Thursday, 24 November 2011

Part Two of the 'Vegan Series': Questions I get asked. A LOT.


Welcome the Vegan Series. If you've just stumbled upon this post then pretty please read through Part One where I shared with you my 'Becoming Vegan' story. 

There are many questions that people on vegan diets are asked, but my top three have to be:

1. Where do you get your protein from?

I have to admit this question drives me up the wall. Since when did anyone think about protein. Protein is important, but why the obsession I'm somehow not getting any? The question is usually well intentioned, but it's over used. So onto the important stuff: where I get my protein from.

Nut butter: a pretty pleasant protein.

Protein is known as a 'building block of life.' It's used to repair the body and build muscles ;). I suppose this explains the protein shake craze. So when you eat a piece of food containing protein your wonderful (sometimes wonderful?) body will break it down for you into amino acids, of which humans can create 10 (alanine, asparagine, aspartic acid, cysteine, glutamic acid, glutamine, glycine, proline, serine and tyrosine if you must know) of the 20. And logic dictates that the other 10 must be taken from our food (which is why breatharianism is out.)

The good thing about our bodies is that 1. we have brains and scientists with brains discovered point 2. which is that our bodies make no distinction between 'complete' or so-called 'incomplete' proteins and this is important because animal proteins contain all the amino acids in substainal quantities whereas plant proteins don't always. But that's okay because it's possible to combine two incomplete protein sources to make a complete protein source (B's lentil, chickpea and pasta bake for example.) 

Plus let's not forget those 8 or so spiders we eat accidentally at night ;) (please note the half-sarcasm in that comment.)

2. What about iron?

Iron is present in everything we eat. And I mean everything; cereals, lentils, wholemeal bread, beans...the list could stretch on. Iron is never something I worry about and I know when you think of iron you picture a steak. Even as an omnivore I had anaemia problems (diagnosed when I was 16 and very much a meat eater) and I carried this anaemia with me into vegan-ism, where I overcame 'serious anaemia' (I add the quotations because these were the words my panicked doctor used) through my diet (and with a lot of praying and patience for things to improve.) And yes I had tried their supplements - they didn't improve things.

Also, I think it's worth noting that my iron levels dipped after giving birth, I didn't want to take any supplements because they don't get on with my guts and my doctor was quite happy that I brought these levels up through my diet - with some recommendation on how a vegan could go about doing that (lentils, plenty of them and dark leafy vegetables.) I was lucky that my iron levels weren't too low and I could do this. Otherwise I would have had to bite the B12 bullet and take the damn supplements. 

And for iron to be absorbed in the body, vitamin B12 plays an important role. It's worth noting that you can get B12 in a vegan diet through fortified foods and supplementation - it's not a naturally occurring vitamin in non-animal foods, hence why it is added and why supplements can sometimes be required.  B12 is an amazing vitamin because it plays a part in the functioning of our brain and nervous system.

I've sometimes heard people say; 'if you have to take supplements, why are you eating these foods?' 

Food is a supplementation. Supplementing your diet is not bad - it's only bad when you're peeing out expensive multi-vitamins that your body doesn't really need.

Most human beings; omnivores, vegetarians and vegans alike are lacking in vitamins and minerals, but not always aware they are lacking. Zinc, magnesium and Vitamin D being the usual offenders - and the Vitamin D is in my supplement. This is important for me especially as I don't make it outside as often as I'd like - and I live in Scotland. The sun sets at 3.30pm most days in winter!

3. Okay, we've covered iron and protein - what about calcium, Cara?

I'm glad you asked because this is my favourite question of all. 

All men and women have a calcium requirement of 700mg a day - sounds like a lot, right? Not really. Not as long as you're aware of what different foods contain and how you're going to get this 700mg. 

Also, it's worth thinking about why we need calcium. For our bones to grow healthy and strong, right? Yes, of course. But will our bones get healthy and strong just by eating calcium? No. For that it's a combination of being aware; aware that salt and caffeine cause calcium loss, aware that Vitamin D (mentioned above) is important in calcium absorption, as well as Vitamin K, protein and potassium. 

On top of taking these vitamins and minerals into our body weight bearing exercise is also important to help strengthen bone. This is especially important in the cases of those who are more prone to conditions like osteoporosis or those who have conditions that affect bone density.  


I very easily eat above the RDA of 700mg every single day. It's so important to understand these things, even if you're not on a vegan diet and to be aware that calcium isn't the only thing we need in order to strengthen and grow our bones.

Our RDA of calcium increases and decreases throughout our lives. For instance teenage girls need around 800mg a day of calcium (teenage boys require 1000mg!), whereas children between the ages of 4-6 years require 450mg, this increases to 550mg a day by the time children hit the ages of 7-10 years. 

