I Went Soy and Palm Oil Free for a Week, Here's What Happened
Palm oil is something I’ve always wanted to cut out of my diet. I know the negative impacts it has on the world and I know it’s in so many things, but as a soy free vegan (where life is difficult as it is) I never thought it was really plausible for me. Anytime I say that I’m a vegan who is also allergic to soy, I get the inevitable, “What do you even eat?!” so adding no palm oil to that list just seemed a ridiculous task.
I decided to take on the challenge because I wanted to see if it was actually possible. I am a vegan for environmental reasons, amongst others, and so I want to try and be more conscious for the environment by cutting out palm oil too. For one week, I’m going to try going totally palm oil free and see just how possible it is to avoid it as a soy free vegan. It’s going to be an interesting one!
I started off my week by food shopping. I had a general plan for what I wanted to eat but no idea what actually had palm oil in it, so I did have to be flexible. And while I’m used to checking every food item’s ingredients, I’m not used to checking for things that aren’t allergens listed in bold. It’s an exercise in reading and I’m sure I accidentally bought something that probably does have palm oil, but I’ll make sure to double check everything before eating.
Editor's Note: Izzy resides in England, where unfortunately being palm oil free is a lot trickier than it is in the U.S.
👀 *Ingredients to look for 👀
palm oil, vegetable oil, vitamin A palmitate
There were a few things I struggled with: the puff pastry I use to make my vegan “sausage rolls” contains palm oil and I’m not sure I’m capable of making it from scratch. I couldn’t find a single vegan stock without palm oil. Also, cake mix was all full of palm oil, but that I’m sure I can make from scratch — I just have to try and be a little less lazy for the week. ;)
Day 1 - Monday
Toast with butter. This was a challenge because I didn’t read my butter properly and, you guessed it, it has palm oil in it. I went to the supermarket later and I could not find a single soy free vegan butter without palm oil. Oh dear, I failed at the first hurdle.
Hummus and salad sandwich. I got this at the deli counter at uni during lunch rush so I didn’t get a chance to ask about palm oil, but from my experience at the supermarket I’m pretty sure the bread, hummus, and veg are safe.
Vegan carbonara. An amazingly quick alternative to what used to be one of my favorite foods
I served this to a non-vegan friend of mine and he loved it — win! But today I do feel like I failed and it’s only the first day. Let’s hope the rest of the week goes slightly better.
Day 2 - Tuesday
Avocado on Toast. This time, I left out the butter and I have to say I did miss it — but avocado on toast is always a good start to the day.
Chips and beans. These I bought at the canteen in uni. I didn’t realize that I would have to go all the way onto campus today to sign up for one of my classes this year and hadn’t prepared food. So, no guarantee whether this meal was palm oil free.
Tomato pasta and cheese. I really wanted some proper instant food and so was going to eat my lovely vegan instant noodles before double checking the packet and realizing it had palm oil. I was a little bit disappointed and also wasn’t prepared to make food that took more than about ten minutes, so went with pasta and Dolmio’s stir-in sun dried tomato sauce. I added some spinach to the pasta as it was cooking to make it a little healthier and finished it off with Violife cream cheese. It turned out pretty delicious.
Day two wasn’t the healthiest or the best prepared for, I will admit. I think the main challenge of eating palm oil free is having to prepare food for every meal which, as a student with a schedule that changes a lot, is something I’m finding difficult.
Day 3 – Wednesday
Carbonara toasted sandwich. Probably a strange breakfast, but it was actually delicious. I heated up my leftover carbonara and put it between two pieces of toast, which was pretty glorious.
Nando’s beanie wrap with peri peri chips. I said I was going to go home and make food, but I caved. My day was stressful and I was weak to the idea of Nando’s. I later looked up the palm oil information for Nando’s since I really wasn’t sure about their stance. In 2015, they said they were committed to working towards a future using sustainable palm oil, but there has been no information since then. I didn’t do very well on this one.
Snacks. Wasn’t really hungry after pigging out at Nando’s earlier in the day, so had a dinner consisting of crisps, some fruit, and chocolate.
Today I was weak again. Wow, this challenge it showing how fragile my will power is, and apparently I really love convenience food. I aim to try harder for the rest of the week.
Day 4 - Thursday
Granola with fruit. After my issue with finding vegan free butter, I wanted to try and use as little as possible and so switched from toast to granola. I topped it with blueberries, strawberries, and bananas.
