January 1st has marked the start of Veganuary since 2014, when the non-profit of the same name started encouraging people to try a plant-based diet each January. During the 2020 campaign, more than 400,000 people signed up to the Veganuary pledge, while more than 600 brands, restaurants, and supermarkets promoted the campaign, and over 1200 new vegan products and menus launching in the UK alone.
In 2019, a scientific report released by over 100 scientists shared that plant-based diets can help fight climate change, showing that the West’s high consumption of meat and dairy is directly fuelling global warming. Diets high in meat and dairy are on average significantly more warming than diets without red meat, diets with no meat at all, and vegan diets. Food production is responsible for a quarter of all greenhouse gas emissions, contributing to global warming, with meat and other animal products being responsible for more than half of food-related greenhouse gas emissions, despite providing only a fifth of the calories we eat and drink. So for someone looking to reduce their carbon footprint, choosing a more plant-based diet is a great place to start.
Health-wise, vegan diets are richer in many nutrients due to the increased plant matter, and those who choose a plant-based diet (vegetarian or vegan) are less likely to suffer from heart disease. There are lots of other health benefits of veganism too, but also plenty of things to consider, so read on if you’re thinking of going vegan, whether for one month, one year or the rest of your life!
1. Don’t forget supplements
If you’re planning on only being vegan for a month, and already eat a diet heavy in plant-based foods, the chances are you’d be really unlucky to become deficient in anything (unless you already were to start with). However, if you’re looking to become more plant-based over the long-term, it’s important to understand what supplements you need, such as B12, which is recommended for all vegans. Check out this blog post for all the recommended supplements.
2. Consider not doing veganuary….
… But instead moving to a more plant based diet over the course of a few months. It’s not as ‘exciting’ or ‘glamorous’ as a difficult challenge, but it’s my belief that slow change is usually more sustainable and beneficial than immediate change. Unless you ate a diet heavy in plant-matter prior to switching, you may suffer gut issues (thanks to the high-fibre content of most vegan diets), and slowly cutting out various animal products gives you time to reintroduce new foods and meals to your repertoire, reducing the shock to both your body and your culinary skills!
3. It’s not about cutting things out
Many people I know who have struggle with a plant-based diet are those who have seen veganism as a way to cut out half their diet (myself included, when I first tried it aged 15). Cue sluggishness, grumpiness and constant hunger. It’s true that veganism likely isn’t for everyone, but you can avoid the above ailments by introducing, rather than just cutting out, foods. Meat serves as the protein source in many meals, so this must be replaced by a number of other substitutes, such as pulses and/or meat substitutes. There are lots out there, so experiment! Find what works for you, and most of all, make sure you’re eating enough – plants are high in fibre and low in calories, so you’ll likely need to eat more volume to get enough calories from your diet. Don’t let yourself go hungry.
4. Vegan does not necessarily mean healthy
It’s perfectly possible to eat a vegan diet and gain weight. It’s also perfectly possible to eat a vegan diet and end up considerably less healthy than before, because veganism does not equate to health. Nowadays especially, it’s so easy to get confectionary and desserts that are vegan – and despite the fact that they’re vegan, a cake is still a cake. As with any diet, becoming plant-based requires thought, planning and attention to nutrient density of foods. By all means eat the cake, just don’t fool yourself into believing it’s healthy just because it’s vegan.
5. Soy won’t give you moobs/breast cancer
Another concern about turning vegan is that 50% of your diet will be soy, and soy gives you breast cancer. Except it won’t, and it doesn’t. Soy is a common ingredient in a lot of meat substitutes, plant-based milk and foods such as tofu and tempeh. However, it’s not as prevalent in most vegan diets as you might think, and has no link to breast cancer or ‘feminising’ effects on men. There is a lot to be said for varying your diet and mixing up your sources of protein, but in terms of health, soy is a complete protein, low in fat, relatively cheap and pretty damn good for you. Unless you’re allergic, you don’t need to avoid it.
The other concern about soy is that it leads to deforestation. While this is true of some soy products (deforestation linked to soy products is responsible for 29% of Brazil’s GHG emissions), it is worth remembering that around 75% of global soy production is actually fed to livestock – in far greater quantities than we consume it. If you want to reduce your contribution to soy deforestation, ironically going vegan could be a pretty effective way to do so. And, of course, vary up your protein sources so you’re not eating it for every meal.
