My Five Key Components To Successful Weight Loss

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I see so many people trying to lose weight (especially now it’s nearly summer and all the hideous ‘get your bikini bod so the menz on the beach don’t find you disgusting‘ ads are everywhere) and my heart goes out to them.

Seemingly each month a new diet trend comes out. Each frickin’ day there is this green smoothie weight loss challenge or that juicing weight loss challenge.

Even if people want to lose weight because THEY want to – rather than because society is pressuring them to; so much contradictory information is out there about weight loss it can be hard to know which route to take.

How is anyone meant to know what is effective and what’s not?  And even if it’s effective – is it healthy? Is it sustainable? Will the weight just pack all back on at the end of the challenge or will the weight loss last this time?

I personally couldn’t give a crap what someone looks like – but in terms of health, wellness and longevity; a weight that suits our frame is ideal.

I’ve been overweight – not massively so, but enough that I know what it is to feel heavy, unfit and lethargic. The joy I get now in moving my body and having it work optimally for me is priceless (I do handstands every day, and love hiking and climbing), and it’s worth it for me to maintain a healthy weight.

The good news is that this is easier than we’re led to believe.

I’ve already written about how a whole foods, plant-based diet is the healthiest and most sustainable way to lose weight. But, just to recap, this means 100% plant-based (no animal products); whole foods (no refined foods like sugar, white flour, white rice etc, but the whole versions); minimal added oils (because these are processed, extracted fats); and minimal processed foods.

To get an idea of what whole food, plant-based meals look like – I highly recommend the Forks Over Knives Recipe resource.

Exercise is also part of any weight loss plan obvs, but I’m gonna stick to talking about the food here, as that’s my bag.

 

Here are my FIVE KEY components for successful weight loss:

 

1. Enjoyment of your food

For the love of all that’s holy, you NEED to enjoy your meals…I was gonna say even if you’re losing weight, but you need to enjoy your food ESPECIALLY if you are losing weight. How else will your new habits be sustainable?

If you delight in your food you won’t feel deprived and like you’re being punished. If you see what you’re doing as a delicious permanent lifestyle shift rather than as a temporary diet, you’re more likely to be successful.

If you’re on a diet where you’re drinking shakes or smoothies instead of having meals; I mean, really? Even if the shake tastes ok, you really want one for every meal?

If you are used to eating refined or greasy foods, you may notice a difference in taste eating whole food plant-based – but you’ll lose NONE of the flavour. And, after a while your taste buds will adjust and PREFER the whole, lower fat food.

If you’ve made the change from omnivore to vegan, you’ve already experienced your taste buds acclimating to plant foods from animal foods – it’s the same thing here but you’re adjusting to whole foods.

Get cooking and get creative.

 

2. Satiety

If you are like me, you need to feel satisfied at the end of a meal. I like my stomach to KNOW it’s been fed, not in a ‘aaarrrrghhhh I feel so gross and bloated’ kind of a way; just in a warm, cosy, pleasantly satiated kind of a way. A green smoothie for dinner ain’t gonna cut it. Don’t kid yourself. Even if you do this for a few days, it’s not sustainable.

Foods that fill you up (like whole grains and beans) will STOP you reaching for crap later, or stop you dreaming of crap. And who’s got time to dream of crap food all day long?

If you’re full of beans and grains – there just ain’t room for anything else! Your belly and your brain are content!

 

3. Stop counting stuff

I don’t believe food and its components should ever be counted (unless you have a condition where your doctor has recommended you count measurements of foods etc).

Some people think vegans are no fun – but don’t seem to question the funlessness of counting calories, ‘syns,’ fat content etc etc.

On a whole food, plant-based diet (and if you’re conservative with the ol’ added oils) NO COUNTING IS NEEDED.

 

4. Consistency in the day to day is key (rather than sporadic detoxes, crash diets, or ‘challenges’)

Forget the detox and the challenges. What’s the point of a detox or a challenge, only to go back to old habits and have to do another detox a few weeks or months down the line?

No one is suggesting you should never eat vegan junk food again as long as you live; but on a daily basis consistently choosing tasty, whole food dishes will stop you wanting the junk regularly.

Make the junk an occasional treat. Junk always tastes better if you feel it’s a cheeky treat 🙂

5. Preparation

If you’re a busy bee, prepare as much as you can in advance. It’s all about putting measures in place to prevent making less than great food choices.

Slow cookers are great for having a meal ready when you walk in the door; you can make extra soup and stews and freeze what you don’t eat for later in the week.

Even if you can’t prep a whole meal in advance you can chop veg once you’ve bought it and keep it in the veg box or freezer.

 

Five Tips For Maximising Your Energy Levels

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Do you feel like you have little energy and often feel fatigued?

Assuming there is no underlying problem (which, of course you’ll already have checked out at your doctors, right?), then this post can help you get back to being the perky, peppy, zestful YOU.

So, there’s not a list of energy foods for meat eaters and another for vegans – it’s all the same for everyone.

Meat eaters, this is for you because you may find that what you thought to be the best energy food actually isn’t.

And vegans – its ace that you’re vegan, but vegan doesn’t necessarily mean healthy and full of energy, so this is for you, too.

Let’s bust a few myths first shall we?

The best source of energy is CARBOHYDRATES.

Where are carbs NOT found?

