Veganuary was the brain child of Matthew Glover and Jane Land and began in 2014 to encourage people to try a vegan diet and hopefully convert long-term www.veganuary.com. Their message is that switching to a plant-based diet will protect the environment, prevent animal suffering, and improve your health.
Sounds peachy (sorry couldn’t resist!)!
Ultimately, even if your aim is not to save the world or prevent animal cruelty, the health benefits may be enough to persuade you to give this diet a try. However,not all of us are in love with veggies and tofu, or don’t relish alienating your family by a flatulent bean belly so the benefits need to be worth the struggle, even for only a 1 month trial.
So what do the experts tell us? The research suggests that plant-based diets are safe, low-risk dietary changes that contain less saturated fat, cholesterol and are higher in fibre.
Consuming a vegan diet may have a positive impact on risk factors for disease as those following these diets tend to have lower serum cholesterol, blood pressure, tend to be at a lower body mass index and have healthier HbA1c levels, which indicates blood sugar control (Craig, 2009).
In addition, a vegan diet is thought to reduce your risk of all-cause mortality and chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease (Kim Hyunju et al., 2019),type 2diabetes (McMacken and Shah, 2017), hypertension and obesity (Tuso et al., 2013).
This eating regime may even reduce the number of medications needed to treat existing chronic diseases.
These are strong motivators to give veganism a go. However, you are bound to have reservations and rightly so!
Here are a few questions you may have, with some guidance:
1, VEGAN FOOD WILL NEVER FILL ME UP, I’LL BE HUNGRY!
Researchers analysed gut hormones responsible for making us feel full up and participant’s feeling of fullness and satisfaction after a plant-based meal compared to a processed meat or cheese meal (all meals had the same calorie content) AND….. they found increased fullness hormones and more satisfaction following the vegan meal, so the vegan diet was MORE filling! (Klementova et al., 2019).
Satisfaction of a meal is often based on our preconceptions, which means we make our mind up whether a meal will fill us up or not just by looking at it.
Our tip when trying a vegan diet practice mindful eating, being in the moment and savouring the food you eat. To do this takes time, it will slow down your food intake and allow your brain to catch up with those fullness hormones so you end a meal feeling satisfied and full. See this article from Harvard Health Publishing to find out more https://www.health.harvard.edu/healthbeat/mindful-eating-may-help-with-weight-loss
2 – WILL I BE ABLE TO STICK TO IT?
Any diet is pointless if you can’t stick to it right? Having great intentions doesn’t give you health benefits and removing all animal products from your diet is a daunting overhaul.
However, vegan or vegetarian diets appear to be as easy to maintain as any other dietary change (Turner-McGrievy et al., 2017), researchers report around 60-70% compliance to dietary changes over the period of intervention.
However, those defined as ‘non-adherers’ to the vegan diet, the ones who didn’t fully commit to the changes during their study period,still tended to eat a more plant-based diet 6 months later and had a reduced intake of animal products.
This longer-term shift in dietary focus (although not a devout vegan) still had a positive influence and the non-adherers lost more weight.
This is really promising, to consider that the month of Veganuary abstinence may have long standing health and weightloss benefits.
To improve your chance of sticking to it the key is research and planning.
Make sure you have few good recipes to start with and plan out your meals for the week beforehand so that your grocery shop has all the goodies needed to cater for your plan.
Each week you should trial at least 1 new recipe to extend your repertoire.
3 – DOES A VEGAN DIET HAVE ALL THE NUTRIENTS IN IT FOR A HEALTHY DIET?
Researchers have found that a regular vegan diet can be low in certain vitamins and minerals that are more prominent in meat-based food sources. These are vitamin B12, D, calcium and long-chain omega-3 fatty acids, and in some cases iron and zinc may be low due to limited ability to absorb them from plant sources (Craig, 2009; Karlsen et al., 2019).
Unless vegans regularly consume foods fortified with these nutrients then supplements should be consumed.
This should does not mean you can’t make a vegan diet work for you, it just means you need to think about it harder.
There are a number of things you can do to make sure you’re getting it right:
Monitor your intake on an app (they are usually free) that measures nutrient status for example my fitness pal or Libro.
Use this to see if your vegan diet is meeting the requirements.
Do your research and find out what foods sources are fortified in the key nutrients you may need to increase.
Make sure you make certain to include some of these to meet your needs.
Here are a few websites to get you started –
If all else fails then speak to your dietitian, GP or pharmacist about finding an appropriate nutritional supplement to pick up any shortfall.
Remember, food sourced nutrients are easier to absorb and are the better option.
4 – ARE ALL VEGAN DIETS MUCH HEALTHIER THAN OTHER DIETS?
The simple answer to this is ‘NO!’. Veganism doesn’t guarantee you health or weight loss.
It is a method that may support your health and weight management goals, but as with other diets, food quality is a huge consideration.
A Researcher found that vegan diets were associated with a higher consumption of ‘ultra-processed foods’ (UPF’s), which are foods that have been processed a great deal causing the nutrients to be destroyed and often eliminated during processing.
Examples of vegan UPF’s could be meat substitutes (burgers, sausages, bacon etc…), cheese, ice-cream.
UPF’s are associated with obesity and weight gain (F. Rauber et al., 2020) and therefore there is potential for these products to impact on nutritional quality and healthiness of the diet (Gehring et al., 2021).
The best way to gain the benefits of a healthful vegan diet is to cook from scratch and limit to a few manufactured options into your food selection.
In summary, veganism may not be something you can do on a whim as it requires research,preparation and planning to pull it off.
However, the benefits can be huge AND even if you only stick to it 1 month of the year the health repercussions may continue well beyond this.