Turning vegan in a food paradise can be tough.
Going vegan is not for everyone, but for people keen to adopt such a diet, it may seem like an uphill task in a food paradise like Singapore.
However, buoyed by a global trend, vegan dishes have become easier to find here in recent years.
“Even supermarkets have a host of vegan food options, like eggless vegan bread, herb packets to make soup at home and coconut-based yogurt,” said registered dietitian Ujjwala Baxi, founder of nutrition consultancy Poshan – Cure thru Diet. Foodcourts also usually have a vegetarian stall that can cook a vegan dish on order, she added.
A vegan diet is fully plant-based and free of any animal products, including dairy and eggs. You can get started on a vegan diet by replacing animal milk with alternatives like almond milk, soya milk or coconut milk, said Ms Ujjwala, who is also a certified diabetes educator.
You can substitute meat items with soya- or mushroom-based mock meat, and nutritional yeast for cheese.
There are other ingredients with a similar texture and taste to fish and meat as well. Tempeh, a traditional soya bean patty, has a chewy, flaky texture that can resemble some types of seafood, while chickpeas is a good substitute as vegan “tuna”.
Those fond of omelette and pancakes can opt for grain-based alternatives. Pancakes can be made using oats or quinoa as the main ingredient, she said.
A plant-based diet can bring extra benefits to some groups of people, such as those predisposed to heart problems, diabetes and cancer.
Several research studies, including a Singapore study released this month, have shown that red meat intake is linked to type 2 diabetes.
The study by Duke-NUS Medical School found that eating meat every day puts ethnic Chinese adults at increased risk of diabetes.
Other researchers have found that vegetarians have a lower incidence of cancer, compared to those who eat meat.
People with constipation, gastric problems or bloating may find that going on a vegan diet can help ease their symptoms as it tends to comprise plenty of fibre, which helps to promote gut health.
But veganism, if practised wrongly, can ruin one’s health too, warned Ms Ujjwala. A diet of soda, cheese pizza and candy can be considered vegan too.
“Eating a junk vegan diet of vegetarian burgers, coupled with fries and Coke, is equally bad and will undoubtedly lead to weight and health issues,” she said.
“Unless one follows the recommended guidelines on nutrition and weight control, becoming a vegan won’t necessarily be good for you.”
And one should also take care not to overeat, she added.
Eating out may cause anxiety for some vegans. It will help to agree with family members or friends on a vegetarian-friendly restaurant, or ask for help from the waiter.
“Let the waiter know that you are vegetarian or vegan, and that you are looking for items that are meatless and do not use any dairy and eggs,” said Ms Ujjwala. “At a cafe, you may choose to have a soya milk-based coffee or tea with eggless bread options.”
Another tip is to get up to scratch with reading food labels so that you are able to get the right products when shopping for groceries.
The upside is that honing in on vegan products is easier these days as more products are being labelled as “suitable for vegans” or carry a “certified vegan” logo, said Ms Ujjwala.
Decoding the ingredients may not be easy at first. Food colourings that go by the names cochineal or carmine are actually insect-based.
There are also many by-products, such as casein and whey powder, that are derived from animals.
Cooking-wise, going straight into complicated dishes may kill your enthusiasm, so try just one quick vegan meal at home once a week to build interest, said Ms Ujjwala, a lacto-vegetarian who abstains from eating meat and eggs.
Start with switching a few food items that you feel are easy to adhere to, such as cheese, before tackling the more ubiquitous foods.
“Turning into a vegan cannot happen overnight. Take it slow and start with baby steps,” she added.
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 19, 2017, with the headline ‘Going vegan in a food paradise‘.