So, I’m a little weird– or at least my eating habits can be. When I used to eat what I considered to be “unhealthy” foods, I had a very limited diet. I didn’t eat a diverse array of foods at all; instead I ate large amounts of the bad foods with limited variety. If you check out my recipe for broccoli in garlic sauce, you’ll see in the blurb before the recipe where I mention that dish was one of the few I got from Chinese takeout. Actually, it was probably 1 of 3 dishes I ever got. Well, another familiar food was burgers. Burgers were practically the only thing I got when I went out to eat with my parents as a kid. Seriously, ask them. No matter what type of restaurant it was, if they had burgers, I got a burger– with fries. Specialty burgers, plain Jane cheeseburgers, but always a burger.
Now, fast forward years later– I eat relatively healthy now, and I eat a huge variety of foods with all types of preparation–not just sautéed veggies — although I eat a lot of (sautéed) veggies these days — but all sorts fried stuff, baked stuff, stuff I’m still not sure how to pronounce (is it SAY-TAN, SEE-TAN, or SAY-TON??), and international fare. The past me would fall over dead if it saw the future me, like “who are you and where is your burger?!”
Of course, in my limited vegan world knowledge, I didn’t know what to expect when it came to foods like burgers. I never stopped loving them– even before going vegan I started eating healthier, and for me, that included eating a lot less meat, but I always loved a good burger every now and then.
But in my vegan exploratory stage (which is still happening actually), I discovered the amazing company Beyond Meat. Then, I discovered the Beyond Meat burger. Then, I discovered true happiness. Okay, I’m slightly exaggerating, but seriously, I finally got my hands on some Beyond Meat burgers, which started being sold to the public in May 2016.
It’s 100% plant-based protein, has under 300 calories in one 1/4 pound patty, and contains no soy or GMO’s. It also has (drum-roll please!) 30% of the daily recommended value of Iron! The only downside is it does have a lot of fat– probably as much as a beef burger patty– but a full-fat burger is an indulgence that is completely allowed. And anyway, I rather my fat come from plants than cows.
But maybe its the fat that adds to the flavor. The amazing flavor of these burgers is insane! I don’t really like comparing vegan items to meat– I can’t speak for all vegans, but the only reason I do it is to try to convince meat-eaters that they won’t be missing out on much if they ditch meat. But I really couldn’t tell the difference between this burger and some meat burgers I’ve eaten in the past. The flavor and texture are spot on.
Although I just had burgers on my birthday a few days ago, making these came about because I really wanted sweet potato fries– then that made me want burgers again. And I had forgotten that I bought these a couple of weeks ago anyway, and I never froze them so I didn’t want them to go bad. Its a good thing I had that sweet potato fries craving. But that’s another amazing thing about vegan food– being that everything is plant-based, it usually lasts a lot longer. Can you imagine forgetting about beef burgers in the fridge for over a week? The smell would probably remind you before you remembered!
But anyway, these were all good reasons to make burgers, so that’s what I did. I had them for dinner tonight and I literally could not contain my excitement– they were SO. FRICKIN. AMAZING. I used a grilling pan also, which I think added to the flavor, not to mention gave the patties some cool grill marks (see inset above). I am more excited everyday as I discover all of the food I am not missing out on because it exists in my new vegan world. In fact, I have yet to find food that can’t be “veganized”!
Scroll down to see awesome pics of the burger, which I served with sweet potato fries– not from scratch, but still delish.
A few deets on the burger: I seasoned them with a little bit of salt and pepper before grilling. Then, I decked them out with some kale, tomato, red onion, and coconut herb vegan cheese slices. The sauce is Organic Sriracha and Roasted Garlic BBQ sauce from, of course, Trader Joe’s.
PRO Tip: The buns I used were basic, store-brand, cheap (but vegan!) hamburger buns. But they look all glossy and brioche-like don’t they? All I did was smooth a tiny layer of olive oil over the top and threw them in a warm oven for about 3 minutes. I don’t know the exact temperature the oven was at because it was cooling down from the sweet potato fries, but it might have been about 300 degrees or so. After you take them out, not only are they a little toasty, but you get that glossy “egg-wash” effect on the top bun!
Behold! What you see before you are some epic vegan birthday cupcakes! However, they’re not my cupcakes.
But today is my birthday.
And the cupcakes were for someone’s birthday.
Just not mine.
But I’m showing them off anyway, because cupcakes are way better than cakes– everybody gets their own personal one, the flavor options and combos are insane, and somehow it’s way more socially acceptable to get a second and third cupcake than it is to cut more slices of one big cake?
Therefore, I’m putting anyone who knows me on notice now– for any future birthdays, cupcakes are the way to go. 😀
All these beautiful cupcakes are from Sweets By CHLOE. ❤
So you’re probably wondering, if I didn’t get cupcakes, what did I get for my birthday?
Well, scroll down to see some of my birthday adventures!
I still got to enjoy some awesome vegan goodies on my special day– although I got those Sweets By CHLOE. cupcakes for another birthday a little while back — I actually did dine at the savory counterpart and original locale, By CHLOE. for a bomb birthday dinner with a pal.
Take a look at what we feasted on:
And it gets even better. This was more than just a celebratory birthday feast– it also commemorated my 6 month vegan anniversary! Time flies when you’re saving the animals and the planet. I couldn’t believe that 6 months had gone by so quickly– I’m already halfway toward being vegan for a year! Not that I’m counting or anything, but it does feel good to know that with each passing milestone such as this one, my commitment to the pillars of veganism are that much more obvious to both myself and others.
