Sunday, February 21, 2016

How to Go Vegan

One part of my diet that makes me feel good inside and out is the fact that I am vegan.


I remember years before going vegan I would hear something in reference to being vegan and think, "That sounds nice and I would do it for the animals, but I have to get my calcium and protein." So with the dairy and meat I stayed. Years later when reading a pregnancy book as we were gearing up to start trying and I was a researching madwoman, I came across a book that caught my eye, Skinny Bitch: Bun in the Oven by Kim Barnouin and Rory Freedman. I thought it was just going to be about staying trim and healthy during pregnancy, but as it turns out it was actually about going vegan.

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Something about the timing of reading the book before wanting to create a new life (my future baby) and ending life (by eating meat) just wasn't resonating with me anymore. After only being a few chapters in and reading about slaughterhouses, I made the decision then and there that I was no longer going to be eating meat. I wanted nothing to do with the meat and dairy industry and although I was just one person, I knew that I could be one less person contributing to demand for meat and dairy. That book and the many vegan books that followed were truly life-changing in how it's like a light went on in my head and all the sudden my dietary choices lined up with my values and the nurturing love I've always had for all forms of life both human and animals.


Although there were struggles along the way in trying to find replacements and alternatives to have instead of the food I had grown up eating like milk, cheese and meat it was a sacrifice I was willing to  take in order to improve the well-being of animals as well as my own health. Today I'm going to share with you some of the tips I've found to make the transition to a vegan diet easier as well as my favorite vegan swaps.


Tips on Transitioning
One way you can transition to a vegan diet is to go cold turkey and just drop all animal-based items from your diet. Or you could switch them over one at a time. I had a food sensitivity test shortly before going vegan that showed I had a sensitivity to gluten and dairy, so with dairy already out of my diet the swaps were a little easier. I just did one item at a time, such as when one product would run out, I would find a vegan alternative like dairy butter for vegan butter. And later, vegan chicken-like products in place of actual chicken.


Processed Vs. Whole Foods
When I first went vegan there was no where near the selection there is today for meat replacements, dairy replacements, and of course cookie dough replacements (important right?!). But truly sometimes I have to make sure I am staying balanced in my diet. If I do too many processed items in my day like a vegan meat replacement at each meal, or vegan cheese at every dinner, I start to not feel so great. I feel best when I have the more processed items sparingly. Vegan parmesan one night, you bet. The next night maybe I'll have a homemade cheese from cashews to balance it out. Or if we have a vegan chicken alternative one night, the next night we'll just have pasta with veggies.


I think these more processed vegan foods are excellent when you are first starting out on a vegan diet because they feel more familiar and taste similar (minus the dead animal part). But as you go deeper into a vegan diet you may find that you don't need them as much and that you can feel full, nourished and satisfied with beans, lentils, or just veggies. For me it's all about balance. I'm thankful for all the vegan alternatives out there they sure made my transition much easier, but I feel best when I balance them out with whole-food alternatives.

To Soy or Not to Soy
One of the most common questions I get about going vegan is the concern of soy in a vegan diet. Obviously you could go vegan and overload on so much soy that it would probably not be too healthy for you, just as it would it you went crazy on any other one ingredient. But for me I try to keep my soy to a minimum and I only use more whole forms of it. So instead of having soy yogurt, soy milk, soy butter and soy ice cream I find all the soy-free versions I can of these items and save my soy content to true soy items like tofu and tempeh. Even then I try to only have one of them once or twice a week...that's it. So try it out and see what balance works for you.


Now that you know some of my vegan tips, let's get started with that list of my favorite vegan swaps:



Here's the list... Butter: Earth Balance Buttery Spread, I like this soy-free version.

Milk: Trader Joe's Organic Rice Drink Original, although there are tons of non-dairy milks on the market these days I always come back to rice milk. It's neutral tasting and goes well with pretty much everything. It's also carrageenan-free.


Rice milk not your thing? There's tons out there, give it a go and see what you like!
Cheese: Daiya Cheddar and Mozzarella Shreds, these taste and melt very much like regular cheese. We use them for nachos, cheesy toast, pizzas, and casseroles. I use the products that are carrageenan-free.



They even have a Cheddar Style Slices product that has been taking our
vegan grilled cheese to the next level...(the product linked does contain carrageenan,
but the one in the picture does not, kind of confusing)

Case in point...yum!

Cream Cheese: Daiya Plain Cream Cheese Style Spread, while not a common item I use it serves as a nice topping for toast or as a base in a vegan cheese for pasta.