Veggie Burger and onion rings. For this lunch I wanted some comfort food so went into my freezer and made myself a veggie burger and some onion rings. These items are both ASDA’s own brand, which are handily super cheap and vegan and palm oil free.
Sweet Chili Stir Fry. I love stir fry! It’s a super quick and easy meal and you can pretty much customize it however you want. I’ve put my recipe below, but you can use whatever vegetables you want to make it to your taste.
Day four and it’s the first day I manage to eat all my meals knowing there’s no palm oil content! Things are looking up in that respect. But I did discover that pretty much all of my university campus shop’s range of vegan sausage rolls, calzones, pies, etc that I eat most days I’m in uni all has palm oil. Plus, my university doesn’t have much else in the range of vegan sandwiches or convenience food apart from a few wraps which aren’t always in stock. This just got more difficult.
Friday - Day 5
Granola with fruit.
Sweet potato and swede mash with Quorn chicken nuggets. I was fully feeling comfort food today and so made myself a hearty lush of mash and chicken nuggets. Quorn’s vegan range is great for me as a soy free vegan when I feel like having some artificial meat. Their palm oil policy is not perfect, but for most of their products they avoid it and where they “have to” use palm oil they claim to use only "sustainable" palm oil. The vegan nuggets do not contain palm oil.
Note: A swede is a rutabaga :)
Leftover mash with sweetcorn, broccoli, and peas. I was still wanting more of my mash at dinner so I boiled some veg and mixed it in.
Another day that was definitely palm oil free. I’m getting better at this, though I am finding having to prepare every single meal I eat a little difficult. I’m going to have to get better at preparing food in advance and making food to freeze if I’m to keep at this long term.
Saturday - Day 6
Granola and fruit. I feel a bit boring having the same breakfast over and over, but I really am loving granola at the moment.
Homemade sushi and onigiri. I’d been craving sushi all week, and as my local supermarket didn’t have all of the ingredients to make it, I waited until I had a free day to go into town to a Chinese supermarket and buy all of my ingredients. I bought a little pack of onigiri mix full of seaweed, spring rolls, and sesame seeds along with my ingredients for sushi and it worked perfectly for my onigiri. But I’m sure you can make your own version of this if you wish.
Onion Rings, falafel bites, and chips. I was at a blogger event this evening and as I had a lot of sushi pretty late in the day, I thought I would be fine not to eat that evening — at least until I got home. But I was given a meal token at the event and I find it really hard to turn down free food. All of it was wonderfully vegan, but I have no idea about the palm oil content as I felt like a nuisance checking the allergy menu first for if the is food vegan, then for is it soy free, and finally then asking about palm oil. The guy at the bar really didn’t seem like he’d know if they used palm oil, so I didn’t bother asking. My bad.
Overall, day six went well apart from the free food I just couldn’t turn down, but nobody’s perfect, right? I was really proud of my sushi as it’s the first time I’ve tried to make sushi rolls on my own. I made them with my mum when I was younger and that went disastrously wrong. Tomorrow is the last day of this challenge and I’m feeling ok about it.
Sunday - Day 7
A hummus, sun dried tomato, and cheese toastie. I woke up way too late to eat breakfast and so settled on what I have to say is one of the best toasties I have ever eaten — I may have actually had two. I used Violife’s block cheese for this toastie and it melted really well.
Leftover sushi. Sunday I was having a magically lazy day after a hectic week and so I just ate my leftover sushi from Saturday for dinner. It was still amazing the day after.
I did it! Sort of. I learnt a lot in my week of being a palm oil free, soy-free vegan. I found that I have a lot less self control than I thought I did, I learnt how to make sushi and onigiri from scratch, and I discovered that I’m not as good at reading labels as I thought I was after a lifetime of reading for allergens.
Going forward, I think that I will definitely be on the lookout for palm oil free alternatives to things where I can find them, and will be checking foods for palm oil where I didn’t used to. However, I don’t think that a 100% palm oil free diet is quite for me right now. First of all, for some products, I couldn’t seem to find any palm oil free alternatives that were in shops local to me. And secondly, as a student, I love instant and easy food, and though I’m a little bit ashamed to say, I’m not prepared to give it up just yet. But I will be a lot more aware of foods in terms of palm oil and try to be more conscious about my consumption of it. One thing is for sure though: going palm oil free as a vegan who can’t have soy is definitely difficult, but not impossible.