Consumers are experimenting with plant-based alternatives. Picture: Pexels ./ Lisa Fotios
Consumers are experimenting with plant-based alternatives. Picture: Pexels ./ Lisa Fotios

Making the switch to a vegan diet is easier than you think

By Viwe Ndongeni-Ntlebi Time of article published Jan 31, 2021

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Vegan diets are rising, and more consumers are becoming aware of the health benefits of not eating animal products, as well as the ethical and environmental impact of animal agriculture.

More consumers are cutting out preservatives and animal products as a healthier option for their families.

“South African consumers are understanding more and more that plant-based foods are an important part of a sustainable future, not just environmentally, but for their health too – and this is starting to reflect in the choices that future forward brands are making,” says Tammy Fry, Director at Fry’s.

Even retail stores have caught up with this health trend and are making more vegan options available. Nicki Russell, head of product merchandise at Pick n Pay says, “We are noticing more customers experimenting with plant-based alternatives.

“They want a greater choice that is more accessible and at affordable prices, so we have stepped up to deliver that.

“Last year we piloted dedicated plant-based destinations in selected stores – across fresh, frozen and pantry items – and it proved very popular.

“This year we will expand our plant-based range of PnP own brand, as well as work with other brands to bring customers more exciting products, such as the Oumph! and LikeMeat products.”

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 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:

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.

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.

Norman suggests coconut milk or coconut cream as just one example.

“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.”

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.

Burger night can definitely still be a thing

Further to the point above, it’s not all about vegetables. With all the meat-free burger alternatives available on the market now, you can still enjoy burger night.

“We were determined to have a good vegan burger available to our customers,” explains Norman.

“For us, that meant not only looking at what vegan burgers are available out there, but also vegan cheese – because is a burger really a burger without cheese?

“Initially we found that some vegan cheese didn’t melt well, so we looked around a bit more. As a team, we spent a lot of time researching as much as possible before selecting the cheese option we have available now.”

Making a vegan sauce is easy

A lot of sauces on the shelves are not vegan-friendly or 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 Norman.

"So, yes, going vegan can be a massive commitment at the start.

But 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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