Top 10 Reasons to Go Vegan in the New Year

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“If slaughterhouses had glass walls, the whole world would be vegetarian.”

- Linda McCartney, Linda's Kitchen: Simple and Inspiring Recipes for Meals Without Meat

Reducing your intake of meat and dairy can take a load off your heart! There is a lot of information out there that can help you on this journey, but this guide contains just a few things that helped me!

The internet is an endless space of information. With just a quick search on Google, you can find practically any vegan recipe you want from a half dozen people who have created a different recipe for the same thing (black bean burgers, for example; there are tons out there, all different and amazing). Below are some websites that helped me in different ways, whether in researching my health and eating right, or just snagging some recipes.

1. PeasAndThankYou.com. The website came first, gaining so much popularity that books were demanded and thusly created. Read the description of the book above, and multiply that awesomeness times 5. That’s the website.

2. VegNews.com. The website of the VegNews magazine. Articles, recipes, information galore!

3. VegWeb.com. This is basically a forum where people can post recipes and others rate them. It has become a huge database of recipes, and they are rated from 1-5 stars, so you can tell which are the favorites. People also comment with alterations they made, and most of the time, you’ll find some of those will work better for you!

4. HappyCow.net. A database of vegan restaurants that is imperative when traveling. They have an iPhone app now, too!

5. VeganSociety.com and VeganHealth.org have lots of information on eating right when cutting out meat and dairy.

6. Barnivore.com. A HUGE database of various alcohols and whether they are vegan or not. If one you search for isn’t listed, they give detailed instructions on contacting you the company to get the information you need! Then you can submit it to Barnivore and they add it to the site.

There are TONS of vegan and vegetarian cookbooks out there. Below are just a few suggestions of some of my favorites.

1. Veganomicon by Isa Chandra Moskowitz and Terry Hope Romero. This is the bible of the vegan world. I don’t even know what else to say, but if you want to try some vegan meals, this is the first book you should get.

2. The China Study by T. Colin Campbell. If you’re serious about eating to be healthy, you should read this book. It is full of SCIENCE that eating a plant based diet is healthier, backed fully by evidence.

3. The Kind Diet by Alicia Silverstone. This book helped me tremendously as someone going vegan for animal rights reasons. However, for those of you looking at it for health reasons, it’s also full of information on eating a balanced diet and what to keep in your pantry all the time. Alicia is very down to Earth and so are her recipes.

4. Peas And Thank You by Sarah Matheny. I swear by this woman. She is so sassy and hilarious, and her recipes are some of the best I’ve ever made. Most of them are simple twists on non-vegan meals we all love already. She turns them into healthy alternatives she is proud to serve her two girls.

There are also a handful of cookbooks that have “becoming” in the title, referring to becoming vegetarian or becoming vegan. Although I don’t own any of them myself, I know from friends that they can be very helpful for someone who is transitioning, so look for those, too!

Now that vegetarianism and veganism have become so popular, there are tons of amazing products out there that serve as a healthier alternative to some of the things you use on a daily basis. Below are just a few!

1. Vegenaise: Vegan mayonnaise. I swear by this stuff. I make potato and pasta salad with it weekly, and use it on sandwiches practically daily. I make dressings with it, and use it for every purpose I used mayo for before I was vegan. There are other substitutes for mayo out there, but this stuff is so close to mayo, I could barely tell the difference when I started using it.

2. Earth Balance: Vegan butter. Vegans swear by this stuff. It’s the perfect replacement for butter spoon for spoon and has a wonderful buttery taste without tasting like it’s fake. It’s great for baking or just spreading on toast!

3. Ener-G Egg Replacer: This is a powdered, potato starch based egg replacer. You whisk it with a couple tablespoons of water to use when baking something that uses an egg as a binding agent.

4. Non-dairy milk: The choices now are endless for this category. The main three are soy milk, almond milk, and rice milk, but there is also hemp milk and flax milk and probably some others that I haven’t heard of. They all have different characteristics but all serve as a healthier alternative to cow’s milk. Rice milk is a bit thinner, like 2% milk. Almond milk is thicker, as is flax milk. Soy milk is a perfect in between. Try them one by one and see which one is your favorite! Almond milk used to be our favorite, but we get flax milk now!

5. Vegan cheese: There are a ton of brands out there making dairy free cheese now. Daiya is the most popular brand; they offer cheddar and mozzarella in shreds and blocks. Other brands that offer different varieties are Teese, Follow Your Heart (makers of Vegenaise), Galaxy, Sheese, etc. Tofutti makes a great cream cheese alternative, but I find it’s better to use in baking than to eat by itself on a bagel (Tofutti also makes a vegan sour cream). Just be careful; if you’re looking to completely cut dairy out, there are some cheeses that aren’t completely vegan. Veggie Slices is the only one I can think of, but they contain casein, which is derived from cow’s milk.

6. Meat alternatives: I know I mentioned tofu, tempeh, and seitan before, but I wanted to list some brands that are good. Tofurky and Field Roast are by far my favorite and two of the most well known. Yves is one as well. They all make vegan sausage, sandwich slices, loaves, and hot dogs. Gardein has a whole line of various meals that are all amazing, from turkey cutlets with gravy to sliders, and of course there are Boca Burgers as well (avoid Morningstar meats if you’re cutting out dairy completely, as most contain dairy of some sort).

