How to adapt food for a vegan lifestyle

 If you’re a vegan- especially a paleo vegan- you’ll have noticed that it can be quite hard to get a good variety in your diet. Whether this refers to having the option of salad, salad or nothing in a restaurant, or every ‘veggie’ recipe having some form of animal product snuck into the mix, it can be quite frustrating.

 In this blog, I’ll be looking at how to adapt with these issues to get the best meals from a plant-based perspective. I’ll look at common recipe substitutes, their health benefits and the ethical reasons why somebody might choose not to have the animal ingredients.

Egg replacements

When I first went vegan, egg was one of the ingredients that seemed to be hiding in everything. I remember sadly giving up my favourite Mexican chilli bean burgers (they used it as a binding agent), and being shocked at how many online recipes used this product. Luckily, there’s many alternatives out there that can help you switch a non-vegan recipe into something delicious.

But first, let’s just look at why somebody might choose not to eat eggs. I’m sure if you are vegan you know these points already, but it’s worth noting if not. The popular misconceptions about the egg industry are- that ‘free range’ chickens are able to run around outside freely, that hens don’t mind their eggs being taken and that the chickens are treated well in general.

‘Free range’ tends to refer to being cage free. It does not refer to living or floor space, or to quality of life. Hens are often stacked tier upon tier, and some don’t even have ready access to the outside world. Chickens are incredibly smart and compassionate creatures, and have been known to mourn the loss of their eggs. The living conditions that they’re subjected to can cause a number of health and degenerative issues, and can create abnormal behavioural issues too.

So, there’s a lot of reasons why somebody might choose not to eat eggs in their diet. Let’s look at some of the best ways to replace it in a recipe.

Flax seeds are very useful in this endeavour, as you can mix them with water to create what’s affectionately referred to as ‘fleggs’. Mixing one part flax meal with three parts hot water makes a flegg, and this can be a perfect way to replace eggs in your recipe. They’re not so good for trapping air or leavening, though, so choose your recipe appropriately.

Paleo vegans can’t eat flax seeds, though, so that particular technique won’t be so useful. You can also use chia seeds to do this technique in the exact same way, which is handy. Mix 1-2 parts chia seeds with 1 part water and let it sit for a while before adding to your recipe.

Applesauce and banana are commonly used as egg replacements. They’re especially good for baking, and work well in pancakes, muffins and cookies. They will add a particularly identifiable taste to your cooking, though, so if you don’t want a fruity taste then I’d suggest using another method. This From My Bowl recipe is a great example of how to use both of them to make breakfast cookies, although it’s not a paleo-friendly recipe.

 There are also egg replacements readily available in online stores and health food shops, although these should be researched in more depth before buying. Some may not be paleo-friendly or suitable for people with allergies, so please check out the brand before you buy the product.

Milk alternatives

 Milk is arguably the easiest product to substitute in non-vegan recipes, as there’s so many dairy alternatives available on the market. There’s almond, coconut, soya, oat, rice, cashew and hemp milk (and I’m sure there’s other less common ones that I’ve missed).

Again, let’s just take a look at why somebody might try to avoid dairy products in general in their diet. In this section I’ll be focusing on cow’s milk and byproducts, but all dairy production faces these issues.

The dairy industry profits off of the act of artificially inseminating cows, as they produce their milk to feed their babies- so they need to be pregnant in order to be useful to farmers. I won’t go into the details here as the conditions that cows are kept in are incredibly upsetting, but I will link this article for anybody who wishes to learn more about how damaging the industry is.

Other key reasons for avoiding dairy include not wanting to support the production of veal (where male calves are deemed useless and killed, as their meat is apparently a delicacy), and avoiding harmful ingredients in milk. Cow’s milk is meant for calves, not humans. This is why so many people are lactose intolerant- we’re simply not meant to be drinking it. There’s also further debate about how milk doesn’t actually provide us with nutrients that we need and can actually do more harm than good. It’s worth looking into if you haven’t already, as it’s incredibly eye-opening.

