Why I became a vegan

In my previous post, I mentioned I would tell you why I became a vegan.

But before I do, I thought I would share what I managed to conjure up in the kitchen tonight with odd bits of veges left in my fridge:
lentil soup/stew thing
(sorry for the blurry photo!)

I had a half a bag of baby spinach and a couple of carrots that needed to be used up. The spinach wasn’t suitable for salad anymore, and the carrots were starting to look a tad tired. So I put 3/4 cup fo brown lentils and 1/4 cup of puy/french lentils in with 3 cups of water and 2 cubes of Rapunzel salt-reduced vegetable stock. Brought to the boil and then down to the simmer for 20 minutes until the lentils were cooked. Took off heat, then added the 2 carrots (which were grated) and the spinach (half a bag is about 2 to 2.5 cups) and stirred. The heat wilted the spinach nicely and cooked the grated carrot. I served with a little sprinkle of himalayan salt, 2 sprays of Braggs and a tiny drizzle of raw agave nectar. Lucian absolutely loved it, and has been one of the few times I have got spinach into him (normally it’s in a smoothie or hidden in a lasagne). It was absolutely delicious and filling. Plus the serving I had provided about 55% of my daily iron needs along with a lot of protein and complex carbohydrates.

Now to the story of how I became vegan

In October 2007, a friend of mine from Australia became a vegan. She blogged about it in her Livejournal, and I was naturally curious. I defended the practices of the meat, dairy and egg industries in NZ when I commented on her posts. She had watched the documentary Earthlings (you can watch the documentary here) and emailed me the link to watch it online. That emailed stayed in my inbox for a month, unopened. The day after my 23th birthday, I decided to watch it. By the end of it, I became a vegetarian (the don’t call it the veg*n maker for nothing). I was so disgusted with the practices of meat industry, and especially disturbed at how animals are treated when slaughtered.

I still continued eating dairy and eggs, as I believed eating only organic and free range was ok. However, I ended up learning what really happens in those industries, and I could no longer consume those products. At 11.50pm on the 31st of December 2007, I had my last taste of animal products and was vegan the next day.

It was a massive learning curve for me. I was became an avid reader of vegan food blogs, and my then-husband became a guinea pig for all of the food I was cooking. In January 2008, I purchased by first vegan cookbooks from Amazon – Vegan With A Vengance, Vegan Cupcakes Take Over The World, and Veganomicon. I had to learn what was suitable for vegans at the supermarket and learn all of the different E numbers. I also made a point of learning about plant-based nutrition. I started taking a B12 supplement. The chronic iron deficiency I had when I was an omnivore disappeared within 2 months of becoming vegan; I wasn’t taking any iron supplements, but credit the massive increase in green vegetables and fresh fruit in my diet for that. I learnt how to cook lentils, chickpeas and tofu. I experimented with nut milks.

I ended up getting married at the end of March 2008. A month later I fell pregnant. I wasn’t a vegan for that long, and became a little scared that I may harm my unborn child by being pregnant. I decided to do as much research as I could with having a vegan pregnancy. I watched what I was eating, making sure that I was getting all of the nutrients I needed from plant foods. I did start taking a vegan prenatal multi, which I believe all women should take, regardless of what type of diet you eat. I was doing well, bar the pretty horrendous nausea I had for the first trimester and part of the second trimester. When I hit 30 weeks, I started having massive cravings for cheese again; I will admit that dairy was the hardest thing for me to give up, as I use to love the taste of cheese. I gave into those cravings, and back eating dairy and small amounts of eggs again. My body did not really like this one bit, and I ended up putting on a lot weight. I was on track to gain the required 10 to 15kg, but I ended up gaining 31kg at the end of my pregnancy. Just before I had my son, I realised the reason why I went vegan in the first place – the association of breastfeeding my child and a cow having her calves taken away so humans can drink the milk intended for her calf, did not sit well me at all.

