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Embracing the Vegan Lifestyle

An ever-increasing percentage of Brits are opting for a vegan lifestyle – with 3.5 million people having gone vegan and more and more drawn to the lifestyle because of concerns over the environmental impact of the dairy industry.

On the eve of the Vegan Wellness Festival, which comes to Kingston this Saturday with over 40 stalls and traders promoting an eco lifestyle, we take a look at what it means to be vegan.

Supermarket sweep
You’ll need to start looking at your labels. If a product is vegan, it will carry the vegan symbol. It is often surprising what is vegan and what isn’t though. You may be surprised to learn, for example, that dried pasta is usually completely vegan, but fresh isn’t as it contains eggs, or that Marmite and Bisto – which both have a flavour reminiscent to that of beef stock, is completely fine. Get googling by researching ‘accidentally vegan’ and you’ll find a comprehensive list of the surprising vegan food stuffs. Sainsbury’s chicken flavour instant noodles anyone?

Drink responsibly
Not all alcohol is vegan-friendly. It goes without saying that you’ll have to ditch the eggnog and bad luck if your cocktail of choice is a White Russian, but there are still plenty of options for you to pick from. Heineken, Carlsberg, Amstel and Peroni are all vegan-friendly beers which is great news for larger-lovers, but some contain isinglass – a membrane that comes from fish bladders (yum!) and so renders some beers undrinkable, although this is on the decrease which is good news for vegans and fish everywhere. With wine, most supermarkets label their bottles carefully to alert potential buyers before they get to the checkout. In terms of spirits, the good news is they are virtually all vegan-friendly, so tequila, vodka, rum, gin and bourbon are all still good to go, just not all at once.

Eating out
With veganism indisputably on the rise, London as a cosmopolitan hub is, of course, ahead of the trend, and vegan hopefuls will be spoilt for choice for plant-based dishes at hip restaurants keen to capitalise on the trend. Tell Your Friends is one such recently opened restaurant in Parsons Green. Its brunch menu offers scotch pancakes with bacon, ackee scrambled eggs and even a full English with house sausages, and aubergine bacon – but it’s 100% vegan. If you’re considering venturing further afield for your vegan fare, Hackney-based Taste of Seitan is a fast-food style ‘chicken’ shop that serves burgers, southern fried buttermilk fillets and chips all made from a popular vegan substitute – seitan. If you’re concerned about your new vegan lifestyle limiting your dining out options, fear not – the high street’s most popular chains now have vegan options, with Pizza Express, Wagamama, and even chicken-chomping chain Nando’s offering an array of plant-based dishes. Download the Happy Cow app which can help you find your nearest vegan-friendly restaurant at the touch of a button.

Cooking vegan
Embarking on a life of veganism may be an overwhelming experience, so start from scratch, empty your cupboards and fill your kitchen with fresh ingredients you’re confident adheres to vegan principles so you can take to the kitchen and embrace a whole new catalogue of recipes. The internet is an excellent resource where you can meet like-minded people on forums or find bloggers who will offer top tips for tasty recipes and ideas. Contrary to widespread belief, a vegan diet isn’t just about gorging on nuts and berries, in fact you can ensure a rounded, balanced and healthy diet with a wide range of recipes to keep your mid-week meals interesting and packed full of nutrients. Think vegan sticky rice with green curry sauce full of veg, sweet potato and black bean veggie burgers, and creamy butternut squash linguine with fried sage. For dessert, get inventive with recipes out there for blueberry muffins and peanut butter chocolate chip ice cream without a drop of dairy in sight.

Boost your vitamin uptake
A common argument for eschewing life on the veg is that without meat and dairy, you’re missing out on vital nutrients to get you through the day. Crucial nutrients include vitamin A, of which the direct form is found in meat, eggs, dairy and fish, B12, vitamin D, zinc, and the obvious one - protein.  While it is true to some extent that veganism can lead to profound deficiencies, you can avoid this by being aware of where the vitamins lie. Vitamin A can be found in bright orange vegetables including carrots, squash and apricots, as well as superfoods like spinach and kale. In terms of protein, look for soy-based products such as tempeh and tofu. Quinoa is also a great substitute, and adds a protein punch to any salad. Keep an eye out for lentils, whole grains, nuts and beans which are high in amino acids and will supplant any zinc deficiency.

Talk to a nutritionist or your GP before embarking on any major dietary changes.