That food was good– amazing actually. If I could afford to, I’d eat at By CHLOE. everyday. But I was much happier knowing that I celebrated my birthday by commemorating this new lifestyle that pays so much forward and has such a huge impact on so many things!
So stick with me and check-in in another 6 months– I’m pretty sure I’ll still be going strong.
I’m kind of obsessed with learning. Whenever I discover something that’s of interest to me, I try to become really informed on the topic. The same went for going vegan. And even though I thought there wouldn’t be much to it (and even though I still have a lot to learn), I soon discovered just how many layers there are to being a vegan– layers that go far beyond simply the foods we eat.
The “three pillars” (as I like to refer to them as) of veganism are:
Health. Animals. Planet.
If you’re a vegan, you’re probably a vegan for one, two or all three of these reasons.
Two of those pillars carry over into many other areas of life: animals and the planet.
Vegans love animals. That’s kinda why we don’t eat ’em. We believe they are sentient creatures who don’t deserve to be killed for someone’s dinner (or breakfast, or lunch, or snack– you get where I’m going with this). We also believe that not only is it wrong to eat them, but that the treatment and handling that they endure prior to and leading up to becoming “food” is cruel and unusual, inhumane, and just plain mean and sad.
Vegans (usually) also love the planet. This goes hand-in-hand with the whole loving animals thing. We understand that all creatures share this planet together, and that we should take care of the Earth the same way it takes care of and provides for us. We are aware that tons of emissions are unnecessarily produced due to the transportation methods, and large amounts of land and water use that come from farming animals that will be killed for meat or treated horrifically (and possibly harmed) for dairy, and that is one reason that we try to focus on living a more sustainable life– as a sort of compensation to Mother Earth to show we are doing our part to reverse the effects of everything that contributes to polluting the planet.
So you see, being vegan isn’t just about the food we eat (or choose not to eat) .
Then how do these philosophies spill over into the rest of our lives as vegans? How do the products we use, the clothes we wear, and the ways we choose to interact with all living creatures define us, if at all?
Just how vegan are you?
How vegan am I?
This is the question I asked myself a few weeks into becoming a vegan. It was extreme sensory overload as I wrecked my brain trying to figure out how many things I owned that contained animal products, and attempted to decipher what things like dimethylamine was– an ingredient I kept seeing pop up in shampoo and conditioner ingredient lists. Was it an animal derivative??
Then the paranoia set in. I began to obsessively think: what if most things are animal derivatives with codes names like dimethy– the stuff I just mentioned. What if absolutely everything people consume or use has some sort of animal product in it unless It’s marked “certified vegan”??
After my mini meltdown, I realized it’s 2018 and I can just Google this stuff.
As I mentioned, if something is marked with the “certified vegan” logo then you can be sure that it is definitely vegan. No need to read the label or try to search what a specific ingredient is when it’s not hiding behind its fancy code name. Per the vegan.org website, this certification serves the following purpose:
“The Certified Vegan Logo is a registered trademark, similar in nature to the kosher mark, for products that do not contain animal products or byproducts and that have not been tested on animals. The certified logo is easily visible to consumers interested in vegan products and helps vegans to shop without constantly consulting ingredient lists. It also helps companies recognize a growing vegan market, as well as bringing the word Vegan—and the lifestyle it represents—into the mainstream.”
But there are also a ton of products that most vegans on social media have loving deemed “accidentally vegan”. This term applies to products that don’t have the certified vegan trademark, but are indeed vegan based on the ingredients the product contains. The company or brand either didn’t bother having the product certified or just didn’t care. That’s why it’s so important to look at the labels on everything! Even items that we think are or should be vegan sometimes aren’t, so reading the label works both ways– you’ll find accidentally vegan items but you’ll also discover that items you thought would be vegan actually aren’t!
Getting used to reading labels took a little time for me. Okay, a lot of time. Okay, I still get annoyed with reading labels! Not to mention I don’t always remember to do it. I’m going on 6 months vegan and still forget to read labels all. the. time. It was a little frustrating because I would toss something in the cart while grocery shopping (with the awareness that it should or might likely be vegan) but then a few minutes later, and sometimes right away, I would have a nagging feeling saying either “you forgot to read the label to double-check if it’s vegan”, or “are you sure that’s vegan because you never even used it before”, and I would just stop everything and read the label. Although it sounds like it shouldn’t be a big deal, it can sometimes feel like a hassle simply because It’s time consuming and I have always been impatient — that’s just one of my human traits, even aside from being vegan! Then there’s the “dimethylamine dilemma” again– that is to say I would sometimes come across hard-to-pronounce ingredients, and have no idea if they were animal derivatives. So then I felt defeated. And then I’d spend more time trying to figure it all out by searching for it on my phone, but there was either no wi-fi or my phone would claim it wasn’t connected to the internet or blah, blah, blah– this literally happened on multiple occasions. Recently, I spent almost 10 minutes in the hair care aisle to find a suitable conditioner that I felt was animal and eco-friendly enough for me to purchase. I won’t divulge the brand but here’s a snapshot of the label and everything it had on it that convinced me to try it…plus it was on sale, plus it was like a 32 oz. bottle!
Woohoo! High-five for doing your part to save the plant shampoo company! But, to my disappointment, once I got home and looked up some of the other stuff on the ingredients list, I was not too happy to discover that some of the things in there could have have very well been derived from animals. For example, the conditioner also contains a product called stearyl alcohol– this product comes from stearic acid, which is a naturally occurring fatty acid that may be derived from sperm whale oil. It has many functions in beauty products, some of which may be: an emulsion stabilizer and a fragrance ingredient*. I totally took my high-five back.
