The idea of going vegan for two weeks, to me, was incredibly daunting. I’ve had times in my life in the past where I’d mostly eaten vegetarian (for budgetary reasons, mostly) and even though I thought I was eating well, over time, my mental health declined, and I became more prone to anxiety and felt overall, pretty miserable.
Eating an animal source of protein usually improved my mood fairly quickly (within a day), so I associated good mental health with getting an animal source of protein in my diet most days of the week. The idea of eating vegan (for more than a meal here and there) scared the shit out of me – the last thing I wanted was to put myself at a higher risk of an anxiety attack, but all the while, I had found myself craving vegetarian meals since winter last year, and I always want to reduce my environmental impact on the world. It was a very confusing position to be in.
Enter an exacerbation of my poor gut health while on holiday in December, and a live blood analysis that confirmed what I had suspected about my health; that I was experiencing a high amount of oxidative stress (incredibly damaging to our cells, and puts extra pressure on our livers). I decided it was time to detox.
For the first two weeks of the detox, along with cutting out sugar, gluten, alcohol, dairy (the usual suspects), I cut out meat, poultry, fish and eggs in order to give my body a bit of a break; allowing my liver the opportunity to detoxify and improving the clearance of toxins. Most of the food I ate was organic and I only had filtered water to drink. (There are supplements involved, but that isn’t the point of this post, so let’s move on, shall we?). Somehow, I found myself eating vegan, and you know what? It was actually pretty wonderful.
Here are the things I learned from eating a vegan diet for two weeks;
1. Making a healthy meal doesn’t have to take forever
Oftentimes we can get a bit overwhelmed with how long it can take to cook a healthy meal, and I for one know exactly how that feels. We “don’t have time” to eat well, but this way of eating is so quick while also being super-healthy.
While on my detox, I found I was making meals in 10 or 15 minutes tops. Here’s how I did it:
- I ate a lot of salads – chopped up green leafys and herbs finely, grated carrot, zucchini, beetroot and cucumber, and topped with sprouts and seeds
- My protein was mostly ready-to-eat or made in big batches – nuts, seeds, sprouts, soured grains, pre-soaked and cooked legumes, tempeh, hummus, cashew cheese, felafel, bean burgers, vegan stews/casseroles/baked beans
- I ate lots of tasty fats – avocado, nuts, seeds (esp. hemp seeds), nut butters, hummus, extra virgin olive oil, vinaigrette
- I used herbs and fruits for flavour (sliced apple or pear, mint, basil, parsley, dill, lemon juice, lime juice, chilli, cayenne pepper, seaweed, etc)
- Soups and veggie broths were also a big part of my meals
2. There really is a way to cook wholegrains and legumes so that they are soft and easy to digest – and it’s actually really easy
I always knew that legumes and wholegrains are better digested (ie. no farts or bloating!) when they are soaked before you cook them, but every single time I ever did it, I could soak them for days, cook them for hours, and STILL end up with chickpeas that were hard in the middle (SERIOUSLY?!!!!!). It frustrated me so much that after a while, I completely gave up on dried pulses and used the tinned ones instead.
It wasn’t until I read Grown & Gathered that I realised what I was doing wrong; to soak grains, you add a souring agent (check out my blog post) and to soak legumes, you add at least a teaspoon of salt per cup. So bloody simple.
Soak for 12-24 and, well, I’ll let you buy the book for exact cooking instructions (there are a few steps), but depending on the grain/legume, it’s usually around 30-60 mins on a gentle simmer. Not to mention the difference unchlorinated water makes to transforming these foods into soft, edible sources of protein (filtered water, rain water or spring water). Suddenly, I can transform any grain and legume into some of the most comforting recipes around – and no farts or bloating either. It’s all about slow food (something that has always resonated with me) and preparing food in the traditional manner to make it easier to digest (and so much tastier).
It’s a complete cooking victory for me! And you cannot shut me up about it.
3. Limitations are essential for kitchen creativity
It sounds pretty horrific having to cut out so many foods from your diet (especially if they are what you mostly eat) but I was pleasantly surprised about how inspired I was to cook beautiful and easy meals during this time and get in a wide variety of foods. These limitations were a blessing for me, because instead of being completely daunted by what the heck I could possibly eat, I got to focus even more on creating beautiful colours, textures and tastes using the whole foods I adored – and it was so simple.
Protein is always a priority for me, so I made sure I was taking full advantage of seeds, nuts, legumes and grains in every meal. I usually had a mix of cooked and raw foods with most of my meals, using lots of fresh organic vegetables as the main event. I’d often add guacamole, hummus, dip, sauerkraut, pesto or cashew cheese for extra flavour and fat content. Grate my vegetables for speed and texture. Chop up some greens and fresh herbs for a big whack of nutrients. I’d make up a big batch of Mexican beans, dhal, marinated tempeh, sprouted mung beans or some soured grains for warmth, flavour and ease of digestion. Meals were really well balanced and completely inspired by my favourite vegan and vegetarian meals I’d had in the past. I was in heaven.
4. Regular snacks and meals are so important for mental health
I’ve been aware of how skipping meals can affect my mood and ability to get stuff done for ages, but when I was eating vegan (and sugar, dairy, gluten free) this was made abundantly clear to me. If I didn’t eat three meals and two snacks with protein every day I was so hungry, miserable, headachy and foggy headed. Once, I caught up with a friend for tea and we talked an hour longer than I expected (and I couldn’t eat anything at the cafe) and on the way home I was really feeling it; woozy, massive headache, tired and wanted to eat my steering wheel. It was instantaneous. Yet, the days where I ate regularly were amazing; my appetite regulated and I’d get hungry at the same times each day, then after meals I had plenty of energy and drive. It was a great eye opener for me (because we all need little reminders here and there).
5. Eating your daily 2 and 5 is so easy with vegan foods
Don’t get me wrong, there are some horrific vegan foods out there, just as there are horrific non-vegan foods out there, but when you eat whole foods (like you should no matter whether or not you eat animal products), a vegan diet is such an easy way to get in your minimum 2 serves of fruit and 5 serves of vegetables every day.
Vegetables are something that most people find hard to eat, so if that sounds like you, I suggest you try challenging yourself to eat vegan for at least a week and see how you feel. Even if you include only one meal a week, eating vegan means your diet is centred around vegetables, and it’s a great way to retrain your attitude around healthy eating.
Here are some of my favourite vegan meals I’ve been eating ever since my detox: