#VEGANUARY Vs A Long Term Approach

Beetroot Linguine with Thyme and Walnuts

So, you want to join in on Veganuary? I had a lengthy blog post prepared arguing the positives and negatives – the why’s the how’s and the “should you or shouldn’t you’s”. But, as I read back over it, I have decided that it just isn’t my job to talk you into or out of it. I thought that my time would be better spent teaching you a slower, steadier and more sustainable approach to eating for health. I realise that no matter what my opinion is, you are probably reading this because you want to make an effort at #veganuary whether I agree with it or not. So, I’ll give you my tips and you can choose to take the longer path to more sustainable health or go full throttle and launch yourself into January a fully fledged vegan.

Record

Begin by taking a note of your daily food and drink intake. Be especially aware of the times you are eating and snacking.

This will help you identify areas that you might like to improve and other areas you may be very happy with. What gets measured, gets managed – so if there are changes that need to be made, recording your intake will allow it to happen.

Sample daily eating

Highlight

Highlight the areas that you feel might not be helping you to achieve your goals. 

For Fat Loss Goals

If your goal is fat loss, maybe you would like to remove some excess calories. This daily intake comes to approximately 2700-3000 depending on how you might portion out the peanut butter, fries, porridge, smoothie etc. You can reduce your energy intake by; having a tsp of peanut butter instead of a tbsp, using a drop of water with cordial in your smoothie instead of juice, replacing some of your fries with vegetables, having 1 small portion of crisps with your lunch instead of 2 packets throughout the day. With these small changes, even though your day would look mostly the same, you may have reduced your energy intake by up to 500 calories. No need for #veganuary for fat loss after all? Remember, consistent excess energy intake puts added stress on our bodies and can contribute to unnecessary weight gain. This in turn can increase our cardiac risk factors amongst other diseases. In order to lose weight, the energy you take in should be less than the energy you use on a daily basis*.

For Health Improvement Goals

 If your goal is health, take a look at the things that do not contribute to your nutrition – chocolate, crisps, processed food (the burger is a pre packed one), perhaps the contents of the sandwich.  I would first ensure that the energy balance was correct and I would implement the strategy above. Following this, I would look to increase my intake of vegetables. You don’t have to partake in Veganuary to increase your veggie intake but a short term blast of veggies might be just the kick start you need? Thats a decision for you to make! To increase diversity, eat 2 different types of fruit with porridge. Make your own sandwich for lunch and bring it with you, adding a side salad instead of crisps and chocolate (Have a small purple snack instead of dairy milk). You get the idea! More veggies, less processed food.

Yoga on Inchydoney in West Cork
Staying healthy from the inside out

Performance

What if your goal is performance and your energy is low? It may be a good idea to look at your overall calorie intake and see if you are getting enough. For a 70kg female exercising daily, this energy intake is about right for me when I average my energy requirements across the week. However, without a larger selection of vegetables and other food sources, my nutrient intake would be limited. Lots of people are habitual eaters, eating the same thing most mornings for breakfast and lunch and mixing it up for dinner. With this in mind, try to make small tweaks to your meals. Switch around the fruit you have with your porridge. Change the contents of your lunch time sandwich and they type of salad you put with it. Vary the carbs and the veg you have with your dinner. All these steps can help to expand your nutrition and improve your variety of micronutrients.  

Triathlon finish line
Photo Credit

Veganuary

Now, what if you want to go veggie or vegan? This is a little different. When it comes to removing an entire food group, we are left with a very different situation. If you remove Tayto and Cadbury from your diet, you won’t be at risk of deficiency – trust me! However, removing all your current protein sources can have serious long term detrimental effects on your health so its really important that we look at balancing out your losses.

Highlight all the areas that include animal products. Take a look at the menu below and see where you would have to swap out foods. When I remove all the animal products, the energy intake left is 1400cals. Now is it any wonder that people think that ‘going vegan’ makes you lose weight. Lets, for one moment, forget about the fact that we would achieve the same result removing 2 x packets of crisps, the chocolate and and the cheese and consider whether what is left over is actually going to sustain us? There are 2 elements to consider. 1 is hunger – I would never last on this and I would be making my way slowly through a box of Tunnock’s tea cakes before the week was over. But the more important element is nutrition – what are you missing out on if you cut all the animal products out of your diet.

Highlighted animal products

What Do We Have To Lose During Veganuary?

Protein is made up of amino acids. Some proteins give cells shape and allow them to move around, others act as enzymes, facilitating different chemical functions within the body. Proteins transport messages and signals within our bodies as well as forming the muscles we need to move around. Without protein in our diets, all of these functions would suffer, including our immune and hormone function.

B12 – Our bodies require B12 to produce red blood cells and support our nervous system by keeping the sheaths that surround our nerves healthy. B12 comes from the soil and as animals eat from the ground, it is present in meat. Some foods are supplemented with extra B12 (some mushrooms are grown in B12 enriched soil) and are an ideal supplement for vegans and vegetarians.

Nutritional Yeast with B12
Sprinkle on porridge, into sandwiches, on top of pasta etc

Where Can We Get Our Omega-3 Without Fish?

Omega-3 fatty acids; Alpha-linolenic acid is an essential fatty acid and must be ingested in the diet as we cannot make it in our bodies. The main sources of DHA and EPA is oily fish like mackeral or salmon. Flax, chia, walnuts and soya beans are great vegan sources of ALA and the good news is that our bodies can produce DHA and EPA from ALA. You may have seen my recent recipe for ‘Beetroot Linguine’ with walnuts crushed on top? Adding a small portion of nuts or seeds to your food regularly can keep your intake within a healthy range.