Sour Cream: "Homemade Vegan Sour Cream" from cashews based on the recipe at "Oh She Glows" blog. This recipe just has cashews, water, lemon juice, apple cider vinegar, and salt and it works great for all your sour cream needs, minus the usual dairy!


Mayonnaise or Miracle Whip: Just Mayo, gluten-free, vegan, egg-free topping.


My personal favorite is actually the Chipotle Just Mayo, it's a bit spicy but
very delicious!
I like to mix it with ketchup and dip my homemade fries in it!
Parmesan Cheese: Go Veggie Grated Parmesan Style Topping, while more processed, this is a great topping for pastas or veggies.


One of my favorite dishes as a kid was plain noodles with parmesan cheese
so this Go Veggie Parmesan helps me re-create it (minus the dairy).
Yogurt: Almond Dream or Coconut Dream Yogurt, my girls love yogurt and these are my favorite soy-free yogurts that are carrageenan-free and somewhat low in sugar.


Ice Cream: SO Delicious Coconut Milk Vanilla Bean, simple ingredient list, creamy texture a blank slate to top with fruit or chocolate chips.


Eggs: Egg Replacer, measure this out to take the place of traditional eggs in your baking recipes. Sometimes I also just a combo of applesauce to take the place of eggs or ground flax seeds. 


Veggie Burgers: To me there are two types of veggie burgers, veggie burgers that are like real meat and veggie burgers that are more veggie-like. 

In the past my husband, who is vegetarian, used to use burgers like this Morningstar Farms Grillers Prime or Boca Flame Grilled Burger.  


But since discovering GMOs, we've swapped those out for semi-healthier options like: Beyond Meat's Beast Burger.

On the more veggie side of things, you know those burgers I was referring to earlier that are not burger or meat like at all but instead more veggie-full, there are: Hilary's World Best Veggie Burger (and other varieties).

Or Sunshine Burgers that combine gluten-free grains and veggies to make a veggie burger as well.


Personally we've found a nice middle ground with some Wildwood Organic Gluten-Free Veggie Burgers that are made from sprouted soy beans. 


Perfect with a little BBQ sauce and ketchup!


Chicken: Beyond Meat Chicken-Free Strips, well I totally did a double take on the package when I first tasted these strips because I was for sure I had accidentally eaten meat. Luckily I was wrong and they were totally vegan, whew!  We use these for all of our gluten-free, vegan chicken-like needs.


While pregnant, I craved these with BBQ sauce daily!

If you can have gluten, my hubby likes these Gardein
Crispy Tenders as a chicken replacement too.
Sliced Meat: Tofurky, while I can't eat this since it has gluten, my husband enjoys this vegan version of sliced lunch meat on sandwiches for lunch.


Ground Beef: Tempeh, this is actually fermented soy beans and although it doesn't look too tasty right out of the package, once you chop it up in the food processor and sauté it, it can take on the texture of ground beef.

I like to add it to nachos.

As well as spaghetti sauce.
Another ground beef alternative is TVP, which stands for Textured Vegetable Protein. This is a more processed meat alternative made from "defatted soy flakes" but once you add warm water to it, it will create a meat-like crumble texture.


My favorite way to use it was as a stir-in with spaghetti sauce to increase
the protein. 

Another pre-made alternative to ground beef is Beefy Crumbles by Beyond Meat.
Tofu: Now tofu does not resemble any form of meat, but it is a great meat replacement that my vegan family has come to love. I like it because it has a short ingredient list and I can get it organic and no-GMO. 
Nasoya is my favorite brand of tofu, and I make sure to get Extra Firm.

This tofu shirt is one of my favorites too from Solid Threads.
The key to making tofu is to press it first to get the water out of it and then bake it or sauté it on the stove.  Here's some of my favorite tofu recipes...




Marshmallows: Dandies Mini-Vegan Marshmallows, now marshmallows aren't really one of my favorite foods, but with two young kids in the house, they make for a great little treat. These do contain carrageenan, so if you are avoiding that you'll want to skip these.


Protein Powder: Sunwarrior Warrior Blend Chocolate, this is my go-to protein powder of choice that I have with my morning smoothie each day to give me a little boost of protein after my workout.


I usually make enough for Mila and I. 

This is a new favorite of mine too called Pacha Protein,
it contains raw, vegan, no-GMO protein as well
as greens like E-3 Live, among others. It has a slight
cinnamon flavor, yum!
So there you have it, my favorite vegan swaps as well as some tips on how to go vegan. What would you add to the list? Share below, or post if you have any questions for me. Happy Vegan Eating!

Spreading the vegan love to the next generation...

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