As a health and wellness writer for the last 15 years, I’ve always been fascinated with vitamins and mineral supplements and always quizzing the experts for their recommendations.
Maybe it’s because I’ve been vegetarian nearly all my life and vegan since my mid-20s that nutrition has been a special interest of mine. I watch what I eat to try and avoid common vegan-diet deficiencies (D3, B12, EPA/DHA are common ones), and equally aware of supporting my sports and fitness lifestyle, which puts an added strain on my body.
That’s why I was excited to be introduced to Truth Origins water soluble liquid vitamins and invited to be part of the brand’s referral programme. This is the first referral and affiliate programme I’ve joined in the ten years I’ve had this blog so it’s definitely a product that I think is worth checking out.
If you’re familiar with Roar fitness on Instagram you’ll know it’s famous for its jaw-dropping body transformations. The first branch opened three years ago in the City and this week I visited the brand new, sparkling second branch, also City-based, and was super lucky to have a training session with its co-founder Sarah Lindsay @roarfitnessgirl.
Sarah was previously a three-time Olympic speed skater and the British Ladies Champion for nine consecutive years. She talks about fitness and how to achieve certain goals in great detail and with a lot of passion, which I loved. She runs Roar with her now-husband Rich Phillips, also famed for his personal training expertise.
The goal at Roar Fitness? To achieve fat loss and body transformation goals through weight-training three times a week with a personal trainer, and a bespoke nutrition plan. As simple as that.
Clients now include countless celebrities and anyone committed to transforming body and mind. What I also liked about the set up is each bespoke programme begins with the physiotherapist, who assesses your body’s needs, strengths and weaknesses so the fitness program is then built in line with this.
If you’re terrified of lifting or never considered strength training as the secret to losing weight (which it is), then Roar Fitness will speak to you. It’s humbling to hear Sarah admit she’s been surprised how body transformations have changed the minds and emotions of the women she’s trained, not just their bodies. More confidence, greater positivity and a healthier, happier approach to life are all by-products of getting fitter and stronger. Fact.
Here’s a clip of my workout with Sarah at the new luxury gym in Eastcheap, London. I don’t normally train with machines so I really enjoyed being pushed out of my comfort zone with new moves and equipment.
When I signed up for Southern Masters WL competition (at Bethnal Green Weightlifting Club) I had six weeks to lose 3kg. Olympic lifting is a weight-class sport and in my first competition in May, I competed in the 55kg category and I intended to do the same this time.
On the one hand 3kg doesn’t sound like very much but on the other, I didn’t want to crash diet or do any potentially dangerous dehydration methods that would my jeopardise my lifting performance, both on the day and in the run up in training.
In the months after May’s comp (Essex Weightlifting Club Open Series) my weight had crept up, mainly through a habit of unlimited portions of peanut butter and nuts (seemed so healthy and innocent at the time!) so by August I was a clear 58kg, and now that meant a 3kg cut.
A weightlifting meet (official word for competition) isn’t a bikini or bodybuilding comp where you just stand and flex on stage. I have to be in great mental and physical shape to nail highly technical lifts at heavy weights (in front of a room full of people). Feeling weak from fasting would be catastrophic.
So I sought professional help. I’d met recently Dr. Sinead Roberts, PhD of Feed.Fuel.Perform at a CrossFit competition a few months prior and she was recommended by several people who I train with. One look at her Instagram and I knew she knew her stuff.
We spoke on the phone and discussed my weekly training schedule so she could work out my fuel and refuel needs for my training load. She then calculated my macros accordingly, which means exactly the amount of carbohydrates, protein and fat I should consume daily to achieve the desired weight loss without affecting training or performance.
My personalised nutrition plan…
This was the fun bit. My daily calories were in a slight deficit (1732 total) but my carb count was higher than I was used to (198g), whereas my fat intake had to be much lower (52g) and protein as high as I expected (122g). So, fewer calories but made up of more carbs and less fat, so that I could fuel and refuel my sport while leaning out 3kg and keeping energy levels up.
So no cutting carbs! What a delight. A weight loss programme where I had to eat more carbs than usual? Awesome. Sinead presented me with comprehensive doc detailing the nutritional breakdown for breakfast, lunch, dinner, snacks and post-workout fuel so I knew exactly how to structure my meals. As a vegan, I’ve always been unsure how to hit high protein counts but read on and you’ll see how I did it.
Higher carbs were scheduled for pre and post-workout and breakfast so I could fuel and refuel sufficiently and then medium/lower carb count for lunch and dinner (36g each). Bedtime snack was low carb but higher in fat to help stabilise sugar levels overnight.
What a relief to have scientifically backed nutritional breakdown calculated personally for me, to achieve specific goals. No more guesswork, no more trying to figure it out myself, and no fluffing my way through six weeks of attempted weight loss, not knowing if I’d actually get there or not.
