A Beginner’s Guide to Vegan Living

Happy 2014 everybody! While I whole-heartedly believe that every day is the best day to invest in health and happiness, there’s nothing quite like a new year to inspire a fresh start. Until now, I haven’t said much about plant-based living in this blog, but it’s hands-down the best decision I’ve ever made. So, if you’re considering making a change this year, read on to learn more about how veg life can help you achieve your fitness goals!

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Hi, Miriam! ❤

For some reason, no one ever believes me when I say being a vegan athlete is both easy and affordable. Let’s be honest here: I rarely have enough patience to make meals requiring a prep time longer than 15 minutes…so when I say it’s easy, I really mean it’s easy. For those who don’t know, dietary veganism (as defined by those smarty-pants contributors at Wikipedia) is the practice of abstaining from including animal products (meat, fish, dairy, eggs, honey, and other animal-derived substances) in one’s diet. Before I share the major details, grocery must-haves, and two deliciously simple recipes with you, I think I should first address the biggest question: Why Go Vegan? 

I have to preface this whole post by saying that since we’re all built differently, what works for one person might not work for another. But from a health standpoint, veganism rocks. In addition to increased mental focus, many people experience dramatic improvements in athletic performance, faster recovery times, and more restful sleep. It’s possible this is because plant-based foods require less energy to digest than meat or dairy, so the body is able to be more efficient. More interestingly, an overwhelming number of people have reported that switching to a plant-based diet helped them recover from an eating disorder. This is particularly relevant to binge eaters; Even though it’s certainly simple to create scrumptiously unhealthy vegan desserts, many convenience trigger foods are eliminated. That’s not to say that veganism can CURE an eating disorder, but it’s possible it could aid in the recovery process. Other benefits of a vegan diet include a reduced risk of heart disease, diabetes, stroke, and cancer. Pretty rad, right? Of course, all of these things rely on eating balanced meals. This website offers easy solutions for the most common obstacles people face when eliminating animal products: http://www.vegkitchen.com/nutrition/vegan-athlete/.

One of the greatest benefits of adopting this lifestyle is the positive effect it has on mental health. I won’t dedicate too much time discussing the ethical and environmental impact of going vegan in this post (though I strongly encourage everyone to educate themselves by watching Earthlings for free HERE), but eating animal products can have a huge impact on depression. It’s no secret that factory farming is a pretty disturbing business. Phrases like “Free-Range” or “Fed a vegetarian diet!” mean practically nothing because regulations on these terms are so loose. The animals still suffer abuse, and when stressed they release hormones and other toxic substances that remain in them all the way to your plate. So, essentially you’re ingesting those hormones into your own body. With that in mind, it makes sense that so many folks feel a much greater sense of peace and happiness after switching to this lifestyle.

So, now that you’re well-versed in some of the perks of being plant-fueled, I think it’s about time to answer the 4 major questions that most people ask. Here we go!

1.) But Where Will I Get My Protein??!?!?!?!:

 You probably already know that beans, lentils, nuts, and seeds are the main sources of protein for a vegan. There’s also tempeh, tofu, and other soy products if that’s your thing. But did you know that vegan protein powder exists too? These types of powders are actually extra awesome because most of them only have one ingredient rather than a lot of the sugars, soy, or other random additives that can be found in many whey or casein options. It takes trial and error to find the kind that best suits your taste, so here are a few to consider with the brands I recommend most (all available on Amazon):

A.) Brown Rice Protein- I recommend SunWarrior brand

B.) Hemp Protein – Nutiva

C.) Yellow Pea Protein – Now Sports

D.) All-In-One Nutritional Shakes – Vega. I can’t recommend this brand highly enough. The shakes have several flavors, no freaky ingredients, are low in carbs and sugar, and are absolutely DELICIOUS. They’re great for travel because you can just add water, but I usually have mine with unsweetened vanilla almond milk and it is literally like getting to drink a chocolate milkshake every day. It’s pricier than some other brands, but for the taste and quality, it’s worth it.

2.) Aren’t vegans weak and scrawny?

Only the ones who don’t work out or eat properly. Whether you’re an endurance runner, body builder, triathlete, or a regular gym rat, you can dominate your workouts and crush your goals while being vegan. If you need proof, just look at the pros. Scott Jurek, author of the well-known book “Eat and Run”, is an elite ultra-marathoner; Alexander Dargatz was the 2005 Body-Building World Champion; Dave Scott is a six-time IronMan Triathlon World Champion; Edwin Moses is a four-time Olympic Gold Medalist in Track and Field. So…. No, vegans aren’t weak and scrawny.

