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A few years ago, you’d be hard-pressed to find more than one vegan option at most restaurants. In 2017, over half a million Brits follow a vegan diet and choose to live an animal product-free lifestyle according to the UK government’s National Diet and Nutrition Survey. That’s a 360% increase in ten years.
Across the UK, the interest in what a vegan lifestyle entails has soared. Searches for veganism have doubled since last year, and clothing companies, restaurants and beauty brands have wised up to the demand.
The food industry has been getting creative with vegan menus, from vegan jerky to using jackfruit as chicken. And if you’re after a range of vegan cheeses, all you need to do nowadays is head to your local supermarket. With a variety of readily available meat and dairy alternatives, it’s now easier than ever before to enjoy a vegan diet as part of your lifestyle.
But a vegan diet isn’t the only part of being a vegan. Clothing materials, beauty products and health supplements are just as important.
So if you’re thinking of venturing into the world of veganism, here’s the complete beginners guide to a vegan diet and lifestyle to help you on your way.
What is a vegan, and what is the difference between vegan and vegetarian?
A vegan is identified as someone who chooses to live their life free of animal products, in terms of both their diet and general lifestyle. As well as refraining from eating meat and fish, vegans opt out of yoke porn, dairy products, or any other product that originates from an animal – honey is out.
According to The Vegan Society, a vegan lifestyle is defined as “a way of living that attempts to exclude all forms of animal exploitation and cruelty, be it for food, clothing or any other purpose,”. In reality this means the exclusion of leather and cashmere, as well as any beauty, hygiene and household products that contain animal products.
While vegetarians also don’t include meat or fish in their diet, they will usually eat dairy and honey, and they may not opt for natural skincare.
Is a vegan diet healthy?
There have been conflicting reports about whether or not a vegan diet is good for you. A study from the University of Florence in Italy found that individuals who follow a vegan diet significantly lower rates of ischemic heart disease and cancer, and they also tend to have healthier guts, reduced menopause symptoms and less stress.
But some experts have suggested that it isn’t as easy as that. One study published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition claims that “eliminating all animal products from the diet increases the risk of certain nutritional deficiencies. Micronutrients of special concern for the vegan include vitamins B-12 and D, calcium, and long-chain n–3 (omega-3) fatty acids.”
Professor of Health and Human Sciences at Colorado State University Loren Cordain supports the claim, saying: “Compared to the average diet, a vegan diet looks very healthy, especially in the short term.
“But in the long-term, there aren’t any clear mortality benefits, and in fact [vegan diets] may be less healthy than diets that include meat.”
However, those wishing to switch to a vegan diet should not be deterred. Push Doctor Medical Officer and GP Dr Dan Robertson insists that as long as you’re getting the nutrients your body needs there is no reason to be worried about going vegan.
He advises: “Like any diet, veganism needs to be well balanced and you need to make sure you’re getting the vitamins and minerals you need.”
If you’ve decided to go vegan, it might feel like an overwhelming choice – but it doesn’t have to be. There are thousands of resources out there to help you live a vegan lifestyle, and as long as you track the nutrients you put into your body it can be a healthy path to follow.
But is a vegan diet for everyone? Can you switch to a vegan diet if you have a pre-existing digestive medical condition?
Dr Dan believes you can, but it may require a little more effort. He explains: “If you have a condition such as Crohn’s disease or IBS, you can still eat a vegan diet. However, everyone’s symptoms and triggers are different, so it hard to provide one rule for all.”
Triggers vary from person to person, but various bloggers living with Crohn’s disease or IBS who have at some point turned to veganism found that they were affected by the increase in fibre, and others noted that being very sensitive to pulses and lentils narrowed their choices of meals even more.
Dr Dan continues: “If you have a digestive illness, you’d still need to avoid foods that aggravate your symptoms and it’s possible that your food options could end up being quite limited.”
Is it vegan?
It sounds simple enough – it’s commonly thought that as long as you aren’t eating meat, fish, eggs or dairy you’re pretty much on a vegan diet, right?
It’s not quite as simple as that. Although there are a range of foods we automatically think of as vegan – fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds – there are a surprising number of foods that aren’t actually free of animal products.
For example, Dr Dan admits that some of our go-to veggie foods aren’t vegan friendly.
“Quorn is the one that surprises most people. It often has traces of egg in it, so it’s not suitable for vegans,” he explains.
“This can be true for a number of meat substitutes, so make sure you always read the label.
“Crisps are another one – they often contain milk protein as part of the flavouring. Once again, check the ingredients before you tuck in!”
