Making the switch to a vegan diet

Woman enjoying fruit after exercise
Woman enjoying fruit after exercise

The start of a new year triggers change for many, whether you decide to add more exercise to your agenda, make better financial decisions, or change your diet

And if you’re amongst the latter group, you may well be joining the trend towards veganism - as a way to eat better, or to be kinder to the environment. Whatever your motivation, you’ll be happy to know that just because you’re changing things up and going vegan, you won’t have to miss out on some of life’s guilty pleasures altogether.  

We chatted to Chef Norman Heath, of Radisson Blu Hotel Waterfront, to learn about some exciting, tasty vegan substitutions you can make in your everyday meals. The hotel has added a number of vegan dishes to its menu, which are proving extremely popular with diners.

“Several years ago we responded to a definite spike in demand for vegan dishes,” says Chef Norman. “We used this as an opportunity to experiment more in the kitchen, and to really make our menus inclusive of as many dietary requirements as possible.”

He says that if you’re going vegan, or are catering for vegan loved ones, there are a few things you’ll need to keep in mind:

1. Check the ingredients on everything you buy

This might sound like a lot of work, but over time you’ll start to know which products are vegan-friendly and which ones aren’t. There are a lot of foods that use chicken or beef stock, for example, while others feature dairy ingredients. When you’re starting out, get into the habit of checking ingredients before you buy anything. 

If you stick with it... you’ll find that it becomes less challenging as time goes on,

2. Look for dairy alternatives 

Excluding all dairy products is generally one of the biggest adjustments for new vegans, and it’s often the reason why many people don’t fully commit to the lifestyle. Instead of thinking that you’re going without dairy, however, look out for substitutes that will elevate your cooking equally effectively. Chef Normal suggests coconut milk or coconut cream as just one example. 

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“We love using coconut milk or coconut cream in sauces that would usually require dairy. These reduce well and, as a result, thicken sauces very nicely.”

3. Being vegan doesn’t mean you only eat vegetables

A common misconception about veganism is that one can only eat vegetables. That is not the case at all. Yes, vegetables play a big role, but there are so many meat alternatives made from ingredients such as beans, lentils, soy and more.

4. Making a vegan sauce is easy 

A lot of sauces on the shelves are not vegan-friendly or simply contain too many additives to be healthy. You’ll be surprised at how easy it is to make your own options, however. You could make your own tomato sauce by using fresh tomatoes, some basil, onions, garlic and some herbs and spices. Add it all to a blender and you'll have a delicious tomato sauce for pastas, burgers and other meals. 

“We have a vegan pasta at the hotel that uses a delicious tomato sauce that my wife actually came up with,” says Chef Norman. “The focus for her was to cut out all preservatives and to make it a healthier and more nutritious meal for our family. She took  fresh ingredients such as tomatoes from the garden and roasted them with some fresh herbs and olive oil. It was a huge hit with the family."

While going vegan can seem like a massive commitment at the start, it gets easier with time.

“If you stick with it, do your research and find good alternatives to your favourite foods, you’ll find that it becomes less challenging as time goes on,” he promises.

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