Reflecting on a Year of Plant-Based Eating

I started this blog almost a year ago, to celebrate my love for plant-based eating, and to share some of the happiness it’s brought me. As it’s also been over a year since I’ve embarked on a fully plant-based diet, I thought it would be the perfect time to share some of my thoughts and experiences on this topic.

Why did I go fully plant-based?

Back in February 2016 I started learning more about plant-based eating, in the hope it might heal my chronic stomach problems. I’d already cut out dairy after being diagnosed with an intolerance – a change that had alleviated, but by no means eliminated my symptoms – and was inspired by discovering Deliciously Ella, whose plant-based diet had helped her manage a rare autoimmune disease. At the same time, I came across a book called How Not to Die, by Dr. Michael Greger. Having already been interested in nutrition, I picked it up with an eager and open mind, and was soon convinced of his message advocating a plant-based diet. The nutritional science coupled with Ella’s infectiously positive take on food, life and plants were the perfect catalyzing combo for this diet shift.

During my uni holidays that February I worked my way through Ella’s recipe books, discovering a love for kale, tahini and chocolate avocado ganache cake that made me as excited about food as I had never been before. From then on, I’ve been almost exclusively plant-based [on a holiday in Greece late June/early July 2016 I had some seafood, as options for balanced plant-based eating were very limited where we stayed; I haven’t had any animal products since] and absolutely loving it.

 

What was the hardest?

In terms of giving things up: yogurt and tuna. Plain yogurt was a staple item for me, as part of breakfast or a snack, and soy yogurt, unfortunately, didn’t make me feel good. When I gave up dairy I first started having banana overnight oats with hemp protein for breakfast, until I discovered smoothie bowls (see my first ever recipe post) and never looked back. And as to tuna: I stopped craving it once I got absorbed with all the other amazing things I was cooking and creating.

I also have to say that my stomach was not at all happy at first, due to the sudden influx of new, fibrous foods. In hindsight, I wouldn’t recommend having big bowls of raw kale salad every evening, eating bread made out of pretty much only seeds, and overindulging on chickpea blondies. (This will probably be obvious to many people, but I was just too excited to try all these new things). Thankfully, my body soon adjusted.

IMG_3451.jpg

Mmm chickpea blondies (I remember, it was so hard stopping myself from eating the batter) This is the recipe I used.

 

What has been the best thing about going plant-based?

Definitely the excitement and happiness the things I now eat give me. Smoothie bowls loaded with peanut butter for breakfast, when I’m not having the most indulgent-tasting chocolate mousse or delicious pancakes (what can I get you: chocolate tahini, banana almond butter, or purple sweet potato? 😉 )- and maybe I’ll have pancakes for dinner, because, why not? Full of fiber and healthy fats and antioxidants – they can be a balanced meal instead of empty calories that leave you feeling sluggish, and maybe slightly guilty. I love how food can taste incredible but also be so good for you – there’s no need to compromise. I’ve also discovered a passion for creamy hummus, sweet potato falafels, decadent bowls of oatmeal, crepes, (sweet and savory), and have realized that you really can have your cake and eat it too (see e.g. these gooey feel-good squares) 😉

Because I still do struggle with my stomach, the fact that I can still get enormous enjoyment from my food, even if my appetite is not quite there and I’m experiencing discomfort, has been so enriching.

Also, creating my Instagram account (blueberrysmiles22) where I share some of my meals has allowed me to meet some incredible people and (sorry if this is getting [cashew]-cheesy) to feel part of a loving, inspiring community. Being able to engage and connect with people who share this love and excitement has been truly amazing.

 

How do I feel about plant-based eating now?

What I’m not going to say is that a fully plant-based diet has given me boundless energy, made my hair grow ten times faster and been a general panacea. I’m all about being honest with whatever I share, and I have to say that there have been times when I’ve questioned whether it is, in fact, the healthiest way of eating for me.

