I Used a Meal Kit Service to Try Out Being Vegan—Here's What Happened
On July 15, 2017, my husband and I adopted a plant-based diet. Earlier that day, he'd sent me a link to a 45-minute video on YouTube titled "The Best Speech You Will Ever Hear," a documented lecture given by Gary Yourofsky, an animal rights activist on a mission to convert meat eaters to veganism. Watching his speech inspired us to make the switch cold turkey (no pun intended), and we continued to do extensive research on both the health and ethical benefits of eliminating animal products from our diet.
Countless books, articles, and documentaries later, we're still figuring out what's best for our bodies. But having said that, there's no denying the human body thrives when it's fueled by an abundance of fruit and vegetables. When you incorporate more plant-based foods into your diet, you'll naturally consume more fiber, folic acid, and various vitamins and minerals, plus replace saturated fats with unsaturated fats, according to Ilene V. Smith, MS, RD, principal of I ON FOOD, a nutrition communications consultancy.
"Those nutritional improvements have been associated with a reduced risk for chronic diseases like type 2 diabetes and heart disease, a reduced risk for cancer and improved cognitive function, as well as an overall reduction in mortality," Smith says. When following a vegan diet—aka eliminating animal products from your menu altogether—you consume all of these things and more.
Seeing as how one of my resolutions for the new year was to figure out what's best for my health and my body, I decided now was as good a time as ever to see what sort of health benefits I could reap from becoming entirely vegan. So with a little help from the vegan meal kit service Purple Carrot, my husband and I became fully vegan for a week.
Wait, so what is Purple Carrot?
Purple Carrot is a meal delivery service that offers subscribers the chance to taste delicious, innovative, 100 percent vegan recipes, right at home. To start, members can choose from three plan options: The Quick & Easy plan, which is made up of dishes that can be put together in 30 minutes or less, The High Protein plan, which offers meals high in protein, and the Chef's Choice option, which is full of gourmet meals that are said to "elevate your taste buds."
A new menu is posted to the Purple Carrot website each week, and members choose three out of six dinner options for $72 (each meal serves two people, so it breaks down to $12 per plate). In addition to dinner, the brand also offers members the chance to add lunch and/or breakfast options to their order for an extra $24 per add-on. The ingredients you need to cook up these meals come pre-portioned too, and they're delivered right to your door in one package.
Note that typically, consumers enjoy Purple Carrot up to three times a week, but for the sake of this experiment, Purple Carrot provided me with five dinners, two lunches, and two breakfasts so that my husband and I could be vegan for an entire work week.
The biggest lessons I learned.
I had to eat a lot of food to stay fueled.
For the record, Purple Carrot did an amazing job providing my husband and me with delicious meals like scallion noodle cakes (which tasted just like Chinese takeout, by the way), ginger lemongrass noodles, and overnight peanut butter chia pudding, to name a few. Even though I felt satiated during the day, but by the time my husband and I woke up every morning, both of us were downright ravenous.
Keep in mind that a typical day of eating for me prior to this experiment included things like eggs for breakfast and fish for dinner, so even though the number of calories I was eating hadn't changed, the types of foods I was consuming had. At the beginning of the week, I wanted to stick to the three meals that were sent my way, but quickly realized I needed to eat more and more often to stay fueled and satiated.
Spices made (and messed up) the meals.
As someone who's still learning their way around the kitchen, going vegan for a week definitely taught me how to navigate a spice rack. Purple Carrot introduced me to ingredients I had never thought to cook with before, let alone taste. Things like curry, chorizo spice, and chutney were definitely new to my palette, but without them, cauliflower steaks would have tasted bland, vermicelli rice noodles would have gone down like straw, and each bite of tofu would have been like chewing damp pieces of sponge.
But I also learned that too much of certain spices can be overkill—something I discovered the hard way by adding an entire Fresno chile to a marinated slaw. Big mistake.
My sensitive digestive system thrived.
I was diagnosed with IBS in college, but have been struggling with the symptoms since I was 10 years old. Once I eliminated meat from my diet though, I noticed a significant change in the way my body was able to break down and digest the foods I was eating. I never would have expected transitioning from mostly plant-based to entirely plant-based would make such a difference, though, and it truly did.
Purple Carrot sent us two breakfasts: A seeded avocado toast with radishes and cucumber, and overnight peanut butter chia oats with clementine slices and dried banana crumbles. The avocados needed a few days to ripen, so I officially started the experiment with a generous serving of the pudding, and I can't tell you the last time my digestive system felt so active. One serving (28 grams) of chia seeds yields 11 grams of fiber, which is typically half or more than half of my share on an average day. Factor in all the fruits and leafy greens I was eating, and trips to the bathroom were impressively successful, without any discomfort in my gut.
I stopped counting calories and started counting nutrients.
Once restaurants started included the number of calories next to items on their menu, I became hyper-aware of everything I ordered, letting a number make me feel so uneasy. So you can imagine my reaction when the Purple Carrot meals were valued anywhere from 330 to 790 calories per serving. But unlike the number of calories in a bite of premade food, I knew what sort of ingredients I was putting into my body, and knowing that I was fueling myself with whole, nutrient-dense foods really helped me set that anxiety aside.
I had a lot of energy to play with.
Because the foods I was eating were nourishing me and moving my digestive system rather than weighing me down and stocking me up, I felt light as a feather for most of the week. I suddenly had so much energy to expel that wasn't there before, and throughout the week, I noticed that my focus was razor sharp, and felt a boost in my performance at the gym.
Purple Carrot head chef Andrea Nordby once explained that this sudden burst in energy I felt once I was fully immersed in a vegan diet is because this way of eating "introduces vitamins and minerals in heavily concentrated amounts, without including a lot of the garbage, fillers, and preservatives that processed foods have." What that means is that when you nourish your body with more whole, nutrient-dense foods that are easy on your digestion, it doesn't have to expel so much energy to break down food, leaving you with more energy to utilize in different ways.
It's easier than you might think to make changes to your diet that'll affect your way of life.
I know that veganism isn't for everyone, and that's OK. But I think everyone could benefit from eating more plant-based foods in their diet. Luckily, plant-based options are becoming much more common and easier to implement into your everyday routine, and a service like Purple Carrot makes it as easy as possible for you by bringing meals right to your door.
If you're looking to make small changes on your own to ease your way into this lifestyle change, you could start small by adding a scoop of pea, hemp, or other plant-based protein powders to your post-workout shakes. My personal favorite is Nutiva's Organic Plant Protein Superfood Smoothie blend. The Impossible Burger and Beyond Meat are making it easier to order out and substitute your favorite meats for vegan alternatives, too, and if you have a sweet tooth, there are plenty of yummy vegan desserts from chocolate bars—Alter Eco, Hu Kitchen, and EatingEvolved have some great options—to cookies—Oreos are vegan!
If you aren't ready to commit to this way of eating fully just yet but are interested in experimenting with plant-based alternatives, one of the best ways to do so is to choose vegan foods and create dishes that would appeal "to the non-vegan members of your family and friends," according to Smith. After all, just because you're the adopting a vegan lifestyle, Smith adds, that doesn't mean you have to eat alone. Find foods that work for your body and your taste buds, and have fun. Food is meant to be enjoyed as much as it's meant to fuel you, and going plant-based does both for me.