3.) What do vegans eat? Isn’t it expensive?

You can eat SO MUCH as a vegan! So many people think that this lifestyle is too extreme or too limiting, but I can honestly say I have never once felt that way. In fact, I eat more variety and delicious meals than I ever did as an omnivore. Think about some of your favorite dishes…Ok, got them in your mind? Chances are they can be easily veganized. Take tacos for example: Instead of meat you can heat and crumble up chickpeas, tempeh, or seitan (a type of wheat that is scarily similar in texture to beef) and mix it with some taco seasoning. Throw it on a warm tortilla with some guacamole, vegan cheese, and veggies, and you have a delicious mexican dinner. It’s really easy to recreate your favorites, especially since there are a lot of vegan substitutes for things like butter, milk, and cheese. Or if you’re cooking and need to use eggs as a binding ingredient, you can mix 1 TBS of flaxmeal with 3 TBS warm water and it works the same way. There really, truly are so many options. *Helpful Tip: Try to always keep homemade veggie burgers, Lara bars, soups, or other leftovers in the freezer for use on days when you’re traveling or in a rush*

As for cost, it’s actually about the same or cheaper. If you’re reading this, chances are you’re already a pretty healthy eater. You likely already buy fresh produce and nuts, which are the most expensive items. Non-dairy milks such as Coconut, Almond, Rice, or Soy are comparable to regular milk, maybe about a dollar more expensive. The major difference is in the protein source. Depending on where you shop, a pack of chicken breasts will cost anywhere from $4-8. A can of beans costs $.80. That’s a pretty significant amount of savings, and if you buy in bulk you save even more. I suppose it could be more expensive to eat a plant-based diet if you were to go out and buy a ton of faux meat products…but eating excessive processed food isn’t a great idea anyway– vegan or not. Embrace those leafy greens!

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Did someone say leafy greens?! Mmmmmm.

4.) Why don’t you eat eggs and milk?

The answer to this really depends on the individual you ask. Some of the reason is because of the stress hormones I mentioned earlier. A lot of it is because many people are lactose averse without even realizing it. Humans are the only species that drink milk after childhood, and we’re not even drinking the milk of our own kind. That’s a little weird, isn’t it? For a lot of people, eliminating dairy gets rid of bloating and digestive issues. There’s also been a lot of research that shows milk not only leeches calcium from your bones, but is also linked to cancer (*Note: It’s pretty easy to get adequate calcium from plant sources like kale, broccoli, or collard greens). For the majority of vegans, however, the choice comes down to ethics. Cows are impregnated repeatedly so they’ll continue to produce milk, but when they give birth, their calves are immediately taken from them and slaughtered. The conditions for both egg-laying hens and dairy cows are not compassionate, and when their production slows, they’re sold to slaughter houses as well. So basically, the egg and dairy industries are immediately tied to meat production, and that’s a major reason why vegans choose to abstain.

5.) OK, But Where Do I Start?

If you’re considering giving veganism a try or if you just want to learn more about the food system, you might be feeling a little overwhelmed about where to start. Don’t worry, the internet is your best friend. Here’s a list of great resources:

Films:

Vegucated, Forks Over Knives, Earthlings, Food Matters, Food, Inc. (Most of these are available to stream on Netflix)

Blogs/Organizations: 

Mercy For AnimalsOh She GlowsPost Punk KitchenVegan LunchboxVegan Outreach (Note: While I am not personally a supporter of PETA, they do offer a lot of handy food information that is great for new vegans HERE)

You can also follow me on pinterest where I post a lot of dinner and dessert recipes: http://www.pinterest.com/jentoyourhealth. There are a ton of great books out there as well, such as the 30-Day Vegan Challenge by Colleen Patrick Goudreau. Once you have an idea of what sorts of meals you want to make, it’s time to hit the grocery store. Everyone likes different things, but here’s a basic list of some of my grocery must-haves to give you some ideas:

