What I Really Learned From My ‘7 Day Plant Based Food Journey
With the aim of being able to better support my clients who follow a vegan or plant based diet with their nutrition, health and performance I decided to experience for myself a week of plant based eating.
I wanted to experience for myself the challenges in creating a nutritionally complete and balanced diet, feeling satisfied and enjoying food, how my body feels in terms of energy, cognition and physical performance and also digestion, to become more creative with meat and dairy alternatives, more familiar with vegan food products and to understand what this way of eating is like socially.
I called it a “journey” rather than a “diet” to make it clear I was on a mission to learn, to be open and to experience. With a past history of restrictive eating and knowing all too well the negative consequences, I made a promise to myself that if I felt that this ‘journey’ was causing me any harm or stress, including a negative impact on my social health or I found I was becoming preoccupied with food or my body was ‘craving’ food from animal origin I would stop immediately. ‘Dieting’ is the number one risk factor for developing an eating disorder, so I certainly wanted to protect my now peaceful, loving and grateful relationship with food. I was only in this ‘journey’ to learn and ‘experience’, not a way to control or change my body or lose its trust and intuition.
This blog post it not about what is right or wrong when it comes to eating foods from animal origin and the practices around it. I have and do not intent to change peoples beliefs and instead support their decision and will do what I can to support their health and performance with nutrition guidance and education.
Here are my top 7 + 1 lessons learned:
1. Protein requirements are easy
to achieve on a plant based diet.
Wholegrains, tofu and tempeh, beans and legumes, soy milk, nuts and seeds are all excellent sources of protein. I was well aware that our society over estimates their protein requirements and this is mostly due to the supplement markets. Taking out lean meat, poultry, fish and eggs and dairy which were my major sources of protein and swapping them with some of the foods listed above were very simple and enjoyable. Soy milk has more protein than most of the other plant based milks. To attain all of the nine essential amino acids variety in the diet is key. Some plant based foods such as soy, quinoa and amaranth contain all essential amino acids. Alternatively, combining wholegrains and legumes are a simple way to provide all essential amino acids typically found in a meat dish.
2. You can feel satisfied on a plant based diet if you
include sufficient fruit, vegetables and wholegrains.
Protein and fibre are particularly effective at generating satiety. So as long as you include wholegrains, fruit and vegetables with their high fibre content and plant based high protein foods listed earlier then you can definitely feel very satisfied! It is when you choose more refined foods that lack the nutrient density that your body may not feel satisfied or ‘full’.
3. Herbs are king when it comes to variety.
The star of my and many others main dishes is quite often the protein, so removing animal proteins does leave less variety. I was surprised how different I could make tofu, tempeh and beans and legumes taste each meal simply by using different fresh or dried herbs. Garlic and chilli in a no brainer but experimenting with a new range of Indian and Thai cuisine herbs was very enjoyable and cheap!
4. Tempeh is so much more flavoursome and satiating than tofu.
Tempeh is also less refined and more energy, protein and iron rich due to it being a less processed product of soybean. Tempeh also has a nutty taste and hearty texture compared to Tofu which I feel is less reliant on herbs and spices to be enjoyable.
5. Animal products are in many more foods than you realise.
Honey, milk solids and shrimp paste were tiny ingredients found in condiments that I was not aware of. To 100% avoid any foods from animal origin can take some time in the beginning to establish your regular ‘go to’ meals and snacks. Sticking to foods closest its most natural state was often required such a using fresh or fried herbs and spices rather than using condiments or curry pastes for bottles and jars. I struggled to learn that my fresh chai mix contains honey, without it even being added when they make the ‘chai latte’. On my first realisation I did sort out to find a vegan chai but it did take me to the next suburb, by foot with my dog to Richmond, just to find this vegan prana chai blend from Oh My Espresso. In all honesty though and referring back to my aims of this journey I didn’t go to Richmond every day. I continued to head just across the road for my chai. I didn’t get honey added but there was some in the fresh chai mix it was brewed with. I also had soy or almond milk instead. This was the only non-vegan food/drink I suppose you could say I had all week. I had a craving for chai. I have been having them for years, every day. Vegan fresh chai is not so common in the cafes in Melbourne.
My evening ritual with jarrah hot chocolate also was effected as it also contained ‘milk solids’. Swapping to a vegan Loving Earth Drinking Chocolate was an easy substitution for me.