Intrigued about adopting a plant based diet?
This is a guest blog by talented headshot photographer Daniel McLean. I’d heard he’d adopted a plant based diet and was intrigued to learn more about his decision to do this and how it was going. Nine months after making the change he’s delighted to share how well this is working for him!
Hitting 40 years of age is a milestone for most people, I was no different. But, with two young children and starting my own business, I was struggling with the physical and emotional demands. This is why I wanted to try out and experience the benefits of a plant based diet at 40.
What is a plant based diet?
According to Wikipedia “A plant-based diet is a diet consisting mostly or entirely of foods derived from plants, including vegetables, grains, nuts, seeds, legumes and fruits, and with few or no animal products.”
For me, the diet does not include any animal products.
Why I switched to a plant based diet
My two youngest children were 4 and 7 years of age. I was 42 at the time but I felt like I was getting old and struggling to keep up with the children’s energy levels. Adding to that I was in my second year of business as a photographer which had its own demands.
There was a growing gap between my life, family and business goals and what I was actually achieving. It’s not that I wanted to be superhuman, but I didn’t feel I was doing everything I could with my health.
I did a fitness photoshoot a few years back with a personal trainer. He was vegan and had a great physique. We had some interesting conversations about food, diet and some of the myths around being a vegan. So, when I knew I wanted to improve my health that conversation was in my mind.
Vegan or plant based?
At first, I labelled my diet as vegan. But when talking to friends and family about what I was eating, it was pointed out that it was more aligned with a plant based diet. I focus on eating whole foods rather than processed or meat alternatives. My goal with changing diets was to improve my health, energy levels, mental focus and clarity. As a vegan you can eat pot noodles and have an unhealthy diet, that was probably the clearest clarification between the two I have heard.
Researching the diet and supplements
I had been following Derek Simnett’s YouTube channel on plant based nutrition for a while. This was a great source of information for the benefits of a plant based diet at 40. With its realistic approach to nutrition I soon knew that plant based diets were not the holy grail. There are some nutrients that are hard to come by and some supplements are recommended.
This is made in our bodies when our skin is exposed to sunlight. In the UK this is typically between April and September. I’d personally experienced Vitamin D deficiency during the winter months before and the low mood it causes. So, I already took supplements for this before switching diets.
The British Dietetic Association says the following on B12 with regards to a plant based diet. This is also a great resource for other vitamins to looks out for on a plant based diet.
“Too little can result in fatigue… Most people get vitamin B12 by eating animal products. If you are eliminating all animal derived foods, the only reliable sources of vitamin B12 are fortified foods and supplements. Suitable B12-fortified foods include some breakfast cereals, yeast extracts, soya yoghurts and non-dairy milks.”
I often eat cereals for breakfast, like bran flakes or shredded wheat with almond milk. All of which are fortified with Vitamin B12. I wasn’t overly concerned about this one, yet because it directly relates to energy levels, I didn’t want to leave it to chance. So, I add yeast extract to most things I eat through the day. Engevita Yeast Flakes with B12 have been my choice for B12.
The Vegan Society
The Vegan Society have a good all round supplement designed specifically for vegans. I’ve been taking this since the start of my switch to a plant based diet and so far, it has served me well. Later on in this article, I’ll share the results of my 6 month blood check-up.
You can buy and learn more about the VEG 1 supplement on the Vegan Society website.
The benefits I felt in the first few months
After two months I noticed a positive shift. Not a slap in the face obvious difference, but subtle changes daily. After a few months there were no doubts that things had changed. My thinking was clearer, my energy levels are higher and generally my mood is lighter.
Trying to be objective about these changes, I have to point out a few things. I thought I had quite a clean diet anyway but there was the occasional biscuit or cake, which became more common under stress.
It’s quite possible the clarity in my thinking could be down to eating less refined sugar which can be known to make you brain foggy. The same is true if for energy levels. With a lower GI diet and sustained blood sugar levels, I was no longer getting sugar crashes throughout the day. My lighter mood could be attributed to better Vitamin D levels through the winter. All these things are possible. And I could have made changes to my diet without going all vegan or plant based and still benefited. But the thing is, I didn’t. And I’m not sure I would have!
I personally needed a larger shift and commitment in my diet to enjoy these benefits longer term.
Why being a vegetarian helped the switch to plant based
I’d been a vegetarian 3 times previously in my life for 2 or more years each time. Cutting meat out of your diet is a big change. You really need to have meal plans and substitutes in place to do this.
Thankfully, those periods of being a vegetarian helped with meal planning. Vegetable curries, stews and chillies were already common in our family diet. We were still eating popular meals but swapping out minced beef for red puy lentils for example.
6 month blood test
Knowing I had Vitamin D deficiencies in earlier winter months along with iron at times as well, I was keen to check in on some key levels in blood after switching to the plant based diet. My 6 months milestone coincided with early spring so it would be interesting to see how I held up.
I use either Medichecks or Thriva for blood tests. They offer a quick and easy at home kit that you send to a lab, and usually get your results online a few days later, with notes and advice from medical doctors if any levels are out of range.
All my levels across the board were optimal and the best I’d seen in recent years. One of things I’ve noticed with my focus on food, is more attention to the micronutrients. I’m choosing what I eat for the nutrients with less concern on protein and carbohydrates.
The new normal
I’d heard about the benefits of a plant based diet, but I didn’t know if it was for me. I’m naturally a little sceptical. The plan was to try it out for a few months and make my own mind up. To date it’s been over 9 months. It was easier to stop eating meat and diary than I thought and I don’t have any plans to go back.
I have better skin, digestion, energy and mental focus than I did before. This is my new normal. We’re always learning new recipes and finding new foods to add and enrich our diet. Vegan had a big boost this year with Veganuary and it’s never been easier to eat out and stick to the diet.
I’ve recently taken up Judo and Gymnastics and one of my fitness goals is to hold a free standing handstand for 10 seconds.
What to eat on a plant based diet
Porridge made from jumbo rolled oats and almond milk. I add on yeast extract, chia seeds, pumpkin seeds cinnamon and walnuts.
Wholemeal tortilla wraps. Spinach, pumpkin seeds, pine nuts. Black beans and chickpeas. Tomatoes, cucumber, lettuce and peppers. Often adding turmeric, black pepper and olive oil too.
Vegetable chilli with mixed beans, puy lentils and brown rice. Adding grated dark chocolate can be a nice touch. Served with a large green salad with avocado and warm bread.
These can be a bit random but include tahini on toast. Cereals with almond milk. Various nuts: walnuts, almonds, pistachio and cashews. Muesli crispbreads. Olives, sweet potato pakora or falafels.
Some of the best advice I’ve ever had for controlling my weight, is don’t drink calories. I only drink water and peppermint tea. I don’t’ drink alcohol either.
Resources and Inspiration
If a plant based diet is something you’d like to try out for yourself. Here are a few resources that have helped me and pointed me in the right direction.
Nine months after adopting a plant based diet, I’m happy to share my experience and some of positive health benefits I’m experiencing. I am looking forward to reaping these benefits for the long-term.
Daniel is a husband and Dad to three children – four if you include his Beagle called Porthos, wit h energy levels to match. He is a full time professional headshot photographer based in Rutland. You can find out more about Daniel and his photography on his website danielmclean.co.uk