Not in meat

Meat contains very little carbohydrate, so is NOT the best energy food. If anything, it can weigh you down and make you feel sluggish.

Our bodies have a hard time digesting it what with us not having the stomach acids to properly break it down, and what with it containing ZERO fibre, and what with us having really long intestines reminiscent of a herbivores. If our bodies are trying to digest meat, our energy is being used up for this.

However, because our bodies can digest plants easily without all the extra effort, when we eat plants we get energy from them.

Not in dairy products

The only carbohydrate in dairy is in the lactose. Only a very small percentage of the world’s population can digest lactose. If you can’t (which is most of us!) your body cannot utilise the carbohydrate in dairy for energy.

Not from green leafy veg

Now don’t get me wrong, green leafy veg are vital to our diets for lots of nutrients – but not to give us energy. They do not contain enough calories to be efficient energy givers.

Green leafy veg are the side to a dish, or a PART of a stew/soup/salad/stir-fry/curry/chilli/pasta dish. They are NOT the main event.

Not from nuts

Nuts are healthy fats and are another vital part of our diet for lots of reasons. A couple a day when we’re peckish can help BOOST our energy, but they should not be the main source of our energy – you’d have to eat too many, and they are too fatty to eat them in bigger quantities.

So how do we get a ton of energy?

Do these five things:

 

1. Get your carbs from THESE foods:

From unrefined, starch-based plant foods, namely:

  • Whole grains – brown rice, quinoa, wholewheat bread, wholewheat pasta, wholewheat couscous, oats, millet, corn, buckwheat/brown rice noodles, etc
  • Tubers and starchy veg – sweet potato, potato (all varieties), squashes (all varieties)
  • legumes (pulses in the UK) – chick peas, red kidney beans, black-eyed peas, lima beans, cannellini beans, peas, lentils (all varieties), black beans, pinto beans, fava (broad) beans etc

Fruits as dessert are fantastic, but should not be the main dish; regardless of what some YouTubers would have you believe.

 

2. Eat breakfast

Well duh! I hear you say, and you’d be right – but you’d be surprised how many people don’t.

A breakfast containing whole grains (oatmeal, wholewheat toast, wholewheat bagel, brown rice) will set you up for great energy all morning.

 

3. Limit sugar and caffeine

By sugar I mean actual sugar; and white refined carbs (white bread, buns, bagels etc; white pasta and white rice).

Though both sugar and caffeine give us energy in the short term, it’s not really worth it for the energy slump that ensues.

Let’s be realistic. Even though it’s possible to eliminate caffeine from our lives, we might not all want to do that – me included. I have two cups of green tea per day and my energy is great. But when I have more than that, it’s definitely negatively affected in the long run. Have one or two cups of whatever caffeinated beverage you love per day, maybe one if it’s coffee, or two if it’s tea (tea has less caffeine).

Similarly, with sugar, I’m not suggesting you eliminate all sugar from your diet, but rather:

Choose whole grains over refined white starches, and minimise actual white sugar as much as possible. Pay attention to where it could be lurking – ketchups, chilli sauces, relishes, shop bought pasta sauces etc. You may not think this is a big deal, but sugar adds up over the course of a day.

Try and buy products that don’t contain sugar. You have to practise label scanning, but you WILL find brands that don’t use sugar, and then you’ll remember them for next time.

Use agave and maple syrup to sweeten things. They are not a health food either, but they don’t spike your blood as much as sugar.

 

4. Exercise

It sounds like it wouldn’t work but it does. Sometime you gotta expend energy to GET energy! Ever laid in bed for longer than you should and just got tireder? Exactly!

If you do nothing else, a brisk half an hour walk every day is a great, easy inclusion into your daily routine. It’ll get the blood flowing round the body, increase your heart rate and (if you are following the other tips) set you up for great energy for the rest of the day.

 

5. Hydrate

Dehydration is such a common problem.

While water in and of itself doesn’t give you energy, dehydration can leave you feeling drained (Literally! Geddit?) and weary.

While you don’t necessarily need to rigidly drink eight glasses a day if you are eating a whole food, plant-based diet (as much of your food will have a high water content); listen to your body and drink water as soon as you feel thirsty. If your pee is almost clear with just a touch of colour – you’re good. If it’s darker, get your H2o on!

 

The Best Foods To Improve Your Moods

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Please note: This post is intended to give tips and advice for best emotional health through nutrition. If you have been diagnosed with depression, or feel you may be suffering with this or any other mental illness, please consult your medical practitioner, and follow their advice. Do not stop taking any medication without the supervision of a doctor.

 

Are you a moody SOB?

I’m not judging, it’s perhapsmaybepossible that I was once.

Ever thought that what we put in our body could play a part in this?

Don’t even think for one second that it can’t!

But because what we eat affects us this way, the GOOD news is that if we start yamming the right stuff into our faces – we can improve, and even stabilise our moods and emotions.

No more meltdowns. No more unexplainable freakouts. No more random ups and downs. Sound good?

Of course it is no surprise that the same diet that is best for obesity, heart disease, and diabetes, is also best for emotional health.

A whole food, plant-based diet is already superior to a diet rich in animal products in terms of maintaining good mental and emotional health. It is more alkaline and anti-inflammatory, as opposed to acidic and inflammatory, and so promotes more vitality and overall health – which in turn affects mood. In fact, depression is thought to be a disease of inflammation. So if you’re vegan and eating healthily, you’re already on the right path to great mental and emotional health.