At the time this is being written, I’ve been vegan for 2.5 years, and was vegetarian for almost 2 years before that. I’ve given advice a lot along the way, and I know what worked for me, so I wanted to offer some advice to anyone looking to limit their meat and dairy intake.

• I believe you have to do it slow to do it right; that isn’t always the case, but it worked for us. When my husband and I went vegetarian, we did research for a few months first to make sure we would be getting all the nutrition we needed. After that, we cut out beef, then we cut pork a few weeks later followed by chicken. This totally worked for us, and that is coming from a good ol’ Southern Bell who grew up with a barbeque judge for a father. To transition into going vegan, I made our home vegan but would still eat cheese when eating out. I had cheese less and less this way until it was totally gone from my diet.

• Start cooking. When you find a recipe you are totally in love with, keep it somewhere safe. Build up a library of at least 15-25 of your favorite recipes and keep ingredients on hand for at least a few of them. This way, you will always have the supplies and recipe to make something you know you like. Trying new recipes all the time can be exhausting and expensive, and it’s disheartening when you make something you don’t like very much, but you can always go to your trusty library to throw something together at the end of a long work day.

• Cook meals that yield leftovers. Casseroles and soup are the obvious choices, but if you look specifically for recipes that make good leftovers, then you can give yourself a chef break for a day or two! You can also look for recipes that freeze well; one of my favorite meals to make is pesto. I throw a couple handfuls of basil into a food processor, along with a handful of nuts (my favorites are cashews and pecans), some olive oil and salt & pepper, run the processor for a minute, and you have pesto! Freeze some of the pesto in ice cube trays and then all you have to do is thaw it later and toss it with some pasta.

• Try something new every week. Always have your favorite recipe library at hand, but you can only make that library bigger if you try something new now and then.

• Eat a RAINBOW. I know that sounds odd, but the easiest way to eat a balanced diet is to eat a rainbow of food; eating a balanced diet doesn’t have to be hard! Each color of food contains different vitamins and minerals that your body needs.

• Don’t be intimidated to try some meat substitutions. The main 3 are tofu, tempeh, and seitan. Tofu and tempeh are soy based and seitan is made with wheat gluten. There are tons of recipes in books and online to cook with all of these substitutes. Don’t eat them expecting them to be meat, but think of them as a new food. They are all extremely healthy for you and easy to make. Tofu and tempeh are best if they are marinated before you cook with them. Seitan, if made right (it can also be purchased pre-made) can make a wonderful substitution for anything from shaved sandwich meat to steak cutlets! Just be open-minded and experiment. Soy curls are another alternative (THEY ROCK), but they are only made by one manufacturer, Butler, so they may be hard to get depending on where you are. You can get them online, though.

First, I want to address a few questions that frequently come up when looking into eating more of a plant based diet. As a vegan, they are the questions I get the most!

1. How do you get enough protein?

a. Firstly, you don’t need as much protein as you think you do. In fact, most people in the US eat way more than they need. Secondly, you can get all the protein you need from vegetables, beans, and grains! Our bodies make 16 of the 23 amino acids we need to function; we have to eat the other 7 to meet our protein quota. A “complete protein” food is a food that has all 7 of the proteins our bodies don’t produce. Soy and quinoa are just a couple complete proteins. If a food isn’t “complete,” that just means it doesn’t have all 7 amino acids. Grains lack in one amino acid that beans have a ton of and vice versa, so you just have to make sure you’re eating a lot of different things to get the complete protein you need.

2. What about getting enough calcium?

a. A varied diet will get you all the calcium you need. Most orange juice, non-dairy milk, and tofu are fortified with calcium, so you just have to read the labels. There are tons of vegetables full of calcium, too, including bok choy, broccoli, and kale. You also have to make sure you are getting enough vitamin D because you need it to efficiently absorb calcium in your body.

3. Will I get enough iron without meat?

a. Yes! Firstly, you need to be taking in enough Vitamin C to absorb iron properly. Meat and veggies contain different types of iron. Meat contains heme iron, which your body absorbs whether you need it or not. I guess you could say it forces its way into your system. Excess iron leads to accelerated aging! Vegetables, grains, and beans contain nonheme iron, which your body only absorbs if it needs it, eliminating the accelerated aging problem. Beans and dark leafy greens are where you will find most of the iron you need in the plant world.

4. Can you find B12 in the plant world?

a. This may be a question you didn’t know you had, but is one I have read about a lot lately. A vitamin B12 deficiency doesn’t show up for years, so you want to make sure you’re prepared now. It is needed for cell division and blood formation. Vitamin B12 is not in meat or veggies; it is created by bacteria. Meat contains B12 when the animal eats something contaminated with B12, then it becomes a source of B12. If you cut meat from your diet completely, you need to make sure you are eating foods that are fortified with B12 such as nutritional yeast, some cereal, non-dairy milk, and vitamin supplements.

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