Veganism is a hot topic at the moment, so to bust some myths and tackle some FAQs, we thought we’d put your top questions to some of the club’s fave vegans (past and present!). We’ve got the famous Emma Gill aka Fruits & Routes, first year athlete and physics-whizz Becky Nisbet, plus beloved alumni Sarah Douglas, GB international hill runner Beth Hanson and recent veteran of a 24-hour turbo ride, Hannah Havelock-Allan! Sarah’s sister Hannah has also dipped her toe into some of the questions, so there’s plenty of wisdom to be found.
**As a quick note: Food and body choices are entirely personal, and you should never feel compelled to make choices about what you put in your body or how you train based on what other people are doing. This article is meant to help you make informed choices, not ones that are unhealthy for you!
Why did you turn vegan?
Hannah H-A: Curiosity really, I admit it wasn’t to save the animals or the planet. But I did want cowspiracy and I have watched a fair few Earthling Ed videos and he’s really hard to disagree with (thoroughly recommend). I also think it helped me have a more positive relationship with food – that is not say veganism is healthy! And you can make it as unhealthy as you like- but it definitely gets me eating a variety of nourishing foods!
Becky N: For animal welfare and for my health.
Beth: This question is asked a lot and I often struggle to answer this, despite being a vegan for nearly 6 years now. I had been vegetarian since the age of 7, and couldn’t justify the reasons I was being a veggie and not be a vegan. The number one reason is the unnecessary suffering of animals in both the meat and dairy industries. As I got more into veganism, I realised that there are many more reasons that I am, and will continue to be, vegan, such the ability to reduce my environmental footprint, and the health benefits of living off foods such a veggies, nuts, fruits, seeds, wholegrains etc.!
Sarah: I had thought about it for a while but grew up in a real foodie- family where being a fussy eater wasn’t an option and I didn’t want to be ‘the awkward one’. I think in the past it wasn’t recognised as much either so it would have been harder to eat out etc. My sister then turned vegan, despite being the biggest lover of cheese I know, and so I thought if she could do it I could too. My family have soon adjusted, and I enjoy having someone to share all the new tasty vegan things I find with!
In terms of was my choice for health, environment or animal welfare, I would say mostly animal welfare. I slowly started going more and more vegetarian and then realised that if I was going to be veggie I should really be vegan as the dairy industry is just as bad for the animals. However, I definitely like how it is better for the environment too.
Hannah Douglas: A lot of people I followed on instagram and respected had started going vegan so I wanted to give it a try for a month. During the month I read up on veganism and watched documentaries to educate myself. Then the moral, eco and health benefits seemed apparent. I think for me they are in that order of importance: morals, then eco then health!
Are there any club vegans not supplementing their iron? Do you think it’s necessary?
HHA: Unaware of numbers, but I’d presume Emma Gill (other vegan in the Haries) is. I think it is possible to get enough iron on a vegan diet, dark leafy green e.g. spinach etc are high in iron, but you really have to focus on it an know your sources and portions which can be a bit intensive. I think for females as well this can be particularly challenging so it supplementing with a B complex is wise.
BN: I don’t supplement my iron – and I’m a regular blood donor so I know my iron isn’t low! I’d never suggest to anyone to take iron supplements unless their doctor recommends it because excess iron has side effects, it’s not like supplementing other vitamins.
Beth: I do supplement my iron after being tested to be low at the Doctors, but I’ve always had low irons levels even before I was vegan. I don’t believe all vegans should feel the need to supplement, but it’s something to be thought about and conscious of as it is easy to miss out on some of the vital nutrients. Especially as athletes who do high training hours, I think everyone, vegan or not, should be aware of what is needed for a balanced diet.
Sarah: I have written a whole document on this which will be posted on the website! Iron is really important to be supplemented if you are deficient but is not and can be dangerous to supplement to excess so always get a medical opinion on this based on bloods tests. Being vegan doesn’t necessary mean you will be iron deficient as it can be found in lots of other foods not just meat. My iron is actually its highest ever since I have become vegan (even when I used to take supplements too!)
Do you supplement your B12? Do you think it’s necessary?
HHA: I take a multivitamin and vit D3, so no B12 in isolation. I used to supplement B12, but have been working with a dietician to help me with endurance sports and her recommendations were just eh vit D3 (which I think is wise whether you are vegan or not!) and a multivitamin.
BN: A B12 supplement is a good idea for anyone, not just vegans, it’s absolutely vital to supplement B12 if you’re vegan if you don’t consume fortified plant milks regularly or use nutritional yeast. Even if you do drink fortified plant milks, it’s still a very good idea to supplement to make sure you’re getting enough, because there are very bad deficiency side effects to the nervous system that can be critical.
