Guest Blog by Siobhan O'Brien
People are always surprised when they discover I'm only 18 years old. "But how are you so healthy?!" they exclaim. To be fair, I get their point. Compare me to the typical teenager and the differences are obvious, there aren't many 18 year olds who go to the farmers market at 9am on a Saturday!
I began my journey to a healthier lifestyle in January 2012. I was only 16 years old and yet for years I had been plagued with constant abdominal pain, bloating and discomfort and after years of trouble I finally decided enough was enough. I saw my doctor and I was referred to a gastroenterologist who diagnosed me with a long term digestive condition called IBS, or irritable bowel syndrome. After doing an elimination diet I was able to find out the foods that 'triggered' my IBS and I was able to remove them from my diet. Through the elimination diet I discovered that gluten and dairy were the main triggers, but I also had to be careful to not eat anything very sugary, oily or spicy. I was told that it cannot be cured, but it can be managed through changes to diet and lifestyle.
I got quite worried at the start because I didn't know what to eat! As someone who hadn't eaten red meat since I was 10 and with a vegetarian mother I ate a mostly vegetarian diet, based on starchy carbs such as pasta, bread, noodles and pizza. I realised pretty quickly that if I wanted to make this lifestyle work for me I needed to learn to cook for myself. I swiftly began to make changes to my diet, cutting out junk food and eating more fibre from fruit and vegetables. I began to drink more water and I also started to exercise regularly and do yoga.
To say there was a change was a complete understatement. No longer was my stomach bloated and swollen, no longer was my face red and puffy. I didn't struggle to get to sleep at night and struggle to get out of bed each morning, instead I woke up at 6.45am full of energy and ready to go! It was incredible and everyone in my life noticed a difference.
I began to gain confidence in my cooking and I started to explore new foods and try new things. In about August 2012 I made an Instagram account, mostly to do what normal Instagram accounts are for - selfies and shots of what goes on in my life. As I began to cook more, I also began to post more images of food, and before I knew it, I had gained quite a following. By about January 2013 I had a few thousand followers and the account offically changed to become a health and wellbeing account- a place where I could post about my journey to overcoming IBS and the food I cooked and ate.
It was around about this time that I began to explore eating a plant based diet. Prior to this I was still eating fish, chicken and eggs, but due to the influence of friends I made on Instagram, I began to explore recipes without animal products. I chose to stop eating chicken in about January 2013 and as well as eating small amounts of fish and eggs, I also started to explore plant based alternatives like beans, lentils, chickpeas, tempeh and tofu. I was surprised at how delicious the food was and how much I enjoyed it, and as I began to explore veganism I became more and more interested in the ethics behind it and the notion of eating a cruelty free diet.
In May 2013 I created my recipes blog, SuperfoodSiobhan so all my followers could quickly and easily access my recipes. I started to create recipes using all natural ingredients, catering for those with intolerances to gluten and dairy like me, but also those who follow a vegan diet, or wish to eat a more natural diet. I started modifying popular recipes from my childhood such as gingerbread men, chocolate chip cookies or peanut butter cups and using coconut oil instead of butter and raw cacao powder to make them more nutritious. It's incredible to be able to eat delicious food that is also good for your body!
I also share my favourite savoury recipes, such as butternut squash and chickpea curries, quinoa sushi, sweet potato gnocchi and sweet potato fries with guacamole. Every recipe I share is a meal that I cook for myself and/or my family and I just take a quick photo on my iPhone before I eat it and share it on my Instagram (SiobhanO_).
Like everyone I know, I always thought vegans were hippies who couldn't eat 'nice' food. However, by slowly transitioning to a plant based diet over the course of a few months meant that I didn't really realise what was happening, and one day I just didn't crave eggs or fish anymore, so I made the decision to just stick with a vegan diet. I eat a wholefoods plant based diet, so I don't eat packaged vegan foods such as veggie burgers or soy cheeses, instead I stick to natural foods from the earth, such as fruit, vegetables, beans, lentils, seeds, nuts, olive oil/coconut oil and edamame beans/tempeh.
I also supplement my diet with many wonderful superfoods with high vitamin and antioxidant properties like maca, cacao powder, goji berries and chia seeds. It's wonderful to be able to nourish your body with food that is so nutrient dense, but also delicious. My diet isn't about eating fruit and salads, I can also eat pizza and chocolate, but I make the choice to make that pizza and chocolate or source it from companies who share my values.
It wasn't until I had been eating a vegan diet for a while that I realised what a great impact it has on the world around me. The farming of animals for meat and dairy is a huge drain on the world's resources, with millions of acres of land being destroyed for them to graze on, millions of gallons of water polluted by their waste and an awful lot of damage being caused to the ozone layer by methane emissions. If everyone made a conscious effort to reduce their intake of meat and dairy, we wouldn't need to have such huge herds of animals and the drain on the world's resources would be significantly lower. Also, that means that the large amounts of grain fed to these animals could go to feeding humans instead. Of course there are also ethical concerns about the treatment of animals and being slaughtered for meat, which I personally found made me very uncomfortable and unable to enjoy what I was eating.
So how do you start? You don't need to cut it out of your diet completely, but why not try and do a 'Meat Free Monday'? When you reduce the amount of animal products in your diet you also reduce the amount of cholesterol you are taking in, so it helps to protect against diabetes and heart disease, plus the less animal products you eat, the more likely you are to hit the recommend 7 portions of fruit and vegetables a day! Veganism is possible for everyone, but it doesn't suit everyone's tastes and lifestyles, so rather than cutting animal products out completely, I encourage my family to try and explore plant based alternatives.
Below I'm going to share one of my favourite recipes using coconut oil: raw chocolates. Perfect for a sweet treat, dessert or even as a gift for Easter, these are the perfect hit of rich chocolate and crunchy nuts. Plus they're good for you!
1/3 cup raw cacao powder
1/4 cup coconut oil
2-3 tbsp. maple syrup or agave nectar
1/2-1 tbsp. mesquite powder (optional)
30g (1/4 cup) mixed nuts (I used brazil nuts, walnuts and pecans), chopped roughly
30g (1/4 cup) sour cherries, chopped roughly
Using a hot water bath, melt the coconut oil in a bowl, then add the cacao powder and mesquite powder, stirring well to avoid lumps. Stir in the sweetener, then remove the bowl from the hot water bath and stir in the nuts and dried cherries. Spoon into small cupcake cases and place in the fridge/freezer to set, then enjoy! These are best stored in the freezer, as they melt at room temperature.
About Lucy Bee Limited
Lucy Bee is concerned with Fair Trade, ethical and sustainable living, recycling and eating close to nature with additive free products for health.
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At Lucy Bee, we’re passionate about a healthy lifestyle and feeling good through the foods we eat. Our website promotes the nourishing ingredients that we love plus tips for natural beauty and fitness.