But, there are certain foods that are especially helpful in achieving a balanced state of being.

Here are 4 foods (and 2 vitamins) to include in your daily diet to avoid experiencing the woohoos and the blues in the space of five minutes:

 

1. Whole grains

(Whole wheat, brown rice, oats, barley, rye, quinoa, millet, corn, buckwheat, amaranth, whole spelt)

Most plant foods, not just whole grains, are rich in tryptophan, which your body needs to produce serotonin – a neurotransmitter that is largely responsible for us feeling wellbeing and happiness.

Whole grains, being unrefined carbohydrates, are an excellent source of tryptophan, and as such, they can serve to regulate serotonin levels, elevating them if they are too low.

The OTHER reason whole grains are at the top of my list is because they maintain steady blood sugar – which also serves to stabilise your moods.

Refined grains such as white flour act as sugar in the body and thus spike your blood and affect your moods negatively. Just think of when a child is given sugar – they become hyperactive and bounce off the walls until they crash and become cranky. We do this too if we eat white flour and white sugar. There may not be walls involved but we get the same wired feeling before we crash!

Whole wheat is an easy way to get your whole grains (as long as you are not celiac). Think whole wheat toast, whole wheat pasta and noodles, whole wheat bagels, whole wheat couscous etc.

 

2. Nuts and seeds

(ALL nuts and seeds are great, but especially flax seeds, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds and walnuts)

So many reasons why we need the ol’ nuts and seeds, but stable moods is an important one.

Nuts and seeds contain magnesium, which has been shown to alleviate depression and irritability.

They are also rich in zinc, which is crucial for mental health, and omega 3, which – HELLO! – is the brain nutrient!

A lack of adequate omega 3 can result in depression. Try adding 2 tablespoons of ground flax seeds to your cereal or soup every day, or grabbing four walnut halves as a snack.

Nuts and seeds (like pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds etc) have a high tryptophan to total protein ratio which as we’ve seen, boosts serotonin levels, and have thus been shown to be an effective treatment for social anxiety disorder.

 

3. Probiotic food (Gut food, if you will 🙂 )

(Sauerkraut, kimchi, non-dairy yoghurts, Ethiopian injera bread, apple cider vinegar, probiotic capsules)

We now know that just as gut health is massively linked to our immune system; it is also linked to mental health.

It is vital, more than ever thanks to deleterious elements that kill off our good gut bacteria such as antibiotics, chlorine in water, and hidden sugars (that feed bad gut bacteria); that we consistently replenish the good bacteria in our guts.

It’s a good idea, as well as incorporating some of the above foods into your diet, and especially if you’ve taken antibiotics for long periods of time (for acne, for example), to take a daily non-dairy probiotic.

A study entitled “Assessment of the Psychotropic Properties of Probiotics” found that one month of probiotics appeared to significantly decrease symptoms of anxiety, depression, anger and hostility.

 

4. Beans and greens

(Black-eyed peas, red/white kidney beans, black beans, lima beans, cannellini beans, butter beans, haricot beans, fava beans etc – dark leafy greens; kale, collards, bok choy, broccoli, spinach etc)

Lots of depression sufferers have been found to be low in folic acid. Beans and greens are your best way to get this stuff!

Think bean chillies, bean stews or bean curries (on brown rice with steamed greens on the side – WAY to get three mood foods in one meal!); soups containing beans and veg, salads full of beans and spinach, couscous with beans, or you know what? The great British culinary delight that is beans on (whole wheat) toast!

 

5. Take your vitamin B12!

It’s been known for decades that poor mental health is often associated with low levels of folic acid (eat your beans – see above!) and vitamin B12.

You need to be taking vitamin B12 anyway if you’re eating plant-based (and possibly even if you’re not), so ideally you’re doing this already.

 

6. Take vitamin D supplements if you need to

Vitamin D deficiency is linked to depression, especially in areas of the world that don’t get a great deal of sunlight, so get your levels checked at the docs, and supplement if you need to – either with plant-based vitamin D2, or vegan vitamin D3.

 

‘What’s The Point In Restricting Yourself? You Have To Die Of Something Anyway’

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I hope with this post I’m giving you help in responding to this comment when you hear it.

Or that I’m responding to YOU if you if this comment is aligned with your sentiments.

This one always drives me crazy because it feels so short-sighted.

Which comment am I talking about?

This one. I hear it often when talking about the health benefits of a whole food, vegan diet:

‘..What’s the point in restricting yourself? You have to die of something anyway.’

Uh…well, this is true I guess (not the part about restricting yourself – I’ve written lots on how a plant-based diet is actually the opposite of restrictive), but, and I know it’s a cliche, it’s not about the years in your life, it’s about the life in your years.

Whether we die at 40, 90 or 110, isn’t it better that we lived as many of those days as possible in vibrant health?

Yes we all have to die of something, but how about that ‘something’ just being your heart stopping at the end of a long, well-lived, fully enjoyed life; where you’ve been independent, fit and capable, and a contributing member of society right up until the absolute end? What if you were pain, discomfort and niggle-free right up to the last minute? What if you kept every single one of your faculties and marbles; your spring in your step and your memory right up until that final second?

What if you also never lost your passion, purpose and zest for life EVER; and food tasted good, autumn smelled like heaven, and music made you get up and dance until your last day on this earth?

