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Over the 29 years (so far) that I've been vegan, one question has been the most common by FAR. Way more common that "So where do you get your protein?" or "Why don't you drink milk?" or even "But aren't your shoes made of leather?" (They're not.)
People are always asking me, "What do you eat?"
When I was a little kid, the question was less nuanced than it is now. In the early nineties, when most people didn't know the word 'vegan', my friends at school just couldn't imagine that a diet made of plants could mean anything except lettuce and carrots. (In general, I've noticed that people are worryingly inept at discerning whether the thing they're eating is made out of a plant or an animal - A LOT OF ORDINARY FOOD IS VEGAN, GUYS.)
These days my friends are pretty much on top of the vegan thing, and I'm more likely to get asked the question by a client who wants to know what a day of healthy vegan eating looks like. The answer to this question is obviously different depending on your age, weight, activity level and specific health concerns, so I'm not going to lay out any specific recommendations here. (If you'd like to get a handle on how to plan a day of healthy vegan eating, check out Easy Peasy Plant-Based Eating.)
Still, a lot of people are just curious to know what other vegans are putting on their plates. What I eat varies day-to-day, but there are certain foods on my 'every damn day' list. They're either things I include on purpose because I believe they're cornerstones of a nutritious plant-based diet, or I just really like them. (And actually, 95% of what I eat fits into both categories.)
Here's a list of foods I eat every damn day:
1. Green vegetables.
I can't imagine a day going by without eating something green. That'd be like not brushing my teeth or forgetting to check my emails.
I also can't imagine making a plant-based diet work (nutrition-wise) without including green vegetables. They're a food group all their own: no, including a carrot and a potato with your dinner does NOT fulfil your daily vegie requirements. (Carrot is in a different food group to greens, and potato doesn't even count as a vegetable!)
And oh my gosh, AVOCADO IS NOT A GREEN VEGETABLE, GUYS. It's a delicious pod of spreadable fat, but it doesn't qualify for the green group.
It's good to eat a variety: I tend to favour broccoli, pak choy, zucchini and peas, but you can also go for green beans, kale, broccolini, asparagus, cabbage, brussell sprouts (roast them - it will change your life), spinach, silverbeet, Asian leafy greens and cauliflower (which does count, even though it's not that green).
If there's no fresh produce in the house, I'll add frozen spinach to a smoothie, or just cook a cup of frozen peas to go on the side of whatever meal I'm having. But I gotsta have greens. Every single day.
When people ask me what my favourite food is, my standard answer at the moment is 'oats and almond milk'. I have no idea why I love this bland little grain so much, but it's my ultimate comfort food. We have this tradition in our house where we often make pancakes on a Sunday morning, and I confess to being slightly disappointed most Sundays that it isn't an Oat Day.
At least six days a week, my breakfast consists of half a cup of uncooked quick oats, 2 teaspoons of ground chia or flax seeds, about a cup of chopped fruit (mango, berries or banana are my go-tos) and heaps of almond milk.
You don't HAVE to eat oats, specifically, every day, but I do recommend that people eat whole grains daily - try starting with 2 cups a day and adjust up or down depending on your energy needs. Whole grains are eaten in their WHOLE form, without the fibrous husks removed. Compare brown rice to white rice: most of the goodness is in the brown part, but we take it off and throw it away, leaving only the (admittedly delicious, but comparatively inadequate) fluffy white part from the middle. Facepalm.
If you don't like brown rice or oats, you can eat quinoa, whole meal couscous, millet, barley, red rice, black rice, buckwheat, corn, amaranth, freekeh, farro, teff...or flour products made of any of these. Heads up - most of the 'wholemeal' bread for sale is made with at least half white flour. I only know of one type of bread that's made of 100% wholemeal flour. Sneaky!
I'm guilty of eating more fruit than I actually need to, but it's so freaking delicious. And bananas are my hero because they helped me give up eating deep-fried food.
In 2017 I made a resolution that I wouldn't eat deep-fried food any more, and realised that the most likely time for me to do this was when I was out with friends and the only vegan option at the pub was a bowl of chips. I started carrying a banana around in my handbag when I went out. (My circle lovingly refers to this institution as my "emergency banana".) Now when I find myself in a hangry situation and there's no low-fat vegan food available, I pull out my emergency banana. This has had a 100% success rate when it comes to avoiding deep-fried snacky times.
I also like mangoes so much that I sometimes eat one instead of dinner.
4. Flax or chia seeds.
Again, not a thing you HAVE to eat every day, but in many cases a Really Good Idea. I won't go into the technicalities here because it's super boring (if you really want to know, ask me) but flaxseeds, chia seeds and walnuts can play a part in helping us get enough of a type of omega-3 fatty acid. The best part of this is there's no need to eat oil squeezed from little fishies (gross). If you're really concerned about supplementing with docosahexaenoic acid (yeah, I said that word), which is a perfectly valid concern to have, you still don't need the fish oil. GUESS WHERE FISH GET THEIR DHA FROM, GUYS? From eating seaweed (or eating other, smaller, fishies that ate the seaweed). And fortunately we've worked out how to supply the same stuff the fishies eat in a nice vegan capsule form, without having to go to all the bother of involving the fish.
I do take a supplement, but I also like to eat a couple of teaspoons of ground flax or chia every day - either in my oats or in my pancake batter. They're great for helping the batter to bind.
5. Vitamin B12.
Okay, this isn't a food, but this is a drum I'll bang at every chance I'll get.
If you are going to eat a diet entirely based on plants, you need to supplement with Vitamin B12. Don't bother arguing in the comments. I won't read 'em.
It doesn't matter whether it's a capsule, lozenge or liquid (I currently have two bottles of delicious B12 liquid that I'm working through by squirting it directly into my mouth out of that little dropper thing every time I open the fridge).
It does matter what type of B12 it is. This is a complex question and one I'll refer to The Human Herbivore, who is currently writing a PhD on the topic of Vitamin B12. But the one I usually take myself is this one.
What's on your every damn day list? I'd love to hear!
P.S. If the above has got you like "OH MY GOSH WHAT B12 DO I TAKE. WHAT ARE GREENS. FLAXSEED HALP" then I've got you! I wrote you a 66-page ebook that covers the basics of plant-based nutrition - everything I've mentioned above, and more. Get it for just $12 during January 2018.