It’s been touted as the biggest health trend ever to grace this planet. A-list celebs including Ellen DeGeneres, Beyoncé, and Madonna swear by the vegan diet. Throwback to 2016 and even Meghan Markle revealed to Best Health that she eats “vegan during the week”… who knows, maybe she’ll convert the Queen.

To add to this sensation, hatted restaurants have completely said sayonara to meat and dairy, replacing them with new and improved vegan menus. World Vegan Day is even a thing you guys, and let’s be real here – is a café even a café if they don’t have almond milk?

But beyond the pretty grams of vegan pancakes and cauliflower pizzas that swamp your Instagram feed, turning vegan is much more than just getting on board the hottest health trend of the moment. For some, it’s for ethical reasons, but for others, it’s an essential step to improving their health – and for former Olympic swimming champion Steph Rice, hopping on board the vegan bus was the best thing she’s ever done for her health.

“I remember seeing a number of girls on YouTube who were eating vegan and plant-based, and they had so much more of an abundant mindset towards food and they ate to feel satisfied,” the 30-year-old tells myBody+Soul.

“Inevitably it healed a lot of diet issues and sensitives, but the biggest difference I’ve noticed is the strength of my immune system now.”

After purely “eating for fuel” back in her swimming days, she found once she cut out “meat, chicken and everything else,” her energy levels sky-rocketed like never before.

“I rarely ever, ever get sick, whereas when I was swimming my body was so exhausted and constantly on the edge that the slightest thing would set me off. It’s so good to have so much strength back into my immune system.”

But wait, don’t vegans normally have less energy because it’s more likely they’re deficient in vital nutrients like iron?

Rice points out that it’s simple to meet all your dietary needs on a plant-based diet, and in fact has “never had any issues” herself.

“I know some people can have deficiencies, but I think I eat such a variety of foods, and there are so many nutrients in vegetables – way more than there is in meat and dairy – that you’re getting enough if you’re eating healthy foods.”

The self-confessed spinach-lover also tries to avoid supplements.

“I try not to take any vitamins or supplements because I’ve taken so many before throughout my swimming career that I don’t want to.”

Instead, if she’s feeling a little low, she’ll add some extra superfoods and green powder into her brekkie smoothie.

The improvements she noticed to her health once she became a vegan were so significant that she’s now partnered with Vegie Delights to show people how simple it is to adopt vegan principles into their diet.

“Reducing your meat intake shouldn’t be overwhelming or require you to become a vegan overnight.”

The Vegie Delights ambassador wants you to ditch the misconception that in order to be a vegan, you need to deprive yourself.

“You’ll notice on my Instagram I classify myself as a 98 per cent vegan because that was one of the issues I had around the whole vegan community messages – it’s very strict.

“There’s a never-ending road – you could eat fully vegan and people are like ‘but your bag is made of leather’ – so where does it stop and how far does it go? I don’t ever want to feel like I’m depriving myself.”

The motivational speaker explains her ’98 per cent’ approach means she’s allowed to have that piece of fish when she feels like it, and can still enjoy that piece of non-vegan cake at celebrations.

Why? Because life’s all about balance, and maintaining a healthy and happy relationship with food that makes you happy inside and out.

Steph Rice has launched a free e-cook book with Vegie Delights, packed with healthy and delicious recipes, which you can download from here. You can also follow Steph Rice on Instagram @itsstephrice.

For more from the swimming champion herself, this is why she hates meal-prepping, plus this is how she boosts her energy levels when she’s tired.

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