Doesn’t this sound better than getting to the point where you feel so crap you don’t really want to go on, but the doctors keep giving you pills to keep you alive, because it’s unethical to do otherwise?

Doesn’t it sound better than being immobile and not having a life outside of four walls, or of living somewhere you’re not happy, because it’s the only place they can take care of your needs, and having to rely on other people to do everything for you? Or worse, having to depend on family members to take care of your personal hygiene?

What if you contract dementia and can’t even recognise and be grateful to the family members who are tending to your needs? (Yes, a plant-based diet can help stave of dementia, too)

And how awful if, due to a sedentary lifestyle where you’re not seeing the sun from one day to the next, you become depressed? Nothing is less fun than living life under a big black cloud – it’s not living in fact. It’s existing.

How different this all could be.

A whole food, vegan lifestyle gives you the best chance at an entirely different scenario.

One where your family and friends would have to worry about you very little, how you’d not be a drain on society but a gift and an example to it – but also, just how much more time you’d have to be in the moment enjoying your damn self and all the people around you?

Why waste time and money suffering and being ill if it’s at all avoidable?

Life is too short (even if it’s long!) and time with others; food; music; sex; nature; art etc is way too fun to lose any time to unnecessary sickliness.

I leave you with the words of romantic poet Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792-1822), who wrote an essay called ‘A Vindication of a Natural Diet’

On a natural system of diet [a plant-based diet], old age would be our last and our only malady; the term of our existence would be protracted; we should enjoy life, and no longer preclude others from the enjoyment of it. All sensational delights would be infinitely more exquisite and perfect. The very sense of being would then be a continued pleasure, such as we now feel it in some few and favoured moments of our youth.

 

How Do You Get Omega 3 As A Vegan?

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So, you’ve probably heard of omegas 3 & 6, and that you need them to be healthy.

You actually need a pretty even amount of both these beauties:

Omega 6 is inflammatory – which sounds bad, but it helps clot the blood soooo….useful if you have a wound you need healing for example. Omega 3 is anti-inflammatory and an anti-coagulant, so it thins the blood. They compete with each other for the same enzymes in the body, and too much omega 6 can inhibit omega 3 – hence the need for an equal-ish amount of each.

MANY people’s ratios are way skewed however, sometimes by as much as 30:1 (i.e. too much omega 6 to too little omega 3). You need to know that this is NOT a vegan problem, this is a universal problem.

As a plant-based superstar (or plant-based superstar wannabe!) you’re most likely getting plenty of Omega 6 through veg, fruit, grains, nuts and seeds, so it’s really omega 3 we want to make sure we get enough of, to balance out the ol’ 6.

It’s sometimes easy to get too much omega 6 through added oils; like safflower, sunflower, cottonseed or corn oil; so ideally stay away from these or use VERY sparingly.

We need omega 3 for basic cell function. And according to PCRM, adequate intake of omega 3 can mean a reduced chance of strokes and heart disease; reduction of menstrual pain and joint pain, relief from ulcerative colitis symptoms, and there is evidence to show it can also mean reduced breast cancer risk.

A deficiency of this nutrient can lead to health consequences that include kidney and liver abnormalities, dry skin or decreased immune function.

Omega 3 comes in three forms.

The main one is ALA (alpha linolenic acid) and this is the only ESSENTIAL omega 3, so this is the one you want to make sure you are getting.

Your body cleverly converts the ALA into the two other forms of omega 3; EFA and DHA.

We’ve all been sold the bill o’ goods that the best sources of EFA and DHA are fish and fish oils, but this is not true. The best sources are our own bodies! Yay for our bodies!

In any case, the fish themselves do not make EFA and DHA in their bodies; they obtain it from the algae and seaweed they consume.

Even though EFA and DHA are not essential nutrients – there is no RDA (recommended daily amount) prescribed for them – it’s possible you may need to up your levels if you are pregnant or elderly. But – you can do like the fish and eat sea vegetables (fancy phrase for seaweed; try nori or wakame for example), or take supplements made from algae. Aim for 250mg of DHA/day. You’ll also be avoiding the yucky contaminants found in fish this way!

So, how to get the main dude, the ALA?

Oh Em Gee this is soooo easy.

ALA can be found pretty abundantly in plant sources. Flax seeds, walnuts, hemp seeds, black beans, red kidney beans, winter squash and edamame are all great sources.

One easy way – the way that I do it in fact – is to have two tablespoons of ground flax seeds on my oatmeal most mornings. There are a gazillion other great reasons for having flax seeds, but ALA is one of the main ones.

You could have two or three meals a week (stews or soups or casseroles or chillis) with red kidney beans or black beans in; and grab three or four walnut halves a few times a week.

But is it HARDER for vegans than for omnivores to get adequate omega 3?

What? You haven’t already surmised the answer to this question?

Though plants contain little fat, they contain enough to help the conversion process in our bodies of ALA to EFA and DHA. The ingestion of higher fat levels (like those found in a meat and dairy rich diet) make this process more difficult. SO, to have great levels of these three forms of omega 3; an overall low fat whole foods, plant-based diet is optimal.

Well…but of course 😉

 

Sources used: PCRM, Dr Michael Greger

 

Going Vegan? Watch Out For These Sneaky Ingredients!

