switch out animal products for plant based foods
- Beans, lentils, nuts, seeds and whole grains are going to be your go-tos when you stop eating meat or animal products. They are not only packed with protein, but they are loaded with fibre and many other nutrients which will aid in healthy digestion. Animal products contain little to no fibre so you can expect to experience the benefits of incorporating more fibre in your diet (aka you'll poop better).
- Not only do grains and legumes contain protein, but foods like broccoli or spirulina contain protein too. You don't need to consume animal products to get adequate amounts of protein.
3. Plan to eat more
- Because you'll be eating a diet high in nutrients, but not so high in calories, you'll need to consume more food than you would if you were eating animal products. If you don't consume enough, you'll feel lethargic and generally unwell. This often happens when switching to a plant based diet and is the point when people think this way of eating isn't working, so they revert back to old eating habits. Make sure you eat enough, there's nothing wrong with your veg diet, that's all I'm going to say. Don't be afraid to eat!
- Plant foods digest much faster than animal products so you may feel fuller after eating a meal because of the fibre and volume of food, but hungry a couple hours later. This is normal and will lessen over time in my experience and the information I've received. Once my body got used to digesting different foods, I experienced less hunger but still have to make sure I eat enough.
4. Be prepared to prepare food ahead of time
- Like any diet you follow, meal planning is a crucial part of your success. The more you can make your own food, the healthier it will be and the less health concerns you'll have. For example, and this is an important note, canned beans are not as good as home made beans that you soak and cook yourself. Even if the canned beans are organic, they are still processed in a way that is harder for your body to digest than if you soaked the beans and lentils yourself. This was something I learnt the hard way but quickly adapted to. Canned beans were not fun on my digestive system at all and I warn anyone against consuming copious amounts of canned beans, unless you want to feel bloated and gassy all the time.
- Soaking beans and lentils with a seaweed like kombu is the other crucial part of the preparation process. We do not have the enzymes in our body to digest beans but the seaweed does. When you soak your beans anywhere from 8-24 hours, soak it with a piece of dried kombu (available at any health food store), and then rinse your beans thoroughly once or twice throughout soaking time and boil them with the kombu. You can also use baking soda, but I prefer kombu.
- Make sure you have cooked whole grains on hand for the week to add into meals. Sprouted grains are always the best option but any whole grain will be better than its counterpart. Quinoa, brown or wild rice, old fashioned oats, amaranth, etc are always grains I have on hand that are either cooked, or in my pantry. I make a lot of different veggie burgers or meatless loafs that consist of these ingredients so it's wise to make them ahead of time.
5. Plan to eat in
- Even veg restaurants that claim to be healthy use sub-optimal ingredients, most prominent among those ingredients are corn and soy. I'm not a fan of corn or soy because of genetic modification and because of the little nutritional value that corn actually has. Corn and soy are some of the most widely grown crops as well as being the cheapest and with the most GMOs. Soy also contains phytoestrogens that interact with our own hormones. Me and my husband personally stay away from soy, soy based products and we also prefer not to consume corn. The only exception is when we go to eat out and it will inevitably be in everything.
- Food establishments use sub-optimal vegetable oils such as canola oil, soy or corn oil, peanut oil and other oils that are full of omega 6 fatty acids. With a high consumption of omega 6 fatty acids, especially when they are in the form of an unstable liquid, inflammation can occur. The standard North American Diet has a ratio of about 16:1 omega 6:omega 3 when it should technically be a 1:1 ratio. A diet high in omega 6 has been proven to promote cardiovascular disease, cancer, autoimmune conditions and the pathogenesis of many other diseases. Animals fed grains, including corn, have high concentrations of omega 6 in their tissue, which contributes to more inflammation upon meat consumption, not to mention that meat and dairy are already acidic in their make up, which can lead to even more inflammation.
6. Eat a balanced diet focusing on fruits and vegetables
- It's easy to eat a ton of grains when you switch to a vegan diet but grains are still high in omega 6 fatty acids. It's important to focus on eating lots of fresh fruits and veggies, including starchy vegetables like yams, sweet potatoes, squash and even moderate amounts of white potatoes. I personally try not to consume more than 4-5 servings of grains a day (I used to eat 1 serving). If I need a protein/carb source, I opt for beans and lentils instead. Be mindful of choosing the right types of grains when you do eat them, nothing refined or stripped of it's nutrients and sprouted will always be the best choice.
- Eating walnuts, flax, chia, spirulina and green leafy vegetables will help you obtain all the omega 3's that you'll need. If you feel like you want to take an omega 3 supplement, you can do that also.
7. You may have to take a B-12 and/or iron supplement
- Animal meat is naturally high in vitamin B-12 which aids in the metabolization of protein, fats and carbohydrates. B-12 also helps with energy levels, which is why many veg eaters end up taking a B-12 supplement. It is important to take a high quality sub lingual B-12 supplement or even go in for B-12 shots if your doctor recommends it. I take 5mg of methlycobalamin from the brand AOR and I find my energy levels are much better than when I was taking a cheaper B-12 supplement.
- Iron is another supplement some people take but should only be used under the supervision of a doctor. I personally don't take iron because my blood work doesn't show I need to, and I feel just fine without it. Lentils, beans, cacao, green veg and many other foods have more than enough absorbable iron. You don't have to eat red meat to get an adequate iron intake.
With all of those considerations to keep in mind, what are some of the health benefits you'll experience when switching to a plant based diet? I'm glad you asked!
Here is a short list that includes, but is not limited to, all the wonderful things you can expect to experience when you switch over to eating plants and eliminating animal products:
- Better digestion
- Better sleep
- Clearer skin that's vibrant and glowing (aka the vegan glow)
- Weight loss
- Lowered cholesterol
- Lowered blood pressure
- Savings on groceries since meat and dairy are so expensive (we save almost $600.00 per month not buying free range organic meat and dairy)
- Increased mental clarity
- Increased energy
- Improved mood
- Less inflammation
- Satisfaction in knowing you're helping the environment
- Lowered risk of mortality
- And much much more!
Anytime you switch your diet it's important to be patient and gracious with yourself, don't worry about being perfect or changing everything in one day. If it feels better not to label your diet, don't. Think of it as eating more of a plant based diet instead of "being vegan". When we label ourselves to fit a specific mould, we can put unnecessary pressure and expectations on ourselves which can cause us to be unsuccessful in the area we're trying to change. Don't switch to a vegan diet just to go on another diet, switch your diet to improve your health and the environment around you.
I hope this article was helpful to anyone who is thinking about switching over to a plant based diet. There are many other blogs on going vegan or vegetarian, so you can rest assured you won't be limited for information or for support. Again, I want to reiterate the fact that when I work with clients, I am not wedded to one nutritional system of eating for them, but I am for myself. The intention of this article is not convert people but to place information before you, what you choose to do with that information is up to you!
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