February 27, 2023

One Year Vegan, Part 2: Tidbits, Staple Ingredients, Positive Changes

This is continued from One Year Vegan, Part 1, where I wrote about things I wish I knew before becoming vegan as well as tips (that would have helped me in the beginning) for vegan-curious or new vegans. (You can find Part 1 here.)

Again, I didn't write this post to try to "covert" people, nor do I guilt trip or write about the ethical issues surrounding using animals for food or products. It's simply about my own experience over the last thirteen months of doing something I never thought I'd do!

Interesting tidbits I've learned:

Vegan and plant-based are not the same thing. When I first became vegan, I used the words "plant-based", because I assumed that was the new term for vegan (I see it everywhere now). A reader actually emailed me and helped me understand the difference. Vegan is to avoid all animal products and animal by-products mainly for ethical reasons, while plant-based is dietary (no meat, dairy, eggs, or honey--the typical things you imagine with a vegan diet). I chose to become vegan for ethical reasons regarding animals, factory farming, and the environmental impact of factory farms.

Cashews are a wonder-nut. I had NO IDEA the magic that happens when you blend cashews and water in a high-powered blender. Depending on the ratio of cashews and water, you can get everything from cashew milk to a thick cashew cream. And it's tasteless! You can add your own flavors to make it sweet or savory, or you can use it to add creaminess to all sorts of things from pasta to soup to vegan cheese.

Cashews + Water + Blender

White sugar is not technically vegan. What?! I was shocked by this. There aren't any animal products IN it, but white sugar is stripped of its color by filtering with animal bone char--so it's more of an ethical issue, rather than a plant-based one. Brown sugar and powdered sugar are usually made from white sugar, so they aren't vegan either. Now I buy raw sugar so that it isn't processed with bone char; and I can make my own brown sugar (vegan sugar + molasses) and powdered sugar (vegan sugar in a high powered blender). 

Aquafaba is the liquid that is left over from a can of chickpeas. And this liquid can be used as an egg replacement! I had never heard of aquafaba, let alone cook/bake with it. You can even sweeten and whip it into a vegan whipped cream. I've only used it a few times (like in a pumpkin pie that turned out amazingly well), but the last time I opened chickpeas, I saved the liquid and poured it into an ice cube tray. Once frozen, I moved them to a freezer bag. Now, when I need an egg substitute, they are waiting in small portions in the freezer.

Vegan does not mean healthy. There are hundreds of vegan junk food products--french fries, non-dairy ice cream, Sour Patch Kids, Oreos, Skittles, and a lot more. It's even possible to be vegan without eating a single fruit or vegetable (not that I'm advocating that!). 

BROWNIES!! These were amazing. Not at all healthy, but very tasty.

Gelatin is in a LOT of items you wouldn't expect. (Gelatin is produced from boiling skin, tendons, ligaments, and/or bones, usually from cows and pigs.) Even medicinal pill capsules are made with gelatin! There are several items that I guessed were probably vegan but when looking at the ingredients, I could see that there was gelatin in it.

Ingredients I NEVER would have imagined would become staples:

Nutritional Yeast- While the name of it makes it sound disgusting, nutritional yeast is called for in SO many vegan recipes. It doesn't look or taste like the yeast you put in bread or anything. You know the look and texture of fish food flakes? Well, nutritional yeast looks and feels like that, except it's a mustard-yellow color and it tastes nothing like fish food (or at least I don't think so).

I use nutritional yeast in almost all of the seasoning blends I make, pasta dishes, cashew cheese, pretty much anything that typically has cheese in it. When I read about it, people always mention sprinkling it on popcorn and basically using it as a condiment. I literally gagged when I tried eating popcorn this way--it was an ingredient I wasn't at all used to, an ingredient that tastes like nothing I've had before. Once I started adding it to things, I started to recognize the flavor and I'm not at all grossed out by it now. I buy this in bulk on Amazon--it's so much cheaper than the grocery store!

Turmeric- I don't think I'd ever used turmeric in my life until I became vegan. Then it seemed like I was using it all the time (for recipes). I've gone through 3-4 jars of it, so I recently bought a bulk-sized container that I refill my spice jar with. Turmeric is used for yellow color in a lot of vegan recipes.

Cashews- Like I wrote above, cashews are amazing. I buy these from Amazon as well.

Tofu- I can't even describe my obsession with tofu. I was missing out for 40 years! I keep silken tofu on hand in my pantry (I use this for tofu scrambles, desserts, and making seitan). I keep extra-firm tofu in my freezer and always have a couple of packages in my fridge. I use the extra-firm tofu for lots of dishes--but my favorite is to marinate it, then bake for about 45-50 minutes until it's crispy on the outside and kind of meaty on the inside. Then I heat a sauce (making an Asian-style sauce is SO fast and easy in a mason jar) until it thickens, stir in the tofu, and serve it over rice or another grain. I like to add vegetables when making the sauce--usually peppers or broccoli, but I just consider whatever I have to use before it goes bad.

This is so accurate for me. Before I started eating tofu, I saw it as the top picture!

Vital Wheat Gluten- I had never heard of this before, and the name of it makes it sound like it may cause cancer in the future or something, but it's used to make seitan--a faux meat that is actually pretty healthy! AND it's been around for centuries. Despite the "wheat" in its name, it's actually low in carbs (although we all know I don't avoid carbs) and has as much protein as meat. 

