Vegan, vegetarian, plant-based, flexitarian?
People love to label themselves, especially when it comes to diet. Personally, if I had to label myself, I would say I have been vegetarian and mostly plant-based for the last three or four years. This to start with was me seeing if I could go meat free for a while and then I just kind of stuck to it. Before this, I rarely used to each meat anyway as the thought of it definitely made me squirm. I only really used to each chicken or the occasional sausage at a BBQ. I don’t currently believe that I would ever go back to eating meat again.
It is said that millennials are turning vegan. Only time will tell if veganism’s current popularity is a permanent lifestyle choice or just another fad. In the UK, this diet choice has risen 350 percent over the past ten years, with 42 percent aged between 15 and 34. I believe that this has something to do with the rise of the health food blogger and names in the spotlight adopting this lifestyle, including Ellie Goulding, Novak Djokovic, and David Hayes.
I personally do not know whether I could become a full vegan. I think I could definitely do it for a short period, however I don’t know whether this would be sustainable for me. I would enjoy doing a couple weeks vegan challenge, just to see how I would feel after. I don’t think it would be a huge change for me already being vegetarian and eating a lot of plant based meals. Having said this I just love Greek yogurt, eggs, feta and haloumi! If it wasn’t for these four things, I know I could definitely adopt this way of eating permanently.
Making this dietary choice can be hard for me when eating out. In a few places it is easy but in some places it is definitely not so easy. I have experienced restaurants that have a whole vegan menu and others who don’t even have a vegetarian option other than a plain salad made of lettuce leaves.
I used to be a very fussy eater, I knew what I liked and thought I knew what I didn’t and 100% avoided these things. However, going vegetarian forced me out of my comfort zone. I now eat a much larger variety which has massively helped with the boredom I was previously experiencing. Don’t get me wrong, there are still some foods that I don’t eat for many reasons, but I feel that I am getting a far wider range of nutrients. Being a vegetarian has taught me to make new meals and experiment with new ingredients. I now have a real love for cooking, especially with my mum, which I really feel has helped me fall back in love with food. Who knew beans could be cooked in so many different ways? It turns out most foods can be ‘vegetarianised’. I would definitely recommend Deliciously Ella, Clean Eating Alice and Niomi Smart’s cook books for vegetarian, vegan and plant-based inspiration.
I have also found that eating vegetarian is so much cheaper than eating animal products. Although meat replacement products can be pricey, I tend to stick to wholefoods which is all I need and they’re much cheaper. However, some of the vegan, vegetarian treats can cost more money as they are often organic and made with good ingredients. I love nutritional yeast; it takes like cheese, it’s great. However I do add B12 which I otherwise may be deficient in as I don’t eat meat. I also tend to add flax seeds, chia seeds and nuts to my food to give me some extra nutrients.
What puts me off labelling myself as vegan is that I know if I did this I would be faced with everyone having an opinion on my choice. The vegan community can be very supportive, but at the same time can be very strong willed in their beliefs. As soon as someone makes one slip up, it is almost like they are attacked, especially through social media. If I ever do make this choice, as never say never, I feel it will most probably be easier to avoid going into depth about it with people unless they ask questions. I definitely do not want to get into debates.
As I said, when I started my vegetarian journey, I was mostly looking at the choice from an animal cruelty perspective. However, I now know that there is a much larger picture, the positive impact on the environment and the planet in general. Vegetarian and veganism for examples helps to save the amount of water, land and reduces deforestation and greenhouse gasses.
I think the misconception about becoming a vegan or vegetarian is that it means ‘healthy’. This is definitely not the case! There is plenty of vegan junk food: burgers, doughnuts, biscuits, cakes, everything. However, I have now found my way of eating that involves opting for a better alternative with wholesome ingredients. Check out my 3 vegan snack post for healthier indulgent treats. I definitely do not feel that I am missing out on treats now that I have found some delicious snacks that are equally, if not more yummy than ones containing lots of refined ingredients.
I know that there is a debate on protein, especially within people who just see meat as the only source. I soon realised that you don’t need half as much as you think you do and have also learnt that there are far more sources of it than most people probably think. Vegetarian protein sources include quinoa, buckwheat, rice and beans, nuts (I am a little addicted with nut butter. Cashew, peanut and almost are the best.), eggs, chia seeds, cheese and yogurt. There are probably many more but these are the ones I mainly opt for.
I was also surprised at the beginning that there are so many foods that are not vegetarian that I would have never thought of before. These include Harribo and a lot of packet sweets as well as marshmallows.
There has also been an increase in what is known as the flexitarian diet. This is a plant-based diet with the occasional addition of meat. I actually love this term as quite simply there are no rules, no labels. Some flexitarians will have a meat-free meal once a week while others will only eat meat on rare occasions. The flexitarian diet is increasing in popularity especially with people who do not want to commit to a full vegetarian or vegan lifestyle. It allows them a flexibility that they can adapt to their lifestyle, social life or health conditions.
Overall being a vegetarian makes me feel content, happy and healthy: my body feels more energised. Plus, I think my body looks better than it ever has! It also makes me feel like I am eating with another purpose: the goal of the wellbeing of our planet and the animals who live in it.