How to switch to a vegan diet
How easy is it to go vegan? Read BBC Good Food's tips for following a vegan diet and learn how to cut out animal products and create vegan recipes using specialist substitute ingredients.
Who took the challenge?
Marianne Voyle, BBC Good Food sub-editor: My partner and I rely heavily on meat for all meals. I’m also a cheese addict, so was keen to find out if I could manage without it.
The challenge: follow a vegan diet for two weeks
Meat production has quadrupled worldwide since the Sixties, with major environmental implications. Following a plant-based diet helps to reduce our carbon footprint. I wanted to do my bit by going vegan and not eating foods that contain animal products, including meat, fish, shellfish, dairy, eggs and honey.
How to switch to a vegan diet
The first hurdle was telling friends and family – the words ‘bland’ and ‘lack of protein’ were thrown about, and I worried that socialising might be hard. After some research, I concluded that protein wasn’t a problem – there’s enough in veg, beans, nuts and seeds. It’s harder to get omega-3 (it’s present in chia seeds and walnuts, but not in the same active form as oily fish) and The Vegan Society recommends vitamin D and B12 supplements. Concerned about losing weight, I spoke to Kerry Torrens, Good Food’s nutritional therapist, who advised me to increase my portion sizes.
As my options were now limited, I spent time prepping soups, curry pastes, sauces and snacks. I kept porridge oats at my desk to have with almond milk, banana and nuts in the morning. It was hard to find food on-the-go, as so many items contain milk and eggs. I also hadn’t realised that not all wines are vegan. Veganism is all about finding creative recipe solutions. I made a lovely butter ‘chicken’ curry with a base of ground cashews and coconut cream, and replicated a carbonara with oat-based cream, smoked tofu and vegan cashew ‘parmesan’ (if you want to try making your own, check out our guide to making vegan cheese).
I was surprised that desserts and cakes tasted the same. I found some great vegan bakes in specialist cafes in London. Going vegan doesn’t deprive you of dessert! The real struggle was cheese – none of the dairy-free versions I tried hit the spot. There are a few vegan mac ’n’ cheese recipes that use squash and nutritional yeast (yeast flakes that provide a cheesy flavour), but it tastes so different I question whether they should tease people with the name!
Going vegan wasn’t right for me. If I didn’t eat constantly, I felt weak and hungry, and I lost weight. It’s all about finding a balance and eating what makes you feel healthy and happy. I’m not ready to give up dairy (I couldn’t go without my beloved mac ’n’ cheese), but I didn’t miss meat, so I’ll be cooking more veg-based meals. But who knows? This could all change if I find that elusive vegan cheese.
Top five tips for going vegan
- Give yourself time to adjust to a vegetarian diet before giving up all animal products. Switching straight to a high-fibre diet could upset your stomach.
- Buy a mini chopper or blender to make pastes, sauces and soups.
- Instagram accounts are useful for restaurant recommendations, plus we have plenty of vegan recipes to choose from.
- If you can, visit a few vegan restaurants and cafés to see what great things you can eat on a vegan diet.
- Specialist ingredients can be expensive. Chia seeds, nutritional yeast and nuts are much cheaper if you hunt around online.
More on following a vegan diet...
Have you tried a vegan diet? Let us know your experiences in the comments section below...