If you’ve been following my blog for a while, you know that I did a self-experiment where I followed a vegan diet for 30 days.
The reason I wanted to try to stay away from all animal products for a month is that for health reasons, environmental reasons and because of poor animal treatment in large-scale farming, I came to the conclusion that reducing meat and dairy consumption might be a good idea.
To see if the extreme of quitting all animal products was sustainable for me personally, I decided to try it out for a month. Now that the experiment is over, I’d like to share the experience with you and reflect on the positive, the difficult and the unexpected things I encountered while eating a purely plant-based diet.
So that you know what kind of change eating completely vegan was for me, let me explain my usual diet before we start. For the most part, I eat healthy. My normal diet includes a lot of whole grains, vegetables and healthy fats. I eat meat, but very rarely, and I’m rather picky about the quality. I do however enjoy fish, other seafood, eggs and yogurt on a regular basis, and sometimes like to supplement with whey protein powder or bars.
Another thing you should know is that right now, I live in a rural area. Before moving here, I lived in London where following a vegan diet (in terms of finding vegan foods & restaurants) would have been much easier.
Now that we’ve got that out of the way, let’s start with the obvious question:
Was I able to get all necessary nutrients without consuming animal products? Well, pretty much. The only thing I really needed to substitute was vitamin B12, which is mainly available from animal sources. There are supposed to be vegan foods fortified with B12, but I did not find any, and just taking a supplement was the easier option anyway because I didn’t have to think about how much of the fortified food I’d have to eat in order to reach the recommended daily amount of B12.
So what did I eat in place of meat? I replaced meat mainly with other protein rich foods like beans, lentils, chickpeas, tofu, tempeh, and other soy products. I also made sure to include plenty of nuts and seeds in my diet for additional protein and healthy fats, and occasionally supplemented with vegan protein powders.
And in place of dairy? I found several plant based “milks” and “yogurts”, including almond, soy, coconut and oat based products. The almond milk (fortified with calcium if possible) and the coconut yogurt were my favourites. One thing to look out for is that many of these plant based “dairy” products come with added sugar, and I’d always recommend choosing the ones that do not have any sugar added!
Is it possible to bake without eggs? Baking without eggs is possible, but definitely more of a challenge. At least for me, it usually took more than one try to get the taste and consistency right. Among others things, I made pancakes, a date and mango cake and cookies. There are vegan egg replacements available at health shops that are supposed to give your baked goods a similar consistency you get when you use eggs, but I didn’t use any of them. Natural vegan egg substitutes in baking include a flaxseed and water mixture, a chia seed and water mixture, mashed banana, apple sauce, and silken tofu.
What about eating at restaurants? As I mentioned before, I currently live in a rural area where veganism isn’t as popular as it is in bigger cities. Therefore, vegan options at restaurants are scarce (vegetarian options are much easier to find!), and most restaurants won’t mention vegan options or customisable-to-make-vegan options in their menu. When it comes to takeaway foods like sandwiches, I found one single place near me that does one single kind of vegan takeaway sandwich which isn’s especially creative or delicious, but it is vegan. At most other places, takeaway sandwiches would at the very least contain butter. You might be able to get away with the salads though! Just look out for yogurt-based dressings.
This situation forced me to cook more of my own meals and prepare my own food to take with me, which required a little more planning and preparation than usual, but on the bright side also allowed me to control exactly what I was eating and forced me to stay on track with my healthy eating goals. I also wasn’t able to eat most conventional sweets (like anything milk chocolate based), but that didn’t bother me much. Dark chocolate and fruit all the way!
Did food shopping get more complicated? Just a little bit. Most things like bread, rice, wholegrain pasta (watch out for the ones containing eggs!), vegetables, beans, lentils and chickpeas stayed the same. I did however have to drive to a specialised health shop to get the plant based milk and yogurt, tofu and tempeh. On the bright side, I also found some amazing vegan chocolates and ice creams there. In general, vegan food shopping requires more label reading as many products you normally wouldn’t even think twice about can contain animal products or traces of animal products. I also found a good specialised online shop where I bought some vegan protein bars, but both, the online shop and the health food store were pretty expensive.
How did my family and friends react to the experiment? They knew from the beginning that it was time limited to 30 days, so they took it pretty easy. Had it been a permanent change though, I have the feeling that they would have tried to talk me out of it. My boyfriend is definitely a carnivore, but he knew that I wouldn’t try to stop him from eating meat, so there was no problem there. Only my grandmother was a little shocked, because what could I possibly eat if I didn’t eat anything coming from animals (enter the ” I know you don’t like pork, so I only put bacon in this” incident)?
Being invited to eat at other people’s houses was a different story, as most people aren’t used to cooking vegan food, and I felt uncomfortable asking for anything made especially for me. It also felt wrong to bring my own food with me, so I stuck to eating the parts of the meal that I could.
Did I miss anything during those 30 days? In terms of food, not really. I’ve never been much of a meat eater to begin with, and I’ve preferred plant based milk to cows milk long before I started this experiment. I also didn’t have trouble finding good tasting alternatives to other animal products, and plant based food can taste really good, especially when you start experimenting with different spices. The two things I probably missed most are the convenience of using eggs in baking and the freedom to go anywhere without having to take my own food with me, knowing that I’d always find something to eat.
Other thoughts: Some of you might be wondering about weight loss, but my weight stayed stable during those 30 days. I kept up with my strength training routine and made sure to get enough protein. It is definitely possible to lose weight on a vegan diet, but weight loss was not a goal of mine.
Generally, in comparison to my normal diet, my vegan diet was a little higher in carbs (as many vegan protein sources, for example beans, are also sources of complex carbs), and a little lower in fat, as animal products can have a considerable fat content.
Staying away from animal products for a month made me think and research more than usual about animal farming practices and the effects it has on the animals and the environment, and much of what I found out was rather concerning. Large-scale farming practices need to become more sustainable and animal-friendly.
Another thing that I was more aware of was that many cosmetic products aren’t vegan and could potentially be animal tested unless they state that they are not.
Will I stay plant-based only now that the experiment is over? Right after my vegan month was over, I went to Iceland for ten days (a separate post about the trip is coming) where it’s not exactly easy to eat a sustainable, plant-based only diet outside of the capital Reykjavik when you’re not cooking your own food; especially if you don’t know your way around, so I went back to including milk, butter, cheese, eggs and fish in my diet for the holiday.
Now that I’m back home, I decided not to eat completely vegan, but rather maintain a vegan-ish diet. A big part of my food will be plant-based, but I will continue to eat eggs (making sure to choose the most ethically produced ones I can find) and seafood occasionally, to get at least part of my vitamin B12 from natural sources. I will also allow myself some freedom when I travel as I won’t always have the same options available everywhere. For me personally, balance and sustainability are key, and while I am reducing my animal product consumption, completely eliminating it isn’t something that will work for me or my lifestyle (including travel) in the long term.
If you have any questions, drop them below!