What is important for me right is understanding that children between the ages of 1-3 years require 350mg of calcium a day. It doesn't sound a lot when you look at the above table, in fact it's relatively straight forward to include the above things in my nearly 2 year old son's diet. Things he loves to eat. But there will be a separate post on that later so I won't get into it too much.

Suffice to say I have done my homework. I am aware of what is going into my body, I am confident in my own intelligence and common sense at fact finding but I can understand these questions - and I welcome them and actually enjoy when someone takes the time to ask. 

Even though it's taken me some time to put these posts together it's been great fun to write. So it's been fun for me, good for me, right? What do you get from these posts? Hopefully an entertaining read, more knowledge about what a vegan diet truly is - and is not. Plus I am sincerely looking forward to sharing more knowledge with my readers in my next couple of posts.

So tune in next time when we discuss 'Bringing up Vegan Baby.' I promise there will be more pictures to entertain you. This post was kind of one of those fun and educational posts I do ;).

Further reading:

Vegan Society on iron and calcium.

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

A little tip for you (for me? For M.E?)...

don't spend the night/early hours Googling 'do people with M.E get better?'

1. You already knew the answer. It's one of those cryptic answer-style questions. It's a definite no for you. So stop looking for answers.

2. Puffy eyes due to sobbing them out isn't a good look for you. The eye area is already over taken by suit cases and dark shadows.

3. Don't then type 'What life do people with ME even have?' or 'do people with ME work?' you have any little tips for me? Perhaps how I can get rid of my puffy eyes due to sobbing them out?


Thursday, 17 November 2011

Part One of the 'Vegan Series': Becoming Vegan.


I've decided that this blog is long over due for some explanations. Some are hard to read in one sitting so for the sake of saving your eyes from RSI (or should that be RS-eye?) I've decided to break up my 'food essays' or 'Vegan Series' into parts - after all who doesn't love a good cliff hanger?

So, why have I decided to write a Vegan Seires? 

1. I have considered dietary choice posts for a while. 

2. I have been living, breathing and sometimes failing at following a vegan diet for the past 6 years (if you're really curious, I'm going to write about my failings in another post, don't worry, we'll unearth my imperfections at some point.)

And now for some more honesty on this subject; I didn't want to write it at first because I don't want to get into the politics of food (like really, really, really, REALLY don't) and although people are nothing but fantastic there are those whose life time goal is to troll folks endlessly and sadly a lot of vegan bloggers are the target for the internet trolls.

I also didn't want to be known as a 'vegan blogger' because then people would come to expect recipes or recommendations to things and I'm not always the most forthcoming on that. Another thing on the 'vegan blogger' badge is that you leave yourself open to judgements about animal rights. 

I love animals and I believe they should have rights but I am not crazy on this subject. I tried to go to lots of anti-fur demos when I lived in London but they were always on way too early on a Saturday morning. I'm too lazy for animal rights protesting. 

And here comes the controversy: I do not condone any violence towards others, be that damaging property or hurting someone physically or emotionally. I dislike the reports on the news that focus on these 'affirmative actions.' I believe in non-violent affirmative action which is protesting, writing to MPs and the like. I don't know the numbers on this but I sincerely believe (through my own experiences) that the majority of animal rights activists have good intentions and use non-violent affirmative action. 

So with all these things considered it shouldn't stop me from talking about something that is part of my life and has been for the past nearly 6 years. If people want to be negative, I am more than used to handling it and while I'm not expecting anyone to 'convert' to my way of eating, who knows, they might. But I'm not writing these posts for that reason. I'm not looking to recruit anyone into my Kool Aid vegan cult. And I'm not even sure Kool Aid is vegan ;).

I'm writing this post to share what works for me and my family. I'm not an expert on anything food related or what works best for everyone - I can't dictate that to anyone as it's a very personal choice (and I explain just how personal food is later on.) 

Although, I'm not an idiot, and as respect is a two way street I'd ask you to bear this in mind when writing any comments - be that good or bad.

In the nearly 6 years of my vegan eating I've read both conflicting and supportive evidence as to why a vegan diet is 'okay.' I've been through different phases; the passionate and proselyting new vegan, the meat curious vegan (and by this I mean researching the way meat is farmed and slaughtered), the convinced vegan (convinced the pros outweigh the cons), the vegan wife, the pregnant vegan and now the vegan parent.

I enjoyed each stage as it allowed me to learn  something new every time. When I was new to vegan-ism  I had so many ideas of how it was going to be. Most of which never came to fruition.

After my 19th birthday I decided to become a vegetarian. I'd tried being veggie when I was 9. Back in the day where Quorn tasted like cardboard and doctors were convinced you'd shrivel up and die - actually I lied about the Quorn, it was pretty tasty. I gave it up after a few weeks because the food was limited. 

