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I’m hardly a model vegan. I’m still on my journey to a completely plant-based diet and lifestyle, but I think, as long as we’re trying and doing our best and moving towards veganism, we should all be applauded.
As a lifelong vegetarian, you’d think I’d find it easy to be vegan.
You’d be wrong. It is hard, guys.
But it is so worth it.
For the health benefits ((affiliate link) read The China Study)
For the environmental benefits ((affiliate link) read Food Revolution)
And even without being an animal-lover, I know that I don’t want any animals suffering because of my dietary and lifestyle choices (watch Cowspiracy).
For anyone who is already gluten-free though, veganism can be even harder. Its easy to control your food when you’re at home, but tying up all the loose ends on everything you eat when you’re out can be a nightmare.
Stopping for a quick bite to eat in a little local cafe, or eating with a friend who’s gone to great lengths to prepare a meal that’s gluten-free (totally forgetting that you’re vegan) can make avoiding animal products tricky.
Sometimes you’ve just got to eat it (I tend to think, and this is probably going against every commandment in the vegan rulebook, that somehow dairy is at least ‘better’ than eating eggs or meat). If you have an allergy or intolerance to gluten which means that consuming gluten-containing products will make you ill, sometimes choosing a dish with dairy is the lesser of two evils.
Okay. That said, there are some steps you can take to minimise the chances of being ‘caught short’ and resorting to:
- Not eating for extended periods of time (hello, hanger)
- Eating foods that you don’t want to (whether that’s an ethical choice or because they’ll make you ill)
- Traipsing the whole team around eight different restaurants before giving up and ordering a side salad (hold the croutons, chicken and creamy dressing – hang on, that’s just a bowl of iceberg lettuce)
Here are some of the tips I’ve learned so far on my journey towards being 100% plant-based while gluten-free.
Tips for going vegan when you’re gluten-free:
Plan your meals as much as you canDay-to-day eating can usually be planned in advance.
Plan out your week on a Sunday, making a note of what you’ll eat for breakfast, lunch and dinner each day and what ingredients you’ll need to pick up during the week.
It doesn’t need to be a full, regimented ‘meal plan’, I just make a note that I’ll make a stir-fry on Wednesday, my husband will make a curry on Thursday and we’re eating out on Friday.
Plan meals out too, where possibleWhen your plan includes eating out plan ahead by looking up menus online or contacting the restaurant and, where you can, influencing the ‘where shall we go?’ decision.
If you’re eating at someone else’s home, try to let your hosts know about your requirements ahead of time (I usually offer to bring a dish which I know I can eat). Other than that, sometimes you just have to suck it up, pick around side dishes and tuck into an emergency cereal bar/banana/entire packed dinner that you keep in your handbag, in the cab on the way home.
Be PreparedSpeaking of which: Keep an ’emergency’ stash of cereal bars, fruit, crisps or nuts & seeds (and, yes, sometimes an actual meal) stowed away in your handbag.
Doing this won’t usually replace a full meal but should see you through if you’re out and about with zero on the menu (or lumped with the world’s most boring side salad and you need a little something extra to keep hunger pangs at bay)
Bring your own food where possibleWhether that’s preparing a packed lunch to take to the office, or offering to bring a dish to the party, bringing your own food sets your mind at ease, knowing it won’t contain anything you haven’t put in there, and avoids the awkward ‘what on earth am I going to eat’ moment.
Bringing your own can also help to stave off ‘what on earth do you eat?’ and ‘isn’t all your food boring?’ questions – If you can point to the delish, fresh and colourful food sitting in front of you, you’ve got a simple show-don’t-tell argument.
Always read the labelAs someone who is already avoiding gluten, you’re probably used to this. Check labels (and allergen lists in restaurants) to avoid meat, eggs and dairy products, as well as gluten-containing ingredients.
Pay close attention to gluten-free alternatives to foods that are ‘normally’ vegan. Many staple foods like bread and pasta that contain wheat but are naturally vegan, often contain eggs or milk as a binding agent in gluten-free versions. it is possible to find gluten-free bread, pasta and other alternatives to what products that don’t contain animal products, but don’t necessarily assume that, by choosing, for example, in a restaurant, a pasta sauce or sandwich marked as suitable for vegans and substituting for the restaurant’s preferred brand for gluten-free pasta or bread that the dish will still be vegan.
This is primarily the situations that cause me to be ‘mostly-vegan’, if I’m honest (and that more as a consequence of getting overexcited about seeing gluten-free alternatives on a menu and ordering before I’ve really thought it through – as a relatively ‘ new’ vegan, who is used to checking for gluten content and vegetarian suitability, I sometimes drop the ball on checking ingredients for vegetarian but non-vegan products like eggs, milk and honey.
Make sure you’re getting a balanced dietIt’s easy when avoiding certain food groups, to accidentally eliminate nutrients and vitamins too. When you switch to a vegan diet, you’ may need to pay attention to foods that contain protein, calcium, iron and vitamins B12 and D.
If you eat a good balance of whole foods and fruits and vegetables though you shouldn’t need to worry.
Have an answer for every questionThis may seem like a ‘silly’ one, but having a stock answer to ‘well, what do you actually eat’? or ‘why would you eat like that’? or ‘don’t you miss bacon/white rolls/chicken/insert-other-foods-here?’ can just make life with friends or eating out so much easier and less stressful.
When transitioning to a totally vegan or plant-based diet it can be easy to take an all-or-nothing approach, but go gentle on yourself!
We all make mistakes. The best you can do really is to try, and find out what works and what doesn’t for you and for your lifestyle.