Salmon & Beetroot Skewers with Peanut Rayu dressing
Salmon, Beetroot & Peanut Rayu

Heme Iron or Non-Heme

Iron; The debate rages on this one! There are two types of iron; Heme and non-heme. Heme iron comes from animal products and non-heme is found in plants, especially green leafy veg. The issue arises because heme iron is so much more readily absorbed by the body than non-heme. For this reason, it is a good idea for vegetarians and vegans to monitor their intake and aim to eat plenty of cruciferous vegetables, beans, nuts and seeds. Symptoms of iron deficiency would include tiredness and breathlessness. It is also recommended to not drink tea close to your meals as tea tannins can limit iron absorption.

Broccoli coated in curry
Broccoli coated in curry

Aim For a Balanced Diet

Calcium & Zinc; These are readily available in red meat and dairy products and I have put these two together because they are a consideration when variety in diet is limited. These nutrients are involved in muscle and nerve function, bone and tissue health, immunity and cell repair. Ideally, you should have a diet with a varied selection of pulses, nuts and seeds, leafy greens, tempeh or tofu, grains and fortified milks and cereals. Remember, with variety comes health! Variety is also great for the health of your gut microbiome.

Leeks, Spinach and Black EyedBeans
Beans, Leek & Spinach mix for Cashew Cream Cannelloni

How To Go Green

I love the notion of veganuary. It is well intentioned! But I would much prefer to see people buying local produce, eating fresh food (more fresh veggies) and buying from their local butchers if eating meat was what they wanted. While I do ‘get’ this idea of going vegan, I can’t say that I support eating avocados that have been flown thousands of miles when the produce available in Ireland is so readily available at farmers markets. So, here is my advised approach, with moderation in mind.

Protein

Veganuary, unresearched, can be a difficult and daunting time. Let’s start with vegetarian – that way, dairy is still an option and will allow you a little leeway on your intake. I also eat fish, so its a good idea to decide ahead of time whether this is an option for you! For a short time, I advise using an app like ‘My Fitness Pal’ so that you can see how much protein you are eating and ensure you are getting no less than 0.8g of protein per kilo of body weight. This is approximately 56g of protein for a 70kg female. If you are exercising, go ahead add another 0.5 g/kg. If you are unsure about how much protein you need, engage with a nutritionist or dietician to help you.

Crispy tofu and veg skewers
Tofu & Butternut Squash Skewers with Sweet Chilli

Sources of Protein

Sources of protein include (for vegetarians, not vegans); fish, dairy (especially fortified yoghurts and milks). Vegan sources include hemp and pea proteins (usually powdered like a whey powder), tempeh & tofu, some vegetables, potatoes & rice (less than 3g per 100g). Quinoa is a wonderful source of protein at 14g per 100g. Quorn products have approximately 11g of protein per 100g and can be ideal to satisfy the desire to have meals like lasagne, burgers or bolognese.

Step By Step Approach

  • Plan your meals in advance. Begin with planning one or two vegetarian meals for the week and every week, add a meal. You could even plan a vegan meal, but try to use locally sourced products.
  • Start with your protein source when planning your meal then add veg. Then, if you need extra carbohydrate and fats, add them in.
  • Be aware that many of the vegetarian or vegan sources of protein like beans & pulses also have a high carb content.
  • Prepare a selection of vegetables and have them in the fridge ready to eat or ready to cook – it takes the stress out of
  • Look up recipes and plan days to try them
  • Increase the days you have a vegetarian meal. Start with one meal a day and extend it if you would like to.
  • Aim to buy vegetables that are not washed and covered in plastic – your gut will thank you!
  • Take a look at the air miles on some of the products you buy. It amazed me one day that in a local supermarket, there were no Irish potatoes!!!! Veganuary can make us forget that this is a major issue for our environment. The air miles on our fruit and vegetables are crazy, so make it your priority to watch out for this.
Beetroot Linguine
A balanced vegeetarian meal

Once you have a regular substitute planned for meat, it becomes much easier to plan the rest of your meal. For example, instead of a chicken curry, you could have a chickpea curry with tofu. Then aim for 1/2 rice and 1/2 quinoa with it. When planning an easy night, oven fries could be swapped for 1/2 fries, 1/2 roast veg. Team this with a veggie burger & cheese.

Putting It All Together

It is important to have a think about why you are doing this. Are you joining the # veganuary social media posse just to kick start your January. Well then, good for you. Enjoy the process. When you have your ‘why’ it makes the planning and the doing much easier to accomplish. For example, if you are aiming to be healthier, the slow, sustainable approach is far more beneficial in the long term. The secret is in the word ‘sustainable’. If you are making changes to lose weight, then a longer term plan needs to be put in place. Without a goal or a ‘lifestyle change’ to give you a target, you will end up failing every time so make a plan and prepare to succeed. Decide what type of lifestyle you want to live. Ask yourself if that is conducive to you achieving your goals, then get working at it!

Beetroot Linguine with Thyme and Walnuts

If you need help with planning these targets and deciding where you want to be with regards to your health, fitness and nutrition, contact me HERE to sign up to my small group coaching for just €5 a week.

*This applies to short term. Consistent under eating results in a drop in metabolic rate to accommodate lower energy intake. Speak to a nutritionist or dietician to help you to manage any significant weight loss.

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Fiona O'Donnell

Fiona has a background working in the health industry as a cardiac physiologist. Since leaving hospital work, she has worked as a Nutritionist following completion of her MSc in Exercise & Nutrition Science. Fiona is also qualified as a PT, Pilates instructor and lifeststyle coach. In 2017, Fiona received a kidney transplant and is now back to triathlon training.

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