Are you going vegan this Veganuary? If you’re thinking of giving a plant-based diet a go, you’ll be making a positive choice for your health and for the environment. However, giving up meat and dairy can be tricky at times. That’s why we caught up with talented plant-based chef Lauren Lovatt to ask her the most common questions that new vegans ask when making the transition.February 05, 2021 2:44 pm January 04, 2021 2:32 pm
Reasons for going vegan
Lauren Lovatt is a plant-based chef with a fantastic pedigree. She has worked as a chef and a cooking school teacher all over the world, making delicious dishes from only plant-based ingredients. Her inspiration comes from her own journey into veganism, which was provoked by health problems.
‘I became plant-based after a rollercoaster ride with my own life and mental health,’ says Lauren. ‘I was finishing a five year degree in art and fashion design. I just realised that food had always been my passion and something I was ready to pursue!’
As for many people, Lauren discovered the benefits of a plant-based diet after becoming ill. ‘I realised that I was (and always had been) intolerant to gluten and dairy. When I started to get better from an array of mental health issues my body was very weak. Foods I was eating, like dairy and bread, were literally knocking the life out of me.
‘So, I learnt more about raw foods and whole food ingredients and cooking. Through an awful lot of trial and error, I found a new lease of like by focussing on quality ingredients.’
She decided to make the change in her personal life, but also realised that it was the right route for her career, too.
‘I’ve never, ever eaten eggs and was looking to retrain as a chef,’ she says, remembering the difficulties of finding the right course. ‘Traditional courses weren’t inspiring to me at that time, but plant-based food and living really was.’
Luckily, Lauren was eventually able to find a course in plant-based cooking and began to train as a vegan chef.
‘The future is plant-based’
As we move towards a future threatened by climate change and lifestyle diseases such as obesity and diabetes, the appeal of a plant-based way of living is becoming ever stronger.
For Lauren, making the switch was life-changing, not just because of the environmental and health benefits, but because of the sudden burst of creativity it gave her.
‘Plants opened up a whole new realm of ingredients and ideas,’ she says. ‘Things like raw cakes and whole vegetable dishes really excited me.
‘Living in the Cotswolds at the time, I had always been inspired by Acorn Vegetarian (now Oak) in Bath. I had seen what was possible in terms of plant-based food. So, I went for it, finding classes and training that could take this plant passion to the next level.
‘I then had the chance to open Asparagasm. It was the original vegan pop-up in London and is just about to become a permanent site.
‘I could see the future was plant-based. I felt transformed myself, and the more I learn, the more driven I am to share this passion and support others to ignite their passion for plants!’
So, if you’re going vegan for Veganuary 2020, Lauren is perfectly placed to answer all your questions. Here, we’ve asked her some of the most common questions that people ask when switching to a plant-based diet.
"I advocate going as organic or ‘close to source’ as possible with any ingredients."
“How do I build a healthy vegan meal?”
New vegans often struggle with no longer being sure about what components make up a healthy meal. At school, we’re often taught about the ‘perfect plate’, made up of protein (usually from meat), carbohydrates and fresh vegetables. But it’s more difficult to visualise your healthy plate when you take away the more well-known sources of protein.
Lauren’s advice is to build a meal based on how satisfied you feel when eating it.
‘The key thing in transitioning is to make sure you are satisfied both in the flavour and body of each meal,’ she says. ‘It’s key to have things you enjoy and would normally have. After all, so many dishes are vegan by default and we don’t even realise!’
Start with a base of vegetables and build up from there. Remember to include a source of plant-based protein such as beans, lentils, tofu, tempeh, chickpeas or quinoa.
‘Opt for whole ingredients rather than processed products,’ Lauren advises. ‘Aim to make colourful plates including some seasonal veg, and be curious!’
“Are meat and dairy substitutes any good?”
If you’re used to building a meal around protein like chicken or beef, it might seem like the easiest route is simply to replace it with a meat substitute.
There are a huge number of products on the market which aim to replace meat and dairy, such as chick’n, tofurkey and vegan cheese.
While Lauren thinks they can be useful, sticking rigidly to meat substitutes means seriously limiting your options. Plus, these products are often heavily processed, which limits how healthy they are for you.
If you decide to use meat and dairy substitutes to help you through the adjustment period, make sure you’re choosing high quality products.
‘I’m not a huge fan of substitutes myself, but I do think that there are some amazing options out there for those in the transition phase,’ says Lauren. ‘The Green Grill, Pure Filth and Chicken Dish are all products led by great plant-based people using good quality ingredients. Personally, I love Tempeh by the guys at Club Cultured.’
And if you’re ready to broaden your horizons, there are lots of other vegan options which can work brilliantly in place of meat. ‘I love to explore using mushrooms as the more ‘meaty’ element to any plate,’ Lauren says.
“Do vegans need to take any dietary supplements, or make sure they’re eating particular foods?”
‘Everyone is so unique when it comes to supplements, and I’m not coming at this from a nutrition background,’ Lauren cautions. ‘But, through my own experience, and being surrounded by those transitioning, it’s just key to eat quality, whole ingredients.