I ended up studying a couple of papers in nutrition at university and also completed a paper in lactation as well. I wanted to be prepared for any problems I was going to face with my son. For the first 7 months of his life, he was happily gaining weight being an exlcusively breastfed baby; however, when solid foods were introduced, I had a baby that was not gaining weight, and was told by paediatricians it was due to raising him a vegan (and that my milk had no nutritional value). My instintics kicked in, and got my son tested for food allergies. Once those foods were removed from his diet, he started gaining weight again.

I will admit that I have slipped up a couple of times, and all vegans have, however I have stayed on the so-called straight-and-narrow with veganism for nearly 3 years. Those slip-ups/mistakes provided an opportunity for me to learn.

I’ve never been healthier and my son is one of the healthiest kids I know of. I’ve been able to stay at a healthy weight for my height without calorie counting too much. I’m a lot more energetic and alert. I am also doing a service to our animal friends and our planet. When people ask for the reasons why I went vegan, I always have ethics at the top of the list. Even if you go vegan for environmental or health reasons, you soon learn about the ethical reasons.

As with any diet, you need to make sure it is balanced. Make sure you eat some sort of protein 3 times a day, such as tofu, lentils, chickpeas, chia seeds (2 tablespoons has 6g of protein. When mixed with a cup of soy milk, you have covered a third of of your daily protein needs), along with many other vegan sources. Eat at least 2 to 3 servings of green veges, which contain good amounts of iron, calcium, magnesium, vitamin c and k. Tahini is another good source of calcium, iron, zinc and protein. As long as you eat a variety of whole plant foods, you won’t run into any deficiencies. If you eat meat, it doesn’t mean you are getting all of the nutrients you need, and it is an argument I hear often – there are more meat eaters with iron deficiency and B12 deficiency than vegetarians and vegans. Make sure you take a B12 supplement, and a sublingual version is best in the form of methylcobalamin. For your essential fatty acids, such as Omega 3, flaxseeds, chia seeds and hemp seed oil are very good sources that are well absorbed. As long as you don’t consume too much omega 6 and omega 9 in your diet, your body will be able to convert plant-based omega 3 into DHA. You can buy vegan DHA supplements if you are worried, and I would recommend them if you consume a lot of soy protein isolate and oil in your diet.

If you are not vegan, the best choice you can make for the animals, the environment and your health is to go vegan :-)

My next post will explore why humans are natural herbivores and the effects of animal proteins on our health.

If you have any questions about vegan nutrition, please leave a comment below, and I will answer by doing a Q&A post. I’ve only very, very, very briefly touched on vegan nutrition in this post. I will also be doing individual posts on the role and function of B12, vitamin D, protein, iron, calcium, zinc and essential fatty acids (plus anything that may come up).

6 responses to “Why I became a vegan

  1. Hey Denise, Just letting you know I have downloaded CRON-O-Meter to my iPod and will spend some time geeking out over that. ;) Thanks for mentioning it. Of course.. I should be studying, not messing around with new tracking software, but you know how it goes…

    • I hope you like it :-) I still use the standalone version of it, but I think they will no longer be releasing updates for it so people can start using the web-based version.. I import my data from the standalone to the web-based version on a daily basis. I like the custom food feature on it, however, waiting for them to add a custom exercise feature, as I am currently having to pick an activity close to what I have done and playing around with the time to get the calories I need.

      I was never really a fan of Foodworks, as it didn’t have a lot of the foods that I eat, which was a PITA when I did assessments. Plus the software isn’t very user friendly either.

  2. Yup.. and the cost?? Geez.
    I do not think that ‘almond butter’ is such an exotic food as to not be in Foodworks,

  3. Great post! I love reading about other people’s food journeys. You have a really responsible approach to your diet + that of your son – very inspiring. It’s awesome that you made the effort to thoroughly research and even study nutrition – I’ve just done a certificate in basic nutrition principles too. Fascinating stuff :)

    • My next goal is to do that plant-based nutrition certificate through eCornell, so it really ‘grounds’ what I have learnt over the past 4 years.

      I personally think that everyone, whether you are a vegan or not, should do a basic course in nutrition. There is a lot of unfactual information out there, especially when it comes to B12. What you eat has a huge impact on health outcomes, and it is better to prevent dis-eases rather than cure them :-)

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