Beth: Again, I do because I was tested to have low B12 levels. Really the same as above, but if you are feeling more tired than normal, struggling to recover from sessions as quickly or anything other than tip-top, definitely get a blood test done at the Doctors to make sure you are not missing out on anything.
Sarah: Yes I take Vitamin B12 Supplements and Vitamin D supplements. (but often forget). Basically, everyone in the UK should take VitD as we are all very likely deficient and is important for bone health.
In terms of Vit B12, it is the only vitamin that you cannot get from a well-balanced plant based diet so it does need to be supplemented. However it is great that many vegan products such as cereal, milk, some soya products and nutritional yeast can have added Vitamin B12 in them! The body has large stores of it so symptoms of deficiency wouldn’t show for a very long time but would run out if you were vegan and didn’t supplement and could lead to problems later in life. Some people also have genetic medical conditions where they don’t have the enzyme in the body to absorb VitB12 from the diet and these individuals need to have it in possibly higher doses and sometimes different forms such as injections.
Best pre-race vegan meal?
HHA: Oh hard, depends when the race is! I’m a big fan of anything oat based/porridge for the morning and if it’s general carb loading I think sweet potato is a must. I usually have more thoughts about what I am having after rather than before!
BN: Pizza! Vegan cheese, tomato, maybe some tofu for that protein hit. Fact, all of my half marathon PBs have been achieved when I’ve had a pizza the night before. Coincidence, I think not…
Beth: Porridge!!!!!!!!!!! If that counts as a meal….. I’m loving all the porridge Instagram accounts. My go to is oats with almond milk, raisins, banana, cinnamon and a (probably too big) heap of peanut butter. The night before a race I tend to have pesto-pasta or pizza, always followed by some kind of dessert….
Sarah: Porridge. I am really bad at eating just before a run as it makes me feel sick when running but porridge a few hours before a race is always reliable. I like to mix it up with some different toppings, but banana, PB and dried fruit always works well!
Is it more expensive?
HHA: It’s as expensive as you make it. I think for people that are still heavy omnies, then all the fake vegan stuff like fake meats, and ‘mimic’ foods can be really enticing but they’re so expensive. I personally love veg, beans, pulses etc. and it’s super easy to make up a simple stew, curry, salad, etc. with stuff like lentils or chickpeas and some fresh veg. Beans and pulses are definitely a cheaper way to go to get protein in than tofu and fake meats!
BN: For me, definitely not. But if you’re buying every meat alternative and dairy free cheese under the sun, it can. I bulk buy dried beans (literally in packets of like 5kg) and soak them and cook them for an hour and a half rather than buying tins, and it’s so much cheaper. All the staples of a good vegan diet – beans, rice, pasta, fruit and veg, are dirt cheap. Veganism doesn’t have to be expensive if you know what you’re doing.
Beth: No! There’s a lot more vegan products out now than when I first became vegan, which is exciting but can be expensive if you eat that kind of stuff all the time. I tend to have basic ingredients such as beans and legumes with a carb, and leave the fancy exciting stuff for a treat or special occasion. It definitely doesn’t have to be expensive.
Sarah: It can be, depending on if you are a #basicvegan and love shopping in whole foods/ real foods and trying all the cool vegan food, It can be! But equally basic vegan staples like beans, pulses and vegetables are super cheap and even meat alternatives can be roughly the same price as meat or fish would be! I think vegan baking is more sometimes more expensive if you use vegan chocolate etc, so I spend more on that but in terms of my weekly shop, its probably cheaper.
HD: It can be if you eat all the meat and dairy replacement stuff but it can be cheaper if you eat more whole foods. I think all in all my weekly shop is about the same price as it used to be!
Do you feel it’s positively impacted your training?
HHA: I’d say my recovery is great, and my energy levels are good. I had a long summer of doing my first 100k run and then doing 7 days running in Africa within July and August, all of which were plant-based fuelled. I don’t think I would have been able to without (a) eating enough food (b) eating a plant-based diet. I also don’t get afternoon slumps from digestion of food.
BN: I mean I’ve been vegan for many years and I can’t remember being a runner before I was vegan so I can’t really comment. But I mean, I did win my first ever half marathon in the Female Under 20 category when I was 17 and I was vegan then, so I don’t think it’s made my running bad…
Beth: Hard to say really. I’ve had some really good periods of fitness whilst I’ve been a vegan, but I don’t put that down to my vegan diet really. I think eating healthily and fuelling properly is really important to any athlete, and this is something I’ve always strived to do.