Fruit:  Apples, Bananas, Berries, Unsweetened apple sauce, Raisins/Dates
Veggies: Carrots, Lettuce, Spinach, Kale, Onions, Bell Peppers, Cauliflower, Sweet Potato, Broccoli
Beans: White, Black, Chickpeas, Lentils
Dairy Alternatives: Almond milk, Earth Balance (vegan butter), Daiya (Shredded cheese), Canned coconut milk
Miscellaneous: Quinoa, Hummus, Oatmeal, Bread (Check the label for eggs/honey), Coconut flour, Flax meal, Tempeh or Tofu if you aren’t avoiding soy

Now that you’ve got the building blocks, I challenge you to give veganism a try—even if it’s just for a week! You never know what something is really like until you try it. Ok, ok, I know this post wouldn’t be complete without a couple of recipes, right? Both are simple, delicious, and filled with protein. Enjoy!

JP’s 4-Bean Chili

Ingredients:

  1. 1 TBS olive oil (to sauté with)
  2. 1 onion, diced
  3. 4 garlic cloves, minced
  4.  1 Green and 1 Red bell pepper, diced
  5. 2 cans diced tomatoes (do not drain)
  6. 1 can tomato paste
  7. 1 cup marinara sauce or 1 can tomato sauce
  8. 2 TBS chili powder
  9. 1 tsp cumin
  10. 2 tsp black pepper
  11. 1 tsp red pepper
  12. 1 can chili beans (do not drain)
  13. 1 can black beans, 1 can white beans, 1 can chickpeas (rinsed and drained)

Directions:

1.)   In a pot, sauté onion, garlic, and bell peppers until onion turns translucent

2.)   In a separate bowl, combine the 2 cans of diced tomatoes with the can of tomato paste

3.)   Add tomato mixture and all other ingredients to the pot

4.)   Cover and simmer for 30 minutes.

 

Spinach and Broccoli Chickpea Curry

Ingredients:

1.)   1 TBS olive oil (to sauté with)

2.)   ½ onion, diced

3.)   2 cans chickpeas or beans of your choice (I sometimes like to use cannellini)

4.)   2-3 garlic cloves, minced

5.)   1 TBS ginger

6.)   1 tsp curry powder

7.)   1 can lite coconut milk (*Note: you must use the canned kind, not the kind from a carton!)

8.)   1 cup marinara sauce or chunky salsa

9.)    1 cup of chopped broccoli

10.) Handful of torn spinach

Directions

1.)   In a large skillet, heat oil and sauté onion and garlic.

2.)   When it turns translucent, add all other ingredients EXCEPT spinach

3.)   Cook 20 minutes, stirring often until thick

4.)   Add spinach and cook until it wilts

5.)   Serve on a bed of lettuce, rice, or quinoa

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Here’s to a happy, healthy 2014! By the way, I’m always available by comment or email if you have questions or need advice, so don’t hesitate to reach out!

And as always, Remember to breathe.

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7 Comments

  1. jc

    Many of the most successful athletes worldwide are now vegan. While they may differ in that they have decided to go vegan to avoid animal cruelty, for their health, to reduce environmental impact, or other reasons, they have one large similarity. They have proved that excellence and veganism often go together.

    Myths still persist that state that it is not possible to be vegan and be successful in sport. These myths do not have a foundation in science, and athletes build muscle, endurance and ability on plant sources and many go on to achieve great things. The performance of these athletes is proof that veganism can and does enable excellence

    http://www.greatveganathletes.com/
    http://www.veganmuscleandfitness.com/
    http://www.plantbuilt.com/

    • Couldn’t agree more! Thank you for sharing your thoughts and these great links.

  2. I just ordered the vega all-in-one nutritional shake thanks to your glowing recommendation. This post was SO informative and perfect for someone just starting out as a vegan, thanks for the great, easy-to-digest (pun intended) information in this post!

    • I’m so glad you found it helpful! Let me know what you think of the Vega, I hope you like it 🙂

      • I got the vega in the mail this morning, just in time for a late breakfast. I got the vanilla and mixed it with unsweetened silk coconut milk- the flavor was good and it kept me full for 5 or 6 hours!! It was a bit chalky but every shake ever is, so no complaints here, I’m a fan 🙂

  3. Nice! I’m glad you like it! Out of all the flavors I think the chocolate is best (especially w/ unsweetened vanilla almond milk in it), but that probably comes down to personal preference.

  4. Great post – and your spinach and broccoli chickpea curry looks delicious.. I’ll have to try that recipe out!

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