Thursday, January 7, 2016

Vegan-Friendly Lifestyle Changes

Today three different people approached me at work and asked for advice about healthy lifestyle changes for the new year-- related to a vegan-friendly diet and reaching fitness goals.  I felt super flattered and also inspired to actually write in this blog after a bit of  a hiatus.  I do think  that going vegan is the best thing  you can do for your own  health and the well-being of  animals and the planet as  a whole.  That being  said, if you don't think you're able or willing to take the full plunge just yet, making some small changes in your daily life and the way you eat are definitely steps in  the right direction.  I've been vegan  for close to six years, and while the rest of my family has not adopted this lifestyle, they have made some considerable veg-friendly shifts which I think others can do as well.

Small Shifts

Non-Dairy Alternatives
The case to stop drinking dairy milk is strong  Switch from cow's milk to one of the many other delicious options carried by most regular grocery stores.  I prefer almond milk, but if you're concerned about the amount of water used to grow almonds and the ongoing drought in California, there are definitely plenty of other choices.   Take your pick: soy, coconut, rice, flax, hazelnut, hemp, quinoa, and cashew milk each have their own distinct flavor and texture.  Soy and almond milk come in a variety of flavors, sweetened and unsweetened-- I prefer vanilla.  It's great in cereal, smoothies, baked goods-- you name it.

Earth Balance
Substitute it for butter.  It's made with natural and organic ingredients, and unlike margarine, does not contain  hydrogenated oils-- which means no trans fat.  My family spreads it on Italian bread and bagels and uses it for baking all kinds of delicious treats, vegan and traditional.   It can be expensive in some stores, so you will want to scope out the prices in your area.

Dark Chocolate
My family is obsessed with chocolate. My mom has made the shift to Ghirardelli semi-sweet chocolate chips, which do not contain  any dairy.  The company itself does not endorse these as vegan, but they make my cut.  Dark chocolate has many health benefits-- it contains anti-oxidants and I've read that it can even  improve brain  function.  There are also many brands of fair trade chocolate, including Endangered Species, Fair Trade, Green and Black, Divine, and Taza (out of Boston!).  I would not be vegan if I could not each chocolate, and luckily these brands are widely available in stores like Whole Foods, Shaw's, Stop & Shop, and  Target.

Snacks
Healthy chips with hummus or salsa replace cookies and other unhealthy snacks.  Do you know how many healthy chips are on shelves these days?  Processed foods are not great, but I would  venture to say that most of us are not going to renounce ALL of them any time soon, so chips from Food Should Taste Good, Stacey's, Beanitos, and other healthy brands can replace yucky snacks like Cheetos.

Meals

Breakfast
Vegan-friendly breakfasts have never been much of a challenge for me when I'm eating at home.  I eat cereal with almond milk and fruit every morning.  Vegan cereals include Chex, Cheerios, Quaker Oat Squares, Bear Naked granola, and Kind granola.  You will want to make sure that you are choosing a cereal which isn't loaded with sugar.  I usually go with a plain cereal like Chex and mix in  a bit of banana nut Bear Naked granola and some fruit-- which is a wonderful start to the day.

Lunch
I'm pretty into sandwiches.  Peanut butter and jelly on whole wheat bread (some brands do contain milk) is a very easy vegan lunch.  I also frequently make "salad sandwiches," which involves spreading hummus on one side of the bread, avocado on the other, and putting everything that I would include in a salad in between: spinach, tomatoes, cucumber, and bell peppers.  I typically make a huge mess while eating this, but what else is new.

Dinner
There are tons of easy veg-friendly recipes online.  If you have Pinterest, do a search and create a board.  I wrote a post a while back about easy vegan dinners.  My family often eats the diced veggies and quinoa dish for dinner.  Since then I've become a fan of the book One-Dish Vegan, which includes lots of easy dishes.  I also enjoy this easy Italian Orzo Spinach Soup.  Try a veg-friendly meal a few nights per week!  Cook a big meal on Sunday night and eat leftovers throughout the week!

Eating healthy or choosing veg-friendly options doesn't mean eating "rabbit food" or sacrificing flavor.  In fact, it's about enjoying better food which makes you feel energized, satisfied, and ready to tackle your new year's fitness goals (more to come on that later)!  Making a few small changes in your diet is pretty darn simple, so you don't have to be intimidated by the idea of adopting a full vegan lifestyle.  One thing  at a time!




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