Sarah: It’s hard to say as I can’t really compare the two periods of my life but it definitely hasn’t negatively impacted it. I think it has made me ensure I have a more well-balanced diet and I get a lot of fruit and vegetables too! I have a lot on energy and can do all the training I want to do, including strength training.
HD: Yes, I definitely feel fitter now than I used to but I wouldn’t solely attribute that to veganism as I gym / run more now than I used to too.
Do you think it encourages restrictive eating? Or do you find it helpful in achieving health and a balance with eating?
HHA: I think there is a definitely a trend (as seen on Instagram) of many ex-ED girls turning to veganism. That is not to say it is a bad thing though! I think an outside view is that it is restrictive or you ‘can’t eat this, or that’, but really no one focuses on what you can eat. There is so much more to food than just meat and dairy. It has allowed me to be creative and also try some amazing vegan food. Admittedly the nice stuff does require more effort to make! But I don’t feel restricted in the slightest, especially with all modern supermarkets being far more accommodating to vegan options.
BN: This is a difficult question. I don’t think there’s a yes or no answer to this, because it really depends on the person and what they like and don’t like. I’ve been vegan for many years, and then a few years ago I developed anorexia, but I’d been a happy and healthy vegan long before that and never really thought it played much of a role in my eating disorder, except in using it an excuse to avoid going out for meals. I’ve recovered from that now and I’m still a vegan and I think I have a good relationship with food – but I think that’s down to the fact that I am very used to being vegan so I don’t miss anything, but I’d certainly tell someone in recovery from a restrictive ED to avoid going vegan whilst they’re vulnerable because it could just become a tool to relapse. I feel like the people in whom it encourages restrictive eating are those who use it as a tool for weight loss, rather than people wanting to choose a cruelty free lifestyle and way of living.
Beth: No, I don’t think it encourages restrictive eating. I’ve gone through many phases of disordered eating, and it is nothing to do with the vegan diet but more my mindset into eating well. A vegan diet does mean you do have to think about food more, and how to adequately achieve nutrient goals, but for me this has only allowed a healthier balance with eating.
This is a difficult question. Being vegan itself doesn’t lead to a restrictive
diet, especially now ( in bigger cities/ towns) where it is very well
accommodated, but if you are someone who has restrictive eating tendencies it
could provoke/worsen them as it does limit some things you could eat. It was
something that I was worried about, especially because I was injured at the
time I became vegan, so this did cross my mind but I was in a better and
stronger place mentally so hoped id know what to look out for if things were
tending towards that.
What really helped me was 1) trying to cook and bake vegan things that other people would like and enjoying these with them, gave me a focus to make good meals and 2) trying out new and interesting vegan options and supporting small local start ups and cafes’ etc to help promote veganism and increase its availability in shops. This helped me think that I wasn’t just doing it for myself but by eating all these things I was supporting the promotion of veganism.
HD: I think for some people it can be a way to restrict their eating. However, thankfully I have never had problems with disordered eating so I find it a helpful way to be healthy as it is about so much more than just me being healthy.
Is it actually better for the planet?
HHA: Aha, well short answer I would say yes, but the scientist in me says it’s best to go research the evidence. Even the best at Oxford have published data about water usage and emissions related to different diets. I am not one to preach data or an agenda so I think it’s best for people to do their own digging and decide. Ultimately any little change that someone can contribute to the planet helps, a vegan may be vegan but drive their car to work every week, so what’s the point? A meat eater may only have eco energy at home – so there’s many factors to consider.
BN: I definitely think so. More animal farming means more land is also needed to grow crops to feed them, which leads to more deforestation, greater global warming, water scarcity and species extinction. By being vegan you’re reducing the demand for animal agriculture and eating the plants directly, rather than using animals as a “middle man”. That’s not to mention greenhouse gas emission from particularly beef farming.
Beth: Yes!!! For many reasons. The animal food industry causes deforestation to make land for livestock, the vast volume of water needed for animal agriculture, the pollution of the water systems from the pesticides needed for animal grains, the huge generation of animal waste and pollution, and the transportation of animals and meat to get to the supermarkets…….to be brief!!!
Sarah: Yes. It is now well known that the vegan diet is better for the planet. Animals themselves release greenhouse gases and keeping them causes deforestation. Despite a lot of vegan products being made from Soy, which is notoriously bad for deforestation and demand on the land, the majority of Soy is made to feed animal and actually only a very small proportion is for human consumption. There are however those who are ‘vegan’ purely for the dietary choices they eat but also those who follow the lifestyle that is associated with ‘veganism’. This encourages using local and ethical produce, recycling/ upcycling and low plastic waste, which is definitely much better for the environment, and something that we should all try to follow, despite eating vegan or not.