But did I throw the conditioner out? No, I didn’t. I didn’t because this is a trial and error journey for me. Some things I can look up right away, but some things I will have to inevitably learn about along the way. And I definitely can’t afford to learn all of these lessons through my wallet! Sale or no sale, I still had to pay for that conditioner! I could make my own homemade conditioner, but a lot of the recipes I’ve seen still contain products such as eggs or mayonnaise or yogurt. Maybe I’ll make an avocado conditioner or just start investing in vegan shampoo and conditioner brands, but for now, I’m not gonna beat myself up over the conditioner hysteria.
And this brings me back to the questions:
Just how vegan are you?
How vegan am I?
Are you certain that every single product you consume and use is 100% vegan?
Do you have to live off the grid to be a legit 100% vegan? Maybe not.
Is it difficult to be 100% vegan in a world that is already accustomed to using animal products and by-products in practically everything? A little bit.
You could create a checklist of everything you use, and everything you do in life, and it would still be difficult to be completely certain. (1) Foods. check. (2) Clothing. check. (3) Hair products. check. (4) Body products. check. (5) Anything else. check??
I’m trying to be as diligent as possible when it comes to surveying what’s in my food. Luckily, I already didn’t wear real leather or any sort of animal-containing clothing– but I currently own 1 thing in my entire wardrobe that is real leather– a pair of boots I brought almost 2 months before I went vegan, in preparation for winter. The boots cost a pretty penny, so there was no way I was gonna throw them out in the dead of winter even after I decided to take the vegan plunge. I’m currently trying to inform myself of vegan hair and body products I can purchase. The good news there is that vegan brands are becoming more mainstream and soon, the price points and availability will be accessible to everyone!
But what about “anything else”?
Do you consider yourself vegan if you interact with creatures that most people tend to look down on in a negative way? By that I mean, would you harshly swat a fly? Kill a mosquito? What about step on ants? Roaches? Spiders? Centipedes?
When I first went vegan, I decided I would have to stop harming absolutely every creature in existence, and I didn’t think it was impossible to do. But I started my journey in the winter when there weren’t too many insects and bugs around anyway. As it got warmer, the real test began.
And I was completely good at first. I saw a few critters in my place, and didn’t try to savagely jump on them. This was a change for me, because in the past, I’d kill bugs immediately. But a couple of months ago, my place (of course!) became infested with ants. I was actually surprised at the help people offered– I put my infestation debacle on my Instagram story, as a slight plea for help, and I got a decent amount of messages telling me how to get rid of them naturally. So I tried several things. Some things didn’t work at all. Some things worked for a little while, but then I would wake up or come home and see more ants. This went on for a few weeks until finally I couldn’t take it anymore. I bought ant-bait. And within a couple of days most of the ants were gone.
Now the moral of this story may be different for me than for you. Some of you may no longer want anything to do with me and may now view me as a cold-hearted murderer. But for me, I always repeat the phrase this is a journey for me. And honestly, I was really happy with myself (someone who used to hate bugs and insects!) for taking the time to be patient and try to make the ants leave in a peaceful and humane way. The use of an exterminator never crossed my mind even once, and only when I felt like I was becoming outnumbered and couldn’t handle it anymore did I decide to take more severe action.
My point is, I don’t consider myself less vegan because of how I handled the ant situation. I also know that I will absolutely be more aware of how I interact with creatures that a lot of people don’t automatically associate with being sentient, such as bugs and insects. In fact, this past weekend I saw a spider and my first thought was not to kill it but instead it was: “where were you weeks ago when I was dealing with all those ants! You could have taken care it for me!” So think about these sorts of things in your vegan journey too– how have you handled these types of situations? How would you handle them?
But back to product usage for a moment– I found this awesome and extremely informative post on another vegan site/blog, which knocked my freakin’ socks off– I couldn’t believe that some of these products were not vegan. One of my friends had already warned me that a popular red food dye was made from crushed animal shells–but I had no idea they were using that dye in products like cranberry juice! Bug shells in cranberry juice? Seriously?? But it just reiterated to me that this is a long fight. People have evolved to become dependent on animals as a major economic source in all areas of life, not to mention the most obvious, as a food source (which also links back to the economy). Changing that dependence isn’t going to happen overnight. But what gives me hope is the knowledge that the option to not use animals is there! It’s possible to make almost anything that currently exists on the market today, food or otherwise, vegan. With plant-based ingredients.
Similar to what the author says in that article I linked above, I mention all of these struggles not to make anyone feel defeated but to be real and honest about some of the trials I’m going through. Things that you will likely go through also. But knowing this will help you to become more aware and be able to make more informed purchases and choices. Maybe you have the most patience in the world, and don’t mind spending the extra time in the supermarket going through a list of 30+ ingredients with a fine-toothed comb. Maybe you’re fully okay with getting rid of anything you own, clothing or otherwise if it has anything that is derived from animals (or is an animal) in it. And maybe you already love insects and have always wished you could live in a rain forest, or feel completely at ease in the presence of these creatures so, not harming them offers no challenge to you at all.