Having a professional do the work they’re trained to do is absolutely the best way, for peace of mind if nothing else.
No more guesswork, no more trying to figure it out myself – having a professional do the work is the way to go
Here’s how I got on and what I learnt…
The first couple of weeks were definitely adjustment phases as I had to get used to a completely different nutritional intakes. Turns out carbs are not the enemy!
I used MyFitnessPal to track my food and with the premium option I was able to see all the nutritional values and meal breakdowns. This was a game-changer as I could instantly see the effect certain foods (and portions!) were having on my daily goals.
I quickly released how my nut habit had contributed to my weight gain – I was probably overeating about 4-600 calories a day over the last few months just through nuts and peanut butter!
I put away the kg-tub of peanut butter, stopped free-pouring olive oil over my food (a little bit is fine but my previous habits were out of control!) and found new snacks to buy instead of my go-to brazil and walnuts.
I rediscovered the joys of fruit – previously (for the last 18 months or so) I’d favoured fat for fuel so my fruit intake was quite low. I started stewing plums and apples for my porridge oats and having a banana in my post-workout shake to help aid recovery. Sinead explained that without post-workout carbs the body will dip into muscle mass to take energy from there. For strength building, this would be a disaster. So now my post-workout shake had approx 30g carbs and 20g protein.
I surprised myself by hitting the 122g protein target quite easily almost every day. It wasn’t as hard as I thought it would be as all the little foods, like veggie sides and oats, contain protein too, so it all adds up quite quickly. I made sure to have about 100g tofu or other type of meat substitute daily, a protein shake straight after training then protein poured over my breakfast oats, and maybe a protein shake before bed.
Food prep became my daily norm as it was the only way to get all the macro nutrients I needed in the quantities I needed. I became very diligent at prepping my breakfast and lunch every night for the following day, and I still am.
I learnt that no/low fat in my post-workout shake was important – as fat is the slowest of the three macros to digest so to get fast energy to muscles, then best to leave the fat until later.
I started eating simple carbsagain – because my vegan diet is already high in fibre, Sinead recommended simple carbs like pasta, white rice and bread to add less strain on my digestive system and for fast-release energy rather than high fibre wholewheat options.
I had a low-carb, high protein and high fat snack in the evening before bed was often soya or coconut yoghurt with a small dollop of peanut butter and protein powder – this would help regulate blood sugar levels overnight, give muscles something to feed on and help with muscle repair.
I thought I’d hate tracking my food (I’ve previously thought it creates a bad, fixated relationship with it) but I actually enjoyed the process and found it quite educational. I think if there are specific goals to reach then tracking can shed a lot of light and insight.
Having professional support is really helpful, whether it’s checking what type of snack to have or voicing worries big or small, having someone to call on through the process, especially towards the end, was invaluable. It also helped that Sinead is just so nice to work with – nothing was ever too much trouble for her and all her instructions were simple and effective, which is why I’ll be working with her again for my next weightlifting competition. Can’t wait!
There were loads of other interesting details I learnt – another benefit of working with an expert – and in exactly five weeks I was 56kg on the scales again. Whoop! I’m still so pleasantly surprised that increasing carbs was the secret to losing weight.
The last kg was lost in the final week / few days before the competition (which is typical for athletes of a weight-class sport to do) and that’s done through a combination of reducing high fibre foods, taking long walks, stopping eating earlier in the evening, fasting the evening before the weigh-in and no food or fluids before the weigh-in.
I won’t lie, it’s a stressful few days trying to lose that last kg before the competition as some days the scales don’t move at all and you wonder how on earth it will happen. But success finally came the night before!
When walked into the weigh-in room at Bethnal Green Weightlifting Club at 8AM that day, I was 54.6kg, which was just perfect! It’s a fine art getting just below the 55kg threshold but not too low to affect performance, so we nailed it.
Thank you Sinead for helping me get there!
Once the competition was over I had ALL the treats, fat and carbs I could get my hands on. All well deserved and well worth the wait!
If you’re reading this and compete in a weight-class sport I highly recommend getting a nutritional expert to do your macros and help you get there on the day. Would love to hear your experiences.
Please note:the nutritional macros in this article are individual and specifically calculated for my starting body composition, timeline, training history and lifestyle so readers shouldn’t assume they will be appropriate or healthy for them. Always seek professional advice.
If you’re considering a meat and dairy-free, plant-based diet but don’t want to lose friends or your social life in the process then read on…
As someone who’s been vegan for over ten years and vegetarian nearly all of my life I thought I’d share my top five tips. After years of experience these are my go-to ways and shortcuts.
Maybe you’ve discovered your own – would love to hear them – and if you want more tips and tricks (I have so many) don’t forget you can leave a comment by hitting the plus sign below or tweet me @yanarbeauty.
1. Work out your motivation
Why are you doing it? What’s your motivation for taking on this way of eating. It’s also a way of life so the more you believe in what you’re doing the more likely you are to stick to it.
I wrote about my motivations and reasons for being vegan in a previous post here. It was a natural extension of being vegetarian from the age of nine – as my knowledge of the meat and dairy industry (and the impact it has on our health) grew so did my commitment. It’s taken years of education and awareness and I now passionately believe in it, it’s nothing like a fad.
2. Find your own boundaries
At the very beginning when I first toyed with the idea of going vegan I tried to be strict and failed miserably. A very miserable six month start ended up with a huge Christmas binge on cake and chocolate – lesson learnt – extreme and sudden deprivation can only lead to rebellion or failure!
There’s no need to lose your head over it so start gently, especially if you’re going from being a full meat eater. If someone offers you some cheese after dinner or chocolates in the office and you really can’t resist, it’s ok! Take it easy and be lenient and kind to yourself.
My boundaries are meat (obviously) and dairy as a whole ingredient, for example I would never have an egg sandwich but if someone has baked a cake for a birthday then I may have a bite or a slice out of courtesy (and sometimes I won’t – I’ll just judge the situation). I think it’s good to be balanced in mind and make small exceptions when needed and know you’re committed all other times.
3. Be flexible eating out
Eating out my seem like an impossible feat at first but it gets easier once you get the hang of it, I promise. The trick? Be flexible and open minded with the menu (mix and match ingredients and check out the sides menu for vegan-friendly options), be nice to waiters/waitresses, and don’t be anal. By that I mean, if something has a hint of butter in it maybe you can let it pass? For me, as long as butter, eggs or cheese are not the main ingredients I don’t get too caught up. For example, it’s ok if some ghee has been used in an Indian vegetarian meal (it’s likely to be minimal) but I won’t choose a paneer cheese dish. No one likes a food bore so it works for me to be flexible when social and then as true to veganism as I like when I’m at home. That way I get to keep my friends and social life too!
4. Eat more!
Cutting out three major food groups (meat, fish, dairy) means making up the calories, vitamins and nutrients somewhere else otherwise you might waste away or end up looking like a pale, unhealthy, anaemic vegan and that’s no fun. Stay strong and satiated with bigger portion sizes than you’re probably used to – the calorie content of vegetables and pulses is far lower than meat, fish and dairy so you have a lot of catching up to do at meal times.
Anyone who knows me well knows I eat family portion sized meals (and I’m still small) with a mega fast metabolism. In the past I’ve tried dipped into packet vegan / meat substitute foods (non-dairy cheese springs to mind) but found unprocessed wholefoods in their most natural state work best for me. This area is yours to experiment with.
5. Get friendly with fats
My secret to staying fuller for longer is to eat plenty of plant fats… I always have avocados, coconut oil, tahini paste, olive oil, argan oil and rapeseed oil in the cupboard and eat them with food on a daily basis. I use coconut oil instead of butter to spread onto toast (delicious on sourdough or rye bread) and drizzle olive or argan oil on food so it goes the extra mile. Otherwise I’d be starving again very soon! PLUS all of these plant fats are nourishing for skin and cells so it’s a win-win situation.
I do believe you need to be a bit of food lover to be vegan otherwise it’s difficult to make it work as it’s already a restricted diet. Enjoy yourself and be creative within the boundaries and experiment… Don’t be afraid to try something new and you’ll eventually arrive at foods and meals you love. Would love to hear any questions or tips you might have… Happy eating!
(Image credit: Gemma Correll – my favourite illustration, brilliantly depicted)
I’d never heard of GABA rice until recently when Minvita.co.uk introduced me to two varieties: Green Tea Jasmine rice, and Black Rice. Both are germinated / sprouted rice before being milled to encourage a higher content of vitamins, nutrients and particularly an amino acid called GABA (gamma-amino butyric acid). I tried both and the results were pretty tasty…
According to nutritional experts, germinated or sprouted rice has higher nutritional value than ordinary rice with more fibre and antioxidants. According to Minvita this rice contains ten times the amount of gamma-amino butyric acid which can aid kidney function.
It took a little longer than conventional white rice, probably about the same time as brown rice, and the cooked texture is not as soft and fluffy as white but is a bit more solid.
How to cook GABA rice:
For every cup of rice use 1.5 cups of water. Rinsing not needed.
Pour water over rice in a pot with a lid.
Bring to the boil with the lid on then reduce heat to simmer once the water has almost evaporated and cook for 40 minutes on the steam.
Remove from heat and allow to rest for at least 10 minutes.
