Fifty Shades of Vegan

Disclaimer: Okay, so I’m actually only going to be talking about 3 or so shades of vegan today, but I wanted a captivating, snazzy title and “two-to-three shades of vegan” unfortunately doesn’t anywhere near as thrilling.

Those of you that have been loyal readers since this blog’s very beginning – way back in late 2014, will know that I’ve had quite a rollercoaster ride with my health (for lack of a better word) “journey”. I’m a firm believer that diet and lifestyle play a huge role in health outcomes and so this is always the area I come back to when thing’s aren’t right. I’m not against medications in all instances, but was on so many for so long, that if I can avoid them, I will – simply so that my liver and kidneys have less to deal with. I’ll also avoid surgery wherever possible, especially after the gallstone dilemma of 2016! Which brings me to today’s topic of discussion – where am I up to now?

This blog became a bit of a GAPS blog for a while, which wasn’t actually my intention. I love gut health and have lots of respect for the GAPS way of eating, but never wanted to back myself into a corner with it – especially when I believe there are instances where it’s not actually viable or necessary. I love writing about all areas of health, not just diet and gut healing. If you haven’t stopped by for a while, you might need some updating about how my diet and lifestyle have changed …

Little Miss drink-all-the-bone-broth, eat-all-the-connective-tissue, make-all-the-GAPS-muffins has become a vegan

Before you click off this tab, rolling your eyes and thinking to yourself “oh-dear, this young flibidgibit (no idea how you spell that word by the way) just hops from one band-wagon to another – I ain’t got time for her no more!” – please read on.

I’ve already talked about my more-or-less plant-based diet in other posts, but never actually dedicated an entire article to said topic, so here we go. I have only recently started accepting the fact that if I refuse to eat animal products for the time being, that this means by default (whether I like the label or not) I am “technically” a vegan. Before this week, I’d sort of pussy-foot around this topic like; “well, I’m not eating animal products right now because of my gallbladder”, feeling almost sheepish about my dietary choices because of the stigma attached to plant-based dietary labels. I think on some level too, I kept telling myself “this is only temporary, this is only temporary”, so I couldn’t be bothered putting a metaphorical vegan ‘cap’ on one day, only to trade it in for an omnivorous one in a year or so.

Only this week has my thinking started to shift. I’ve had to ask myself the following; if my gallstones never completely disappear, am I happy to avoid animal products for the rest of my life to prevent any more gallstone attacks? The answer, I’ve decided, is yes! I’ve figured out a way to eat only plants and still get everything I need – which honestly I didn’t think I could do. I was convinced that sooner or later I’d run into deficiencies. I even forced myself to eat fish a few months ago, because I was worried I’d get deficient in omega-3 fatty acids – the fish just went straight through me (but thankfully didn’t cause any pain).

Answering “yes” to this question has taken away my urgency, my ‘oh, I wonder if I should try re-introducing eggs this week – maybe I’ll be okay with them’ or ‘boy, that roast chook is looking juicy and damn fine’ moments. I’ve decided that until I have an ultrasound showing no signs of stones, I will stay a vegan, because no GAPS muffin in it’s eggy glory, or fatty oxtail (ahh those were the days) is worth the pain and trauma of a gallstone attack. The only reason I’d go back on this statement is if I really was starting to show signs of a deficiency – then I’d have to decide whether I wanted to use high-quality supplements of carefully trial small portions of fish or egg and pray that they wouldn’t hurt me.

Why am I writing this? Because I’ve now experienced all three shades of veganism …

I experienced the first shade of veganism at age 16. Animals Australia had just stepped up their ad campaigns and I found myself in tears every time I was reminded that factory farms, caged eggs and cheap dairy were a “thing”. I was in no fit state to eliminate animal products from my diet – my gut-health was a wreck. I could barely absorb nutrition from chicken soup or baked fish, let alone massive bowls of veggies and plates of quinoa sushi (as much as I loved the latter options). However, I didn’t want to play any role in animal cruelty. I was at a cross roads. Mum made the decision for me; I could cut down my meat consumption and cook myself vegetarian options several night a week, but I had to eat fish or meat at least a few meals each week too if I wanted to remain living at home. She saw how emaciated my little body was (thanks-no-thanks Liver disease!) and her Mother’s Intuition knew that I needed.

I wasn’t thrilled by this compromise, in fact, I’m pretty sure as an emotional, strong-willed 16-year-old I was pretty pissed for a the next 24 hours. Thankfully I got over myself, realised that mum was right (dammit) and found refuge in being truly grateful for the fish and occasional serves of chicken or red meat that I was eating.  I still bulked out meals with veggies and had a few meat-free days each week. It was actually a very reasonable compromise and served me well enough.

This is the first shade; longing to be vegan for ethical reasons, but not being in a state of health to make this happen without your body suffering. It’s a hard pill to swallow, especially when you desperately want to stop participating in all forms of animal farming (ethical or otherwise). However, little good can come from your body slowly falling apart, that’s not the way food is supposed to work. I don’t believe that many of us were designed to eat copious amounts of animal foods, but many of us thrive on at least a little bit each day or several time a week. It might not suit us psychologically, but for now, that’s the state of things.