But sometimes, these choices aren’t so easy. And sometimes, you’ve been vegan for several months, only to discover that half the things you’ve been using on your body and hair still have animal derivatives or by-products in them. And sometimes, ( like this girl right here!) you’ve been enjoying bagels thinking they’re vegan, only to discover that some of them still aren’t vegan! The point is: don’t go crazy over it! Even with the three pillars of veganism screaming inside your head, sometimes it can still be hard making sure something is 100% vegan.
It doesn’t mean that you care any less or that you aren’t trying. Your efforts are still appreciated– but the reality is that as a vegan, you are part of a minority that lives in a world where the majority of products have been created using animals. So to live in that world, sometimes you have to adjust. It doesn’t mean you should give up! Don’t stop reading labels, switching over to vegan brands, or making your own products. And be aware that even when it feels like you’re on the losing end of the battle, you aren’t! Progress is being made everyday. Every minute. Every second. Change is happening! That means don’t ever question how vegan you are, and don’t ever let anyone else question it either!
So how vegan are you? Do you judge others for the choices they make in their vegan lifestyles, consciously or subconsciously? Do you feel It’s okay to abide by some “vegan rules” but not by others? Let me know in the comments!
and P.S – for the record, dimethylamine is an organic compound that is flammable and has an ammonia-like odor**– probably not the best stuff to wash your hair with.
Edit**: As of March 21, 2019, I am now 100% leather-free in my wardrobe and belongings. I stated that I only had 1 item earlier in this post, however, over the past few months and up to now, I discovered that I had a few more things that were actually leather which I had forgotten about. I gave them away (mostly to my mom) because they were either very used or not really used a lot meaning that I wasn’t even attached to them as part of my wardrobe and belongings anyway. I don’t think everyone has to give away their items when they go vegan. The damage has already been done if you own clothing and/or accessories that are not cruelty-free or that contain animal products. However, for me, leather is a little different. Most of my wardrobe is comprised of clothing from fast fashion brands– but because I love clothes, they aren’t the super cheap, low-quality pieces, so I’m not giving away those pieces because I can’t afford a new wardrobe. I don’t feel that way about leather though. I feel really bad carrying leather for some reason. I hate wearing the boots I mention in this article, but until I can get a vegan pair, I’ll continue to use those for now.
It’s important to have support in anything that we do. If we don’t have at least a small level of support, we can feel alone and uncertain. This can lead to a loss of motivation, and sometimes, even worse — failure.
But there’s also a flip side– some people are motivated by a lack of support (there are just too many different types of people in the world for this not to be the case). They see it as a challenge, and it pushes them to succeed. Maybe not the healthiest way to proceed with things, but it’s reality.
Personally, I’m a mixture of both– I’ve had my moments where I felt like I didn’t have any support, and used that to drive and push me further. But I also relish in having support from friends and family. When and where each side pops up is usually contextual and depends on what’s going on.
When I went vegan, I wasn’t sure how the whole support thing would go. I decided to change to a vegan diet on my own, almost on a whim. I thought it through to a small degree, and I also feel like it might have been a natural occurrence of a (possibly?) destined path for me, but overall, it could definitely be classified as a whim. I had one person who I had discussed my decision with on and off– my friend Rita. But she wasn’t a catalyst for anything. So going in, I wasn’t expecting her to hold my hand through the process.
Then there was family. I decided to do this right before Thanksgiving– right before the start of the holiday season. My mom always cooks for Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s. I felt bad asking her to make food specifically for me that didn’t include any meat, dairy or butter– all items she uses to cook various dishes with.
And then there was extended family and friends. I don’t see my extended family often–usually only during major events. And the same with friends– we get together sometimes when we can, and sometimes (well, often) our gatherings involve food in some way, shape, or form.
So I didn’t expect extended family and friends to jump through hoops and wheels to accommodate my new dietary needs.
But I was actually surprised at the level of support I received.
Rita was amazing. She cooked food with me, and made me food, which is even better 🙂 She also went to vegan restaurants with me, so I was able to explore NYC’s vegan food scene with someone and I didn’t have to do it on my own. She suggested places I hadn’t even heard of yet, and would even randomly take me on late-night vegan food runs– I didn’t even think that could be a thing. So Rita, I ❤ you for supporting my vegan journey so much, especially when you had and have so much to do in your own life!
As for my mom, she offered a tremendous amount of support also. Not only did she end up making me stuff to eat for Thanksgiving, but she literally made them from scratch– she used new recipes entirely as opposed to just omitting the parts I couldn’t eat. I was so happy that she put that much effort into supporting my journey. And now, six months later, she still makes me veggies to take home — in fact, some of the stuff she makes me is featured on my Instagram food page so check that out! And thanks mom — you were already greatly loved you but this just makes me feel even more appreciative to have you!
As for friends and extended fam, this is still unfolding. Mostly all my friends know I’m vegan now, and I haven’t been out to eat with non-vegans often– I went to a birthday outing in April that included going to a non-vegan restaurant…luckily the place we went to had some vegan options. I also went out to eat with a couple of friends who are far from vegan. In fact, one of them is a fellow foodie and I did a foodie collaboration with him recently — his page makes it a point to clearly state that practically everything posted has meat in it. BUT… he and another non-vegan friend went to a vegan restaurant with me!
I haven’t been to any major family gatherings since going vegan, but needless to say, I’m already preparing for the possibility of having to bring my own food. But considering the way things have been going, that isn’t the worst thing in the world.
