We all know that we should be eating more plant based food, not only for our health but also for the environment. If you’re wondering how you can increase the range of vegan food in your diet, here are 5 switches you can make:
The easiest way to start is simply to add more vegetables, fruits & wholegrains
- Milk and yoghurt – unless you are living on the top of a mountain or in a cave, you will no doubt have noticed the huge range of plant based “milks” that are available. Even the smallest local supermarkets will usually stock soy milk and possibly coconut milk. So it’s not difficult to make the switch to non dairy milks in terms of product availability. Most of the big coffee chains offer almond, soy and oat milk alternatives for their hot drinks and the smaller independent cafes are catching on too. As with many vegan alternatives, taste is a big factor when it comes to milk, especially if you have it in your coffee or tea. I’ve yet to find a plant based milk that I can tolerate in my tea, so for me, it’s black tea or switching to herbal. You can play around with plant based milks to make really delicious hot drinks as an alternative to tea or coffee. I love golden milk (sometimes called “moon milk”) which is made with nutmeg, turmeric, ginger and other warming spices and is a lovely calming evening drink which is meant to help with sleeplessness. For a morning energy boost, you could try a matcha latte and for an afternoon sweet treat, my kids and I love a hot chocolate made with almond milk, cacao powder and cinnamon Hot drinks aside, you can usually use plant based milk in most recipes which require cows milk. I always use almond milk to make my porridge and other oaty breakfast recipes and in my smoothies. I quite often use it in baking too. For yoghurt, my favourite product is Coyo coconut yoghurt as it’s high in healthy gut bacteria and has a lovely subtle taste and consistency. It’s quite calorific though (over 200 calories per 100g) as the fat content is high (23g per 100g – although it is healthy fat) so it pays to watch portion sizes when using coconut yoghurt, especially if you are used to using low fat dairy yoghurt which is much lower in calories and fat. Soya yoghurt is not at the top of my list as many brands have sugar added to them. But if you shop around, you might find some that taste ok without lots of added sugar.
- Eggs – I do love a plate of fluffy scrambled eggs with avocado and omelettes are my go-to for a high protein quick and nutritious lunch. So I was wondering what on earth I could use instead of eggs for these kinds of breakfast and lunch recipes. I came across these two scrummy sounding recipes recently – avocado with butter bean and thyme hummus on sourdough and caramelised onion and chickpea frittata with tomato (which uses silken tofu for the frittata). I haven’t tried the recipes yet but I’m planning to very soon. Although a somewhat unlikely contender for an egg white substitute, chickpea water actually whips up into a gorgeous meringue-like texture. There are lots of recipes online for vegan chocolate mousse using either aquafaba (chickpea water) or avocado. Have a play around and see what works.
- Cheese – if you are one of those people who say they could never give up cheese (feta for me!), you will probably find the lack of cheese in a vegan diet a bit hard to get used to at first. But once you’re over the withdrawal symptoms, there are plenty of vegan alternatives if you still want some cheesiness in your meals. But if you are a die hard cheese fan, be prepared : I doubt that any of the vegan cheeses are going to give you the same satisfaction as a chunk of your favourite cheese on a cracker. But with a bit of expectation management, you might find your tastebuds adjust. There are lots of different vegan cheeses available which are created to resemble the major cheese types such as cheddar, mozarella, parmesan and feta. Ingredients vary but generally contain modified potato starch and coconut oil. I’m planning to try the Sainsburys Deliciously Free From Greek style vegan cheese, which is meant to be a reasonable feta substitute. Many vegan recipes use nutritional yeast to add a cheesy flavour to dishes. I’ve yet to perfect the use of nutritional yeast but I’m going to keep trying different recipes until I nail it. Oh, and a tip for high street dining, apparently the Pizza Express Vegan Pizza tastes amazing.
- Chocolate – this is another food item that many people (including me) feel they could never give up. Well, the good news is, you don’t have to. Most good quality dark chocolate (60-90% cacao content) doesn’t contain any dairy. So your Green & Blacks dark chocolate is actually vegan – hooray! With chocolate – and any shop bought confectionary – always check the ingredients just to make sure. You probably don’t need me to tell you that the standard bar of Dairy Milk is definitely NOT vegan. I like to make my own chocolate when I’m in a fiddling in the kitchen mood – it’s very easy, you melt some coconut oil, mix in cacao powder, maple syrup and chopped nuts, spread it over some baking paper in a tray, stick it in the freezer, then break it into shards. Keep it in the freezer and take it out about 5 minutes before you want to eat it. If you have chocolate moulds, you can use the same ingredients to make your own dark chocolates. Try adding a drop of a good quality essential oil such as peppermint or orange to really liven up your homemade chocolate.
- Meals on the Go – most of us want a quick, easy and nutritious option for lunch during the week. If you’re on the go and you don’t have time for a homemade lunch, there are now plenty of vegan options on the High Street. Think falafel or hummus wraps, mixed bean or rice based salads, sushi made with tofu and hearty wholegrain soups. The vegan movement is really gaining momentum and retailers are making ever more products to satisfy our demand for more plant based food.
So there you have it, 5 switches you can make to vegan-ify your diet. If you are keen to incorporate more plant based foods into your diet, the easiest way to start is simply to add more vegetables, fruits and wholegrains and reduce the amount of meat, eggs and dairy. Have a play around with vegan alternatives and don’t be afraid to experiment with new recipes. Right, I’m off to make that butter bean and thyme hummus for lunch today.
Happy plant based eating!