Last Christmas, my generous mom and dad gave me a $200 gift card to one of my favorite stores, Whole Foods. The very next day (why is this sounding like a Wham song?) I put it away somewhere safe, and you know what happens when you do that… it was so safe even I couldn’t find it. For the past 11 months I’ve been annoyed about misplacing this organic shopping spree, and then last week I found the missing gift card! I was thrilled, and immediately started making my list for a plant-based-palooza shopping trip the next day.
Then I had an idea.
With this extra pocket change in a store full of creative culinary ideas, why don’t I try something new? I’m a big fan of clean, whole-foods eating, and I’ve always wondered what eating vegan is like. So maybe this was a perfect chance to give it a try…and blog about it.
To be honest, the idea of cutting meat from my diet is hardly a challenge. While I’ve never been a vegan, I eat mostly vegetarian and have done so since adolescence. I’ve always been turned off by meat and I only consume chicken or turkey a couple of times a week. I don’t think I’ve eaten red meat, pork, or veal in about 25 years.
Dairy, however, is another story. I’m obsessed. The energy I get from yogurt, the satisfied fullness I enjoy after a cold glass of milk, and the way my sandwiches just don’t feel complete without a little cheese on them — dairy is just a mainstay of my diet. Eggs, too, are a favorite of mine, and fuel me in a way little else does. Yup, giving these food sources up was going to be as much of a sacrifice as it would be for a carnivore to give up steak.
Veganism is definitely on the rise. Social media users have blasted our feeds with — dare I say — tempting vegan treats. Supermarkets have entire sections for vegan foods. Even mainstream restaurants offer vegan options.
I’ve seen so many people extol the health benefits of a vegan lifestyle that I wondered how it might benefit me. (The increase in energy many cite was of particular interest to this busy mama!) I love learning, and since this blog is a place to shed light on other experiences, this was an exciting experiment for me.
So for the past week, I went vegan. And I documented what I ate and how it all made my body feel along the way. Keep in mind that this isn’t a debate on what we all feel is best for our bodies and our planet; these are just my findings, as to how my research and my own vegan experience affected my body.
WHAT I LEARNED:
- Veganism does limit your options. Not a slam, just a fact. In reading labels and researching products, I found that many seemingly vegetarian foods contain milk sources which are vegan no-no’s.
- Having said that, there are indeed many non-animal sources of protein to fulfill your daily requirement.
- Veganism encourages clean eating of whole foods. No not the store, but the types of foods which grow as they are. Since packaged and prepared foods often contain ingredients from animal sources, fresh fruit and veggies, nuts, and grains become your go-to, which is clearly a health pro of this lifestyle and may help both your bloodwork and your waistline!
- But… there are indeed some classic “packaged” foods which are 100% vegan and may make the move to Vegan Town a little less homesick. Most pretzels, crackers, and pita chips are fine, and even treats like dark chocolate, some Nature Valley granola bars, puff pastry, and Pillsbury crescent rolls make the cut. (Woo-hoo! Even vegans can win the million dollar Pillsbury bake-off!)
- Veganism requires creativity, even moreso than vegetarianism. In order to benefit from the aforementioned non-animal protein sources, you may need to try new foods, learn how to cook a bit differently, and be open to things like cheese made from nuts. The possibilities may not be “endless,” (see #1) but they’re only limited by your own imagination and open-mindedness. Given the growing popularity of plant-based lifestyles, places like Pinterest and Instagram are great resources for recipe ideas that can keep you from getting bored.
- Vegan diets are in general pretty low in fat. Although I drink low-fat milk and I don’t consume tons of butter, I realized the animal fat I do eat from eggs and dairy was missing, and I think I craved it. Nuts and olive oil provided most of the fat in my diet during this experiment.
- Smoothies are a great go-to for the well-balanced vegan. Sure they’re great for all of us, but I realized how helpful they are to people who need to incorporate nutrients while also satisfying sweet cravings. Fruits, veggies, vitamins, and protein all in one dessert-like slushy is too good to resist.
- If you do consider going vegan 100%, it’s important that you do a lot of research and talk to a nutritionist/dietician and/or your doctor. One of the things I learned in my research was that people who follow vegan diets strictly for long periods of time are at risk of certain vitamin deficiencies (such as B12, which is found naturally only in animal byproducts) that can only be avoided when careful dietary replacements are made. Educate yourself and work with a professional to prevent this.
HOW MY BODY FELT:
This was the most interesting aspect of this experiment for me, and the most telling. Because in all honesty, I did feel a difference both physically and mentally, and it was not positive. Most notably, I felt deprived. And that deprivation made me feel “hangry.” In my mind, I “effed off” the people who sang praises about their vegan increase in energy, because 1) I was hangry, and 2) I felt more tired! While I’m not a nutritionist, I’ve learned from working with nutritionists how to understand my body’s basics. And I honestly believe my body was craving the balanced combination of protein, carbs, and fat that my go-to dairy provides. I feel more satiated after drinking a glass of milk that I ever could downing handfuls of nuts chased with soymilk.
