Vegan-curious. Am I becoming a vegan by accident?

Suddenly the idea of being a vegan isn’t so bad after all…

Apart from a lovely Quaker family in the Australian town where I was born, I didn’t really meet any vegetarians, let alone vegans, until I started university. A long way from being vegan-curious in those days.

Even then, I was an embarrassing, confused country bumpkin who was amazed that vegetarians couldn’t even eat chicken. On Mum’s side of the family, they farmed sheep for meat and wool. Going meat-free was never a consideration.

But in recent months, while I haven’t entirely quit eating food with a face, I have definitely become veggie-curious. There was never a moment of realisation. I didn’t have a big epiphany after watching a PETA video or driving past a field of frolicking lambs. It’s just something that has crept up on me after experiencing some out-of-character digestive issues. Glamorous, I know…

What’s up, doc?

For the past three months or so, I’ve been feeling full really quickly, my appetite has declined, and I’ve been getting uncomfortable upper abdominal pains. Cue the start of a medical mystery. I’ve lost count of the vials of blood that have been extracted from my arm.

I’ve had abdominal and pelvic ultrasounds, I’ve learned that my symptoms are consistent with gynaecological cancers. I’m on medication that, annoyingly, is taken half an hour before I can eat any breakfast.

Finally, the horror show of an endoscopy without sedation revealed that I have gastritis. Now I’m waiting on biopsy results to hopefully tell me why I can add this condition to the laundry list of things that have gone wrong with my body. But since all this gastrointestinal nonsense started, I have been making dietary changes in an attempt to feel a bit less foul.

Less fried food

Fried food has become heinous to me. I’ve pretty much cut out anything creamy or buttery. I haven’t made my ridiculous ice cream in ages. Red meat, ham and bacon are gone! I am still eating chicken and fish, but not in the same quantities as before.

If there was any turning point, it probably came when I went to a vegan dessert event. It was hosted by Danielle Maupertuis, a vegan executive pastry chef who has written a marvellous cookbook called Vegans Deserve Better Than A Fruit Salad. Chocolate mousse, cheesecake, delightful berry explosions, all made without bothering any animals. It was a revelation. I plan to fool carnivorous houseguests with Danielle’s desserts.

Need a cheesy fix? Try this vegan cheese recipe with herby hedgehog

The rise of the plant-based diet

Vegan and vegetarian food has definitely improved in the past decade. The options on menus are no longer unimaginative piles of lawn clippings and leaves. I am not the only meat eater who has eaten the meatless option by choice. Indeed, I had a delicious veggie burger at the BFI Cafe the other day and did not feel as if I was missing out.

I have started haunting the vegan section at Asda, discovering a delicious pumpkin and red chilli pesto that is great on crackers and a smoky bean and chipotle cooking sauce that is ideal for an easy dinner on a can’t-be-arsed night.

But before I get too carried away with my plant-based shenanigans, I asked a couple of doctors about how to go vegan without depriving yourself of vital nutrients.

Plant protein

Dr Sarah Bonza, of Bonza Health, where she specialises in perimenopausal and menopausal healthcare, reassured me that there is no need to worry, especially when it comes to getting enough protein. She suggests eating more legumes, nuts, seeds, soy products, such as tofu, and supplementing with plant-based protein powders.

“I also advise ‘plant protein pairing’, which essentially means that you pair up different plant sources to ensure you complete the necessary amino acids for your body, which are the building blocks of protein,” she says.

As we get older, our protein requirements increase

Examples of plant protein pairing include combining soy, with its nine essential amino acids, with legumes, which are healthy, but low in the amino acid, methionine. Legumes can be boosted by being paired with grains, which are higher in methionine.

As we get older, Dr Shireen Kassam, founder of Plant Based Health Professionals, cautions that our protein requirements increase. As well as eating more legumes, nuts, seeds and soy products, Dr Kassam says that some of the newer plant-based meat alternatives, such as Quorn, can be useful sources of protein.

“Including fortified soya foods such as calcium-set tofu and soya milk is a great way to get calcium and protein, plus all the additional benefits that soya provides in the diet,” Dr Kassam advises. “Aim for two portions of soya a day.”

Dr Kassam advises vegetarians and vegans over 50 to take a daily or weekly Vitamin B12 supplement, as well as including a source of omega-3 fats every day, such as flaxseeds, walnuts, hemp seeds and chia seeds.

“Older adults on a plant-based diet may want to consider an algae-based source of long chain omega-3 fats, such as DHA and EPA, as there is some evidence that these fats support better brain health,” she says.

Is a plant-based diet the way forward?

It’s a lot to take in. I’ve been cooking proper meals since I was 12 years old. Mum would leave meat out to defrost before she went to work. I’d come home from school and have to do something with it, like a daily MasterChef challenge. In that time, I’ve developed obsessions with so many cuisines and ingredients that are no good for gastritis. But I’ve definitely become less confused and more respectful of meat-free and vegan diets.

I’m not sure I’d ever go fully animal-free. But after three months of being a medical mystery with a digestive system akin to a blocked sink, I’m prepared to explore more genuinely yummy vegetarian and vegan options. Kate Moss may have said nothing tastes as good as skinny feels. I say I’d rather eat food that tastes good and makes me feel less like hot garbage. And if that food is plant-based, then bring it on.

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About Georgia Lewis
In a career that has spanned Australia, the Middle East and the UK, Georgia has written about all sorts of things, including sex, cars, food, oil and gas, insurance, fashion, travel, workplace safety, health, religious affairs, glass and glazing... When she's not writing words for fun and profit, she can usually be found with a glass of something French and red in her hand.

1 Comment

  1. Really enjoyed reading Georgia Lewis’ story on exploring veganism. Particularly liked the dessert recommendations and also the tips re supplements and food combining.

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