I’m on the west coast of Morocco in a tiny village outside Essouira watching 30-40 local Berber women crack argan oil kernels with little rocks and nimble fingers onto big slabs of stone. The sound of tick-tick-tack-tack fills the air above the low murmur of chitter chatter. I’m with Weleda UK, the health and beauty brand that sources its fairtrade and organic argan oil from this women’s cooperative. These Berber women have been shelling argan for generations but now they’re being paid a better wage with good working conditions and even family benefits. They kindly let us film and photograph this fascinating process, which was a very special experience so I’m really pleased to be able to share it with you.
Most people have heard about argan oil – one of the biggest buzz words in beauty and haircare in recent years – but what you may not know is how labour intensive the journey is to get this prized argan fruit from seed to skin and what a superfood it is for skin and health.
My trip involved seeing the wild argan tree forests, the local Berber women at work, as well as the creche and kindergarten that looks after and educates their kids while they work, the filtration and production process and of course, sampling the finished argan oil products – both culinary and cosmetic.
Here I share the top three things you should know about argan oil and beauty as well as a few magical highlights from the Weleda trip.
1. Argan trees are precious property but in decline
The argan tree is an ancient species, thought to date back millions of years in this south-west region of Morocco. They survive dry and windy conditions in the semi-desert like terrain with their scruffy, rather rugged looking appearance but apparently it’s their long root systems that travel far through the soil and limestone that help seek out water, anchor them firmly into the ground and even keep the desert at bay. With gnarly branches, these trees are viciously thorny so don’t get too close. Only goats are unperturbed so it’s a striking sight to see them at the top of an argan tree, nibbling the fruit.
We took a brilliant ecological walking trip across the coast and our guide described the decline of argan trees over the last 100 years. At the turn of the 20th century Morocco had around 2 million hectares of argan trees but during the 1970s and 80s, there was drastic depletion due to a number of reasons: trees were felled to make way for fruit farming; chopped down for wood, destroyed through fires, or over-grazing by goats and camels. Considered to be the gold of Morocco, this region is now Unesco protected.
2. Producing argan oil is a long and labour intensive process
Extracting argan oil is time and labour intensive, which is why sourcing fairtrade is important. With the rise in worldwide demand for the ingredient, it’s easy for large cooperations to overlook the man (correction: woman) hours it takes to produce and bring prices down, which only really serves the end multinational while the Berber women who do the work are likely to get a raw deal.
That’s why the Sidi Yassine cooperative is so special. Ulysses Müller is the founder and owner of the cooperative which Weleda UK sources its 100% natural, fairtrade and organic argan oil from. Ulysses, of Swiss origin, set up the company 12 years ago with his Moroccan wife to create a product with high, international quality under fairtrade and organic principles. Sidi Yassine is still the only producer in the region with these credentials.
I’ve always been interested in the provenance of ingredients so getting to actually meet the women behind our moisturisers was amazing.
Weleda is a brand that’s always been committed to putting people before profits and operating sustainably in harmony with nature and people – that’s why the partnership with this women’s cooperative works so well.
Sidi Yassine provides jobs to around 700 people, 99% of whom are Berber women and among the poorest in Morocco. The positive effect has been empowering these women with a better wage and respect for their work.
It takes around 15 hours of labour to produce 2-2.5kgs of kernels for one litre of oil. After the fruit has fallen from the tree and then picked from the ground and once sun-dried, the wrinkly outer skin of the fruit is removed using a simple purpose-built machine, and the hard inner nut is then broken by tapping manually between a large stone and smaller one; these stones are usually the women’s own and handed to them through the family.
The argan fruit is green and fleshy, similar to an olive but a bit larger and inside there’s a large nut containing one to three oil-rich seeds or kernels – the gold! Nothing goes to waste in this process as the soft outer skins are used as animal feed and the hard nutshells are used as bio-fuel. Sustainability at its best.
3. Argan is a super superfood
Argan has been used for centuries in Morocco as a beauty oil; a staple for Berber women to treat skin conditions and now the key ingredient in the Weleda Pomegranate range, which helps to nourish and firm older skins.
Argan oil that goes into beauty products is cold-pressed and not treated with heat at all, in order to retain its vitamins and nutrients.
Hailed as a wonder ingredient for health too, it’s been used to treat rheumatism and heart disease by locals in the past. We now know it’s rich in fatty acids and contains around 80% unsaturated fat as well as vitamin E. Some say it contains 80 times more free radicals and antioxidants than olive oil while studies have shown it can protect connective tissue, lower bad cholesterol and restore skin’s protective lipid barrier.
For culinary use, the argan seeds are lightly toasted at around 60 degrees which brings out the oil’s distinctive and delicious nutty flavour, not dissimilar to a walnut or hazelnut oil. It’s not, however, suitable for cooking as it can’t withstand heat so use it as a finishing drizzle over cooked food, salad or use for bread dipping in the same way as olive oil. If you’re a fan of nut butters then the local delicacy Amlou is a must – a mixture of almonds, honey and argan oil for use as a spread or dip with fresh bread. It’s simply divine!