Miso Paste- I'd never heard of this before, either, but I use it SO frequently when cooking. It's described as adding a savory umami taste to things. I use it mostly in dishes where cheese is typically found.

Soy Milk- I used to buy almond milk when I was counting calories way back in the day because it was so low in calories compared to cow's milk. However, I decided to try soy milk for a few reasons that I won't get into, but I liked it so much more! It's thicker, like comparing whole cow's milk vs. skim, and possibly a little sweeter? I buy plain, unsweetened Silk brand soy milk and use it everywhere that I would have previously used cow's milk.

Pure Maple Syrup- This one was very surprising to me. Maple syrup is used to sweeten things and I use it everywhere from sauces to desserts. You can't taste the maple--it gets blended with more powerful ingredients--but it sweetens like sugar. I've also discovered that I get bloated when I eat regular sugar, but maple syrup doesn't bother my digestive system at all. Even when recipes call for brown or white sugar, I almost always replace it with maple syrup (since baking is so finicky, I don't substitute anything there; then again, I rarely bake).

Soy Curls- I'd never heard of these until I discovered Plant Power Couple, who raves about them. While a name like "soy curls" sounds like a very processed fake food, they are actually very minimally processed--they are even compliant with a Whole-Food Plant-Based diet. Soy curls are a meat substitute that are made of just whole soybeans that have been cooked, pressed, and dried--soybeans are the only ingredient. I use these anywhere that I would normally use chunks or strips of chicken. My favorite is in a stir-fry. When I get down to the really small bits at the bottom of the bag, I prepare them with barbecue sauce and it reminds me so much of pulled chicken or pork.

Black Salt- This is very common in vegan dishes that are meant to taste like eggs. I use this in tofu scrambles (the seasoning mixture that I make flavors the silken tofu). It absolutely reminds me of eggs--I would never try to fool someone, because it's not *that* similar, but I used to eat scrambled eggs frequently, and I don't miss them at all. A tofu scramble with veggies and toast with vegan butter makes a perfect meal when I'm on my own for dinner.

A few positives I've noticed from becoming vegan:

Lipid Profile: My LDL cholesterol dropped by 57 in eight month, and my HDL increased by 8! High cholesterol runs in my family, and by continuing to eat vegan, I'm hoping to prove that it can be lowered by diet alone.

My chronic fibromyalgia pain is gone. That happened within a few months of eating vegan--probably less than two months. I still keep waiting for it to come back, because it seems too good to be true, but so far, it hasn't flared back up.

When sweetening foods with maple syrup rather than sugar, I don't get bloated and gassy. It must have something to do with the unprocessed, natural maple syrup not being so hard on my body to digest.

I have an overall sense of wellbeing. It's hard to explain, but I just *feel* healthier. Even when I eat a relatively heavy meal, I don't feel gross and tired. I have more energy in general.

I've started really paying attention to the products I buy, and I learn new things all the time. I've switched brands of things like shampoo to a "cruelty free" brand (the product hasn't been tested on animals). I haven't gotten rid of my clothing and household items that have been made with animal products or by-products, because I feel that would be wasteful, but I will no longer buy them. I don't think I'll ever be a total extremist, but I do like to make positive changes wherever I can.

Going from omnivore to vegan made me love cooking again. There are SO many cooking techniques that I'd never heard of, ingredients that were totally unfamiliar, and flavor profiles that I enjoyed but couldn't quite place; I also started using my blender nearly every day, if not twice a day. And there is a vegan version of just about everything you can think of. I don't think I've ever come across a non-vegan food that there wasn't a vegan recipe for. I've used more spices and dried herbs than ever before! Each new recipe I make is an adventure--I haven't felt like that while cooking in at least a decade.

Eating vegan eliminates a LOT of the junk food I used to eat. Namely ice cream! Yes, there is vegan/non-dairy ice cream (and some of them are delicious!) but where I live, good luck finding vegan desserts. If I want something sweet, I generally have to make it myself. Being vegan also eliminates a lot of junk from menus at restaurants. There are definitely unhealthy vegan foods--a lot of them!--but it's nice to have some boundaries now.

If you've been reading my blog for a while, you can see that my diet has made HUGE changes over the last year. It's hard believe it myself sometimes! I don't always eat healthy, but my choices are much healthier than they used to be.

This past year (I started a vegan diet on January 30, 2022) has been a huge culinary adventure and learning experience for me--and I hope that I continue to learn and experience more in the upcoming year as well :)

1 comment:

  1. I've enjoyed reading about your experiences as you changed to being vegan. Your commentary has actually gotten me to start eating tempeh as a protein on salads and I've tried soy curls. The tempeh is good - I get a kind that is "bacon" flavored. I'm not sure I get "bacon" from it, but it's a nice tangy sort of flavor. The soy curls have been more "meh" to me. I've had them with some barbecue sauce over brown rice and also with some teriyaki-type sauce, but they just have still been pretty blah. Also, I really don't have much time for cooking and the 10-minute soak time for the soy curls is a bit annoying. (I soak them in chicken broth - clearly I'm not going for being vegan, LOL.)


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