 I can't remember the reasons for the vegetarian switch-over at 19, but I think me and my then boyfriend (who will never be named on this blog because I roll like that) had been talking about trying soya milk for a while but what this had to do with vegetarianism I don't know.

So I went vegetarian. It was surprisingly difficult for me - I would eat something with meat in it by accident quite a lot and so I made the decision I would go vegan. Why? Because it meant I wouldn't have to 'watch what I ate', sure there'd be label checking and the like but it meant complete freedom from accidentally eating meat - if you've arrived at the conclusion I am an air head, you're far from the truth. I am not. I just get rattled sometimes.

My parents, not vegans but omnivores themselves, were supportive of my change to a vegan diet. My Dad actually bought me my first vegan cookery book (pictured below) - after a long discussion about how I could eat better to improve my health, body and mind. On their part I suspected a little scepticism at first, but that's a good sign. We didn't know many, if any, vegans at that time but seeing as I'd been vegetarian for the better part of a year and improved my general health I think they were happy about the vegan change over.

Before I made the switch I researched, read and got my hands on any evidence - either for or against a vegan diet and came up with my own conclusions - that personally, for me, a vegan diet would be the diet I would follow for as long as was possible. 

So how did the rest of my family react? It was mixed. At first I am sure there were major reservations - especially from my older sister. She was sceptical and didn't think the diet was optimal for my health. This was not out of malice, bad feeling or to drag me down. It was a very real concern on her part - like I said we didn't know any vegans so I would have reacted in the same way. Out of concern to a diversion from the norm. 

My Aunt was another critic (and I have no bad feeling over that, I am just stating a fact) on the vegan diet. We would have lengthy conversations about it; she being opposed and me being on the side of a vegan diet and it's positives. When I lived in London there were weekends and even a few months where I lived with my Aunt. I really believe this helped shape her perspective on my diet for the better and she would mostly eat the same meals as me when she was around me. And as a side note: living with her and the memories we had are some of the worst and best. But mostly the best.

The rest of my family joked about meat with me - which you have to expect and take with good humour. These days things are very different with my family. They have first hand seen the long term effects (all positive for me) it has had on me as a person. I'm not dead, I'm healthier and as a person I feel I've changed for the better all round. Most of my family have tried non dairy alternatives, some they have liked and some they haven't. I'm the same. I can't stand plain tofu or hemp milk. 

The things that made my transition easier were that my ex boyfriend then decided to start a vegan diet. Although he was less than desirable to be in a relationship with he was very supportive of the vegan diet. At the time my doctor had diagnosed me (wrongly) with IBS and   both me and the ex wanted all the help we could get to improve that condition so I could have a better life. A life not filled with fevers, cold sweats and pain worse than ten labours all at once. Shame that I didn't know what I know now.

I shopped in mainstream supermarkets as well as Whole Foods in Edinburgh and Holland and Barret - a chain of health food stores in the UK. The day I found vegan cheese I thought I'd died and gone to heaven. 

Vegan cheese on toast. Heaven on toast.
I ate relatively well in the first few years of vegan-ism; home made vegetable rolls, carrots sticks, cashews, peanut butter with OJ, houmous on everything (Zohan style), home made soup in varying forms, home made cakes, smoothies, home made sushi, tofu and mayola, lasagne, shepherds pie (with lentils, my Mum's recipe), apple crumble, pizza...whew I had so much fun creating dishes and being inventive with my food.  

But there did come a period in my life, mostly tied in with working and studying too much, when I began to really slip on eating. I had a full time job and full time studies - plus being full time sick and not knowing what my illness was. I didn't really have the inclination or energy to eat, even though it's what sustains us through life. 

At it's most basic we need food in order to stay alive. I've learned some very hard lessons from my period of not eating well - it caught up with me pretty quickly and I'm lucky I was able to remedy my poor eating habits fairly early on in life and stick to better habits.

 The truth is this: whether vegan, omnivorous or vegetarian we need good eating habits. We need 2,000 (2,500 for males) calories per day on average. Armed with basic nutritional understanding we can all form good eating habits.

Look I'm never going to tell you how to eat, you really have to make that decision for yourselves. It's a personal and private affair that is really none of my business - nor will I judge you on what you put on your plate. But I strongly urge everyone, where it's possible, to eat well and exercise, that's my message. 

And having given up chocolate for the better part of a year I really hope I am on that list of eating well (I know...I know. "Not chocolate!" but chocolate was taking over my life. And my jeans. It had to go.) 

I really hope this was a fun read for you - I loved writing it, re-living those early memories with you - and I'll invite you now to tune in next week when I write Part Two: Questions I get asked. A LOT. 

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

Wordless(ish) Wednesday.


It's Bryan's birthday today. 25 years young.

