By Alina Budnyuk
We are getting closer to the end of Veganuary 2021, so it is about time to tell you a story about how I, a meat eater and lover, decided to go vegetarian for a couple of days just to see if it was sustainable for me personally and if my dependence of animal products was as bad as it seemed.
One day I sent a message to my friends asking “guys, should I go veggie?” and they said I should do it. Ultimately it was too late to call it off. Having done some research on plant-based proteins, it became clear that my carbohydrate consumption was going to increase dramatically. A staple vegan source of protein – legumes – are not very high in it – about 25% of net weight of raw product, according to Dr Guy Crosby, the science editor for America’s Test Kitchen. However, I do not know anyone who eats beans raw, so that number decreases drastically once they are cooked.
I then turned to green leafy vegetables – kale, broccoli, cabbage, spinach and their relatives. Although they contained more protein than carbs, the sheer volume of food I would have to consume to hit my daily goal of 130g of protein seemed obscene. So I decided to not exclude dairy or eggs. Even then, those can be high in saturated fat, which was not something to be excited about. According to the British Heart Foundation, too much saturated fat and salt (hello, cheese) is linked to high cholesterol and blood pressure.
I tried looking at meat alternatives like Beyond Meat and home brand varieties of similar products, but they were even higher in fat! It all looked bleak and gloomy and I started contemplating whether it was a good idea at all. But I went ahead anyway – after all I had already validated the experiment with my friends – and started with buying tinned beans, a lot (and I mean A LOT) of reduced or zero fat dairy (like Greek yogurt, reduced fat cheddar and mozzarella, light cheese spreads, you name it), cartons of liquid eggs, oats and a head of Romanesco (spoiler alert – Romanesco cabbage is my favourite vegetable now).
The plan was to write down some things that didn’t sound horrible and just roll with it. My menu consisted of:
- Hummus pasta with zucchini
- Miso glazed aubergine with mozzarella
- Tofu stir fry
- Creamy marmite and mushroom pasta
- Lentil and bean stew
- Oats with egg whites and peanut butter
You get the idea. I saw all these things on different websites and social media and they looked delicious, so I went with it.
Turns out, tofu has a wonderful texture and absorbs flavours really well (try marinating it in some teriyaki sauce); Romanesco, which is a type of broccoli, not only looks out of this world but also has a delicate taste and a characteristic crunch, and hummus makes a pretty good pasta sauce when thinned with pasta water (I am sure you’ve heard of this trick to make the sauce extra silky and creamy).
My little experiment was a great success. The sheer amount of fibre I was getting was way more than 25g a day for women, recommended by the NHS, which meant I was fuller for longer. I was getting more micronutrients such as vitamins and minerals, so I could ditch my daily “one a day” multivitamin pill. I had so much more energy I started running again. And I didn’t miss meat. The thought of it just didn’t cross my mind at all, I would walk past chilled chicken and beef isle and not even blink. However, it was still hard to meet my protein needs, so a daily large protein shake was a must, as well as some creatine as it mainly exists in large amounts in meat.
The conclusion I can draw from my meat-free week is simple – it is highly sustainable, cheap and great for overall health. Will I stick with ovo-lacto vegetarianism forever? No, especially since meat is a great source of iron and B vitamins, and the NHS recommends eating fish and seafood at least once a week to maintain healthy levels of essential amino acids (Omega 3 and 6) and iodine. Will I include more plant-based fibre-rich proteins in my diet? One hundred percent, and I would recommend anyone do the same.