So support is important. If you have friends or family who are vegan and want to help as you transition to a vegan lifestyle, realize how amazing that is! They offer moral support at times where you may question if this lifestyle is sustainable or worth it– I now think it’s impossible to feel that it isn’t worth it, but I know it is possible and it’s only become “impossible” for me because I continue to learn about why this lifestyle is important and impactful. And a support system helps with that too– providing knowledge! They reinforce what you may already be learning about a vegan lifestyle, but they can also provide info you may not be familiar with, especially in the early stages.
Here are a few more reasons why it’s both important and helpful to have a support system:
1. They offer real-life experience stories.
It’s one thing to Google how things go when someone tries a new vegan food or tries omitting food groups from they’re diet or tries to go raw vegan for a week. But there’s something about getting info on these various things from someone you know who can offer support. The info feels more real and personal, and it might also be less politically correct and without filters, so you get the real-deal from people who care.
2. They serve as a reminder of why you’re doing it in the first place.
Like the old saying goes: “you are who you hang out with”. I no longer believe this to be entirely true– I think it’s possible to be an individual despite being around others who share different viewpoints or live different lives. But I do believe that whatever we are exposed to the most can rub off on us, whether consciously or sub-consciously, even if just a little bit. So being around a support system that understands and supports what you are doing reiterates why you’re doing it. Whether your support system is made up of vegans, non-vegans, or both, if they’re offering support, then they’re reminding you that you’re living this way for a reason. For example, maybe you’re still a new vegan and you used to eat meat. And now you’re craving a burger. Or cheese. Or a cheeseburger. And you know the horrible processes that go into producing that burger. But then, your vegan friend comes in with the best and most perfect timing and invites you to go get vegan burgers and fries. And after feeling slightly guilty for wanting to eat a poor cow, you realize that it’s not the beef you miss, but the smoky flavors and juicy textures of a burger. It’s the pickles and sauces that come on the burger. And all of that can be created with a plant-based burger. And there you have it…your vegan friend just reminded you how awesome being vegan truly is.
3. They give you food and lifestyle ideas!
Maybe you’re still exploring the food options you have as a vegan. Any support can offer meal ideas or combinations of foods that are yummy that you didn’t think of. Also, a lot of vegans often expand their vegan lifestyle into other areas that include becoming more eco-friendly. Support systems can offer help there too– telling you things that they have already done or giving you ideas of things you can do that may be easy to incorporate into your new life.
4. And sometimes, they just give you food!
I include my mom in my vegan support system and she is not vegan. At all. But she supports me by making me a container filled with delicious veggies that I can use in my meals. Also, your vegan support system may just gift you with vegan goodies. When I was still exploring becoming a vegan, my pal Rita gave me a mason jar of chia pudding. It was my first time ever having chia pudding, and now I’m hooked!
And finally, they just offer support! They may ask you how your health is doing since going vegan, they may ask how it is being vegan, and some of them may just say that they think it’s admirable or awesome, even though they could “never do it”. Basically what most vegans have said before they went vegan.
So find your support!
If you don’t have support near you, join vegan communities on Instagram and Facebook. Or trying looking for groups that meet near you on a site like Meetup.com. It’s 2018 so finding support online may not be as hard as you think. And veganism isn’t such a foreign concept anymore. It is likely that you can find some source of support– be it people, a local restaurant or a even a vegan club. And if you still can’t find support, hang on and stay strong and remember that your health, the Earth and the animals are thanking you for your efforts. Soon enough, you’ll be able to find a support system!
If you’re following my vegan journey blog, then you know I have nutrient issues I’ve been trying to fix for a while now. It started when I found out I was anemic– specifically iron-deficient anemic. Then, once I finally took control of my health and fitness, I figured I should just pay attention to all nutrients because that could probably fix anything else I had (or thought I had) issues with.
But then I went vegan. And although I still feel like it was the best decision I could have made for myself, I knew I would have to go over my nutrients again. It was actually kind of funny because within a few weeks of going vegan, it hit me like a rock…
**Hmm, you know that thing that happens when you say something, or in this case type something, and it happens to be the title or lyrics of a song you really like? And then that song pops in your head and you can’t get it out? Well that just happened, so I had to put on CSS’s “Hits Me Like a Rock” — which is a great song by a great band, but I digress 🙂 **
… that I hadn’t eaten meat for some time and my first thought was “oh no, what’s happening with my iron?” I hadn’t taken iron supplements in over a year– in fact, I stopped way before I went to the doctor and found out that I wasn’t even anemic anymore (I know, I was the worst with taking my health seriously). I figured maybe my intake of iron through meat sources had been enough. Not to mention I was also lazy and forgetful when it came to taking supplements.
But in any case, I was no longer eating meat — so now what?
I looked up plant-based iron sources immediately and initially, I was both happy and sad at what I discovered. That led me to look up the top nutrients that vegans lack on a plant-based diet. Here’s what I found and what I felt was most applicable to me and possibly you too:
Iron was automatically at the top of my list because of the whole anemia thing (old deficiencies die hard). Iron is important because it helps transport oxygen through the body — it’s a major component of hemoglobin which is the part of red blood cells that takes oxygen from the lungs to the rest of the body. Too little iron means the body can’t make enough red blood cells. So, when I discovered that iron is found in tons of plant-based foods such as dark, leafy greens (kale, collards, swiss chard), many nuts and seeds (cashews, pistachios), tofu and tempeh, I was thrilled because I already consumed these foods. But then I found out that there are two different types of iron. Heme-iron and non-heme iron. Heme-iron is only found in animal meat sources, and it is more readily absorbed by our bodies. All of the plant-based foods I just mentioned are higher only in non-heme iron, which is the type found in plant-based foods and is not as easily absorbed by the body. But that doesn’t mean you have to lack in iron. Here’s what I started doing to ensure I was getting enough of the mineral:
I increased my intake of non-heme iron foods, but in small increments over the course of the day. Apparently, eating too much can actually have the opposite effect on iron absorption–and absorption is the important part!