Having done my research, I started taking B12 supplements right from the start, and soon also started taking microalgae-based Omega 3 (DHA and EPA are components of Omega 3 that – unlike ALA, which you find e.g. in flaxseeds and walnuts – are not easily available on a vegan diet), which is combined with a source of vitamin D. I’ve also started taking an iron supplement, as, a few months ago, I started experiencing unusual tiredness and a ‘fuzzy head.’ I went to get my blood tested as I was preparing for exams and needed to be able to focus, and was told to take a supplement, as my iron levels turned out to be mildly below normal (despite eating lots of leafy greens and legumes). Since then my energy levels have been up again, and I feel fine.

 

To sum it up: Changing my diet to a fully plant-based one has, without a doubt, improved the quality of my life, bringing more enjoyment, satisfaction, indulgence and variety with it. It has also been a fantastic creative outlet, and connected me with amazing people around the world. At the same time, I am aware of the fact that it is not necessarily the easiest diet for providing the body with all the nutrients it needs in the most easily-absorbed form (iron from plant sources, e.g., is less easily absorbed than that from animal sources – with, however, the benefit of not being inflammatory, like the latter) – a challenge I accept by trying to get as much nutrition into my meals as I can.

I’ve had a wonderful year of eating a fully plant-based diet and will happily continue eating this way as long as I am thriving on it, and it feels right to me.

Hope you enjoyed reading!

xoxo

Here is the celebratory meal I had at Farmacy – the first plant-based foodie spot I visited when I moved to London in September. 

IMG_9373.jpg

 

 

 

Plant-based Eating on Holiday (Wales)

Plant-based eating has never been so easy for me as it has become since moving to London. I have a basic kitchen all to myself in my tiny little studio, a food cupboard (and random food stashes, like the drawer under my bed…shhh)  filled with all the makings of yummy plant-based meals, snacks and treats. And for eating out there’s only a dizzying amount of exciting options out there, just waiting to be tried! It’s become so natural to eat and crave plants all day every day, and to be able to order indulgent food, desserts and go out for hot chocolate with friends. So much so that, while back home in Switzerland over Christmas, it was almost with shock that I realized cheese and meat actually still exist, and vegan options can be hard to find. (Ok, I’m slightly exaggerating, but it was really strange seeing all the dairy, meat and fish in the fridge at home and wondering what there was for me to eat!).

Yes, I’ve become very spoiled here in London, and am living in a little plant-based food bubble. It was interesting, therefore, to leave that comfort zone recently on a week-long holiday at the wonderfully scenic western coast of Wales, and  I thought I’d share some of my experiences with you here.

Things I’m Glad I Did:

  • Pack lots of snacks! – I never leave the house without food, and always have an apple, energy bars and nuts with me, so this was certainly a no-brainer for a week-long holiday. I readily admit this was the most exciting part of packing 😀 This time I decided to mix things up a bit by bringing some new goodies as well, and I’ll share the highlights with you here:
    • The “All Day Breakfast Bar” by Olly Bars – this oaty bar was a nice change from my usual date and nut based energy bars, like nakd and Primal Pantry bars
    • The chocolate covered goji berries from the Planet Organic Raw 46 brand were a clear favorite – absolutely delightful. I also quite liked the Salted Hazelnut Vanoffee from The Raw Chocolate Company, as light chocolate is not usually my thing and it was an interesting change!
    • Energy balls: the day of my trip I made these Almond & Blueberry protein balls by Deliciously Ella. They’re packed with nutrition and are my favorite energy balls. I stored them in the fridge when we arrived at the holiday flat (where they didn’t last too many days, however, due to the frequent snacking!).
    • Now, I always say I’m a Meridian girl when it comes to my peanut butter, but these Pip&Nut squeeze packs were a godsend for the first morning when we hadn’t yet had time to buy groceries. (Only downside: I haven’t yet figured out a sophisticated way to eat these. Because the oil separates, it runs out – making a mess – and you’re left with nut butter lumps that are hard to squeeze out!).