(I love this photo of them. Sorry it's more Ro than B. Although...really? I'm not sorry. He's so cute!)

Tuesday, 8 November 2011



It's 1.38am. 

What am I doing?

Watching a programme about immune systems and lacking the ability to sleep at the same time.

I just can't shake my horrible ex; insomnia. 

TV gets kind of weird around this time in the morning; it's either poker, overly camp wannabe game show hosts doing phone-in games and of course a weird but interesting programme called "Don't Die Young."

I'm being educated on bacteria and immune cells, so I can't complain. At least my insomnia is educational.

Tune in next time when I talk divorce. Hopefully not whilst watching Jerry Springer.

Sunday, 6 November 2011

Cake free lifestyle.

I don't really like this photo. I look ridiculous. And we never even tasted that cake!
Why is it that we try our hardest when we're dating and then it feels as though things slip once we're married? Is it not important - just as or more! - to impress your spouse? I suppose it's easy to think 'this person knows my strengths and weaknesses inside out, I don't need to prove anything.'

Well if you're thinking along those lines I think you're wrong. A relationship isn't about resting on your laurels or 'giving up' on your own self improvement. If it was I would just continue eating chocolate and all manner of junk food. For my health and my relationships health I am deciding not to be over weight. I am making a choice to lose the extra weight gained after my pregnancy and long period of sickness after birth. And more than that, I want to be healthy. I want to be free of the foods that don't make me healthy. 

I think it's a bold move and I've backed it up with months of chocolate-free living, save a few incidents where chocolate may have been in something (cookies, milk shakes and maybe some ice cream we can draw a veil over.) 

It's definitely not easy, but it's my choice. I'm free at any time to walk away from my choice and give up on myself. But I won't. The stakes are too high. And to be honest I'm not the most consistent person. I usually give up because of my health but this time, it's bigger than that. It is my health.  

B and I still treat ourselves, we just do it better. With smoothies. Or yoghurt. And sometimes the occasional bowl of ice cream every few days a month. I'm doing this so I can live longer - and happier. I'm doing this so Roman benefits in each and every way that I will benefit. 

I don't weigh myself a lot but I am losing that extra weight. It's coming off slowly. I'm not overly concerned about the weight because that will fall off. What I'm concerned about are the above mentioned things. They matter more.

Friday, 4 November 2011

Pondering the potty (training)

Today I woke up with something on my mind: pants and potty training. 

It's been on my mind for an unusually long time because I know we're drawing nearer and nearer to the time that is completely nappy-free. Waking thoughts seemed to be consumed with what colour/theme of pants to buy and what size. 18-24 months or 2-3 years?

Then I began to think about the hits and misses we've had so far. The misses are memorable because they don't happen often and the hits are memorable because...well we've been lazy. We haven't been using the potty an awful lot lately. And Roman doesn't really like the big seat on our loo.

Things seemed easier earlier on in the game, at 7 months, when we had that first pee in the potty. He wouldn't put his hands up and exclaim 'Ma, Ma, Ma!' over and over. He would just go. And sometimes he wouldn't. But either way it was simple then.

Now he is more independent, assertive 

...and can run like a bat out of hell. 

Wednesday, 2 November 2011



I love this song so much. It gives me so much hope. I don't know why. Perhaps because no matter what goes wrong in our lives, we always have love. Love is basically all around us. Even if someone we love doesn't feel it back or can't act upon it - we have the potential to start again. To love and be loved again.

I think that's awesome.

Tuesday, 1 November 2011



This is what an unhappy skeleton looks like...

I had forgotten about Halloween this year. 

When it hit October everything seemed to disappear from my memory. Birthdays, special events and Halloween.

We bought this costume because it looked cute. But I remember a time, by gone now, when people made costumes - for any occasion. One year my costume was constructed from a pair of old curtains, tin foil and glitter. On a whim and within under an hour. Another year it was another on-the-spot costume. I always wanted to be different, to dazzle and stand out. Not because I had the confidence to match my candour but because I wanted to be different.

And now I buy costumes for my child. Because that's what everyone else does. And because it doesn't cost a fortune. 

So this year, he's a skeleton. 

A cute, helpful little skeleton at that.

Happy Halloween!

P.S We were horrible last night and didn't open our door to the two trick or treater's (or as we call them 'guisers.') I was sure we wouldn't have a lot of people round, if any at all, so I didn't want to go out and buy non-vegan treats (vegan ones would have been expensive and probably not be eaten) most of which would be left in short, I didn't bother.

If I could and if it didn't freak people out I would have cooked Halloween cookies but no doubt a lot of parents wouldn't be cool with that - would you be happy to eat strange cookies? What if they had razor blades or drugs in them? My point exactly.

So, do you think it's mean we didn't open the door?