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Niamh is the editorial assistant for Healthy Food Guide. She loves trying out the latest healthy food trends and gets stuck in with trialling new exercise classes

Two weeks into her vegan journey, HFG editorial assistant Niamh Leonard-Bedwell shares what she’s learnt from adopting a plant-based diet.

I’d been vaguely aware of ‘Veganuary‘ last year, with a couple of people I follow on social media pledging to follow a strictly vegan diet throughout the month of January. However, I dismissed it at the time, as I thought it would be too difficult to follow myself. (After all, I loved chocolate and cheese far too much!)

However, since I started working at Healthy Food Guide last year, I have become ever-aware of the vast range of fantastic plant-based products available. A close friend of mine is also vegan and has frequently encouraged me to give it a go, reminding me of the environmental and ethical factors involved in eating meat and animal products.

Never one to turn down a challenge, I thought ‘why not?’ and signed up to the pledge at veganuary.com. I also set up a Just Giving page for friends and family to donate to a charity of my choice, to encourage me to stay on track.

Two weeks in and I have to say, I’m finding it easier than I thought. I’ve been taking some vegan multi-vitamins, which include B12 and iodine (usually derived from animal products) to make sure I’m not missing any vital nutrients. Posting daily on Instagram has also helped me track my progress and means that my friends and family can hold me to account. Here’s what I’ve learnt about going vegan so far:

You’ll eat lots more fruit and veg

Now that a lot of other food is limited to me, I’ve found myself far more likely to reach for an apple or a banana when I’m feeling peckish. Also, with the recipes I’m cooking having been adapted to contain no animal products, naturally many provide around four or five portions of veg per serve. This means you can often hit your daily 5-a-day target in one meal.

Try Leon’s 5-a-day vegan biryani

Vegan biryani

Label-checking is important

It’s obvious that some foods are not-suitable for vegans. (I’m not likely to be caught out by a ham sandwich, for example!) However, there are some surprise culprits that you might not expect to contain animal products, so it’s always better to check the labels first. For example, your favourite wine might not be vegan, as it’s common for producers to use animal and fish-derived products during the clarification process. Also, some crisps contain milk powder, so you have to watch those nibble bowls at parties.

Looking for the perfect vegan wine for your dinner party? Read our guide on vegan wines and which dishes to pair them with.

Eating with others can pose a challenge

As much as you can easily embrace your newfound vegan lifestyle when you’re eating alone, it’s a totally different story when your friends are tucking into gooey cheesy pizzas on a Sunday night. My advice is to not wait until you’re ‘hangry’ before you eat your main meals. Plate envy is much easier to manage if you’re not already ravenous! Which leads me on to my next two points…

Pre-planning is important

Stocking up on beans, pulses, grains and plenty of veggies will save you when you need a quick and healthy vegan meal fix. Cooking vegan food from scratch takes more thought, so you’re more likely to feel confused if you walk into your local convenience store without a list, especially if you’re a newbie like me.

A tin of kidney beans is a great store-cupboard staple!

Vegan convenience food is on the rise

Many retailers are relaunching or adding to their vegan lines this year. M&S, for example, have just launched 60 new vegan products in their Plant Kitchen range, from their vegan take on popcorn chicken, ‘Cauliflower Popcorn’, to supergrain salads. One of my favourite new products from their range is a delicious pulled jackfruit pizza that would have saved me on the aforementioned hangry evening, had I known about it sooner.

M&S jackfruit pizza
A sneak-peek at the tasty new Plant Kitchen pizzas from M&S

Restaurants will cater to your needs

Even if you can’t see many obvious vegan options on the menu, don’t be afraid to ask the waiter if they would be able to adapt a veggie recipe to make it vegan. Many chain restaurants, including Zizzi, Pizza Express and The Real Greek, now offer varied vegan menus. And even smaller cafes and independents are often accommodating.

I can still get my chocolate fix

A firm believer in enjoying treats in moderation, (I’m a two-squares-of-chocolate-with-my-11am-coffee kind of girl) I was sincerely concerned about missing out on chocolate treats. However, I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the breadth of choice available to me. Find out some of my favourite vegan chocolate treats here.

There’s still a fair amount of January to go, so keep an eye on the site for an update on my progress.

And if you’re taking part in Veganauary, why not take a look at some of our vegan recipes for inspiration?