Organic-aisle Hy-vee from Flickr via Wylio
© 2009 KOMUnews, Flickr | CC-BY | via Wylio

When you first go vegan, it’s easy to get tripped up by a few sneaky animal ingredients in some food and household products.

If this happens to you, don’t sweat it – it happens; if you haven’t had a reason to look for these before, how could you know? And most of these ingredients don’t even sound like they came from an animal. It can be confusing.

So here I am with a handy guide to spotting the main culprits that lurk sneakily in groceries, so you can look out for and avoid them in the future.

It has to be said that these ingredients are mostly in processed foods; so the more whole foods, plant-based we can go the better, in terms of avoiding them as much as possible.

It may seem like a hassle, always reading ingredients; but I promise you, after a few shops you will know exactly which products contain this stuff and which don’t.

It will be second nature before you know it.

Here are the devious little blighters!

 

Gelatin

You’ve no doubt heard of this one. Gelatin is a gelling agent used in food, photography, cosmetics, and pharmaceuticals (I’m absolutely not suggesting you stop taking any meds that contain gelatin  – I’m just imparting info!). It can be derived from the skin, bones, and connective tissues of animals such as cows, pigs, horses, chickens and fish, so is thus not very vegan!

If you are cooking and the recipe requires gelatin, don’t panic! Simply use agar agar, carrageenan, or check out kosher gelatins, which are often vegan.

 

Lactose

Lactose is milk sugar. Though it isn’t added to many foods, it is often added to pharmaceuticals as a stabiliser. It can also be found in body care products and baby formula.

It had recently been added to the ingredients of my favourite hand cream – I am NOT amused!

 

Skimmed Milk Powder

I include skimmed milk powder because I got caught out with this a couple of times. It is often the last on a long list of ingredients, and so you may see the main bunch of ingredients and assume the product is vegan. It’s honestly always worth checking the end of the list to see if this stuff is included.

I got caught out with chai. Please know that there is skimmed milk powder in most powdered chai! Liquid chai however, is almost always vegan, thank goodness!

 

Albumin/Albumen

Albumin or albumen is a fancy name for dried egg white. It is often used in pastries, baked goods and other processed food items. It can also be used to clarify and stabilise wine.

I’m so allergic to eggs it’s super important I avoid this goop!

 

Casein

Casein is the protein found in milk, and is thus in all dairy products.

Believe it or not, casein can be found in products that you would think were vegan, like soy or rice cheese, so unless you see the ‘vegan’ sign on the packaging of these cheeses, DO check the ingredients.

Also, check for any ingredient that contains the word ‘casein’ like calcium caseinate. As you would guess, this contains casein.

 

Glycerine/Glycerin/Glycerol

This ‘sugar alcohol’ is used as a humectant, solvent, sweetener and a shelf life extender in foods. It is also found in pharmaceuticals and body care products.

This one can be confusing because it can either derive from animals OR plants.

It seems that the default ‘glycerine’ as a food ingredient is usually from an animal source – if it is of vegetable origin it will normally be specified as such. So unless it is marked ‘vegetable glycerine’, personally, I’d leave it.

 

Shellac

This is a resin secreted by a bug.

I remember it being an ingredient in Smarties when I was a kid. Ick! I must have eaten a whole crap-ton of it!

It’s used on fruit, candy and pharmaceutical pills, as a glaze.

 

Cochineal/carmine

In actual fact, carmine is the red dye used to colour lots of things including food, and comes from the dried bodies of cochineal beetles, but you may see either of these words on a product label. Whichever word you see, it means beetle!

It’s used in a ton of things including candy, confectionary, juices, ice-creams and puddings.

 

Tallow

I was so grossed out when I learned what tallow was. And it’s in so many things.

Tallow is fat from cows or sheep that has undergone process called rendering. Seriously, you need to read about rendering. It seems it came about as a way to monetise meat industry by-products. The job of ‘renderer’ has been deemed ‘one of the dirtiest jobs’ – I’ll say!

Anyways, tallow (I even find the word a bit sinister!) can be found in shortening, cooking oil, cake mix, biodiesel, aviation fuel (obviously this one is difficut to avoid in modern life) and as ‘sodium tallowate’ in soap.

I don’t know about you but I don’t wanna be washing my bits with animal fat!

 

Starting Your Own Allotment In 3 Easy Steps

I’m away for the week discovering Santa Fe, New Mexico; so I bring you this guest post by a company called Mantis, fine purveyors of garden tools and composters.

Now I don’t currently garden; but I’d love to. I used to garden, and I remember that there’s nothing like working in the fresh air and getting your hands covered in earth to make you feel grounded and part of nature.

We all know the best fruits and veggies are the ones you grow yourself. I don’t need to be an active gardener to know this. Look, don’t be a ninny like me; if you have some garden space; get out there and start sowin’ them seeds. And yes, it’s definitely a case of do as I suggest, not as I do – what of it? I live in London; my soil is nuclear waste; nothing would grow; I don’t have the time; blah blah blah. Ok I know, I know; I need to get my excuse-laden-ass out there and start tilling that soil!

While I’m away don’t forget to check my Instagram and Twitter for pics of yummy South Western food – all of it animal, planet and people-friendly; and possibly some shots of desert, mountains and forest.