IMG_7779.jpg

IMG_7897.jpg

  • Research – It was definitely disheartening when my Happy Cow App for once failed me and came up blank, after typing in the name of the village we stayed in. But it did help me find a pub in a nearby town we visited that had labeled vegan options (hooray!). Also, as I knew we were driving through Cardiff, I made sure to check out the options there and discovered Anna Loka – a super cool fully vegan cafe with a mouthwatering menu. It was so nice trying a new fully vegan place (I had the tempeh burger with the best sweet potato fries ever, and my boyfriend the Caribbean curry). We also both got takeaway wraps for our – sadly separate – journeys home: me to London and him back to Switzerland.

IMG_8231.jpg

  • Stay at a place with a kitchen – While we only cooked one meal (who wants to spend their holidays washing pans after all?) my boyfriend and I were definitely glad of the food prep opportunities we had in our holiday flat. We made yummy and nourishing bowls of muesli topped with ground linseeds, blueberries, nuts, banana, peaches and peanut butter for breakfast. Once I also made some deeelicious banana peanut butter chia pudding with chia shots I had in my bag from a recent event. Starting the day with a breakfast you’re happy with is so important, and if we’d stayed at a hotel I definitely would have been more limited.

IMG_7943.jpg

IMG_8104.jpg

 

Challenges

  • Limited options for groceries – As we stayed in a very small town it was difficult getting some of the things I consider basics. In vain, and with increasing despair, did I peruse the shelves for the plant-based panacea that is hummus. And even plain (i.e. non yogurt-covered) rice cakes remained elusive. We were, however, able to buy staples like bananas, apples, muesli, almond milk and peanut butter – allowing us to make nutritious breakfast bowls (pictured above) and always have fruit with us on our coastal walks – as well as kale, to add some greens to our takeaway dinners (see below).

 

  • Eating healthily – My choice to eat a fully plant-based diet is based on the belief in its health benefits, and I have developed a true passion for whole and minimally processed plant-based foods. I soon realized, though, that always eating whole foods-based, balanced meals just wasn’t going to happen in the Welsh hinterlands. I accepted my fate at our first grocery trip, when I resignedly put the palm-oil containing jar of peanut butter into the shopping basket, inwardly cursing myself for not having bought a small jar of my favorite meridian with me. From then on I just went with the flow, happily enjoying a meal of chips with a side salad (iceberg lettuce) at a remote pub, or grazing my way through salt and vinegar crisps and energy bars on another occasion. A holiday is about being relaxed, after all, and enjoying foods you might not regularly have. Plus, it’s extra nice when you do discover your favorite options – you should have seen me light up when I saw hummus on the menu at a pub one evening!

IMG_8155.jpg

 

Best Food Memory

We were lucky enough to have a little gem of an Indian restaurant just a minute from where we were staying [in the course of my research I had already checked out the menu and made a mental note of this veggie-friendly place 😉 ] and ended up getting takeaway from there three times that week. Ordering takeaway is not something I’ve done very often, and it felt very novel and extremely satisfying picking up delicious food to take back to our cozy apartment. It became a short-lived, but much loved ritual – me putting the food into little dishes while my boyfriend set up a little oriental table in front of the couch, and then enjoying chana masala, veggie curry and the dreamiest veggie-stuffed naan while snuggled up under a blanket and listening to the rain lashing down against the roof.

IMG_8189.jpg

In conclusion, I had a wonderful time in Wales, and didn’t let food-related challenges faze me. I discovered new snacks and treats, reconnected with childhood holiday memories while tucking into a big basket of chips, and realized I’m obsessed with Indian takeaway. I’m also proud of myself for not packing my handheld blender with me (something I came very close to doing) – proving to myself I can survive without smoothie bowls 😉 (One of the best things about being back, though, is – of course – having my favorite breakfast again).

Hope you enjoyed reading 🙂

xoxo

IMG_8175

 

My First Plant-Based Christmas

IMG_2450.jpg

My last post was about my feelings in the run-up to Christmas and talked about what I would do to feel more included in the festive meals. Well, I implemented all the things I discussed and I can’t tell you how much of a difference it made!

