My journey started three years ago, I was breastfeeding my six-month-old son and decided to watch the documentary Earthlings . Of course, I understood that killing animals was not nice but I justified it for health reasons and because it was the social norm. I wanted to educate myself so I could make a decision… even after watching the documentary I still had the typical questions like: What about my protein? B12? If I go vegan/plant-based where would I get my calcium from? Etc. I was all for the ethics of giving up meat and dairy after I saw the amount of cruelty in the industry but I had health concerns. I looked into it further and I saw you can be healthy on a vegan diet in the long term, in fact, I was surprised to find out that even the British nutrition foundation agree that a well planned vegan diet is suitable for all stages of life this means pregnancy, infancy, childhood, and adulthood. Hence, I started my journey and eliminated dairy, eggs, milk, cheese, and fish.
So it’s been three years… and I am guessing you want to know if I have some sort of superpowers? The answer is no but I have a better digestive system and a wider knowledge of diet and what it means to be “healthy”. Before I continue I do want to say, I do not believe you have to be vegan or plant-based to be healthy but fruits and vegetables certainly have their benefits. Now, let’s get into what I’ve noticed since ditching the animal products.
1. My digestive system has improved.
Source:Find a Top Doc
This is the first thing that I noticed. Whilst this isn’t the most pleasant topic to start with it is the biggest difference my body has endured. Not to go into too much detail but I became a lot more frequent and my bowel movements consistent. This doesn’t mean I spend a lot of time on the toilet, quite the opposite… I am able to handle my business a lot quicker. Why? FIBER. Naturally, switching to a plant-based/vegan diet you start to eat more fruits and vegetables which means your fiber intake increases. Fiber, the insoluble type “promotes the movement of material through your digestive system and increases stool bulk so it can be of benefit to those who struggle with constipation or irregular stools. “. (Mayo clinic, 2015). Hence, if you are suffering from constipation going vegan/plant-based is something you may benefit from or just up your fiber intake. Where can you find fiber? Fiber does not exist in animal products but they are found in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, and legumes. This means incorporating foods such as oatmeal, chickpeas, spinach, broccoli, apples, and beans.
Source: Mayo clinic
Furthermore, there are fibre-rich foods have been shown to have prebiotics “a selectively fermented ingredient that allows specific changes, both in the composition and/or activity in the gastrointestinal microflora that confers benefits upon host well-being and health.” (Salvin, 2013). Basically, they are what feed the probiotics and as you may know, you need probiotics for good gut flora. An interesting benefit from having a good microbiome is it may improve some cases of depression and anxiety, there has been a lot of scientists researching the connection between the mind and the gut.
Therefore, it is not surprising that some people who make the plant-based switch report an improvement on their depression, if you are interested in this topic you can read a “Gut microbiome and depression: what we know and what we need to know.” by Winter et al. I would like to say, this is not something that is exclusive to being plant-based or vegan, there are other things that influence gut bacteria such as autoimmune disorders, antibiotics, sugar and so on. Now that’s cleared up what about me? Personally, I can not say that switching to a plant-based diet has improved my emotional health, I am pretty average with my emotions I have my good days and I have my “meh” days but I do not experience anything that is unmanageable.
2. My acne DID NOT disappear.
Whilst I did not start my journey to eliminate my acne, it was something that vegans spoke about often. The typical line goes like… “I became a vegan and my acne disappeared, my skin is glowing and I am going to look 25 forever.” Whilst this may be some people’s truth, this is not mine. There are people who drastically improved their acne problems when switching to a plant-based diet, this is usually because they had an undiagnosed allergy/sensitivity to dairy. There are wonderful success stories such as with Brian Turner and Cassandra Bankson. When they ditched the dairy there skin improved a lot, in fact, they both have youtube channels where they share their acne journey. I highly, recommend checking them out if the topic interests you. I have certainly learned a lot, particularly from Cassandra, who is a studying dermatologist. Here are their results from changing their diet and lifestyle.
Brian Turner: Youtube linked here.
Cassandra Bankson: Blogspot linked here.
So there are people that do have improvements but acne is more complicated than just eliminating animal products. There are other contributors to this inflammation of the skin, such as insulin sensitivities, stress, allergies, hormones, hygiene and in general being a symptom of other health issues. Whilst it sucks that there is most likely not one thing you can do to eradicate acne, there are steps you can take to improve the condition. Whilst mine has not disappeared, it definitely improves when I eat a “clean” plant-based. For me eating clean does not mean not to exclude a whole macro-nutrient but to focus on whole-grains, fruits, and vegetables. Furthermore, limit things processed foods such as sugar and oil as cause massive insulin spikes. The spiking of insulin levels has been scientifically proven to increase sebum production. “Increased consumption of dietary fat or carbohydrate increases sebum production and modifications to the type of carbohydrate can also alter sebum composition. Typical western diet, comprised of milk and hyperglycaemic foods, may have potentiating effects on serum insulin and insulin-like growth factor-I (IGF-I) levels, thereby promoting the development of acne.” (Makrantonaki et al, 2013). Therefore, for me personally, it was not the elimination of animal products that improved my skin but the periods of time where I would limit processed food, stress and…. minimize my skincare routine (that is a discussion for another day).