If you’re not already doing so, follow me on Periscope (the new-ish live-streaming App from Twitter). You’ll need to download the Periscope App (don’t panic it’s totally FREE!), then it’s pretty self-explanatory from there. My handle is @karencottenden and I ‘scope’ several times a week on all things vegan and plant-based. I hope to do a couple of Scopes while in Santa Fe to share my vegan finds and I’d LOVE for you to join me! The best feature of Periscope is that it’s interactive so you get to comment; question me; show me love: show me hate (though please don’t!) and be a fully equal participant.

(Disclaimer: I am not receiving money for the placement of this post. To the best of my knowledge, Mantis do not sell anything out of alignment with my vegan values!)

 

Starting Your Own Allotment In 3 Easy Steps

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A healthy nutritious plant-based diet obviously includes a ton of colourful vegetables.

They can be incorporated into all styles of cooking, and their high-energy value but low calorie content makes them a fantastic slimming food. The problem is that many supermarket vegetables are, to an extent, unnatural — they have been grown using artificial chemical enhancers and GMOs, which detract from the nutritional value of the vegetable.

The alternative to this is to buy organic food, which can be quite expensive if you’re purchasing it regularly. One way to ensure a regular supply of healthy, natural vegetables is to grow your own — and this can actually be much easier than you might think. All you need is a dedicated patch of land, detailed planning and the right growing techniques to have you eating home-grown vegetables in no time. Here is a three-step guide to starting your own allotment.

Find a suitable space

While you may be tempted to start a vegetable patch in your garden, unless you have plenty of space you will not produce a yield that can sustain your diet. You need a large, dedicated space for growing vegetables — an allotment is the perfect option. If you’re already aware of an allotment close to you then start making enquiries into how you can rent, otherwise you can contact your local council to identify and rent your allotment space. If your allotment is overgrown, you need to clear it out before you can start cultivating. Remove all traces of plants and weeds to give yourself a clean slate, but don’t dispose of your garden waste yet, as it will come in handy later.

Enrich your soil

A patch of soil may as well be a patch of sand if you don’t nourish the earth before planting. You should start by digging and turning the soil, using either a spade or a tiller, to ensure there are no weeds or rocks under the surface, as these will inhibit the growth of any produce. When you are satisfied that the soil is free from pest plants and debris, you should think about adding an enriching agent, such as compost, to fill the soil with growth-promoting nutrients.

While you can buy compost from a garden centre, you should stay in theme with your completely home-grown allotment and produce your own compost. The process to do so is quite simple and merely involves stockpiling garden waste, which eventually decomposes into compost. The best way to do so is by purchasing a compost tumbler. This will enable you to store your compost, as well as turn it and add/take away as you please. Gardening specialists Mantis stock a selection of composters and tillers that will aid you greatly in establishing your allotment — these are both available with a long guarantee, to assure quality.

Plan your produce

Growing produce isn’t as simple as planting a seed and watching it grow. You should do research into which type of plant grows best in different seasons, and allow your growth plan to reflect this. For a quick-start allotment: tomatoes, beetroot and spring onions are among the easiest vegetables to grow, while salad leaves and herbs can be grown in pots, as opposed to in the ground. Eat Seasonably has a great guide on which vegetables to plant based on the season, as well as instructions on how to grow them.

The important thing to remember with vegetable growth is to be patient, especially with your first yield. Over time, your soil will become more fertile and adapted to growing, but nourishing it will take time. Like everything, cultivating is a learning curve, and the more you do it the better you will get — and the tastier your vegetables will be.

 

Should Vegans Take A Multivitamin?

I Love Macro from Flickr via Wylio
© 2006 Matt Reinbold, Flickr | CC-BY-SA | via Wylio

It’s tempting to automatically take a multivitamin when we go vegan.

We’ve made big changes to our diet; changes that most people don’t understand – changes that most doctors don’t understand.

We get asked questions about what our new protein, calcium and iron sources are going to be; where our vitamin B12 is going to come from; and what about vitamins D and K?

It can be enough to scare the bejesus out of you!

Isn’t it ironic that the omnivores that ask us these questions often aren’t the pictures of health themselves? And how are they so sure that they have all the correct levels of vitamins and minerals?

One thing you need to know as a vegan is that vitamin and mineral deficiencies are not just a potential problem for vegans. Nope, not even a vitamin B12 deficiency is this.

But it’s still vegans that most people believe are more susceptible to malnutrition, and no-one would blame you for feeling fearful after hearing these beliefs vocalised ad nauseum.

I’ve personally been told that it’s impossible to live without eggs; and that not eating protein from meat will make me weak.

Well, here I am all strong and living and s**t.

But after so much fear-mongering it seems logical, doesn’t it, to invest in a multivitamin to cover all bases?

So what SHOULD you do?

I very much lean towards the advice of the doctors that have been teaching (and living) a plant-based diet for decades. They base their decisions on independent, non-reductionist, peer-reviewed scientific evidence.

These guys – Dr John McDougall, Dr Tom Campbell (son of Dr T Colin Campbell), Dr Michael Greger, Dr Caldwell Esselstyn and Dr Neal Barnard all say taking a multivitamin is unnecessary (in every single link you’ll find each doctor saying this somewhere). They advise that taking a multivitamin can distract from us trying to eat a healthy whole food, plant-based diet; and that it’s best to get all our nutrients in dietary form – excluding vitamin B12 of course, for which we need to supplement.

