Hi – my name is Joel, and I’m a carnivore. I was brought up as a vegetarian, but I’ve loved meat ever since my first bacon sandwich (at university), and I’ve been making up for lost time ever since. I’ve tried most types you could name (alligator is a favourite), experimented with eating it for every meal (steak for breakfast is the best) and spent hours working out how to grill, fry, smoke, braise or roast it better. I eat eggs every single day, I sprinkle cheese on everything possible, and I put butter in my coffee. And recently, I’ve been thinking about going vegan.
There are lots of good reasons not to go vegan, especially if you like being strong. It’s difficult to get enough protein, obviously, and there are few non-animal kinds that contain the complete range of amino acids. It’s also hard to get creatine and vitamin B12, alongside lesser-known nutrients like carnosine and DHA. Ido Portal – UFC star Conor McGregor’s “movement coach” – refuses to train with vegans because they’re “too low-energy”. And, of course, you can’t have proper milk in your tea.
On the other hand, there are lots of good reasons to eat less meat and more plants. Even if you ignore the ethical side of things (and the egg and dairy industries are arguably even worse than the meat industry from a strictly animal welfare perspective; nothing good is happening to all those unneeded male chicks and calves), eating meat isn’t sustainable in the long term on a planet-wide level.
Are You Ready To Go Vegan ?
In 2014, the Chatham House thinktank published a report identifying animal agriculture as one of the leading causes of climate change, responsible for more emissions than all global transport combined, and talks in Paris concluded that reducing the world’s meat consumption will be critical to keeping global warming below “danger level”. Even Arnold Schwarzenegger is in on the act, suggesting that people have a couple of meat-free days a week for the good of the planet. It’s tough to argue with the Terminator.
Also, let’s be honest: none of us is eating enough vegetables. Five a day, the UK government-endorsed minimum, is hard enough to manage, and that’s still not really enough. For a lot of people (me included), part of the issue is not knowing how to get more greens in: what you’re supposed to do with celeriac, for instance, or how to make cauliflower taste nice.
One good reason to at least try veganism is to promote what food writer and chef J Kenji Lopez-Alt calls “diversity through restriction” – forcing yourself to try new foodstuffs because you’re not allowed your old standbys. To a man who exists on steak, turkey burgers and slow-cooker chicken most weeks, it’s a compelling (if intimidating) sales pitch. So I decided to try it. For a week. Strict. And – spoilers – it isn’t that hard.
RECOMMENDED: Why You Should Go Part-Time Vegetarian
“Where’s the protein? This is usually what people fear,” says John Berardi, founder of Precision Nutrition and advocate of what he prefers to call “plant-based eating” – a mostly vegetarian diet that doesn’t exclude meat entirely or have the moral implications of labelling yourself a full veggie. “If you’re eating, say, 90% of your diet as plants, but still regularly eating eggs, dairy, fish, meat or protein powder, you should be just fine unless you have some special need for extra protein.”
And if you’re going all the way? “Include at least one cup of beans each day,” Berardi says (a cup is around 250ml by volume). “Beans are an important source of the amino acid lysine for people who don’t eat animal products. They contain protein, minerals and antioxidants, and they’re cheap.”
You might have heard that beans have a high concentration of “anti-nutrients” that render them nutritionally worthless – but, says Berardi, this is an oversimplification. “In isolation, yes, they may block the absorption of other nutrients in the diet. This can be a problem for people who eat large quantities of single foods like rice, corn, wheat and beans, such as people in poorer regions who often subsist on very limited diets. But when beans are part of a diverse diet, their anti-nutrients – some of which also go by the name of phytonutrients – factor into what makes them so healthy.”
Then, of course, there’s soy, the vegan staple that’s been linked to everything from thyroid disease to excess oestrogen in the media. As a source of protein, it ranks highly: soybeans contain up to 48% protein, with a PDCAA score (a measure of protein quality) just below 1.0 – in comparison, beef is ranked at 0.92. On the other hand, it’s high in phytoestrogens (present in everything from oats to berries), a defence mechanism for the plant that can have negative hormonal effects on humans.
So how do you get the good without the bad? Follow the example of Asian cuisine, where it’s mainly eaten in whole food form (think edamame) or fermented (as in miso, tofu and soy sauce), and not in large amounts – it’s usually not the central ingredient in meals. That way you won’t get enough phytoestrogens to cause any issues.
Also, avoid processed foods that strip out the plant’s natural fibre, carbohydrate and other compounds, leaving pure soy protein. “I’d say one to two servings a day – say 230ml of soy milk and 100g of tofu, tempeh or soybeans – seems to be a safe and potentially healthy intake,” says Berardi. “Frequently exceeding three servings a day may not be a good idea.”
So: loads of beans and not too many over-processed “vegan-friendly” products – not a problem, since in my experience they’re awful. Armed with this advice, I was ready to cook.
Continue Reading here >Become vegan for a week and you’ll learn how to eat more plants and vegetables
Click here for a Vegan Starter Kit