This January I committed to the increasingly popular ‘Veganuary’ . My reasons for doing so were varied.
I have previously blogged about moving towards a more plant based diet as a way of managing my RA and I have always had an interest and awareness around the sustainability of our planet. Veganuary felt like a great way of me moving more towards a long term change.
As we approach the last few days of January, I wanted to take some time to reflect on whether this popular Vegan trend is revolutionary or a fad (in my opinion).
Overall I have found the change in my diet easier than expected, in part due to having given up dairy a while back, and I know this can be a big hurdle for people. Many vegetarians I speak to say that dairy is the main reason between them moving from vegetarian to vegan.
Part of the ease came from being organised and setting myself up to succeed. I tend to be a ‘meal prepper’ anyway so applying this really helped. I set out my weekly meal plans in advance and filled the fridge and cupboards with all the ingredients I needed. I have always struggled if I have to buy things on the spur of the moment, I knew this would be even more of challenge if I was looking for vegan options.
One of the many selling points of a vegan/ plant based diet is the health benefits, however to me there is a difference between vegan and plant based, they can be the same thing or they can be very different. There is no doubt that the increasing popularity of veganism has made it easier to ‘go vegan’ with more choice and readily available options in supermarkets, however this can also be a pitfall.
The first few weeks of my vegan journey, I was predominantly plant based. I constructed my meals using fresh ingredients. I made sure I had a balance of fruits, vegetables, plant based protein (beans, pulses, legumes) and unrefined carbohydrates (whole grain rice, sweet potatoes etc). I found that I had more energy, my skin looked healthier and I was sleeping better. I felt good.
However at the start of week three I found myself craving some of the sweet foods I had cut out, not wanting to break my Veganuary , I started to look for vegan alternatives…what I found was all the ways to be an unhealthy vegan. There are vegan alternatives to most things now, from vegan cheese to vegan scampi bites (I know right!?).
Many of these alternatives have additives, processed ingredients and refined sugars or oils. Whilst this helps still with the sustainability issues, I’m not convinced it is a healthy choice.
I also had to carefully look at my nutritional intake, whilst I agree it is possible to get enough protein or iron from a vegan diet, I think it is harder to make sure you get the right nutritional balance and takes planning and an awareness of the nutritional content of foods.
I carefully planned my meals and considered this, ensuring every meal had a plant based source of protein and that I had foods which contained iron (leafy greens etc) and always had these with foods that contained vitamin C (which increases iron absorption).
So my overall conclusion, changing to a vegan diet or predominantly vegan diet isn’t as tricky as people may think, it takes a bit extra organisation and awareness but it is easily doable.
Whilst being vegan will undoubtedly help with sustainability and animal welfare if you are doing it to be healthier then make sure you don’t get caught up in the marketing. Just because something is vegan doesn’t make it healthy, if you currently buy processed prepared foods simply swapping to vegan prepared processed foods is unlikely to improve your healthy dramatically. Instead think about making small changes to your existing diet, increase you fresh foods intake, more fruit, more vegetables, decide to cook from fresh ingredients a few times a week, snack of raw foods, nuts, seeds etc. and if you do pick food up on the go make sure you understand the ingredients.
I have included below some of my favourite meals from Veganuary: