I often get asked questions about being vegan, how to become vegan, what it entails, why I am vegan and what do I eat. Actually, often is an understatement, it’s something that comes up in my daily life, always at dinner parties and meals with friends, and all too often over social media. Hence, I decided to write this brief article about some of my top tips, words of advice, things I had wished I had known before, and some of the more interesting facts that surround being vegan in 2020.
Firstly, and most importantly, this is not a fad diet, new age frenzy or latest trend that will be gone with season’s fashion colours. Being vegan is a way of living, of being responsible for ourselves, our planet, our species, fellow animals and future generations. It is not something that is ‘in’ today and will be ‘out’ tomorrow. If you hear someone say ‘I tried being vegan but it didn’t suit me’, then they simply weren’t vegan. You cannot turn on and off compassion, and this is at the heart of being vegan.
There are three main reasons that someone would go vegan, and more often than not it’s a combination of all three: for the environment, for animals and for health. I have another article on this so won’t delve too deeply into this here, but in short, cutting out animals from your diet and lifestyle, is the single-handed biggest move an individual can make to reduce their carbon footprint. The world can simply not sustain the growing populations demand for food in the form of animals, and animal welfare in factory farms is beyond horrific, being likened to an animal holocaust. The World Health Organisation has officially declared meat as a carcinogenic and there is an overwhelming amount of new evidence that emerges on a daily basis supporting that meat free diets are the most beneficial to reduce some of the western worlds top killers including certain cancers, heart disease, strokes and diabetes type 2.
What can put many people off switching to a plant-based diet is the unknown. And there are many who switch and don’t do it properly, leaving them or their family potentially vitamin or mineral deficient and the press, especially those backed by the animal agriculture organisations or connected to their money, love to jump on this band wagon. The facts remain that if you do it properly, this is an extremely healthy way of living, but being informed is key to making this a success, and all plant-based vegans I know can honestly testify to feeling (and looking) healthier, more energetic and most definitely having better skin!
Therefore, before you switch, make sure you know the difference between plant-based and vegan. You can stop eating animals and animal products, and become a junk food vegan which won’t leave you in a particular healthy state of body or mind. The aim is to introduce a rainbow of colour into your diet with natural, whole, plant-based foods.
Write a list of all the easy vegan food you can cook at home or that you already make, even if you need to make some small alterations like using agave instead of honey, or plant milk instead of cow’s milk. This will make the initial transition so much smoother. Later you will slowly start finding new recipes online or from a fantastic list of vegan cookbooks available.
Read up: personally, when switching our home food to plant-based options, I did a plant-based nutrition course online. There are several to choose from, including lots of amazing cooking classes online (this is still on my ‘to do list’). But even if you don’t take a course, you can buy books like ‘How not to die’ by Michael Greger MD and really get a great insight into what to eat to optimize your body’s health benefits. He even has an app to help you keep track of what you have eaten and encourage you to get in all the heathiest daily options called ‘Daily Dozen’. There are also newsletters you can sign up to like Veganuary’s month challenge where they will send you daily facts, recipes, ideas and inspiration. It’s a great place to start and there’s also tonnes of social media groups and communities you can join to help keep up the momentum and offer support.
Make sure you get your vitamins and supplement if necessary. It is worth going for a blood test to see what you may already be lacking. Many omnivores are deficient in certain minerals yet if a vegan is, its immediately blamed solely on the diet, and not poor daily food intake choices, or genetics… or just a build-up of years of unhealthy eating. Whatever the results, B12 is a must supplement to take if you are embarking on a vegan diet. You do not have to take it daily, but at least twice a week depending the strength of the one you have. Definitely check with a health professional for your ideal dose.
Iodine and Vitamin D are also important. In the Mediterranean, many woman (meaning omnivore women) are Vitamin D deficient which is a striking stat* when considering we are surrounded by sun and good weather throughout the year. So, getting daily sunlight is really important, and if you can’t or still have issues, take supplements. The same with iodine. You can get this from iodized table salt, but some people avoid all salt for blood pressure or if they have small kids at home. The best and easiest supplement I have found for all the family is VEG1 from the Vegan Society and you can order online.
Iron is also important. You can actually get a healthier source of iron from plants, but to maximise absorption its important to also have vitamin c with your meals and iron source. Personally, I don’t like drinking juice with meals, also because of the acidic reaction, however a great way is to squeeze lemon on your lentils for example or make sure you have salad with lemon dressing while eating your beans. I also try to take my vitamin c’s with my main meal if possible.