Understandably, many people are choosing to move away from dairy. One of the simplest ways to replace dairy milk in your diet is by buying a replacement milk, such as almond or hemp milk. Dairy-free milk is surprisingly easy to find in most supermarkets, and is not too pricey either. Simply switching out your latte for an almond milk latte, or choosing soya milk to put in your cereal can do a world of good.

If you’re concerned about the prices or nutritional value of these milks, don’t worry. You can make your own dairy-free milks at home! Almond milk is fairly easy to make, as is hemp milk.  This is a great way to save some money and ensure that your food is the freshest that it can be. Enriched milks are readily available in most shops too, if you want to ensure that you don’t miss out on any key vitamins.

In terms of cooking, coconut milk seems to be the best option for substitution and flavour. It’s delicious in vegetable curries, and can make a lovely pasta sauce. Soya milk is great for sweet treats like coffee or baking, although this is not a paleo friendly option. This great article from Pro Veg has more information on how each type of dairy-free milk can be used successfully.

Meat substitutes

 This is the biggest topic to cover, and arguably one of the most important. When switching from a meat-based diet to veganism or paleo veganism, it can be difficult to know where to start with replacing meat in your meals. To begin with, one of the best tips I’ve seen is to not instantly lean towards just using meat substitutes (like vegan sausages, for example) and to use wholefoods where possible. It’ll be better for both you and your wallet in the long run.

When considering why people don’t want to eat meat, there’s normally one answer that people begin with. They simply don’t want to eat dead things, and contribute to an industry that profits off of killing animals. There are other key reasons to consider, too- the damage that the meat industry has on the environment, and the harmful effects that meat has on the human body. Just to warn you, the second article has a gory image of meat production when you first open it.

So, there’s a big argument not to consume meat. But what options do you have for replacing it? The obvious answer here is vegan meat alternatives, like vegan sausages or burgers. While these might be tasty and full of nutrients in most cases, relying on them too heavily can be expensive. Additionally, processed food just isn’t as good for you as wholefoods. I’d recommend not making these your main food source, however there’s nothing wrong with eating them. It’s a personal decision, really!

In terms of using them in recipes, you can use your meat alternatives as substitutions when cooking curries, stir fries, stews, soups and more. Always check the cooking times, though, as vegan meats tend to take longer to cook! You can even use them as a substitute when having a barbecue, so it’s easy to take part in a cookout.

The other substitution option to consider is wholefood substitution. You can use fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds and legumes to make delicious additions to your recipes instead of meat. Obviously, some of these options that feature seeds and legumes are not suitable for paleo veganism.

A great example of a vegetable that works as a substitute is cauliflower. You can make delicious cauliflower steaks (try having them with a side of sweet potato fries and homemade ketchup). Cauliflower works well in curries where you would normally use meat chunks, and can also be great battered in the style that you would batter fish. It’s a very versatile choice, with a lot of nutrients and you’ll find that with a lot of whole food options.

Fish substitutes

Vegan fish and seafood substitutions can be a little harder to find than meat substitutions, due to their texture and flavour- but that does not mean that they don’t exist. There are store-bought and homemade options readily available, which is great. Let’s take a quick look at why people might choose to not eat seafood.

This is one of the dietary decisions that I get personally questioned about most. I have actually had someone ask me whether I eat fish, and then follow up with ‘but fish aren’t actually alive?’ and a puzzled expression. It was one of the most bemusing conversations that I’ve ever had, but looking back at it I think she meant that ‘fish don’t feel pain’, which is a common argument against not eating fish. This is completely false. Fish are sentient, intelligent creatures who have the capacity to feel pain, and some of the methods used by fish farmers are barbaric.

Additionally, there are environmental and health reasons to consider when thinking about the consumption of fish. For example, this helpful article from PETA tells us that  “as a result of commercial fishing, 90 percent of large fish populations have been exterminated in the past 50 years”. This is a staggering number, and has a massive effect on our ecosystem.

