Janette Wambui has been living the vegan lifestyle for thirty years now. Her diet is fully plant-based consisting of fruits, vegetables, grains, legumes and nuts among other foods devoid of animal products.
The entrepreneur who also runs a vegan home bakery started her journey while still a student in the US.
“Being vegan has other connotations, diet is one of them. I practice ethical veganism, so I don’t wear wool, leather, silk and this is not something new vegans are doing. Their focus is mainly on diet,” says Janette. She also runs an online vegan store dubbed Vegan Kenya where she sells a variety of vegan products.
“When I was twelve, I had an allergy which revealed I was lactose intolerant. I would also get allergic reactions whenever I consumed goat meat. This naturally led me to eat more vegetables and avoid meat and milk and eventually I became someone who strictly consumed organic products,” says Janette.
Eventually, she cut meat from her diet. “I was motivated by the fact that lifestyle diseases such as high blood pressure and diabetes are affecting some members of my family and I knew my genetic construct would eventually catch on if I didn’t change my lifestyle,” she highlights. Fish was the last meat she left after being pescetarian for some time.
The veganism trend has been catching on in Nairobi, although not in as large numbers as seen in the rest of the world. The term “Plant-based” is also used to describe a diet based on fruits, vegetables, grains, legumes, nuts etc. Over the recent years, more research findings have been proving that going “plant-based’ has various benefits to the human body.
Easier and cheaper
For Soni Adriance, a food-lover who has been vegetarian since last October, a Netflix documentary called Game Changers which speaks about the vegetarian and vegan lifestyles positively, motivated her to give it a try.
“I started by trying it out for a month first and it turned out to be so much easier and cheaper and I’ve been doing it ever since,” she explains.
Being a fitness lover, Soni elaborated that since she became vegetarian, her energy levels have been consistent throughout the day, as opposed to before when afternoons would find her tired and unable to be as energetic as she was in the mornings.
“I thought I would have a lot more external body changes because a lot of the guys at the gym who also changed their diet lost weight super quickly but different people react differently,” she highlights.
Crossfit Level 1 Trainer, Isaac Hunja has also been living the vegan lifestyle. “I read a book written by athlete Reggie Rolle which shows his transition into a vegan diet and the effects the diet had on his health, mood, weight and overall performance. I do intermittent fasting and I once did a two day fast and this was when I decided to be vegan after finishing the fast,” he said.
“A funny thing we both noticed when we quit meat was that other people took it negatively. It took a while before I could share this with people who weren’t living the lifestyle. Eventually, I got my sister and mum into it,” adds Isaac.
Weight loss was among the first changes Isaac’s body went through where he lost about 5kgs. Researching vegan recipes is something he constantly does.
“As a fitness lover and trainer, I get muscle sores and since becoming vegan, my recovery has improved where I recover much faster and have more energy compared to fellow gym counterparts who are not vegan,” he elaborates.
Essential food groups
Monica Kaboe, senior nutrition officer at Kiambaa Sub-County, advises that for one to have a nutritious, wholesome diet, there are ten food groups that are needed for your body.
“First there’s plant protein, animal protein, vegetables with Vitamin A, other vegetables with minerals such as avocado, green peas, bananas, grains such as maize, rice, pulses, fats and oils as well as roots and tubers. For you to have a healthy diet, your meals need to include items in these food groups,” she says.
She adds that missing these nutrients can lead your body to get to an imbalanced state because all the nutrients we eat have to interact with each other.
“For example carbohydrates are protein sparing nutrients meaning that if you take a protein meal without carbohydrates accompanying it then the protein will not do its job which is to body build. Instead, it will be converted to energy. This is why we also advise diabetic individuals not to eliminate any meal from their diet but to eat everything in small portions,” she highlights.
“For individuals who wish to transition to veganism, they need to be aware of how they incorporate all the amino acids in their meals. There are different amino acids found in animal proteins that are not found in plant proteins. If you mix a grain with a pulse or a legume in a meal then you will get a full biological value because there are some grains that have amino acids and pulses that also have amino acids so if you mix the two, they complement each other giving you the complete amino acids your body needs without meat,” she reiterates.
Monica adds that women who go vegan need to ensure they include enough iron in their diet to avoid the risk of becoming anaemic over a duration of time. “Women need to make up for the blood lost every month to boost their haemoglobin level,” she says.
Kyalo Munyau, who has been a vegan for three years now, chose the lifestyle due to his family’s history of heart diseases, diabetes and high blood pressure. “These diseases are not inherited. What we inherit are bad eating habits. So I looked at my life and realised that I was walking the same path hence why I changed and went plant-based,” he explains. Kyalo slowly transitioned to veganism over six months.
“Temptations and the fear of what people are going to think of me when I tell them I’m vegan made me take this long to transition. “People ridiculed me, called me all sorts of funny names but I pushed on because my focus was on my health,” he adds.
A surprising body change that he went through is that he ended up looking younger than his peers. “Since I went plant-based, I cannot recall the last time I went to the hospital for treatment,” he explains.
After facing ridicule and other challenges from being vegan, Kyalo found other vegans and formed a WhatsApp group whose purpose is to motivate each other and share recipes of vegan dishes they make at home.
“If you are living a plant-based diet, you need to be careful about eating out. Not many people understand that this lifestyle exempts milk. I have ordered a smoothie before at a restaurant after the server confirmed with me that it is vegan and once it was brought to my table I realised it had ice cream. My efforts to explain to the server how it wasn’t vegan were futile because she thought vegan meant that one doesn’t take meat,” advised Kyalo.
This is a challenge that Janette can relate with. “When I moved back home, I found myself always having to explain to servers at restaurants what being vegan means because they would sometimes serve food with cream, milk or eggs and I couldn’t take it,” highlights Janette.
“A good surprise was that whenever I found myself having to talk to a chef, to figure out what meal they can make for me, they were always eager and excited to make something vegan for me,” she adds.
Janette also advises new vegans or those planning to go vegan to explore different spices from different cuisines to enhance the taste of the vegan dishes they make. “You should see my pantry! I have collected spices from all over the world throughout my travels,” she shares.
“A challenge I faced was that I didn’t want to replace meat with carbs that do not add much nutritional value. Some ingredients that I can't miss in my kitchen are spinach, eggplant, mushrooms, garlic, onions and tomatoes,” highlighted Soni.
For Isaac, he realised that he ended up cooking a lot more after going vegan than ever before. “I used to have a cook and I would have weekly meals made for me. But when I went vegan, I felt the need to get more involved in what I ate and I decided to cook for myself and social media helped me find people who live the same lifestyle and share their daily meals on their platforms. I make a smoothie every day so ingredients such as moringa, chia seeds, almond or coconut milk, spirulina, are must-have ingredients for my smoothies. Other items I constantly have in my kitchen are mushrooms, lentils, chickpeas, brown rice, broccoli, cumin seeds, coriander among others,” he mentions.
“Going vegan is not necessarily expensive. I mean you can choose to add fruits such as berries (blueberries, raspberries) which are generally expensive but these are fruits you can do without. Items such as mushrooms are also expensive but you can also have beans, greens, and other grains which are more affordable and still retain your vegan diet,” highlights Janette.
If you have been contemplating going vegan, Kyalo advises you give it a try first. “Try for three days and see how that goes, then go a week, two weeks a month and like that, you will slowly get the hang of it,” he advises. He adds that research will also help you to know why you want to do it and how to do it right.