Being vegan as opposed to vegetarian, means that not only do we aim to eliminate all animal products from our diet, but also from our lifestyles. Make up, fashion, household products, shoes, creams, and more. It’s not always easy, definitely does not happen overnight and takes time. But it is getting easier to find vegan alternatives. There are some great make up options for instance … the first mascara I tried made my eyes water, but I’ve since stumbled across some great options. Shoes, well wow, faux and vegan leather has come so far since the nineties is all I can say. And remember, just because you have gone vegan does not mean that you have to undergo a wardrobe cleanse and chuck everything that isn’t vegan. I still have lots of leather and non-vegan items, and I plan to utilize them until they are worn out. That in itself is being responsible. If there is something that you really can’t bear or don’t want to wear anymore, I suggest selling online and donating the money to a good cause, or giving the items away to someone who needs them.
Finally, and this is really important, being vegan is not a competition. It’s not about who does it best, who’s been vegan the longest, who eats what, when, how and why, or belittling others who are doing their bit, whether vegan or not. The latest I’ve seen and hated was a made up subcategory of vegans on social media, from plant based, junk food, vegan for animals, etc. Just ridiculous. Everyone can mess up, make mistakes, eat something by mistake or simply crave something, but that does not mean they have to pack it all in. Often it is not an all or nothing approach that triumphs, and hence the rise in the new term for people who are ‘flexitarian’ (those who are mainly plant based but won’t beat themselves up if they have a piece of chicken or an egg once a week). Just do your best, and know that whatever you can manage it will make so much difference; to those poor animals, to your amazing body and to this wonderful planet we live on and have a duty to preserve.
Reference for vitamin D study:
My top tips for an easy transition and more inspiration:
‘How Not to Die’ by Michael Greger MD
‘How to go Vegan’ by Veganuary
‘Your Complete Vegan Pregnancy’ – Reed Mangels PhD, RD
‘Why we love Dogs, Eat Pigs and Wear Cows’ – Melanie Joy, PhD
Movies/documentaries to watch:
Forks over Knives, The Game Changers, Cowspiracy, What The Health, Earthlings
Instagram Accounts to follow:
Weareveganuary, thevegan.message , milliondollarvegan , bestofvegan , totallyveganbuzz , veganfacts , SeashellsHealthyLiving , accidentallyveagnuk , pbnfood , holisticguidebook , and whatever appeals to you
Facebook groups to join:
Cyprus Vegan Society (Cyrpus Humane, Vegan & Environmental Society), Vegan Limassol, Vegetarian and Vegan Cyprus, Veganuary, Vegetarian and Vegan Recipes, Vegan Pregnancy and Parenting and there are many more
Newsletters to sign up to:
Immaculate Vegan , LiveKindly, Veganuary, Forks Over Knives
Vegan celebs and notables:
Lewis Hamillton, Joaquim Phoenix, Billie Eilish, Peter Dinklage, Ariana Grade, Miley Cyrus, Davey Havok, Greta Thunberg, Rich Roll, Ellen DeGeneres, Alicia Silverstone, Natalie Portman, Liam Hemsworth, Moby, Olivia Wilde, Michelle Pfeiffer, Woody Harrelson, Benedict Cumberbatch, Zac Efron, Beyonce, James Cameron, Bill Clinton, Gisele Bundchen, Mayim Bialik, Jason Mraz, Ellie Goulding, Venus Williams … to name but a few!
Fashion (vegan and sustainable options):
Immaculate vegan, Nae Vegan Shoes, the.veganvibe , Altiir, Stella McCartney, TOMS, Adidas, and many more!
Makeup: Zao Essece of Nature (https://www.zaoorganicmakeup.com/)*
Facecare : Kypwell (https://kypwell.com/) *
Body care: HEMPZ (https://www.hempz.com/) *in Cyprus they are all sold at Serenity Spa at St Raphael Resort and Marina
Wines (yes, not all wines are vegan! For more info check out https://www.peta.org/about-peta/faq/is-wine-vegan/): one of my personal favourites is Chateau Maguerite Symphonie which is cyprus is sold at French Depot
Disclaimer – this article is meant for informational purposes only and is in no way intended to supersede professional medical advice which should always be sought, especially when taking supplements. If you or any other person has a medical concern, you should consult with your health care provider or seek other professional medical treatment. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something that have read in this article or in any linked materials.