If you’re a green tea devotee then you might also enjoy its South American counterpart, Yerba mate. Sent to try by new superfood retailer Nutriseed.co.uk I realised it’s more than just your average brew. It’s loaded with energy, vitamins and minerals and used for medicinal purposes too. I’m aware there are traditional ways of preparing and drinking this tea but here’s how I did it in my kitchen…
Yerba mate (pronounced yer-bah mah-tay) literally means ‘cup-herb’ in Spanish or Portuguese. It tastes similar to a mild green tea but without the smoky oakiness that some green tea varieties offer.
The team behind Nutriseed.co.uk are also behind one of my favourite health drink brands, Super Eleven Shake, the power drink made with 11 superfoods.
There are more unusual finds on Nutriseed too such as the Ayurvedic ashwagandha (a stress-relieving and restorative herb), 28-day detox tea (a blend of 6 cleansing herbal teas), superfood capsules (spirulina, maca root and acai berry) and a variety of cacao (great for keen cooks).
If you’re a Yerba mate fan too, would love to know!
I’m on a mission to get stronger and if you read my column on Healthista.comyou’ll see I’ve taken up Crossfit. To build more lean muscle only protein will help. As I don’t eat dairy I need an alternative to whey powder so I’ve been trying a variety of non-dairy shakes and powders suitable for vegans. These are my favourite, ie. the tastiest and best I’ve tried so far.
1. Neat Nutrition Vegan Protein, £34
A combo of hemp and pea powder for 25gm protein per serving. Try the chocolate or vanilla for a delicious milkshake-style drink. I think the touches of xylitol and stevia are the secret to the great taste so even without milk, just water, and without having to add any other powder or ingredients, it’s lip-lickingly tasty. If it’s too rich however, just add more liquid. www.neat-nutrition.com
2. The Protein Works Natural Sunflower Protein
Made from 100% organic sunflower seeds, high in fibre, minerals and nine amino acids and the taste is surprisingly nice – I thought it would be bland but it’s mild, nutty and a bit creamy. While it doesn’t really need mixing with any other powder I’ve been adding Neal’s Yard Organic Berry Complexto give it a lift – a powdered berry complex high in vitamin C so it’s a great antioxidant and immune boost especially after working out so hard when oxidation is at its peak. Best bit about Protein Works Sunflower Protein is the price – not everyone can afford the super luxurious protein shakes out there so if you’re on a budget, look no further. www.theproteinworks.com
3. The Super Elixir Nourishing Protein Powder, £48
I’m so pleased I’ve discovered this one from Elle Macpherson’s WelleCo brandand was lucky enough to hear all about it from Elle herself at the press launch of her 4-Week Body programme this week. The Protein Powder contains all high quality, organic and vegan ingredients as a superior alternative to whey: pea, brown rice, all nine essential amino acids, B vitamins, cacao powder and a plethora of antioxidant richness from acai, pomegranate, dandelion, grapeseed, rosehip and so much more! This is a truly intelligent supplement drink. The tasty is mild and chocolatey and works perfectly well alone which I love. The sweetness and chocolate taste are both low so if you want a more intensive experience on your taste buds add one and a half or two scoops. www.welleco.co.uk
4. Nutriseed Hemp Protein Powder, £11.49
This is from a new superfood retailer Nutriseed and I just love the style and packaging – simple, bold and gutsy. Hemp powder is green in colour but doesn’t taste as green as you might imagine (it’s not as terrible as spirulina) but it doesn taste better with another ingredient so I’ve been using this with the same Neal’s Yard Organic Berry Complex featured above. I’ve also been adding this hemp powder to supplement other shakes. While hemp is not a complete protein (as it’s lower in a few of the amino acids) the bonus is the omega 3 and 6 fatty acids and fibre it contains. www.nutriseed.co.uk
I have a protein shake after every single Crossfit workout (I do three a week at Royal Docks in East London). The protein fuels muscle growth and aids recovery and the liquid forms means it’s broken down and digested quicker then solid food. I ALWAYS follow with a proper breakfast or lunch though as these are not meal replacements, but food supplements.
Doing more weight-bearing exercises as I speed through my 30s is important to help maintain bone health, keep metabolism high (which starts to drop the older you get), keep limbs nimble and skin toned. Basically to help fight all the signs of ageing!
Not heard of Crossfit? Now’s the time to check it out! It’s an intense workout that uses functional training, weightlifting and gymnastic exercises in interval style drills. It’s fast, furious and fun and a great way to build all-round fitness and strength but to really make a difference it’s also down to nutrition.
If you’ve tried a good protein shake recently sans the whey and dairy then let me know! Or maybe you’re a dairy-free Crossfitter with some good tips? Tell me more! x
Roasted fennel is, for me, one of the tastiest vegetables that can come out of the oven but sometimes I want to take advantage of its fresh, raw goodness – refreshing, energising and detoxing – as well as its distinct, aromatic aniseed flavour and gorgeous crunch so only a salad will do. This is one I prepared in under ten minutes and brings out the best in this bulb.