The second shade has been me for the past 8 months or so. I definitely don’t resent my diet – I love big bowls of broccoli, turmeric-spiked cauliflower rice, lots of pumpkin, bunches of narnies, berries, nuts, seeds and buckwheat (plus loads of other plant-based bits and bobs). However, I’ve kept feeling like; an egg every so often would be nice, or maybe just a little fish in a big kelp noodle and roast veggie salad would be something I could trial. I’m not getting deficient in anything, I’m not really even craving animal foods in the slightest. It’s purely psychological – never before in my life have I gone so long without so much as a bowl of chicken soup or simple piece of baked salmon. It’s the complete flip of my situation as a 16 year-old.

Back then, my body needed broths and fish but my brain wanted to be meat-free. More recently, my body’s been all about the plants, but my mind has been flirting with the idea of more. I’d made my peace with the fact that I needed animal foods; not in excess, but without enjoying plenty of broth-based veggie soups and making batch after batch of these glorious savoury cakes, I don’t think I’d be in a fit state to be content in the third shade of veganism

The shade where I’m totally cruising. Not longing for eggs or ocean trout and happy just getting by with mega-helping of veggies, yummy buckwheat-based porridges, tasty smoothies, fresh fruit and lots of nuts and seeds. Feeling happy that no animal is being killed for my nourishment – but also not finding myself in a state of denial where I feel I need to buy a piece of fish for good nutritional measure. This is the only way I reckon veganism works really well; when both your mind and body are happy. This way no one suffers, not you and nor an animal. It’s all very well to live a cruelty-free life but if it’s cruel to you, then you’re simply trading your own life for someone else’s – that’s doesn’t seem fair either.

I honestly don’t know if deep down I’m comfortable with deciding if an animal gets to live or die, regardless of whether said animal lived a happy, outdoor lifestyle eating off the land. That’s just me and my very sensitive nature. However, I’m also not content with getting sick because my diet is lacking in something I indisputably require. Humans have been eating animal products since the beginning of time, some more than others depending on location and the season. My mum always says that humans are at the top of the food chain. She grew up in the country where eating the neighbours’ pork – pigs you’d seen alive and well just the day before, was totally normal. I understand this perspective, just as much as I understand the other side – not being able to accept the food cycle because you love animals too much.

Will I be vegan forever? Who knows, it depends on my body and where it takes me. This petite little vehicle has certainly lead me down some interesting paths in my (almost) 21 years – who knows what the next  90 or so will hold? One thing’s for sure, I will never be preachy or judge someone for eating meat, fish, eggs or dairy (however I would prefer it if they at least cared about the quality and source of said products – some are more sustainable and ethical than others). We have to look after ourselves and make decisions based on our current frame of mind and state of health.

Diversity makes the world go round. I’m just grateful to have the opportunity to experience a very compassionate way of eating, that for now, is benefiting my health (and love for animals) greatly. It may just be for a short-term reason, several veggie-full seasons, or an unexpected lifetime. Only time (and my gallbladder ultrasounds) will tell.

5 Simple Tips for Better Digestion

I was the queen of digestive distress for nearly a full decade of my life (and I’m only 20!) – a crown I’m happy to have shed (hopefully forever). Poor digestion is multi-factorial picture, and I certainly never had one lone trigger or underlying cause. Whilst this list is by no means exhaustive (and is a bit generalised – not taking into account YOUR unique situation), you will hopefully still find it a good reminder of some basic rituals, habits and practices that may help to alleviate what ails you; nausea, constipation, gas, bloating, pain etc.

Cook with Spices

Spices not only help to add flavour to food, but they also can elicit mild medicinal effects. Here are some of my personal faves …

  • Turmeric – potent anti-inflammatory, aces for reducing inflammation in the digestive tract – thus potentially reducing intensity of stomach cramps. The active ingredient curcumin tends to work better when the dish has been heated (think curries, soups etc.)
  • Black Pepper – this hot spice is very warming and can improve circulation – including blood flow to digestive organs. It also can boost the effectiveness of turmeric’s active ingredient; curcumin, so turmeric and pepper are a good pairing. I love pepper on pretty much any savoury meal
  • Cardamom – a beaut spice for easing stomach pain and gas and stimulating digestive processes. I use this baby in smoothies, soups, purees and porridges
  • Ginger – I can’t go past this warming spice, it’s the ultimate tummy settler and, along with cardamom, is a beautiful digestive aid. I love ginger in teas, veggie purees and juices, smoothies, porridges and soupsm

Stop Following All The Food Trends

This might seem like an odd one, but here’s my reasoning. Every time we shift the diet, we change our micro biome (the diversity of bacteria in our digestive tracts). If this change occurs too quickly, or we become too reliant on one particular food (think paleo and coconuts or vegan and beans), it can lead to dysbiosis or even manifest food intolerance. We are all unique and not necessarily designed to thrive on every single whole food. I’m not saying don’t try new recipes or experiment with certain groceries that you haven’t played with before, but tread gently and listen to your body. It doesn’t mater how trendy a food or style of eating may be at the moment, if it’s not working for you, then leave it be (or at least explore why it’s not making you feel too good).