These Deliciously Ella roasted maple sprouts with hazelnuts, chili and pomegranate seeds made a wonderful addition to our Christmas Eve dinner. It was such a simple yet satisfying dish to prepare, made the kitchen smell nice and brightened up our table. While my family had some along with their grilled octopus and french fries, I had mine with some hummus my dad bought for me. It was nice hearing appreciative comments and feeling like I’d contributed to what my mom said was the nicest Christmas Eve meal we’d ever had (the only difference to last year’s being the addition of my sprouts, I  naturally take some of the credit and fully agree 😉 ).

IMG_2484.jpg

For dessert my family had a chestnut mousse while I enjoyed some squishy medjool dates that I stuffed with dark chocolate and pecan nuts (so good!) and a mince pie.

Christmas brunch on the 25th was another great success. In previous years we always went to my grandfather’s for lunch, but this having been preponed to the week before, we decided to have a relaxed brunch instead. I made my Banana Almond Butter Pancakes, which were an unexpected hit with my sister. (I bribed her with some of my chocolate to try one, and, to my great joy, she ended up liking them and eating more). Along with those I had lots of lovely fresh fruit – papaya, persimmon, kiwi, pomegranate, berries – and one of the sweet saffron maize bread rolls I’d made the night before with coconut oil, almond butter and raspberry chia jam. I’m also glad I made some guacamole, as not only did it taste so good with the second half of my maize roll, but my mom ended up eating some too, along with her croissant, cheese and meat. And while my Dad and sister had Eggs Benedict, they ate them on the English muffins I made. So while we all essentially had different meals, the fact that we shared some components, along with the wonderfully relaxed atmosphere, brought it all together.

IMG_2486.jpg

IMG_2488.jpg

This year’s Christmas has truly made me realize the importance of sharing food on special occasions. Cooking for others is a way of showing love and appreciation and eating a delicious meal together can also be a wonderful shared experience. For this reason I’m so glad I made the changes I did, so that I was able to feel more a part of our Christmas meals despite eating a fully plant-based diet. It really showed me the difference between merely leaving a component away and actively adding something that enriches the occasion for all.

Hope you all had a lovely Christmas!

xoxo

Thoughts on my first plant-based Christmas

As we’re almost at the end of our Christmas countdown I thought I’d share some thoughts about how I’ve been feeling in the run up to my first fully plant-based Christmas.

While I was dairy-free this time last year, I was still eating seafood and it was therefore much easier for my family and I to agree on a common meal. Lacking a traditional Christmas dish we decided to infuse the culinary part of our festive celebrations with the spirit of a Greek summer, making us potentially the only family to eat grilled octopus and french fries on Christmas Eve. We all took part in the preparations, my mother by making the vegetables, salad and fries, my usually cooking- and all things raw and glibbery-averse sister by preparing the two octopuses (did you know they have beaks??), which my dad then grilled, and I by making a crumble for dessert. We all agreed it was one of the best Christmas meals we’d ever had.

IMG_2385.jpg

This year we have opted for the same thing, the only difference being that I won’t be able to join in the hellenic inspired fare. I didn’t think I’d mind that much, being so used to doing my own thing back in London, but I’ve found myself starting to feel a bit glum about the idea of us not all enjoying a common dish. This even more so because we will be having a Christmas brunch on the 25th and I saw the same problem arising – my Dad and sister making some sort of eggy, cheesy concoctions, my mom probably having bread and salmon, maybe some yoghurt with fruit, leaving me to make something for myself that no one would be interested in trying.

I’m writing this post not to moan, however, but to share what I’ve suggested so that this years’ Christmas meals don’t leave me feeling excluded. To start, I’ve taken over the side dish to our Christmas Eve meal, replacing the (rather boring) spinach my mom would have made with these delicious looking maple roasted hazelnut sprouts from Deliciously Ella. And for the Christmas day brunch I asked my family which of my suggested dishes they’d be most likely to try – the winner being vanilla pancakes (chia pudding, oatmeal, homemade granola and even chocolate pancakes were sadly rejected). I’ve also suggested making some guacamole, which the others can have with their eggs or salmon while I can spread it on some toast. Finally, I’ll be making something my family always liked in the past: sweet saffron maize rolls (replacing the butter with coconut oil and the milk with rice milk, which shouldn’t change taste or texture too much).