I started consuming non-heme iron foods with vitamin C rich foods — this increases absorption a whole bunch.
Also, I try not to eat this non-heme iron and vitamin C combo with any caffeine which can cause absorption interference.
So there you have it — A few changes and now I have complete control over my iron — just call me Magneto 😉
Most people think of milk as the only calcium source, but this isn’t true! There’s a ton of plant-based calcium sources — some of which might be better than milk. Calcium is very important when it comes to building strong muscles and teeth, and in supporting our skeletal structure– so making sure we are getting enough of it is key. Most dairy-products do contain the mineral but not naturally– they are actually fortified with calcium. Plant-based sources like edamame, tofu, black-eyed peas, kale and mustard greens, and sesame seeds contain a decent amount of calcium in each serving, ranging from about 10% to 33% of the daily recommended value! Plus the mineral occurs naturally in all of these foods.
Check out this page to get the percent breakdown as well as see other calcium-rich foods you should add to your diet! **The page does include some non-vegan calcium sources– it only omits dairy sources.
Vitamin B-12 is the vitamin that vegans tend to lack the most– it’s super important for our nerve cells and also helps with DNA production among the many other important functions it contributes to. But the sucky part is that it is only naturally occuring in animal sources, hence the widespread need for vegans (and vegetarians) everywhere to get more of it. The annoying part is that it isn’t found in the animal itself, but is actually found in the soil that the animals eat — and that is how it gets into the animals. So can we get some scientists working on making this soil edible for us vegans?
Well, they sort of have been working on it. Plant-based sources of B-12 are only found in foods that have been fortified with the vitamin, but there are also some foods that contain it in small amounts, such as mushrooms that have been grown in B-12 rich soil — woohoo! Some plant-milks are fortified with B-12, but not every brand fortifies their milk– check the label to be sure. By far, the most popular fortified vegan-friendly food that contains B-12 is nutritional yeast — the amazing nooch. I’d heard so much about it when I first went vegan, and didn’t understand the hype until I tried it. Yes, it’s yummy. And most fortified nutritional yeast contains the recommended daily amount in one serving. For example, Trader Joe’s nutritional yeast contains 3.1 mcg in the 1 tablespoon serving size — that’s 130% of the daily recommended amount!*
But like iron, absorption is key, and B-12 is best absorbed when consumed in smaller amounts. So go easy on the nooch in one sitting and consider using it throughout the day. Also, vitamin B-12 may be more easily absorbed in supplement form altogether, so do some research on it!
Okay, before all the vegans across the globe ban together to hunt me down, let me clarify what I mean by a necessity for protein!
I know, I know — it’s highly unlikely to suffer from a protein deficiency. In fact, one of the most popular types of vegan memes include the ones with jokes about the ignorance of the general public as to how much protein humans really need, as well as their perceived idea that vegans get absolutely no protein since we don’t eat meat.
Vegans however, are aware that most plant-based sources of protein are actually higher in protein than some popular animal meat sources.
So why do I mention protein as a nutrient to be wary of lacking? Well when I started this blog post, I did mention that all of these nutrients were applicable to me (and maybe you too!). So I mention protein because I am physically active. I move around a lot, I run, and I use my muscles — while training but also in my everyday life because I currently work at a job that’s labor intensive.
So for me, making sure I get enough protein is a reality because I need to rebuild my muscles regularly so I don’t have to function in pain– and protein plays a key role in helping to rebuild and repair those tiny little tears that occur in your muscles after you workout (the tears are the reason you’re sore after you strength train!). If you are currently physically active or plan on incorporating more physical activity (particularly any form of strength training) into your life, you should probably make sure you are indeed getting enough protein. It’s an easy thing to miss because as an omnivore who strength trains, it is likely that you would eat eggs, chicken and beef daily, which are considered “healthy” and “high-protein” sources. But on a plant-based diet, you may not automatically consume some of the best protein sources such as tofu, seitan, beans, quinoa, chickpeas or peanuts daily. Some people do whether they are active or not, which is great. I try to consume a lot of these foods daily whether I’m training or not because I want to keep my diet varied. It helps not only in the nutrients department, but also keeps me from getting bored with what I’m eating– I hate eating the same thing everyday– unless it’s pizza… I could eat pizza every. day.
So the chances of you having a protein deficiency are very low, but just be aware that you might need to up your plant-based protein intake if you’re strength-training or super active!
And remember, I’m not a doctor so I can’t say what will work best for ensuring that you get all of these nutrients. It’s best to check with your doc before doing any of these things. Also, see if it makes sense to take a multi-vitamin or any specific supplements to get some of the daily recommended amounts of most of these nutrients. And of course, keep your vegan diet rich in fresh foods that are high in various nutrients and you should be good!
*For most adults the recommended daily amount of vitamin B-12 is about 2.4 – 2.8 mcg.
Going vegan is harder for some folks than it is for others. I admit, I contemplated if writing a full blog post on this topic made sense for various reasons — the main reason being that I thought maybe going vegan for me wasn’t “hard enough”. Why did I think this?
