Maybe I watch too many Netflix documentaries. Yeah, I’m gonna blame Netflix for the recent lifestyle change I made. Me and my wife decided to watch “What the Health” 2 weeks ago…and life has not been the same since. Long story short, we decided to adopt a vegan diet for a 2 week “trial run” to see how it goes. Neither of us have ever tried a vegan diet before, nor were we in any way prepared for such a drastic change from our usual diet. After watching the film, we took a blood oath to eat strictly vegan for 2 weeks to see if we felt better. This meant we had to learn how to eat a vegan diet or starve.
I’d like to share my experience with you because I feel as if I have learned a lot about the vegan diet and myself with this experiment. First let’s make sure everybody is on the same page.
What Is A Vegan Diet Anyway?
Short answer: no animal products. Done. Next question? But really, it is pretty much that simple. A vegan diet is a diet that is 100%, completely plant based. Also known as a total vegetarian diet. A vegan diet includes vegetables, legumes, fruits, grains, nuts, seeds and all the products that can be produced with these ingredients.
A vegan diet should not be confused with a vegetarian diet. When I told my mom that we were “going vegan” her first response was: “Oh, ok, you guys are going vegetarian? REALLY?”
Technically speaking, a vegan diet is a type of vegetarian diet, but there are several other types of vegetarian diets that are less strict then vegan. When I looked up vegetarian diet, I found a bunch of categories out there:
- Lacto-vegetarian- a vegetarian (no meat) who does eat dairy
- Ovo-vegetarian- a vegetarian who does not eat dairy, but does eat eggs
- Lacto-ovo vegetarian- a vegetarian who eats dairy AND egg
- Pescatarian- a vegetarian who doesn’t eat dairy or egg, but does eat fish
- Pollotarian- a “vegetarian” who doesn’t eat dairy, egg, or fish…but does eat poultry…yea, this is a real thing…I’m sorry, but if you eat chicken and turkey, I don’t think you should be allowed to call yourself a vegetarian. There’s no debate, chicken is meat. Fish, ok, maybe. But chicken?!? Come on!
So, vegetarians vary based on what they allow themselves to eat. Vegans are hardcore. They keep it simple: if it comes from an animal, or has a product that came from an animal in it…we don’t eat it.
Take a minute and think of all the foods that have animal products in them… and then imagine subtracting all of them from your diet. What are you left with? A vegan diet.
So What DO Vegans Eat?
I had to learn this the hard way. I’m a guy that ate a lot of meat and dairy products. More than I was aware of. This exercise really made me aware of how many animal products I was consuming on a daily basis. An example of a typical day for me (and I do make an effort to eat healthy during the week):
- Breakfast: bowl of healthy cereal with fat free milk (cow’s milk), piece of fruit; on the weekends I make eggs
- Morning snack: almonds or granola bar
- Lunch: sandwich with deli-meat and cheese, small bag of chips, Greek yogurt
- Afternoon snack: piece of fruit, or protein shake (whey)
- Dinner: a meat based protein, with 1-2 sides (rice or vegetables typically)
So for me, the switch was drastic. No more cow’s milk, no more deli-meat, no more Greek yogurt, no more protein shakes, no more dinner entrees.
When I made the switch, I found myself eating a lot of rice (brown and white) and black beans. Black beans, by the way, are pretty much a super food. Excellent source of protein and fiber. I actually like black beans and rice, so this was an easy meal for me, but I did get tired of it after a few rounds. I also like quinoa, a high-protein high-fiber grain. You basically cook it like rice. Has a very mild flavor, so you can season it anyway you like. We used to eat quinoa fairly regularly so I was familiar with this food and enjoyed it.
I’m going to include a great quinoa salad recipe I found online because it was delicious. I made this for our first “vegan dinner”, it was a success.
Veggie pasta was a staple. It’s whole grain wheat pasta combined with spinach powder I think. Really good. With a good marinara or olive oil and garlic sauce it tastes like the real thing. We ate a lot more vegetables. We would sauté mixed raw vegetables and serve over rice. This turned out to be one of our go to meals. It was fun to switch up the veggies too. I cooked with eggplant for the first time, turned out good. Asparagus, carrots, broccoli, mushrooms, bell peppers…all good stuff. I will say we didn’t eat many greens. The leafy greens are a great source of vitamins and nutrients…spinach, kale, swiss chard. I need to make an effort to include more of these. They can be used in salads, or easily sautéed with oil and garlic. Even putting spinach and kale in fruit smoothies is an easy vegan friendly treat.
Almond butter and jam sandwiches was a nice lunch alternative for me. I love deli-meat. Turkey, ham, roast beef, salami…I can eat that stuff everyday and be happy. Unfortunately, turns out it is really bad for you. Like, food equivalent of smoking, bad for you. Increases your chances of getting certain types of cancer apparently. Also tend to be really high in sodium and a bunch of other chemicals. This was a hard one for me, but I realize now that I was eating too much of it and that I can find alternatives for lunch that are also good.
So, the vegan diet is full of vegetables, fruits, grains, nuts, seeds, whole grain pastas…all pretty healthy stuff usually. I wish I could say I spent my 2 weeks eating all this healthy stuff, but I can’t lie to my readers. Luckily, there are plenty of crackers, potato chips, and cookies that also fall into the vegan diet plan.
I found myself snacking on a lot of Wheat Thins and tortilla chips. Oreos…ah, sweet Oreos…not a single redeemable nutrition fact, but it has no animal products! Lot of chemicals, but no dairy! Point is, eating vegan doesn’t necessarily mean healthy. My wife and I didn’t really get into all the frozen vegan meat replacement products while on this diet, but a lot of those products are full of sodium and chemicals that are no better for you than the meat and dairy products you are avoiding.