The same goes for eliminating foods. We’ll all have foods that our digestive system genuinely loves, even if they aren’t included in certain eating protocols. Allow me to give a personal example. I thrive on activated buckwheat – my tummy loves this stuff. However, if I were to follow the advice of grain-free advocates, they’d say I’d probably do better without it. Eliminating this food from my diet would also mean eliminating a beaut source of several key nutrients such as magnesium and manganese, plus antioxidants quercetin and rutin. Not to mention the fibre in buckwheat works really well for my bowel health and certain proteins in buckwheat have even been linked to gallstone prevention.

Bottom line: eat real foods of course, but don’t just add something in or take something out because “it seems like a harmless idea”. If a food works for you; keep it, if it doesn’t; ditch it. If you’re concerned about your reactions (i.e. you think you might have a genuine allergy or intolerance), maybe work with a nutritionist, dietitian or naturopath to determine the root cause (and make sure that your symptoms aren’t related to something more sinister).

Chew, Blend or Puree

Many of us eat on the go, or whilst doing other things – even if that other thing is just simply talking to the fam bam at the dinner table. I’m not going to suggest being “totally present” when you eat, because its impractical a lot of the time. It’s nice to be able to stop and read over brekkie or lunch and have a good chin wag come the evening meal. What I will suggest is this; chew your food properly, don’t just shovel and swallow. If you know you get too easily distracted at certain meal times (for example brekkie because you also like to read or do the puzzles from the paper during this time) then have a smoothie, bowl of porridge, soft poached or scrambled eggs or even a bowl of smooth veggie soup that is already pre-broken down for you. The smaller the particles of food are and the more enzymatic activity that’s occurred in the mouth and stomach, the easier it will be for the rest of your digestive tract to digest, metabolise, assimilate and eliminate your nutrients.

Include Ferments (but start small!)

Fermented foods are a great natural source of probiotic bacteria that (generally speaking) have been linked not only to improved digestive health, but also to improved immune, brain and hormone function. However, may of us think that if a little bit is beneficial then  a lot must be better. Truth is, it takes time for the body to adapt to this influx of beneficial bacteria and if we consume too much too soon (think daily kombucha tea + sauerkraut with every meal + a probiotic supplement + some cheeky natural yoghurt for brekkie, snacks or dessert) we risk creating a picture of dysbiosis. This is frustrating, as usually dysbiosis is what we’re trying to treat in the first place and by doing what we think is the “right thing” we just exacerbate the issue.

So don’t eliminate fermented foods altogether, just work your way up slowly to a dose that feels good for you. Remember that little extras like apple cider vinegar or even fermented coconut nectar in coconut aminos counts as fermented food, as does miso paste that you might use in a stir-fry or soup. Sauerkraut and kimchi taste divine (once you have an acquired taste) and it’s easy to eat a full cupful with a meal, before realising how much you’ve actually loaded your plate with. Kombucha often feels like a health tonic, and if everyone else around you is going for that second drink, and you’re using kombucha as your alcohol-free beverage of choice, and thus indulge in another, you risk flooding your micro biome with too much of a good thing.

A small serve of a probiotic-rich food looks like …

  • 1 Tablespoon of fermented vegetables (raw sauerkraut, kimchi etc.)
  • 1/2 cup natural yoghurt (or homemade yoghurt) or kefir-based coconut yoghurt (if using Kultured Wellness brand, even starting with as little as one teaspoon might be enough initially)
  • 1 tablespoon homemade fermented cream
  • 100ml glass of kombucha tea
  • 30-50ml coconut water kefir
  • 30ml ACV (apple cider vinegar or coconut vinegar)
  • 1/2-1 capsule of a commercial probiotic powder (about 1/8-1/4 teaspoon if the powder is loose)

Take 5 Deep Breaths Before A Meal (or do some gentle stretches)

This one may or may not be obvious to you. Eating in a stressed state isn’t a great idea, because when we’re stressed blood is diverted away from the digestive organs and sent to the periphery instead. It also mucks with our hormones and blood sugar control. Just taking 5 deep breaths before you sit down to eat, or alternatively, doing 5 minutes of gentle, restorative stretches before a meal, can turn of the sympathetic branch of the autonomic nervous system (the branch that sympathises with your situation and turns on stress signals) and encourage the para-sympathetic branch to come back into play. The parasympathetic branch of the autonomic nervous system is also known as the “rest and digest” trigger, because when we’re calm, we’re able to digest our food and relax our bodies with relative ease.

Has this list reminded you to take a bit more care with regards to your rituals and habits around cooking and mealtimes? Do you have any tips you’d like to share we me that work for you?