Dr Greger in particular points out all the studies that have been done on multivitamins; some show that they’re beneficial; some show that they are harmful. Ultimately, the most comprehensive studies show that they don’t make any difference, and that they’re a huge waste of money.

All this said….

Dr Barnard says in one article that a multivitamin can play a role if you know you are not eating enough whole plant food. And both he and Dr Esselstyn say that you MAY need to supplement with vitamin D, for example if you live somewhere that doesn’t have much sunshine – as sunshine is the best source of vitamin D for vegans.

What do I do?

I do not take a multivitamin, but as I’ve said before, I DO supplement with vitamin D, and sometimes with zinc and iodine, because through one thing and another (long-ass story), I’ve learned that my body needs help with these nutrients, seemingly regardless of my healthy diet.

The best advice, if you feel you may be short on any nutrients, is to go to your doctor and have a comprehensive blood test for all vitamins and minerals. These tests can tell you if you are low or deficient in any particular nutrient.

It’s important to identify this exactly. If, for example, you are feeling fatigued – there could be any one of several reasons for this. So it would not be prudent to assume you have an iron deficiency and take iron supplements, as iron can be harmful in excess. Thus, I urge you to get your blood tested and not self-diagnose.

Once you’ve been tested; should you be found to be low in any nutrient, firstly try and improve your levels with diet. This will always be the best way to regain optimal nutrient levels.

Should this not work sufficiently – and I know that for me, I need help with vitamin D (not much sun here), and zinc in the winter (immune system compromised over the years), THEN it may be worth supplementing with small doses of whatever it is you need.

Conclusion

It seems from everything I’ve learned with my studies; from my experience; and from researching the advice of the plant-based doctors, that the best advice is this:

  • You do NOT automatically need a multivitamin just because you are vegan. This could lead to overload of certain nutrients that are harmful in excess; or just be a plain waste of money
  • If you feel you may have a deficiency, or if you know you are not eating a varied plant-based diet, have your blood levels checked at the doctors
  • If you ARE low in anything, try and eat foods that contain this nutrient, and the ones that help absorption of it. I can help with this!
  • If this still doesn’t work, supplement with low levels of just the SPECIFIC nutrient(s) you are lacking

 

Review: More Than Meat’s Lamb Casserole & Jerk Burgers

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Disclaimer: This review is my honest opinion; I am not being financially compensated for it (though even if I was, it would STILL be my honest opinion). I received the food samples free, with no brief from the More Than Meat company other than to taste test and review them.

 

I have to admit, when I tweeted Barry responding to his request for vegan bloggers to review his More Than Meat meat-alternative products, my primary motivation was to get my greedy mitts on some yummy free food.

Then I remembered I’m not really a huge fan of meat-alternatives.

THEN I remembered that most meat-alternatives often contain not-so healthy ingredients, like white flour breadcrumbs, sugar etc.

As I’m all about the healthy, I started panicking and wondered if I could make my husband eat all the food and just TELL me how it tasted so I could write the review? Hee.

I checked out Barry’s website, plantalicious.com and breathed a sigh of relief. I could see that one of his main motivations for going plant-based was to improve his health, and I realised he wouldn’t be making products that were full of crapola…phew!

A few days later I received a hyyuuuuge bag of More Than Meat frozen goodies. Barry had thoughtfully included cooking instructions for each product, and each one was marked with the date it was made.

It looked so good I couldn’t wait to get started!

First off, the More Than Lamb Casserole.

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As a 26 year vegan, it’s been a long time since I’ve had a casserole with these particular flavours. I thought that this kind of dish only worked with meat, so I’d never tried to re-create or ‘veganise’ it.

The ‘lamb’ is made with wheat gluten – I’m assuming it’s similar to ‘seitan,’ but it’s marked in the ingredients list as wheat gluten. All the More Than Meat products contain gluten, so are not suitable for celiacs.

I was delighted to see huge butter beans (I’m a bean freak), and celery, carrots and leeks rounded out the mix.

Check out the rest of the ingredients for the healthiest and kindest lamb casserole you’ve ever seen!

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It was VERY easy to prepare. I forgot to take it out of the freezer earlier in the day, and had to cook it from frozen. The instructions say you can microwave it OR heat it on the hob. I don’t have a microwave so I went with the hob option. It didn’t take long for the frozen block of casserole to break down on a gentle heat; then I simmered it for a few minutes to heat the ‘meat’ pieces all the way through.

The picture on the packaging gave me the idea to serve it with mash, and as I had a sweet potato and a white potato left in the fridge I went for a white/sweet potato mash combo, and steamed some greens to serve alongside.

This wasn’t a bad idea, but now I’ve tasted the dish I would advise going completely trad-ish and sticking to white potato mash, which would be a more perfect foil for the flavours of the casserole.

AND WHAT FLAVOURS THEY ARE! I’d completely forgotten about this kind of dish; about how ingredients like wine, redcurrant jelly, and herbs and spices can make a savoury dish taste so rich and warming. And very British! As a vegan that is very happy eating mostly ethnic dishes it was a pleasant change to taste flavours of my childhood and teen years but without the cruelty, cholesterol and planet-warping products those types of meals would usually contain.