One of the biggest challenges for vegans (for me anyway), was finding protein sources. We mentioned a few earlier, beans, quinoa, nut butters. I used to choose my protein for dinner and then add vegetable sides. A vegan must find ways to get their protein from plants. Soy is a big one. Soy is a great source of protein and comes in a lot of different variations.
I had to make the switch to almond milk. Luckily, I am very familiar with the product because my son is allergic to dairy. He has been drinking almond milk for the last 2 years. I like almond milk, but it is a lot sweeter than the skim milk I was used to. The unsweetened almond milk wasn’t any better, but I admit, after a few days, I got used to the taste of almond milk on my cereal. This turned out to be a fairly easy switch.
I went to a couple of vegetarian/vegan restaurants during my 2 week trial. First time I had ever done that before. Both meals were actually pretty good. First, I had meatless tacos for lunch one day: avocado, spicy red cabbage slaw, dairy free chipotle sauce…pretty money. Second was a dinner that consisted of brown rice bowl with red pepper hummus, white bean salad, spicy apricot sauce with fresh pita…again, pretty awesome meal.
I made a batch of vegetarian chili during the second week and ate that for several days for lunch. It turned out ok, but without meat and without cheese, I definitely noticed a difference.
Why Go Vegan?
I hinted at the beginning of this post that me and my wife where inspired to try a vegan diet after watching a documentary on Netflix. This documentary basically explored the benefits of switching to a vegan diet, while discussing how corrupt all the meat and dairy producers are. It also went into some detail with regards to how these meat and dairy products go from the animal to our plate…I’m not going to go into much detail here, but I wish I had not seen some of it…gross.
It presented a lot of research showing that meat, even white meat and eggs, increased our chances of getting a lot of diseases, especially cancer. It presented evidence that eating meat and animal products increased inflammation throughout our bodies, increasing changes of getting diabetes and heart disease.
Much of this I had heard, in one form or another, before. Not a lot of surprises here. The blatant corruption was a little shocking. Again, I don’t want to go into a lot of detail here, but the film shows how a lot of the agencies and associations that are supposed to be educating the public about how to avoid heart disease or diabetes or cancer are actually funded by the companies producing the very products that have been shown to cause these different diseases. Example: this documentary shows that research has been done that shows eating red meat can increase chances of developing heart disease. However, the website for the American Heart Association has recipes for beef included in their healthy eating section. Also turns out that several beef providers donate money to the AHA… enough said.
So, we decided to try a vegan diet for 2 weeks primarily because of the health benefits. But I also don’t like the idea of giving my money willingly to such a corrupt system. Decreasing odds of developing heart disease, cancer, and diabetes was the primary motivating factor. The goal was to learn how to eat healthier and rely less on animal products…I feel we met this goal.
So Now What?
I did it. I survived 2 weeks on a vegan diet. I was hungry a lot. I had a lot of cravings. But now that my 2 weeks are over, will I go back to my old ways? Can I go back to eating meat?
I gained a lot of respect for people that eat a vegan diet. This is not easy. It takes a lot of discipline. Even though a lot of restaurants are adding more vegan options, it’s still pretty limited. Me and my wife went to a couple of restaurants while doing this and had a really hard time finding something that worked. Chipotle worked well. The rice bowl with all the veggies and salsas and guacamole was actually pretty awesome.
In the end though, I have to admit that I can not go completely vegan for the long term. I miss meat and dairy and I want to include it back in my diet. That said, I plan on cutting both down significantly! I hope to get to the point where meat is a treat, and not the norm. I hope to eat more vegetables on a daily basis. I hope to go meatless at least 3-4 days per week. I’m cutting deli-meat and cow’s milk out of my diet. Except for the occasional Italian sub, I need me an Italian sub every once and awhile. I plan on significantly cutting down on my dairy intake as well.
I plan on permanently using almond milk and the soy based butter substitute that my son eats. I will return to eating eggs occasionally. Not to brag, but I make really good eggs. Fried egg sandwiches especially. I do want to limit my intake of red meat. I want skinless chicken and fish to make up the majority of the animal proteins I’ll be eating. Beef for special occasions.
The quinoa recipe I mentioned earlier will definitely turn into a regular meal at my house. It’s healthy and delicious.
I ate more beans (and different types of bean) in the last 2 weeks than I ever have before.
In conclusion, I’m not gonna lie…I’m really glad the 2 weeks is over. I look forward to having pizza again soon. Pizza is the one food I missed the most. And I know you can make vegan pizza…but it is not the same. I chose to go without instead of trying to settle for a lesser product. Friday night is pizza night at our house, and it really made the last 2 weekends less fun without it.
Luckily, you can still drink alcohol on a vegan diet! Beer, bourbon, wine….all helped me get through. All kidding aside, I’m glad we decided to do it and I know it will help me make healthier food decisions in the future. Pizza this week will probably be meat free, that’s a good compromise right?
For anyone considering the switch, one piece of advice: prepare in advance! Come up with a game plan and meal ideas for a week in advance. I would also recommend transitioning gradually. I would not recommend cutting out all animal products at once without substitutes like we did. Made it very difficult and I know we could have eaten a little better if we had planned it out appropriately.
I want to hear from real vegans. People who eat this way every day, not just for 2 weeks. What awesome vegan friendly foods did I miss out on? Thinking of going vegan? Leave a comment and I’ll get back to you.