This post is an update on how I’m managing life as a plant based vegan in Russia and how I’m planning on coping in the winter. I just want to make a mini disclaimer here and say that I’m not an expert in nutrition, and I’m relying on recommendations from sources that I trust (NHS UK, How Not To Die by Doctor Gregor, for example). I’m just giving ideas and suggestions here, I’m not suggesting that this is the only way to live / that this works for everyone.
But first a little history on Russian cuisine: for centuries, Russians have eaten meat and fatty/carb-y foods throughout the winter to keep them going because it gets so so cold (as much as -20 degrees Celsius!). Through all of the famines and civil wars and sieges that the people have had to deal with, it makes sense that their diet always includes a high calorie source of protein and fat (aka meat and dairy) with some kind of carb.
In previous decades, the thought of being vegan in Russia would have been laughable… so very difficult. But fortunately the word is spreading and veganism is on the rise even here in Russia. I’ve actually read accounts of people being raw vegan in Siberia, so if they can do that there, then you can definitely be vegan anywhere. Just sayin’. However, there are definitely less vegan ‘junk food’ products – as in, the more processed stuff. Vegan burgers, sausages, fake cheeses, etc. In my first post about my initial discoveries about being vegan in Russia, I talked about soy milk and yogurt – check that post out by clicking on this link here. There aren’t as many plant milk options either so far as I know… I’ve only managed to find a few in Stockman (the Finnish shop) and Kompas Zdorov’ya and they tend to be more pricey. [edit: after further exploring, I found the aptly named shop Veganika (Веганика) – it’s near Cadovaya metro station and sells cheaper plant milks, massive blocks of tofu, and pretty much anything else you might want as a vegan (ice cream, yogurt, etc. And it’s not too expensive!) check it out when you come to St P.]
This is what I’ve discovered from researching online – and some of it applies to meat eaters too.
Things to focus on:
• Vitamin D. This is crucial for everyone. The days get so dark that you literally don’t really see the sun. It is easy to get deficient in vitamin D and that can lead to a calcium deficiency which is damaging to your bones. It can also lead to other problems like depression etc – Seasonal depression especially. I was recommended this brand of vitamin d drops which I bought in an аптека (apteka – like a chemists. They can be found everywhere). They were just over 200 roubles, so about £1.50ish.
• Vitamin B12. You should probably already be taking this, vegan or not, because there are few reliable natural sources of b12 anymore. B12 is a bacteria that grows in the soil, and when we wash our vegetables/use insecticides etc. this washes it off. B12 is crucial for your nervous system, and becoming deficient can cause serious health consequences. You don’t need to be taking it every day, but once a week is recommended. You can get tablets or a spray fairly cheaply in a health food shop or online. Here in Russia the aptekas would sell it.
• Iron. Spinach, potatoes, beans and lentils are my friends here. Oh, and chocolate of course.
• Vitamin C and A – winter squash and any fruits (especially citrus) that you can get your hands on. The great thing is that winter squash has both of these nutrients and it’s in season in the winter (hence the name). I’ve managed to find little pots and bags of it frozen, but buying fresh usually gets you more bang for your buck (as they say). Fortunately oranges are cheaper than apples at the moment so I’m getting a lot of those in but the prices do change.
• Healthy fats – dark chocolate, tofu, avocado (if you can get it and it’s not too expensive), nuts (almonds, peanuts, walnuts, etc), and seeds (flaxseed, chia, tahini / sesame, etc). Avocado is pretty expensive here, so only rely on this if your budget allows. You can buy tinned olives here fairly cheaply and olive oil is also available. I go to Kompas Zdorov’ya/Veganika for flaxseed butter (yes it’s a thing) and peanut butter / tahini. I also buy olives fairly cheaply from supermarkets. Your body will turn to fat to burn for fuel to keep warm so make sure you stay stocked up on these!
• Carbs – where possible go for whole grain – so oats, rice, pasta, buckwheat (it’s really cheap here), potatoes (if you can get sweet ones every once in a while for the extra beta carotene and vitamins, but ty are pretty expensive, sadly). Rye bread is cheap too and nutritious, Russians eat this at breakfast lunch and tea most days! It’s a staple here and definitely worth a try to make the most of being in Russia. Likewise with the buckwheat. You can also get some vareniki (dumplings) which are stuffed with potato, beans, spinach or pumpkin which are vegan friendly, just make sure you check the ingredients/apply the benefit of the doubt rule (read my last post to find out more about that).
• Colourful and green veggies – peppers, beetroots, spinach, kale (if you like it – I personally don’t!), cabbage (especially red cabbage which has a great nutritional profile). Winter squash again fits in this category. I find that frozen spinach from Stockman is cheaper. Also frozen broccoli. And look for sales (скидка / скидки). Vegetables tend to go up in price or disappear from the shops at this time of year so you might have to budget to pay a bit more for them if you can’t find anything cheap.
• Fruit – yes, even in winter you can get some fruits! Bananas are usually available year round, and although they will be imported and aren’t local, they are better than nothing and are great for stuff like potassium etc. In Russia cranberries are pretty cheap because they can grow in colder climates, and they pack a serious nutritional punch. I get them frozen to add to my porridge (oatmeal) in the mornings but also because they are cheaper this way.
• Dried fruit. Dates, dried apricots, prunes, raisins, etc. are widely available here too.