Veganuary is very cleverly positioned at the start of the New Year which is a time when many people are highly motivated to eat a little better and exercise more.
Veganism is the pinnacle of plant-based eating and often viewed as being superiorly healthy, but is Veganuary really going to make a difference to your health or is it just a flash in the pan?
What are the health benefits of veganism
Meat-free diets have been shown to benefit key areas of health and reduce the risk of diet related diseases.
Studies have shown that people who follow a meat-free diet have a lower risk of obesity (1), heart disease (2), high blood pressure (3), type 2 diabetes (4) and digestive disorders such as constipation (5) – although lifestyle plays a key role here and this doesn’t mean following a vegan diet will prevent you from developing these conditions.
How does a typical vegan diet differ to that of omnivores?
It has been shown that vegans are more likely to exceed the daily recommended fruit and vegetable intake. Eating more of these foods means gleaning a greater quantity of micronutrients and antioxidants such as the carotenoids found in orange and dark green vegetables (6).
Veganuary can educate about plant-based eating
Adopting veganism for January is a great way for people to learn more about plant-based eating. One of the key lessons is learning how to adapt simple everyday dishes such as curries, chilli and spaghetti Bolognese by switching meat for foods such as tofu, beans, pulses or vegan Quorn.
Given the vast range of alternative foods now on the market it has become easier than ever to go completely plant based and Veganuary is a good opportunity to showcase this.
Should we limit our meat intake?
Many people eat meat on a daily basis and in some cases at every mealtime. I’m not a vegan but my personal opinion about meat is that we should eat less and choose the very best quality affordable rather than filling our shopping trolley full of cheap over farmed animal products.
Focus on environment as well as nutrition
There are many different foods you can eat in place of meat that supply similar nutrients including protein, iron and zinc. For me, the focus regarding meat should be placed on the environmental issues over nutrition.
Findings from a study carried out by Oxford University suggested that if the world went vegan it could save 8 million human lives by 2050, reduce greenhouse gas emissions by two thirds and lead to healthcare-related savings and avoided climate damages of $1.5 trillion (7).
Despite these impressive stats there are still other issues that vegans need to be conscious of that can impact on the environment.
Eating with the seasons is important to cut back on food miles. The supermarket fruit and veg aisles tend to be suspended in a constant summer season but in order to have access to these foods they must be flown in from around the world. The demand for these foods has also had a huge impact on the landscape of certain countries which are now dominated by the poly tunnels required to grow them.
Eating with the seasons is a challenge and does require some skills in the kitchen, especially in the winter months when it’s mostly root vegetables on the menu.
Cattle farming uses vast quantities of water but this doesn’t mean that plant-foods are necessarily any better. Certain plant foods such as nuts and soy still use huge amounts of water.
Crops such as maize, soy and grains can also have a damaging effect on the biodiversity of land and quality of soil by way of pesticide and fertilisers.
You can’t cut out foreign food imports completely as this would have a huge impact on the farmers in countries that rely on selling their goods to the UK. Simply being more conscious about your foods choices to achieve a balance is the best approach.
What do I think about Veganuary?
You don’t need to go vegan to be healthy but eating less meat is undoubtably a good thing. While going vegan for one month may not have an immediate impact on your health or global environmental issues it does help enlighten people to the plant-based way of eating.
If engaging in the Veganuary campaign led to some people adopting this way of eating permanently or others simply committing to Meat Free Monday, then long term the impact on health and environment would be significant.
In short, I’m a fan. Veganuary is a brilliant campaign that raises awareness of the many current issues surrounding the way we eat while also educating people on how include more plants in their diet.