6. Being vegan does not make you the perfect environmentalist
On average, the emissions released by a vegan diet are considerably less than those from an omnivorous diet or vegetarian diet. This is because almost all animal products result in greater emissions than almost all plant-based products, no matter where they’re from. However, some products, namely coffee, chocolate and beer, have differing impacts relating to how they’re farmed (e.g. is the cocoa and coffee grown on deforested land?). In addition, foods such as almonds and avocados are particularly water intensive, contributing to drought in the areas they are grown. However, neither avocados nor almonds are a direct substitute for meat, and vegans and meat-eaters alike are both likely to eat all of the above products – so this isn’t just a vegan issue.
Even environmentally questionable products such as almond milk fare better environmentally when compared to cows milk, so if being eco-friendly is high on your agenda, you’re still better off moving to a more plant-based diet, whilst keeping in mind that not all vegan products are necessarily good for the environment. Bear in mind that eating local and seasonal has numerous benefits and that while very beneficial, going vegan does not magically make you the perfect environmentalist.
On this note, your environmentalism should not end at changing your diet. Veganism has been co-opted as an extremely white movement, but plant-based diets have existed for centuries in other communities, long before making it to the white mainstream. Don’t let your vegan morals end at Joe and the Juice juices and quinoa – follow BIPOC creators and educators on Instagram and understand how the vegan movement currently benefits white people, often at the expense of its historical originators.
7. Consider why
Going plant-based is a great thing to do for so many reasons, but for some people, it can be exactly the wrong thing to do. For example, if you struggle with restrictive behaviours when it comes to eating, suddenly switching to a vegan diet can be triggering and lead to unhealthy behaviours. If you’re concerned, speak to a dietician before trying anything new. As mentioned above, eating a vegan diet shouldn’t be about restriction – it should be about expanding your diet to incorporate a whole range of delicious plant-based foods.
8. Look at other areas of your life
Scientists have said that going vegan is the single biggest thing an individual can do to reduce their environmental footprint. However, there are numerous other ways you can also benefit the environment, from consuming fewer goods overall (e.g. not buying new clothes every week), flying considerably less and moving to an ethical bank. Going plant-based was my ‘gateway drug’ to considering my other actions and their impact – and I’m still learning new things every day! Check out my vlog on some of the best ways to reduce your overall environmental impact.
9. You won’t get weak and weedy
One of the biggest concerns about veganism (at least among the fitness community) is that it doesn’t allow for ‘gains’ and fitness progress. This couldn’t be further from the truth – a vegan diet can certainly be sufficient and even beneficial for athletes – but it is something that you should consider when making the switch. When I turned plant-based I expected either massive gains at the gym or to lose all my strength and endurance over time. In reality, not much changed at all, and the diet provided enough of everything to take me through 2 boxing fights, a marathon, 2 ultra marathons and all my workouts in between. So long as you eat enough calories, ensure you eat a wide variety of foods and supplement what’s lacking, you may see fitness benefits, or at worst, just stay the same as you were before.
10. Remember, everyone takes their time
Once you’ve made the huge step to becoming plant-based, it can be frustrating to watch others choose not to do the same. When you’ve educated yourself on the myriad benefits and made the effort to switch, it’s easy to get up on your high-horse and judge others who haven’t done the same. Getting angry at people, however, rarely leads to positive, long-lasting change – think back to the number of times someone suggested that you try vegetarianism or veganism. It’s likely you didn’t suddenly change your way of life and immediately turn vegan, so why would you expect the same from someone else? People have their own reasons for living the way they do, and trying to force someone into your way of thinking can have the reverse effect you want it to. By all means educate if someone enquires, but I find living my best life and leading by example is enough.
I feel great eating a plant-based diet. I love it for so many reasons, but that’s because I’ve planned it, researched extensively, listened to my body and learnt over the years. It’s undoubtedly the right thing for me. I’m still learning everyday and wouldn’t dream of considering the way I do things the ‘best way possible’; everyone is unique, everyone moves at their own pace and what works for you won’t necessarily work for someone else.
Good luck with your Veganuary or the start of your plant-based way of living! I’d love to hear if you found this useful and if you have any pieces of advice of your own! Comment below and don’t forget to share this on Instagram! If you enjoyed this article, please consider making a small contribution to the running of my blog.