Well, since I went vegan, I’ve spoken to a variety of people who have both inspired and enlightened me. Here are a few archetypes I’ve had the pleasure of talking to over the past several months:
The “O.G” vegan: This is the person who went vegan way back in the sixties or seventies, long before it was trendy, cool, or even known to have such an impact on health, or the environment. These are the veteran vegans — everyone thought they were crazy for doing it, and maybe they were because they didn’t have the wealth of food options that vegans have today. They were pretty much obligated to be raw vegans (well, they could cook their veggies too). Oh, but they also had tofu. Just tofu (and later seitan around the mid-1970s). I’ve heard their stories of feeling like outcasts because of their choice to go vegan, but I’ve also heard their stories of how going vegan was the healthiest thing they could have done — those were my favorite parts. And ya know, when you’re trying to save the planet and the animals, having a limited amount of food options and being judged by society can pale in comparison, because you know that what you’re doing is for the greater good. “O.G” vegans truly deserve our admiration — they were pioneers!
The small town vegan: This type of vegan also fancies a lot of raw goodies, but they have also mastered how to prepare cooked veggies about 100 different ways and to somehow turn about three different veggies into 40 different meals (I completely stole this skill and am still honing it!). They are also big on prepared foods like Daiya’s “mac ‘n’ cheez”. The main struggle here is access to and availability of vegan food options other than raw foods, pasta and peanut butter. Small town vegans don’t always have easy accessibility to products which have not become as popular in certain areas, like staple proteins such as tofu and seitan, and also vegan cheez, because not enough people consume them where they live. And even the larger supermarkets or big-box stores which are more likely to carry these products may not be easily accessible, so they have to make trips there every so often and stock up in bulk. **Disclaimer: I am fully aware that this is not accurate of ALL vegans who live in small towns, but is applicable of some!
The raw vegan: The classic raw vegan. I think this is what most people think of first when they hear the word “vegan”. These days, a lot of people adopt a raw vegan diet for a week or two, in an attempt to lose weight. But for true raw vegans, this isn’t a diet– it’s a lifestyle. So what exactly is a raw vegan? Well the name somewhat explains it: they’re vegan — so no animal products or animal byproducts. But they also consume the majority of their food fully raw or cooked very minimally for the purpose of achieving maximum nutritional value. For a food to be considered “raw”, it can not be cooked above a temperature of 105-120 degrees Fahrenheit. This type of veganism takes a lot of commitment and can be a struggle to fully change over to, especially if you’re going from a full carnivore and dairy diet to a raw vegan diet. And then you also have to worry about nutrition, maybe even more so than vegans who cook their food. But some people swear by it as a great way to improve health.
Each of these groups had or have it a bit hard when it comes to their vegan life. Their decisions were obviously motivated by something greater than themselves, because it took a lot of dedication and commitment to stick with something that may not have come easily. You could be motivated by being passionate about what you’re doing, by feeling obligated to do it, or simply by the main pillars of veganism which are health, animals, and the environment (in no specific order). Like I said, learning from these groups and talking to people within them has enlightened me as to what I can do to make my personal vegan journey better, in spite of any struggles I have had myself, which I still feel pales in comparison to the ones above.
So what have I struggled with?
Here are some that have come about since I went vegan:
Getting used to cooking all of (well, most of) my meals: Like most people, I have a very busy schedule. I work, I’m in grad school, and I have to take care of everything else that occurs in life — the daily monotonous stuff as well as the out-of-the blue things that always seem to pop-up at the most random times. I didn’t grow up loving to cook, and I actually didn’t start cooking until very recently. I have come to appreciate it now, but it is still in the “greatly admired hobby” stage — except it isn’t just a hobby. It’s a necessity. Being vegan kind of forces you to have to cook the majority of your meals. That is, unless you can afford to eat vegan take-out every night, which I can’t. Heck, even the places I’ve eat out at since I became vegan have been questionable on my finances. Lets just say that a lot of the great vegan fare I’ve been able to partake of has been paid for by some of my ever-growing student loan debt (mom, I apologize for that if you’re reading this). But it isn’t all bad. Learning how to cook is an essential survival skill, and if you can make food that actually tastes good, that’s even better. The issue is that I don’t always feel like cooking every. single. night. I know I can meal prep or make large meals at the beginning of the week, but I have another issue there. I’ve been very adamant about not using a microwave as much — I’m not super strict with it, but I have maybe used my microwave about three-five times in the past month. My goal is to not use it as often because of the radiation it emits when heating and cooking food. Supposedly it’s a very small amount, but I don’t trust that fully and so although I haven’t committed to getting rid of the appliance yet, I’ve been content with not using it as much. And who knows what I may end up doing with it in the future. But the point is, finding the time to actually make a meal when I’m feeling tired, lazy, or really don’t have the time can be difficult. But I’m still pushing myself to do it, and it does get easier with time.
Getting used to being around family/friends who are not vegan: Earlier this month, I went out with a group of friends to celebrate a birthday — it was my first outing to a non-vegan restaurant with non-vegan people. Yikes. I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to eat anything, although my current go-to “non-vegan place” food is always there as my safety cushion — french fries. I looked up the menu before we went, and thank goodness they actually had not one but two vegan options! But I am dreading the time where I have to go out to a place that doesn’t have an online menu or doesn’t offer any vegan food. I am also still in the stage where I can’t expect all of my extended family to know about my new vegan life. Meat and dairy are in a lot of dishes that are common in my culture (when prepared traditionally), so until everyone knows I’m vegan, I might have to bring my own food. My mom has been very supportive — she made me a few things during the holiday season which came about right after I went vegan and I can’t wait to introduce her to the wonderful vast world of vegan food.