I did question whether my body’s response was almost withdrawl. Could it be that I eat dairy so much that I almost needed more time than a week to detox??Perhaps. But I believe in listening to our bodies… when we’re hungry, when we’re thirsty, when we feel energy and when we don’t… and they tell us what we specifically need. I learned that eating vegan did not give me the balance I need.
WHAT I ATE… AND WHAT I EAT NOW
So exactly what do vegans eat, you might ask? A lot of the same things I already enjoy, I found, but with more restrictions (e.g. dairy, obviously) and with more effort to increase protein. I certainly didn’t get as creative or wild as some committed plant eaters, so note that there’s food options missing here (honestly, I could not eat the nut cheese. Just… no.)
Some of my favorites were, interestingly, meals or snacks I already enjoy: avocado toast, fruit with peanut butter, and rice pilaf with Brussels sprouts and beans. My least favorites? The cupcake I tried for the heck of it, which had zero spongey-cake goodness. And my precious daily bowl of cereal which was corrupted by non-dairy milk. I mean, you’re talking about somebody who adds a splash of heavy cream to cereal to soak up extra richness. Silk is okay as a beverage, but it just doesn’t cut it in my cereal.
Like I normally do, I ate 3 meals a day and snacked in between, which I felt the need to do more when I wasn’t feeling satiated. I also drank a lot of water as usual. (I enjoy juice sometimes but I never drink soda or coffee.) Below is a sample of ideas from my week.
If you’ve read this far, you’ve guessed that I haven’t decided to make a commitment to veganism. It was not for me, because I felt my body didn’t enjoy it or benefit from it. And I believe food should fuel us and keep us healthy, as well as make us happy! Life is about balance, and that goes for eating too!
But this experiment was a great learning experience. It showed me how folks truly committed to this lifestyle eat, and it gave me newfound respect for those so committed to animal rights that they make such a sacrifice. After the week was up, I was ecstatic to drink my first glass of Organic Valley milk and Siggy’s yogurt never tasted so good! And as I always have, I’ll continue to purchase organic and environmentally-conscious dairy brands whose farmers are committed to treating their cows and chickens humanely.
I hope this experiment helps anyone interested in trying plant-based eating to do so safely and while recognizing your own body’s cues. Wishing you all health and happiness!
MY VEGAN MEAL PLAN:
- Breakfast: Peanut butter on toast, with sliced banana
- Lunch out, PFChang’s: Lo mein, Brown rice, Stir fried broccoli, snow peas and carrots
- Tomato pizza with veggies and no cheese, vegan meatballs, vegan cupcake
- Snacks: Rice cakes, fruit, nuts, pumpkin seeds
- Breakfast: Total cereal with soy milk, bananas, blueberries, and strawberries
- Lunch: Whole grain bagel thin with peanut butter, coconut milk yogurt
- Dinner: Spaghetti with tomato sauce, beans, and fresh spinach sauteed in olive oil and garlic
- Snacks: carrots with peanut butter, veggie straws, walnuts, cashews, orange, pita chips with hummus and fresh pico de gallo
- Breakfast: Oatmeal with blueberries and strawberries
- Lunch: Chopped potato and peppers sauteed in olive oil, frozen veggie burger
- Dinner: Pasta in tomato sauce, vegan sausage, fresh steamed broccoli with olive oil
- Snacks: banana with peanut butter, pecans, pumpkin seeds, orange
- Breakfast: Coconut milk yogurt with blueberries and strawberries
- Lunch: Spinach salad with sliced orange, frozen vegan chicken patty
- Dinner: Rice with beans and shaved Brussels sprouts sauteed in olive oil
- Snacks: pecans, walnuts, cashews, orange, fresh veggies and pita chips with hummus and fresh pico de gallo
- Breakfast: avocado toast, orange juice
- Lunch: Kale salad, pretzel roll
- Dinner: Pasta with tomato sauce, beans and peppers sauteed in olive oil
- Snacks: walnuts, cashews, orange, pumpkin seeds
- Breakfast out: Bagel with peanut butter, banana, orange juice
- Lunch out: Qdoba bowl with brown rice, black beans, guacamole, peppers and onions, fresh pico de gallo and tortilla chips
- Dinner: Spaghetti with beans
- Snacks: veggies, walnuts, cashews, orange, pumpkin seeds
- Breakfast: Oatmeal with blueberries and strawberries
- Lunch: Whole grain toast, apple and peanut butter
- Dinner: Banza chickpea pasta, tomato sauce, zoodles and peppers sauteed in olive oil
- Snacks: fresh veggies and pita chips with hummus and fresh pico de gallo, walnuts, cashews, pumpkin seeds, veggie straws