Firstly, if you have just decided to go vegan, welcome to a whole new exciting, colourful world of food and drink that not only make you feel better inside but plant-based diets are renown for delivering benefits notable on the outside from improved skin, hair, energy, sleep, memory, concentration and overall health. The benefits aside, of which there are many, I wanted to share my top ten tips with anyone about to either go vegan or perhaps try the Veganuary challenge this January:
1. Follow the bloggers and info sources – over the past ten years, there has been a 260 percent rise in vegans in the UK and this has brought with it a notable influx of bloggers, influencers and all round helpful folk that will share everything and anything to do with vegan products that have either recently been launched or have been on the market and may just be “accidentally” vegan that you may not be aware of. Not a day goes by where I don’t learn more about local restaurants that may have put a new vegan dish on the menu, or a new vegan product that one of the supermarkets have started stocking. So my advice here is to follow any friends, celebrities, vegan brands, vegan cafes, restaurants, businesses and key sources such as PETA, Veganuary, Vegan Society and Plant Based News as good examples I find really helpful, current and fresh. I also run a Twitter account that fires out useful daily tips in this area @gonein60minutes.
2. Enjoy the influx of new products – as the number of vegans continues to increase, so to do the number of amazing tasty plant- based product launches. This year alone, I have had the pleasure of trying vegan lemon cheesecake, cornettos, peanut butter cups, sausages, pies, protein shakes, bars, flapjacks and many more delicious items new to the market in 2017. When I first went vegan, it was over 10 years ago when the product range was somewhat limited to soy milk, margarine and tofu. The world we live in now is a very different place, the brands and the supermarkets are finally catching up with what we as vegan consumers are demanding and our voices are not only louder than ever, but they are being heard with credibility that has driven a lot of new product development in the market and will continue to do so moving forward.
3. Don’t try everything at once – I am a self-confessed vegan shopping junkie! By this I mean nine times out of ten, if it’s vegan, it’s going in my basket and with new items appearing on the shelves so regularly (literally feels like every week of late!), it is very tempting to buy everything all at once. My advice is pace yourself, there are so many products you don’t have to try and buy them all at once and instead just pace it and you will still be able to enjoy the variety as this is definitely not a “here today, gone tomorrow” market trend.
4. You don’t have to miss out on anything – I used to miss certain foods like cup cakes, ice cream and generally dessert style options but there are a great deal of restaurant chains that now offer plant-based options including Wagamama, Las Iguanas, and Zizzi to name a few. In addition to desserts of course, many of the restaurants have also upped their games hugely in the area of starters and mains. Both Pizza Express and Pizza Hut now even serve vegan pizzas with vegan cheese whilst Prezzo has some lovely vegan pasta dishes. Most Indian restaurants are very accommodating and will be able to make a really tasty curry dish without meat and dairy. One of the best vegan restaurants I have ever been to is called 222 in London and it has the most amazing menu ever. I have sampled every item on that menu and I would eat there ever day if I could. Even better, there is a vegan supermarket called Green Bay just a few doors down that sells pretty much everything you could ever wish for as a vegan so if you are in London, both are worth a visit.
5. Find your favourite stores – Planet Organic, Wholefoods, Holland and Barrett, Waitrose, Booths, Morrisons and Tesco are my go-to stores to top up on many vegan items and anything else I can’t get in those stores I will order on Ocado – all of these retailers now stock an impressive selection of vegan foods. There are also some fabulous subscription boxes you can opt into with the likes of Vegan Kind and Vegan Tuck Box. Both of these businesses search the vegan market for the latest products that you can get mailed direct to your door each month and no two boxes are ever the same!
6. Spread the good word – this is really linked to my first point as it won’t be long before you have your own “vegan discovery” moments that you will want to share with others and maybe you’ll even become one of the bloggers like me helping others as they take their first steps on the vegan journey. It’s also really satisfying to know you are helping educate others as well as continuing to enjoy the journey yourself.
7. Watch your training improve – this is one area that I can wholeheartedly tell you will improve as I have been a regular gym bunny for as far back as I can remember yet my biggest gains in fitness, strength, power and speed have definitely happened during my plant-based years and that’s for sure. I have measured, analysed, tracked back, and poured over past and present performances (we athletes are a little obsessed with that!) and this year was my fastest year, I PB’d in my 5K distance and completed my fastest duathlon as well as competing for my age group on the Great Britain duathlon team at the European Championships in Spain and World Champs in Canada. Next year I have pre-qualified for the World Championships in Denmark after finishing 10th in the world for my age group in Canada and 3rd Brit home. I have also just recently qualified for the European Championships next year in Ibiza which I am also looking forward to. Inside the gym, I am also lifting heavier weights, training smarter and seeing increases in muscle mass along with a reduced body fat level – both of which help me perform to my best standard on the running and cycling scene. I really think gone are the days when people preconceive vegans to be weak. If you are still wondering about that just give Great Vegan Athletes a visit. With Lewis Hamilton, Jermain Defoe, Novak Djokovic all opting for vegan diets, the amount of vegan athletes doing wonderful things is certainly on the increase!
8. Food prep is key if you are on the go – One of the areas I struggled with for a while was getting the right food in the right place especially if you know you are stuck in meetings all day without the option to scurry out to the local supermarket. I quickly learnt that life becomes a lot easier when you just put 20 mins aside to prep some food tupperware style! My favourite combinations for protein rich snacking on include vegan sausages and green beans or vegan soup, stew, chilli or just a sample serving of seitan or tempeh with some cauliflower or broccoli. I take this on trains, I have it in hotels and I take it to meetings – its quick, clean and a great healthy option when you are short for time or options.
9. Check out the vegan show scene – throughout the year, there are large number of colourful vegan fairs around the UK selling everything from vegan cookies and sausage rolls to clothes, jewellery and homeware options. They are also a great place to watch documentaries, listen to speakers and brush up on vegan recipes. Just google vegan fairs in your local area and you will be able to find a good selection that run all yea round. I normally take my mum to many of them as we like to sample the latest products on the vegan cake scene and then go home and try to replicate it as best we can for the next family party! VegFest, Just V, Plant Based, LABL, Northern Vegan Festival and Vegan Life are all running a good schedule of shows in 2018 ready for you to visit and sample the latest delights on the vegan scene.
10. Above everything, just enjoy it – since going vegan, even though I was vegetarian from age 6, I have enjoyed every minute of all the recent plant-based food and drink discoveries. I have loved meeting other like-minded individuals and the knowledge I have taken from continuing to educate myself in the field of vegan living. I am lucky enough to have started a vegan and vegetarian food business called Bravura Foods that now supplies products to all the main retailers in the UK and I have even written a book on vegan health and fitness (Gone in 60 Minutes) and it’s been such an incredibly enjoyable journey in the vegan environment and one that I look forward to continuing as we embark on a future that takes us further down plant based routes.
Lisa Gawthorne –Team GB AG Duathlete, Author of Gone in 60 Minutes, Owner of Bravura Foods and passionate vegan.