Beginning the transition to all vegan products: In my head I knew that being vegan would extend to other areas of my life, but initially, it still wasn’t a tangible concept. At first I was more focused on finding out what I could and couldn’t eat. Once I became more comfortable with the food part, I started to realize how many things we use in life are not vegan. Things like hair styling products, shampoos and conditioners, body products, makeup, and even floss; most waxed floss is coated with beeswax. I am still in the process of making sure I only use vegan products. Sometimes I forget to look at the ingredients on something, but it happens and I’m sure it will happen to all the other newbie (and even veteran) vegans out there. But soon enough it’ll be second nature to check the label.
Making sure I’m getting all the nutrients I need: I used to suffer from iron-deficient anemia. I went a decent amount of time without knowing this — being sick and suffering from dizzy spells and not knowing why. Because of this experience along with a desire to take better care of myself overall, I try to make sure I’m always getting all the nutrients I need. Going vegan made this even more important, because as a vegan, if you don’t eat a diverse array of foods it is all too easy to start lacking in key nutrients such iron and B-12. Iron is found in many plant-based sources such as dark leafy greens, quinoa, pumpkin seeds, lentils, and tofu just to name a few– but, there’s a catch. These foods are only high in one type of iron (aarrrgghh!). And getting enough B-12 is a whole other story. Vitamin B-12 is only found in animal meat sources. So for a vegan to get enough B-12, they have to either take supplements or eat foods fortified with the vitamin, such as plant-milks. For the full low-down on these two key nutrients, why they’re important and how I’m currently trying to fit them into my diet, check out this blog post.
It really started several years ago — when I tried to go vegetarian. I decided to do it on a whim and there was really no thought process behind it. I didn’t have any substantial reasons for doing it other than I thought it would help me “lose some weight”.
I didn’t conduct any research on how to properly transition to a vegetarian diet, including maintaining the vitamins and minerals I would need. I wasn’t doing it for the animals or for the environment, so I didn’t have a mindset geared toward doing it for all the right reasons.
Then there was also a health dilemma I was unaware of. At the time, I didn’t yet know that I had severe iron-deficiency anemia. This made the whole process even worse. While trying to maintain my vegetarian lifestyle, I would get dizzy spells and didn’t know why (this sometimes happened way before I went vegetarian– I now realize also because of the anemia, but because I wasn’t taking care of my health, I didn’t look into it fully yet and brushed it off as random occurrences that would hopefully go away).
What I didn’t realize was that since I had stopped consuming meat-based sources of iron, and was now not consuming a decent amount of plant-based sources of iron, my body was being deprived of a lot of nutrients. I also hated dark, leafy greens at this time and thought tofu was a bland, tasteless food, and so spinach, kale and tofu were never dietary options for me, even though they are some of the most iron-rich plant-based foods around.
Instead of going to the doctor or trying to really experiment with my diet and food choices, I assumed any illness or weakness had something to do with my sudden change to a vegetarian diet. That was my tipping point. I threw in the towel pretty early and went back to eating meat.
And that was my life for the next few years. I still never felt healthy, and I wasn’t, but changing the way I ate never occurred to me as a viable option. I was unhealthy inside and out.
Then, in 2015, I went on a health overhaul. I decided to take charge of my health and started eating healthy and being more physically active. At this point, I was still eating meat (and dairy and eggs), and could never imagine a life without these foods.
In 2017, I was definitely feeling healthier. I was active and although I didn’t have the healthiest diet, I ate way better than I had in the past when it came to portion control and eating less junk. But I could feel that there was still change to be made– I sought out someone I had went to High School with who was now a yoga teacher. I thought that incorporating yoga into my life would help create a that change that would bring my spiritual and physical journey into alignment with one another.
However, once we were in contact, yoga ended up taking a backseat to me learning about her vegan lifestyle. I had mentioned to her that funny enough, I had recently completed a “vegan week” challenge not too long ago, just for fun to see if I could do it. But I never imagined actually becoming a vegan! I knew what it meant to be “vegan”, but like so many others, I immediately brushed off the idea, thinking things like:
“What about cheese?!”
“But I love eggs!”
“I have to give up burgers (and bacon)?!”
and my personal favorite, especially after going vegan:
“Where am I gonna get my protein?”
But the more I learned from her, the more the idea of going vegan intrigued me. I began to think this was something I could really do. And after doing my own research, I realized it was something I felt I had to do. For my health, for the health of the planet, and to serve as a voice for all the helpless animals who were being killed simply to satisfy my taste buds. I always loved animals, but I started to realize there was a disconnect in my association with some animals as being “okay to eat” and others not. I thought to myself, if something was sentient, why would it ever be okay to kill it for my well-being when there are other options available for me to achieve satiety and enjoyment through food?
Shortly after, I decided on a whim to just do it– to go vegan. With the help and support of my yogi pal, and with the knowledge I continued to gain through research and learning about a vegan lifestyle, how foods are created, how animals are treated, and the environmental impact of it all, I went ahead full-speed, and didn’t look back.
Now, I’m the Vegan Girl!
I’ve always enjoyed food, and I started my Instagram page dedicated to documenting my foodie adventures before becoming vegan, under the name “commelacuisine”– an ode to my love of the French language. Now, the page has been re-branded to reflect my new, amazing vegan lifestyle.
Check out what new recipe I’m making here in the recipes section, and see where I’m chowing down next on my Instagram page!