I loved:

  • The balance of the flavours, the richness, the fruitiness, and that it had just the right amount of ‘tang’ – More Than Meat have 100% nailed the flavours of a traditional lamb casserole.
  • The butterbeans that really DID melt like butter in the mouth. Beans in pre-cooked food are NOT always this good.
  • The fact that although this was a very rich dish, it was not remotely greasy, so it actually felt healthy.
  • The fact there were no sugars in the ingredients.
  • The ease of preparation. To make a dish like this yourself would take hours. To be able to heat this up from frozen and it take 10 minutes was amazing.

My only personal gripe was that I’d have liked the wheat gluten/seitan pieces to have had a chewier texture, but I asked my husband about this and he said he liked them just fine – and he’s a seitan connoisseur! So to be fair this is probably just subjective on my part.

Later in the week, we tried the More Than Jerk Burgers.

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These contain a tiny bit of raw cane sugar, but otherwise it’s the healthiest damn ingredients list I ever saw for a burger!

They come with the directive to brush a little oil on them before grilling, because they don’t contain any added oil. I really appreciated this – I like to control how much oil I’m getting.

I’d taken the burgers out of the freezer earlier in the day, so they literally only took around 10 minutes to grill – 5 minutes on each side.

Roast squash and steamed greens were my accompaniment of choice (though of course these burgers would be perfect to serve in a bun); some sliced onions and lettuce, and a dollop of my homemade ketchup completed the picture.

Despite slightly overcooking them (my fault entirely – next time I’d cook them a couple of minutes less) they were still delicious. The texture is very hearty and meat-like – it’s not exactly the same texture as meat, but it’s definitely a good replacement for the density and ‘mouthfeel’ that meat has – EXACTLY what you’d want from a burger in fact. I feel that even a staunch meat-eater wouldn’t grumble about the texture.

The jerk seasoning made itself known agreably, and my ketchup and crunchy (but thinly) sliced onions really complimented this.

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You know what? The burger was over way too quickly for me. I can’t blame it on the burger because though its diameter was small, it was quite thick, and what most would consider to be adequate portion size, but it was just so good I wanted more.

A couple of hours later I was working, and could still faintly smell the jerk seasoning from where the burgers had been cooked earlier. It was making me REALLY crave another one, to the point where I couldn’t concentrate!

Warning: If you take these mothers to a barbecue or plan on having them at a dinner party, you’d better count on at LEAST two per person – they’re THAT more-ish.

Both these products (and many more – check out the full product list) can be ordered from the More Than Meat website, or see the list of stockists to see if there is one near you.

Vegan Okra Bamia Stew Recipe

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Go to any Middle Eastern restaurant, and aside from having a decent choice of delicious vegan hot or cold starters (lots of these vegan by default); the main course that more often than not pops up is ‘Vegetarian Bamia.’ Now this should always be vegan, I’ve never known it to contain dairy, but do check if in doubt.

The NON-veggie version is lamb with okra, but who needs to eat an animal when it’s the spices and the okra texture that are the main attraction here anyway?

‘Bamia’ is the Arabic word for okra, but it’s also the word for the traditional spicy tomato-based stew that contains it.

It’s delicious, super easy to replicate; healthy; and as the spice flavour is quite subtle I’d say it’s pretty kid-friendly too.

This is a bamia recipe from an ancient cookbook called ‘Cooking Class Middle Eastern‘ and looks like it was part of a set from an Australian ‘women’s’ magazine. Lord knows how I came to have it. The recipes are pretty sound though and even though it’s not a vegan cookbook, many of the recipes are.

The recipe in the book is actually called ‘Okra With Baby Onions And Tomato.’ Maybe they didn’t think people could handle the word ‘bamia’?

Feel free to adjust amounts as you see fit or according to how many people you are serving.

I’ve put the amount as per the recipe for the spices and garlic but you could add extra cloves of garlic and 1/2 to a whole teaspoon more of each spice if you want more taste – I ALWAYS add more!

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the fixin’s for the bamia flavour!

You’ll need:

  • 700g okra
  • 2 medium-large onions, sliced (the recipe in the book actually calls for 12 baby onions, but what the hell? Who has time to skin and chop 12 onions separately??)
  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
  • Regular size can of chopped tomatoes
  • 2 cups (or 500mls) vegetable stock
  • Olive oil

 

What you do:

  • Give the okra a good old wash. It’s hard to get organic okra, so just rinse it well and drain in case of pesticide residue.
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luvverly clean okra
  • Cut the tops from the okra, taking care not to puncture the pods.
  • Try and cut them along the natural line. It should look like this:
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niiiiiiice, no holes
  • Not like this:
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yuck! holey okra!

If you cut them too far down you’ll end up with mushy okra, as the liquid will seep into the pod and mush it right the heck up!

You’ll accidentally cut too much off a few tops, but as long as the majority are ok, that’s fine.

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  • Heat a small splash of olive oil in a pan, and saute the onions for about 15 minutes or until they are browned. Remove from pan – just keep them in a bowl until you are ready for them.
  • Heat another splash of oil in the same pan, add okra, garlic, and spices; and cook, stirring constantly for about 5 minutes or until okra is fragrant and lightly browned.

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  • Return onions to pan and add the can of chopped tomatoes and the stock. Simmer, uncovered, for about 40 minutes, stirring occasionally, or until okra is very soft and tomato mixture is thickened.

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Total prep and cooking time: 1 hour approx

Servings: If made as per the recipe and as a main dish – 4

Serving suggestions: Can be served over rice, quinoa, baked potatoes, wholemeal toast etc.