1 whole fennel grated, including stalks
2-3 carrots grated
1/4 cucumber sliced finely
1 tablespoon sesame oil (this adds great complimentary flavour)
Dash of apple cider vinegar (rice vinegar or red wine vinegar will also work) – to give it a vibrant lift
Quarter squeezed lemon
Mix the grated fennel and grated carrot with the sliced cucumber in a big bowl. Add the rest of ingredients to the bowl and mix again. Serve.
Mine tasted delicious served with soup and then again served on sourdough bread toast.
Good news for celebrity vegans attending the BAFTA awards (Sunday 14th February) as this year vegan food is on the menu. Hoorah! Finally, a plant-based diet without dairy or meat is coming out of the shadows and being noticed by the mainstream as something desirable to try.
I was away for most of January but it seems Veganuary was a huge success. According to the organisers, around 23,000 people had pledged to give up meat and dairy so far, up from 3,000 in 2014. Very impressive.
I’ve been a vegan for around 10 years now (and vegetarian since I was nine) so it’s no new thing for me but there’s never been a better time to go dairy and meat-free.
Blogs and websites are full of inspiration for cooking and health (Green Kitchen Stories,Natural Kitchen Adventures and Sprouted Kitchen are a few of my favourites) and supermarket shelves are exploding with non-dairy produce. Years ago I’d be lucky if found one variety of non-dairy milk. Look at it now! (That picture was taken in Morrison’s a few weeks ago.)
Years ago it was not the coolest of lifestyle choices. I was usually too embarrassed to say the V-word in case people thought I was weird let alone promote it as something to try. I would always say I’m ‘vegetarian and I didn’t eat dairy’ (mumbled quietly and quickly before anyone really noticed).
Now doing the big V is like proudly wearing the latest wellness badge and touted as the must-try new thing to help you lose weight, stay slim or eat more superfoods. Luckily they were never my primary motivations but definitely an added bonus of not eating butter, cheese, cream, eggs or meat. Some people will try Veganuary as it’s another trend to try, for others it will resonate more deeply and they will hopefully stick with it.
Sticking to a vegan diet has never been hard for me as it was never a fad or fashion. It was something I believed in
I did it for fairly strong ethical and health reasons of my own will. It came from an unwillingness to support the very act and nature of meat and dairy farming. I realised the problems that motivated me to be vegetarian (inhumane, unnatural and intensive farming) still very much existed in the dairy industry so it didn’t make sense to eat dairy and not meat. The more I read about the dairy industry the more I knew I couldn’t support it.
I didn’t want to buy into an industry that’s unethical in its practices (see ethicalconsumer.com report here), pumps its animals with antibiotics and growth hormones which we end up ingesting, puts unfair pressures on farmers to meet unrealistic supermarket quotas, and intensive farming methods that have massive environmental and human impact. I don’t agree with any of those things and don’t want any of them on my conscience.
So whatever your reasons for going vegan, whether it’s to less meat, be more healthy, lose/manage weight or even do your bit for the environment, the secret to sticking to Veganuary after January is to make sure the motivation comes from within.
The more the decision resonates with you personally, the more likely you are to stick to it.
Read up about what you’re doing, learn how to make it work, what sacrifices you may have to make, and how to eat well – being vegan means you omit a few major food groups so it’s important to substitute well so you don’t fall weak or ill. Discover where your boundaries lie (e.g. will you eat honey, but say no to a leather sofa? Or are you happy to have a bit of cake on special occasions (like I am!) particularly if your friend has baked it, but won’t wear a leather jacket. Experiment and you’ll discover what’s right for you and your lifestyle and where you can draw the lines.
If you’re going from full meat eater to vegan then it’s a massive jump so take small steps rather than going cold turkey, excuse the pun. Don’t be hard on yourself for having a bit of cheese after dinner and be open to trying new and alternative ways of eating breakfast, lunch and dinner. In restaurants, be creative with the menu but always smile sweetly at the waiter/waitress when making your extra special requests.
Remember, it’s not a punishment so enjoy it. Done with an open, relaxed and flexible mind it can be a really vibrant and creative way to eat.
It’s the best thing I ever did and if you’re giving it a go, let me know how you’re getting on and hope you love it too.
I’m lucky I get to try out all sorts of gadgets and fun things for work and very occasionally one will stand out from the rest, be genuinely fabulous and earn a place in my everyday life. This year I found one of those star products: Tribest Soyabella Milk Maker. If you love non-dairy milk,check out my full reviewof this milk makerand get it on your Christmas wishlist.
Non-dairy milks are massively on the rise and have never been as popular with supermarkets and health food shops exploding with choice, more than I’ve ever seen. So if you are regularly buying soya or almond milk, making your own could be a healthier, cheaper and more ecological way to enjoy it.