These are all small things – switching a side dish, adapting flavors so that they are more likely to be to everyone’s taste, adding a versatile spread that everyone can add to their meal, and modifying an old favorite that everyone is sure to like – but they are definitely making me feel much more excited about Christmas meals with my family.

While it can be practical and easiest for everyone to just do their own thing, having some common things to share and enjoy together is definitely much more in the spirit of Christmas. And, as I realized today, it’s not too late to make some changes if you’re feeling unhappy at the prospect of Christmas dinner. You may not get everyone to agree to a kale salad, nut roast and a raw chocolate log (would have loved to make this!), there are always healthy and delicious options that everyone can enjoy.

Happy Christmas prepping!

xoxo

Whole Plant-Based Eating: My Personal Philosophy

Whole plant-based eating refers to a diet centered around whole (i.e. unprocessed) plant foods. Sometimes confused with veganism (which is a lifestyle not a diet), whole plant-based eating is generally adopted by people because they believe that it is healthier and not primarily because it benefits animals or the environment. This is why you may see honey used in plant-based recipes, but not in vegan ones. Another difference is the emphasis on “whole” foods. While it’s possible to be vegan by subsisting on fries and soy ice cream, a person eating a whole plant-based diet will avoid or minimize refined sugar and processed foods, such as ready meals or supermarket cookies.

For the past few months I have been eating this way and loving the way it makes me feel. Knowing that I’m nourishing my body with good foods full of nutrients that won’t spike my blood sugar or deposit lots of cholesterol in my arteries gives me a deep sense of satisfaction from my food, that lasts even after the pleasure from actually eating it has subsided. By eating this way I’m also discovering new and exciting foods (purple sweet potato, maca, tempeh and almond butter, to name a few) and incorporating more of some familiar foods (e.g. oats, beans, broccoli, flaxseeds, turmeric), bringing more variety to my diet than before.

Eating food that is not only good for you, but also delicious is in my eyes the ultimate win-win situation (what’s not to like about having chocolate pancakes for breakfast while providing your body with proper nourishment?!). To me, whole plant-based eating is a celebration of tastes and textures, flavors and flavonoids, abundance and anthocyanins and no compromise indulgence. All this can also be a wonderful creative outlet, as it has become for me – experimenting with new foods, finding ever more interesting recipes and creating own ones.

I have also found that a passion for delicious and nutritious food can be incredibly social. Since starting this blog and my Instagram back in the summer of 2016, I have connected with so many wonderful people – both through social media and in real life. My move to London in September of the same year enabled me to (finally!) attend events by bloggers and brands I had previously been following from afar and I have been lucky enough to make amazing friends who share my passion in this area. Plant-based eating and health and wellbeing in general are something more and more people care about and therefore have the potential of bringing people together.

Let me, however, add a disclaimer to this seemingly unquestioningly pro plant-based lifestyle. What we eat and don’t eat is very personal and, of course, highly individual. I don’t believe a fully plant-based lifestyle is right for everyone, and it may not even be unconditionally right for me either. While I do believe that the more plant-based and homemade meals the better, we should all eat in a way that makes us feel our best – physically and emotionally. Food should be a source of enjoyment – not something to beat ourselves up about or to impose strict and miserable standards on. Right now, a fully plant-based diet makes me happy and I will continue eating this way for as long as feels right, without feeling bound by any labels.

Finally, let me end this by saying: Whoever you are and however you eat (vegetarian, vegan, pescatarian, ovolactovegetarian, gluten-free, refined sugar-free, plant-based or, as my Mom likes to say, simply “normally”), I hope this blog inspires you to eat some delicious, nourishing food and maybe try out something new.

 

xoxo

 

Reading Tip: If you’re interested in reading about the benefits of eating lots of yummy plant food, check out How Not To Die, by Dr. Michael Greger (it’s what kick-started my journey to plant-based eating).