So would becoming a Vegan really be a salad too far?
When you take on a Vegan lifestyle, you suddenly become a changed person to family, friends and colleagues. You are that person with an arrow over their head, pointing downwards. The oddball, the nut cutlet eater, the salad shuffler. In the world of the obese, the Vegan is an alien.
Over the past few weeks I have been working out the reasoning behind why some people would just not entertain the idea of becoming Vegetarian or Vegan.
Firstly we have fear. Fear of the unknown. Fear of starving. Fear of change. Will I get enough proteins? Will I get enough vitamins and minerals? Will I be hungry all the time? Will people laugh at me?
All these fears are very real. The practical ones are tough enough. The mental ones even tougher. When a “normal” diet consists of too much saturated fats, sugar and salt, it is hard to comprehend changes to diet that exclude them. Not everyone can stomach the prospect of salads and green goopy soups or lumpy smoothies.
The initial perception of a Vegan is that of a social misfit, usually quite thin and undernourished, wearing old clothes (made from non-animal products), continually reading ingredients, and carrying round an attitude problem.
In reality there are a million Vegans in the USA, half a million Vegans in the UK, and many more worldwide. A large proportion of these Vegans look pretty average, with healthy complexions. They will be vibrant and have a pleasant outgoing attitude. Many will also have thick enough deflectors to withstand the bias and poor press Vegans receive. Fact is, once they have overcome their own self doubts about Vegan practices, then they can look at any detractors with a steely eye and a confidence in their own lifestyle. The Heart Attack and Stroke wards of any hospital are full of those jolly jesters who laugh at Vegan diets.
The stats speak for themselves. We have an obesity problem like we have never had before. Over 60% of the USA population are officially classed as overweight, with a figure not far short for the UK.
Between 15 and 25% of American schoolchildren are classed as obese, with a similar figure for UK schoolchildren. We have a diabetes problem going north by the minute.
Down on the farm in the good old days, food was as plentiful as it is today. But that was fresh food. People were healthy because they worked hard, played hard and ate a nourishing diet. Now we eat food filled with additives. We eat meat from animals that don’t see the light of day or breathe fresh air. They are bred in mega warehouses usually tucked away deep in the countryside. Often they are expanded farms that have been turned into food processing plants, and escape the attentions of the regulatory authorities. The emphasis is on quantity (and profit) rather than quality. When the best cuts are made, the leftovers are churned up and also sold as meat. So your cheap cuts of processed meats could well contain bone, gristle and organs, with rusk, grain and leftovers from other food sources making up the bulk. There might be something like 30% meat advertised on the packaging, but what is the grade of meat? Is this a recipe for health? I don’t think so, but we seem to be pre-occupied with burgers, sausages and kebabs. So Bon Appetit for that!
Supermarket chains are profit driven, not customer service driven as they say they are. They will push the boundaries of what they can get away with for that extra dollar (or pound or euro or whatever). Produce is made to look as good as possible with clever packaging and bright lights. But how many times have you bought foods purporting to be fresh, that deteriorated within a very fast time?
So how do you get out of the food trap and begin to eat better? Family and peer pressure is a big obstacle to overcome. Fast food tastes so good and is socially acceptable and inviting.
The first thing to do is to step back and assess your diet. Work out what is being bought, whether it is good value for money, and good value for health. Cheap sugary cereals, cheap white bread, crisps, pizzas, burgers and sugary sweets should be the first to get crossed off the list. Cakes, biscuits and chocolate products should be bought with care.
Start reading the labels on suspect items. If the list of ingredients reads like the small print on a car finance agreement – ditch it. Twenty ingredients or more in a product won’t be healthy. There will be colourings, stabilisers, preservatives and all sorts of other things that you really don’t need inside you.
Look for the warning labels on product packets. Red is for danger, whatever the product is. There will be too much sugar, too many saturated fats or too much salt (or all 3). Handle with care. A little of what you like is definitely good for you, but a lot of what you may like might not be.
Try more fresh stuff – it tastes so much better once your taste buds acclimatise. Eat slowly and enjoy. Go against the bad habit of eating quickly and “bolting” food. You give your stomach too much work to do, making you sluggish and inviting indigestion and other digestive problems. Also try to avoid drinking while eating to give the stomach time to break down food in the most efficient way.
If you struggle for time to prepare fresh food, try frozen. Frozen veg is fast frozen when picked, and once thawed out and cooked, tastes nearly as good as fresh, and retains a lot of the goodness. Tinned is processed, once again having added preservatives and those nasty little “E” numbers. Once your taste buds start working well, you will be able to quickly distinguish between fresh, frozen and tinned.
Instead of jumping head first into a Vegetarian or Vegan diet, why not try just one day a week for starters. On that day eat only plant-based items. No animal or dairy. Example – buy some soya or nut milk to put on cereal (coconut and almond are both good). Replace the chocolate bar snack with some mixed nuts or fresh fruit – apple, banana, peach, cherries, grapes – all recommended. Find some coconut flavour non-dairy yogurt to put on your fruit if convenient. Replace that burger, pie or other meat lunch with a tuna jacket potato or tuna pasta salad. For a main meal ditch the meat or chicken and double up on the veg. Replace chips with a potato and swede mash, and add some broccoli and carrots instead of baked beans. Just one day a week, and see how it goes.
A journey of a 1000 miles starts with a single step. If it works, gradually step up to 2 days. Lose the croissants and cut down on the high fat cheeses, cakes and biscuits. Have fruit and nut snacks always at the ready.
If you begin to like this idea, here is a great resource. The Half day diet may be a good start point.
for further details.
This is not specifically a Vegan system, but it does have a Vegan section. It will make you question your own values and offer a sensible and proven way to re-shape your diet. Well worth a look.
Any observations on any of the above, please leave me a comment.