Apart from the obvious being fresh, natural and homemade almond milk, the best bit for me is the speed and ease. Making things quick and easy is the sign of a good gadget!
Once you’ve soaked your almonds for a few hours or overnight, you just pop them in the maker and it takes less than 60 seconds to turn the almonds into milk. Incredible! I believe a 200gm of almonds makes me just under a litre of milk, and that lasts a few days. The water and pulp does seperate slightly once it’s been sitting in the fridge so you just need to give it a stir before using.
You also know exactly what’s going into it and it’s actually very little – just almonds and filtered water! Flavour is optional so you can add a couple of drops of vanilla or agave syrup but I make it completely flavour-free and tastes great.
My friends have started calling me queen of dips, because I’ll reach for the food processor and a handful of ingredients at any possible opportunity and these dips, usually hummus or some sort of bean blend, have fast become everyone’s favourite dish. Today, having had the luxury of a freelance day at home, I tried a raw beetroot concoction, inspired by a friend’s recipe which she adapted from Madhur Jaffrey’s Indian cookbook. As with most dips, and certainly all of mine, it’s so very easy to make and takes no longer than ten minutes from scratch.
3 small uncooked beetroot, washed and peeled
Small cup of walnuts – soaked overnight to release phytic acid which can be irritating on the gut, and to activate all the live enzymes (post coming soon about why it’s better to soak nuts before eating).
Small cup sprouted chickpeas – from supermarket but can easily be grown at home
Half a lemon squeezed
Lots of seasoning and olive oil
Optional dollop of yoghurt
Add all ingredients to a food processor and blend until smooth.
Clearing up can be messy – it’s beetroot after all! – but definitely worth it. Because beets are high in sugar, the dip has a natural sweetness which compliments the earthiness of the walnuts.
Nutritionally, beetroot is full of protective antioxidants and vitamin C as well as glutamine, an enzyme which is great for gut health, which is why it’s good for weight loss and detoxes.
Amazingly beetroot is also a food that helps to naturally lower blood pressure, great news for anyone trying to remedy with medication. It’s also rich in folic acid and iron, great news for all my pregnant friends.
Eat, juice or use in dishes raw for the full hit of goodness.
I’m on a mission to stop bread, from being bad-mouthed and rejected. It’s time to stop the bread-hating and the guilt. This wonderful food that’s been a staple in our diet for hundreds of years seems to be the bane of so many eaters and experts, not to mention dieters who can’t even say the word without shuddering (or salivating). The columnist Eva Wiseman once wrote a love letter to bread which was very endearing (apart from the ending where she grew apart from it).
Many nutritional therapists and naturopathic experts have tried to convince me to banish bread from my diet, scaring me with stories of gut irritation, intolerance and inflammation, but of all the health and food concerns I’m passionate about, bread is the one thing I’m the least interested in giving up or scaring people away from.
Why? Because I love it, and I think it’s modern day processes that have caused bread to irritate guts – the additives, fillers, bulking agents, preservatives and other ingredients that manufacturers use to produce bread as quickly and cost-efficiently as possible. That’s what’s hurting people’s tummies.
If you select your bread carefully, from traditionally-made sources, using natural and organic ingredients with no added nasties then I don’t see a problem with it. It’s a delicious food! Granted, some people may have a specific intolerance to gluten which I can’t argue with but for the rest of us, we should be able to enjoy good food in moderation.
I also don’t have any of the tell-tell signs of a gluten intolerance (severe bloating, IBS, chronic pain) there’s no reason for me to say bye-bye to bread. It’s also not a problem for my weight – I eat it only a few times a week, I don’t have sandwiches for lunch and I always buy fresh bread that’s made well, probably once every ten days or more.
My favourites are a sourdough or dark, dense fresh rye. The darker and richer, with more interesting ingredients such as seeds, nuts and different grains, the better. I recently discovered Able & Cole deliver bread too – a Rye and Spelt loaf is coming in my next box to try. Can’t wait!
As a vegan however, people wonder what I spread on toast – obviously I don’t smother it with butter so if you’re stuck on what non-diary options to have on toast my recommendations are here.
Coconut oil – this is my bread’s daily ‘butter’ – I use it almost every time I have bread or toast, whatever ingredients I add on top. I have a tub in my cupboard on the go at all times! Currently I’m loving Tiana Fairtrade and Organic Coconut Oil (they have a plethora of interesting coconut oil products so click the link and check them out).
Avocado – another staple in my diet – without avocados I think I’d be a very hungry (and sad) person. If I have time, usually at the weekends, I add complimentary ingredients such as chilli flakes, fresh chilli, lime juice, red onion or salad onion. All other times I just smash and spread. A grilled or fresh tomato on top really does the trick too.