HD: Yes, it definitely is.
Fave vegan scran in Edinburgh?
HHA: Brekkie has to be Brochan- I still miss that porridge so much! For lunch/other food- Beetroot Sauvage.
BN: Giant nachos in The Auld Hoose pub… they’re giant, and unbeatable.
Beth: Oh man, herbivore kitchen was just the BOMB when I was there, I literally lived above it for 2 years and I was known as the cinnamon bun girl as I went in so often for one…………….nothing has compared to them…… I also loved Paradise Palm (the best vegan burger ever)….. and Lovecrumbs do such amazing cake. On my most recent visit to Edinburgh I literally did a vegan cafe crawl…. So many good places.
Sarah: Hula, Brochan or Beetroot Sauvage (I love a brunch :D) Also good to know that many of Edinburgh’s top restaurants offer Vegan menu’s ( Castle terrace, the Kitchen, Timberyard etc!)
HD: Paradise palms!!
Top vegan influencers/ instagrams?
HHA: @fruitsandroutes for sure – an a Harie nonetheless! @lucybartholomew (not strictly influencer but amazing vegan runner)
BN: I love @DeliciouslyElla on Instagram. Also, check out @thehappypear, @wickedhealthy.
Beth: Ofc @fruitsandroutes!!! Also really enjoy the influencers @stephelswood @zannavandijk and @gracebeverley.
Sarah: Venetia Falconers. And of course our fav local celebs @Scran-in-the-city and @Fruitsandroutes (and @bright_copper_kettles if I am allowed to plug myself!!)
HD: Venetia falconer, Zanna van Dijk, Grace Beverly & Steph Elswood.
Can you be vegan and normal?
HHA: No, you have to be a bit of a weirdo I’m afraid. (Who wants to be normal anyways? Normal is boring!).
BN: I’m vegan and I’m a highly abnormal nerd so I don’t think I can comment… but I know many vegans who are just quietly vegan and are pretty “normal” people!
Beth: Can anyone be normal? I think being vegan shouldn’t change anyones life too much- especially now there is so many options. Even the main chain restaurant has amazing vegan options- so no need to miss out on the fun!!
Sarah: I have been told I am ‘the least annoying vegan’ by my friends and work colleagues as I actually don’t really like talking about it as, as bad as it sounds, I hate the stigma it has. I would love others to be vegan but I think showing them life isn’t much different and it can be easy is the best way rather than going on about it and preaching it to them every day! However I wouldn’t have become vegan if I didn’t see some posts and films about animal agriculture and the dairy industry etc so I think it is important people are informed of these things as we do live in a very blinded society, but preaching and posting about this daily isn’t the way to do this as it may just put people off instead. We need to appreciate every little change or vegan meal someone makes is better than nothing and is a step in the right direction😊
Do you crave meat? What do you think of meat alternatives? (original question: How can you live like that? I need steak pie. Also: How do you resist caving for a greenmantle burger after 3 days of veganism?)
HHA: At the beginning I did for sure, but there are substitutes. If you are feeling fancy, you can go and have a vegan burger, there are some decent ones out there. But I mainly got over the craving and found it was more a craving for salt – which I strongly substitute with marmite!
BN: I used to eat meat every day because that was just “normal”. After about a week of being vegan I just stopped craving it and I’ve now been vegan for nearly 4 years and I genuinely never walk past a sausage roll van and think “damn I want a sausage roll”, I just don’t feel I need or even want meat anymore, I’m very averse to the idea of eating meat now, and don’t think I ever will (intentionally) again.
Beth: Nope not at all…………….!! I’ve been a veggie for so long I don’t know no different. I do enjoy the fake meats, but see them more as a treat than on the regular as they are a little more expensive. I do love a vegan burger!!
Sarah: I loved chicken and fish. I would literally eat cooked chicken as a snack…. But then is started cutting down on meat and then became vegan and I have never looked back. I joke that I would have been vegan ages before if it wasn’t for my love of Greek yoghurt! I don’t miss anything really and enjoy trying more things and also cooking vegan for others and showing them it can be tasty and not just leaves! There are some great meat alternatives out there. I haven’t tried that many of them as I prefer to not have them as they are slightly ‘processed’ but I am a fan of some of the fake chicken and of course Linda McCartney anything basically!
HD: No I don’t crave meat at all. Its been 2.5 years now and now knowing what I do about the meat industry I find it quite frankly gross. I like meat alternatives, I never stopped eating meat because I didn’t like the taste of it. However, I am trying to limit how much of these I eat from both a budget and health point of view as obviously these are more processed food items.