3. I lost weight and have been sustaining it ever since.
Before having a baby (not plant-based) After having a baby (plant-based)
Now, here’s the one you was most likely curious about. For the sake of this post I will disclose my before and after weight, firstly I am 5ft 6 and between the ages of 18-21 I would fluctuate between 10 stone (140 pounds) and 10 stone 11 (141.54 pounds)… this was by no means overweight but I was on the higher side of a normal BMI. Now I am between 9 stone and 9stone 5 pounds (131 pounds) which leave me with a BMI of 21.3 which the middle of the healthy BMI range. I believe the biggest reason is that I ate fiber-rich foods that were more satiating, so I do not snack as much.. That and I have a lot fewer temptations. One thing that I have noticed, I personally can eat a lot more than I did previously and not fluctuate badly. But that does not mean I am eating tonnes of Oreo cookies, I mean I eat larger portions of “healthier” food. I do try and stay as close to the Eatwell plate that is designed by the British Nutrition Association and is updated every 7 years to be in accordance with the latest nutritional consensus amongst researcher. The Eat well plate can be adjusted according to dietary preference e.g. vegan, vegetarian, pescatarian and meat eaters.
Source: Public Health England in association with the Welsh Government, Food Standards Scotland and the Food Standards Agency in Northern Ireland.
4. It can be expensive but it doesn’t have to be.
Eating a plant-based diet is expensive, this is a common myth that is believed by many. But in fact, it can be very cost effective… many of the plant-based staples such as beans, oats, legumes, and rice are some of the cheapest foods you can find in bulk; plus, they have a long shelf life. Ok, fresh foods can be a little more pricey but that’s a good investment as it is for your health. Plus, if you buy veggies that are local and in season they are generally cheaper. Another thing, frozen vegetables usually get a bad rep but the truth is they can be fresher than the non-frozen fruits and vegetables as they have been picked at the optimal time and they do not need to be sprayed with preservatives to have a longer shelf life. Actually, I no longer buy berries unless they are in season because you can get more for your money when you buy frozen.
5. Non-vegan food still smells good…
Now not everyone who is vegan/plant-based would admit this or maybe they do have smell aversions but not me. When I smell deep-fried calamari or a BBQ I still drool, so why don’t I have a little bit? The answer is simple, it is because just because something is temporarily pleasurable it doesn’t mean that is morally right or necessarily good for you. I know that the foods that smell good to me are not the healthier options in the animal product sphere such as sardines but the fried stuff… Luckily, there is vegan fried food, it is just they aren’t as commonly available (which is good for your health at least). Whilst this is something I have experienced, I would love to show the variety of “treats” you can find/make as a vegan. Hot for food and The Edgy Veg have great indulgent plant-based/vegan recipes. Here are a few of the indulgent vegan things you can find.
6. Vegan/ plant-based doesn’t mean healthy.
So I have touched on this slightly, in the previous sections but this is something that some people who follow this lifestyle do not discuss. Whilst it is true that being vegan can reduce your cholesterol and improve your overall health. It can have negative effects if you do not have a well-planned diet but.. this is not exclusive to a vegan/plant-based diet. Any diet whether plant-based, vegetarian, meat inclusive or pescatarian you must have a well-planned diet. So what is a well planned vegan/plant-based diet? Generally, this means to include foods that contain all the important minerals and nutrients that our bodies need to thrive. This means eating whole plant foods and the inclusion of supplements to reach your dietary requirements. Generally, if you eat predominately unrefined whole-foods you will reach your iron, calcium and other requirements easily. But, it is always important to supplement with B12 and vitamin D. B12 gets a bit of stick as people think it is found naturally in animal products and it is not normal to have to supplement but the truth is the animals are injected with B12 or their products are fortified. “Vitamin B12 is not made by plants or animals but by microbes that blanket the earth.” (Nutritionfacts.org). So… it’s really is not a big deal to supplement B12 directly. What about my experience? I had my blood tested after switching my diet and my stores were fine. Just it is important to do your research before making the switch. Thus, so far so good!
In conclusion, I do not have superpowers but the lifestyle change forced me to become more educated about what I put into my body. Therefore, I have improved my digestive health and maintained a healthy weight. I am not breaking the bank to maintain this way of eating nor am I chained to the kitchen. Whilst, there are always temptations, the diversity of plant-based products are ever-growing and eating animal by-products is not worth it (to me personally). Whilst the ethics remains an incentive to continue on this journey, having improved my health definitely makes me feel confident that I can maintain this lifestyle change.