Sesame Seed Oil / Tahini – I discovered how amazing this is as a spread when I did my Vipassana 10-day silent meditation. I watched people eat it with honey drizzled on top and I instantly fell in love. The dense, rich nutty taste of the sesame seed and the sweetness of honey to lift it is an utterly divine combo. I don’t have this all the time, but it’s great when you fancy something sweet.
Olive oil – cold-pressed and organic, for dipping at the dinner table. Looks nicer and neater than a big tub of coconut oil!
So there you have it, a health-geek who loves bread. I’m off to have my breakfast now – avocado on toast, of course, what else? x
Slaving over a hot pot is often the ideal way to survive emotional woe. For me, cooking calms, relaxes and nourishes the soul, and there’s (usually) something delicious to eat at the end too.
Today was one of those days so I was pleased I could reach for a new vegetarian cook book I recently received as a birthday present: Veggiestan by Sally Butcher.
For me this is a fabulous book – not only am I vegetarian (well, practically vegan) but I also was born in the middle east and many of my favourite foods and dishes are from there – okra with tomatoes, aubergine with onions and tomato, hummus, babaghanoush, etc etc. So this book with its inspiration of veggie dishes from across the region was an absolute delight; thank you Steve Pill.
Cooking as therapy
Tonight it was me, the book and Mung Bean Casserole (pg.116), although it was more like a curry really which was perfect comfort food. It was delicious and, essentially, heart-warming. I made a few tweaks: I swapped spinach for chard – organically grown via the brilliant Food From The Sky community on the roof garden of my local Budgens. I’m always in awe of how beautiful chard is with its a striking purple, pink and green hues on bouncy, curly leaves. Plus I had purple potatoes to use instead of normal ones – another wonderful looking ingredient.
Definitely a success and a comforting dish for the change of temperatures and season…So thank you Veggiestan for being my comfort blanket on a day of white noise.
It’s not always easy practising what I preach when it comes to health and nutrition – although I try to buy organic, I avoid dairy and I’ve been a vegetarian nearly all my life (since I was nine) – it’s taken a while to get on board the green juice/smoothie movement. Now that I have though I’m really quite into it – but how do you make them taste good?
First, I found this great list of four easy recipes for green juices and smoothies – I think it’s one of the better collections I’ve seen. I passed it round my non-hippy friends and to my surprise they were guzzling down green concoctions before I’d even had a chance to take a proper look myself. I finally dusted off my blender (a brilliant Kenwood Compact Jug Blender) and now perfecting the art of blending green…
I started experimenting with big bunches of green veg – whatever organic variety I could get at the shops: spinach, kale, lettuce leaves, celery, cucumber, parsley and mint as well as lemons and fruit for taste and added vits.
After a few attempts I’ve arrived at a few top tips on how to blend green and enjoy it.
– Use a whole (or half) lemon – yes, including the rind! – Buy organic, unwaxed lemons and add to the mix. Not only will it balance the earthy taste of the greens but the vitamin C will help your body absorb the iron more effectively.
So instead of just squeezing the lemon juice, use the whole (or half) lemon – chop up it up small (so the blender can handle it easily) and pop it in first. It gives the blend a fantastic kick.
– Balance any sour from lemon with low-sugar fruits – pears, kiwi (use the whole kiwi including the skin), blackberries, strawberries or melon will give the recipe a palatable lift and add more antioxidants and vitamin C.
– Experiment with different raw green veg – fresh, organic, uncooked spinach is great because we usually eat spinach cooked which means a massive loss of nutrients. Use half a bag (if you’re using baby leaf) or a whole bunch if using large leaf, fresh. The darker the greens, the greater the goodness so try different varieties of kale and/or parsley.
– Add liquids and high-water veg to thin it down – as with most smoothies, too little juice leaves things sludgy so thin it down with ice, apple juice, coconut juice or rice milk and you’ll get a better consistency and taste. High-water veg includes cucumber and celery.
– Add a superfood powders – one of the reasons I’ve turned to greens is to eat a more alkaline-rich diet. I’m hoping this will mean fewer health problems and a cleaner, healthier gut in the long run. When the gut is functioning properly it absorbs more nutrients and this can lead to better health and better skin too. I love Pukka Herbs Organic Clean Greens (includes sprirulina, kale sprouts and wheat grass juice).
Other super-food powders currently doing the rounds on the health-fanatics’s shopping list are Aduna Baobab Fruit Pulp Powder for a super-strength dose of immune-boosting vitamin C or Organic Burst Maca Powder for a natural way to boost energy levels – great if you’re a busy mum or do a lot of sport.
– Don’t forget it’s trial and error – the more you blend and experiment with quantities and combinations the better it gets. The first few times I did it I wasn’t so impressed but now I’m loving it – it’s great with mint and cucumber too so make sure you have plenty of those as make everything taste great.