Furthermore, eating fish can be harmful for humans. Fish are taken from polluted waters (humans really know how to screw over humans) and the toxins are present in the meat. Also, it’s worth considering that seafood is one of the biggest causes of food poisoning.

Overall, there’s a lot of reasons not to consume fish and seafood in general. So, how can we substitute them in recipes? Store-bought options will be your best bet here, although there are whole food options available too. In most ‘free from’ sections in supermarkets, you should be able to find substitute fish fingers, fish cakes and sometimes crab cakes too.

There are many ways to make fish dishes with whole foods as a replacement, too. Sushi rolls can be packed full of delicious fruits, vegetables and tofu instead of fish meat. You can make fish cakes that taste amazing and are packed with nutrients, without touching a single fish- take a look at this recipe for some inspiration. I believe that cooking with jackfruit would be a great option here as well, especially if you’re trying to make a plant-based fish curry or sandwich filling.

Cheese replacements

This is one of the products that people seem to struggle with giving up the most- myself included. I was vegetarian for years, but not being able to eat cheese was one of the main reasons that I never went vegan. Vegan cheeses that taste good do seem to be missing from supermarkets at the moment (although, that’s my opinion of course!) but there are some delicious plant-based alternatives out there.

 The ethical reasons for not eating cheese stem from the same reasons that people might choose not to have cow’s milk, as it is a byproduct. The dairy industry exploits and damages animals beyond belief, and people who avoid cheese are often trying to not contribute to this. It’s also not a healthy food item! It shares the same health concerns with cow’s milk, and is also bad in terms of calories and fat content.

In terms of shop bought alternatives to cheese, there are plenty out there- with varying levels of success. Ask any vegan about the cheese they eat, and I’m sure they’ll tell you that most are dubious. They can be a little pricey, too, but are worth trying. The cheese alternatives that I’ve seen include plant-based versions of standard cheddar, grated cheese, mozzarella, halloumi and cream cheese. I’ve found that the cream cheese options are normally fantastic- you can get them with herbs, or chopped up veggies in them.

There are also a number of ways that you can create vegan cheese for your meals. The most common one that I’ve seen is cheese sauce, as it seems to be fairly simple to get a nice texture here. Take a look at this article for some inspiration. There’s all sorts of other cheeses that you can make- ranging from mozarella to camembert. This great article from Choose Veg has an abundance of useful recipes.

Other key substitutes

There’s a number of other ingredients that it’s vital to find good substitutes for. We looked at meat earlier, but I didn’t mention poultry so much. Birds that are kept in captivity are subject to just as cruel conditions as their animal counterparts, and the meat is just as harmful for you.

There are plenty of vegan store-bought options for avoiding poultry. Whether you’re craving nuggets, wings or even a turkey burger, there’s a plant-based option available. You can also create your own chicken from scratch, using seitan (although this is not suitable for paleo vegans). This article from Sweet Simple Vegan has advice on how to do this and turn it into tasty nuggets

Honey is one to watch out for, too. The harvesting of honey blatantly exploits bees, forces them to live off of sugar substitutes instead of their actual food, and puts them into stressful conditions. 

There’s plenty of vegan and bee-friendly alternatives to honey. Agave nectar, maple syrup, golden syrup and molasses are all viable options. They’re perfect for cooking, baking or sweetening.

Overall

To conclude, it may be frustrating as a vegan to see so many inedible options out there- but times are changing and more plant-based foods are becoming readily available. More and more supermarkets are releasing their own vegan lines, and they’re improving in quality each year. Mainstream brands are releasing vegan options too, like Ben & Jerry’s and Innocent.

Furthermore, thanks to the resources available online, it’s now easier than ever to know how to substitute cruelty-free options into a recipe. Overall, it’s always possible to get a tasty, cruelty-free meal. You just have to know where to look!