What else should you look out for?
Red sweets, foods and drinks
Anything that has been coloured with red food dye isn’t vegan. Red food dye contains carmine, also known as crushed up beetles. Yes, really. Cochineal extract or natural red 4 is produced when the beetles are boiled in ammonia or sodium carbonate, which is then used to colour a variety of sweets, foods and drinks, as well beauty products and medicines.
Wine and beer
That’s right – a glass of wine is technically derived from grapes, but that doesn’t mean it’s free from animal products. Animal rights charity Peta explains: “During the winemaking process, the liquid is filtered through substances called fining agents.
“Popular animal-derived fining agents used in the production of wine include blood and bone marrow, casein (milk protein), chitin (fibre from crustacean shells), egg albumen (derived from egg whites), fish oil, gelatin (protein from boiling animal parts), and isinglass (gelatin from fish bladder membranes).”
The majority of beer is vegan, but not all of them are – some contain milk or honey, but some are clarified using isinglass.
The classic British Lea & Perrins formula actually contains anchovies, so it’s not vegan friendly. However, Biona have created an alternative for anyone who can’t live without it on their vegan cheese on toast.
The soft, sweet fruit is not vegan. Why? A fig actually contains a decomposed wasp in the middle.
A female fig wasp will accidentally enter a female fig (the ones we eat) when attempting to lay eggs in a male fig. The wasp, then unable to escape, dies and decomposes before we eat them.
Vegan recipes – vegan diet for beginners
Don’t panic when it comes to putting together vegan recipes – we’ve got you sorted. Take a look at these mouthwatering meals:
- Vegan chocolate and almond sorbet
- Vegan ginger mushroom summer rolls
- 5 show stopping vegan recipes
- Vegan Christmas Recipes: Healthy mince pies
- The 5 best vegan recipe videos on Wild Dish
Vegan food hacks
Whether you’re new to veganism and are adapting to a vegan diet, or are throwing a dinner party for plant-based pals, there are some very simple ways to turn your favourite dishes into vegan delights. These 7 vegan food hacks are the best we’ve seen and will help you whip up cakes, coffee an pancakes.
Let’s not forget about the upcoming festive period, either. Take a look at the simple vegan Christmas food hacks.
Being vegan is more than just eliminating animal products from your diet – it’s about removing them from your day-to-day life, too.
It doesn’t have to be difficult, just get yourself clued up on what you should be looking out for.
Assumed that your ‘cruelty free’ makeup meant it was vegan? Think again. While a ‘cruelty free’ stamp signifies that the brand does not test on animals, to be classed as a vegan beauty product it must not contain animal or animal derived ingredients such as:
As beauty brands slowly make the shift towards cruelty-free and/or vegan products, they’re much more readily available than they were a few years ago. Here are 11 of the best cruelty-free cosmetics to give your makeup bag an ethical makeover.
And, don’t forget your shower products. Organic hair products have come a long way in the past few years to rival them chemical-packed cousins.
Moving towards a meat and dairy-free diet doesn’t have to impact your fitness goals. There are loads of alternative proteins on the market to make sure that you still hit your macros.
Vegan Nathalie Emmanuel reveals her favourite post-workout fuel, and you can stock up on these 7 vegan protein bars that taste really good.
And don’t think you’ll be battling your morning sweet tooth as a vegan – here are the 8 best recipes for vegan protein pancakes and they’re seriously delicious.
Worried that you dairy doesn’t agree with you? Get to grips with lactose intolerance symptoms.
Peta warns that some tattoo ink is definitely not vegan, stating that some contain “bone char, glycerin from animal fat, gelatin from hooves, or shellac from beetles.”
Vegan diet – vegan pros and cons
If you’re weighing up whether or not to take the step towards vegan living, it’s important that you know as much as possible, and Dr Dan has sounds advice for anyone thinking of going plant-based.
“Any diet where you limit entire food groups risks upsetting your nutritional balance,” he warns.
“Vegans might find it hard to get enough iron, calcium, Vitamin B12, Vitamin D and omega-3 in their diet, which puts them at an increased risk of conditions such as anaemia and osteoporosis.
“However, a vegan diet is typically lower in saturated fat. That means you’re less likely to be obese or suffer from high blood pressure or high cholesterol, so your risk of heart disease is greatly reduced.”
Now that you have the tools to do it, will you be making the switch to a vegan diet?
Fancy trying out some vegan meals first? Head to the Best Vegan Restaurants: London to Edinburgh or visit one of the 4 Best Vegan Hotels For A Healthy Getaway.