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I tried being vegan for a month, and this is what I learnt

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There are a great many reasons to go vegan – caring for animals, protecting the environment and improving your health. It's also a massive talking point at the start of the year, as thousands of us get on board with January.

Image credit: Co-op

As a non-smoking, teetotal vegetarian (yes, I sound so much fun), giving up the booze and fags wasn’t going to be much of a challenge - but giving up yoghurt, cheese and chocolate? Now, that I thought would be tough!

I am horrible if I am hungry or grumpy so I knew planning would be essential. I browsed the Vegan Society and Co-op Vegan pages for ideas and inspiration, and soon had a list of meals I was excited to try.

I hate food shopping, but most supermarkets have caught up with the fact that there are now an estimated 3.5 million vegans in the UK (source: BBC Business) and most now stock a variety of vegan-friendly options. The Co-op has always been ahead of the curve on this, and using this list of accidentally vegan products  I was able to find all of what I needed, including the more unusual ingredients I had never heard of - like nutritional yeast.

Image credit: Co-op

I was worried that becoming vegan would be expensive and on the busy nights when I didn’t have time to cook I was pleased to find these Co-op vegan ready meals in our local shop.  By stocking up on beans, rice, pasta, and vegetables there is plenty of inspiration for cheap vegan recipes - see What Broke Vegans Eat and Co-op vegan for inspiration.

I love snacks and was relieved that there are a wealth of vegan-snack-foods. Look on Instagram for ideas too.  I was ridiculously excited at a staff meeting to find that there were bourbon biscuits (yes, vegan!), so I ate three!

But, just because it is vegan it doesn’t mean it is healthy - lots of vegan processed alternatives do contain more fats and sugars than their non-vegan counterparts. I still ensured I kept an eye on the portion size and tried not to use ‘but I am vegan’ as an excuse.

Image credit: Co-op

I was pleased to find that eating out was easy.  In my month of veganism, I ate out on several occasions with friends. I always look at restaurant menus before arriving to take the pressure of my well-meaning friends who would say even when I was only vegetarian that ‘they hoped there was something for me to eat.’ The growing demand for vegan options means high street chain restaurants have listened, and websites like Vegan Eating out guide allowed me to check out vegan options before I arrived.

Image credit: Co-op

I was surprised to find that milk seems to be in everything, and in the places you would least expect. I’m now the habit of checking labelling. Some products are clearly labelled but supermarkets could do more to make this easier. This link to food labelling details is useful. See how Co-op labels their food here too.

Within three days of cutting out dairy I felt I had so much more energy. The bloating I feel after meals has gone and my stomach feels flatter.  There was a bit of a detoxing period, which resulted in a killer migraine and a day off work, but once that passed, I felt more sparkly than I have done in a long time.

Image credit: Co-op

I wasn’t prepared for the effect that quite so much fibre would have on my digestive system - any would be vegan needs to prepare to spend a lot of time in the bathroom!  

In four weeks I’ve lost four pounds without really trying, and my tired winter skins looks a bit brighter. I have endometriosis and there is research to suggest that a plant-based diet can help alleviate some of the symptoms. I found this article and the book really useful for further information, and whilst there isn’t cure, my symptoms do seem to be improving, which is really positive for me.

Starting out is hard but I found loads of support online. One of my favourite sites was this new Vegan support group, where I asked how I could ‘tame my tofu’ and had over 50 responses. I’ve lost hours of my life chatting about what to do with chickpeas!

I plan to continue my vegan journey. I’ve loved discovering new recipes and a new community, and my health has improved. Knowing nothing suffered in order to make my meals is a great feeling. In the words of George Bernard Shaw, ‘the animals are my friends and I don’t eat my friends.’

Want more vegan inspiration from Co-op? Check out some recipe videos from our students here...

Head to the Health & Wellbeing sections of Co-op's website to read more about what they’re doing and to put your health into your control.

Students get 10% off at Co-op with a Totum or NUS extra card. Find your local Co-op here.

For more inspiration from Co-op throughout the year follow @coopukfood.

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