‘Beans, whole grains, quality fats, nuts and seeds, rainbow vegetables, seasonal fruits and of course those green leafy vegetables are elements that each day should include. Prioritise colour and, of course, flavour.’
It’s also a good idea to look at the provenance of your food. If you’re switching to a vegan diet for health reasons, or to help protect the environment, it’s particularly important to choose products which don’t use pesticides or chemicals. ‘I do advocate going as organic or ‘close to source’ as possible with any ingredients!’ Lauren confirms.
Lots of new vegans are nervous about losing out on essential vitamins and minerals. Fortunately, though, everything you need can be sourced from a vegan diet.
Some vegan people are more at risk of developing a vitamin B12 deficiency, because the primary source of B12 in the Western diet is meat and dairy. However, you can get vitamin B12 through other sources without needing to take a supplement.
Lots of non-dairy milks, cereals and nutritional yeast products are fortified with vitamin B12.
If you start to feel tired or under the weather, you may want to watch your vitamin B12 intake.
“Should I go ‘cold turkey’ on meat and dairy, or is it better to ease myself in over a period of time?”
‘Again, everyone is unique,’ says Lauren. ‘I went vegan after being pescatarian for some months and it felt totally great, but I’ve never really been a big meat eater. I think if it feels like a huge leap to go vegan overnight, try just one or two meals a day.’
And, once you’ve managed to make that change, you can begin to build on your success. ‘If that goes well, explore swapping small things like dairy chocolate for vegan chocolate, or dairy milk for plant-based milk. Slowly, slowly, you will fall in love with these options.
‘When we think of all these foods and options just as ‘foods’ (which they are!), rather than an ‘alternative’ to something else, the process is just one of adventure and curiosity. You will, for sure, find new brands and ingredients you love along the way.’
“Will I get cravings for meat and dairy?”
Lauren was one of the lucky ones – she hardly experienced any cravings at all!
‘For me, I didn’t look back. I was lucky enough to be opening a vegan restaurant at the time that I went vegan. So, it was a great opportunity to jump feet first into something I was hugely excited by and passionate about.’
However, she knows that lots of us may need a bit more help when it comes to making changes. If you do find yourself missing your old diet, Lauren advises finding ways to take the pressure off yourself in the kitchen.
‘For most people, one great tip is to have everything you need to hand,’ she says. ‘Don’t go shopping every five minutes searching for things you can eat. Instead, fill your fridge and cupboards with plant-baed foods you love, so cooking doesn’t have to be a chore.’
Want to take it a step further and take the hard work out of meal planning? ‘You can subscribe to a local veg box like Riverford, try out some new snacks from Erbology and even do a vegan ice cream subscription from Beau’s!’
“What if I fall off the wagon?”
Making a sudden change in your diet and habits – whether that’s a new exercise regime, ‘Dry January’ or Veganuary – can be tough. If you’re making a big change, go into the process knowing that you might slip up. And if you do, it’s OK!
The key is to remember that succumbing to a craving for your old diet doesn’t erase all the hard work you’ve already put in. If you fall off the wagon, you can choose to get back on.
‘Don’t take it too seriously,’ says Lauren. ‘We’re all human, and life happens. Don’t give yourself a hard time over it, and remember we have so many chances each day to make a plant-based choice.’
“Any easy recipe ideas you could share?”
‘So many!’ Lauren exclaims. ‘I have a full course in plant-based cooking via my Plant Academy.’ Lauren’s cooking school runs in-depth classes on all aspects of plant-based food.
‘This January, we are kicking off Plant One, our self-paced course. It’s made up of 12 modules of plant food fundamentals, from stocks and sauces to gluten-free baking, desserts, and an incredible selection of plant-based plates.’
Coronavirus restrictions have meant that the course has had to move online, but there are advantages to this, too. ‘It’s adapted from our signature, on-site Plant Food Fundamentals experience,’ Lauren explains. You can complete the modules over a full year.
‘With the leading minds in the industry teaching you techniques, recipes and ideas, this course is for anyone looking to take their plant-based food to the next level. It’s a vision of the future,’ Lauren smiles. ‘We are inspiring passion through plants.’
If your culinary skills don’t quite extend that far, Lauren has another recommendation to satisfy your sweet tooth. She has kindly donated her delicious recipe for Rose, Cardamom and CBD Shortbread.
‘This shortbread is designed to bring a moment of calm to any day. It’s part of my focus on inspiring better mental health through potent, plant-based ingredients, but also through the act of coming together to share food or a moment of creativity.’
“What’s the single best thing about being vegan?”
If you’re ever struggling to stay motivated on your journey to a plant-based diet, you can look to ground-breaking chefs like Lauren for inspiration.
‘Choosing just one ‘best’ thing about being vegan is hard,’ Lauren laughs. ‘It started out with the creativity, flavour and ingredients. But now, I’m more and more excited about the impact we can have through choosing to champion vegetables and rethink the food system.
‘For me, being part of the community of activists, entrepreneurs and chefs is extremely empowering.’
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