Veganuary

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The basics of plant-based eating to get you through Veganuary

The basics of plant-based eating to get you through Veganuary

Veganuary is a charity campaign encouraging people to try being vegan for January and, if possible, throughout the rest of the year.  Last year (2019) saw the greatest number of people involved in the Veganuary campaign as over 250K from 190 countries embarked on the month-long pledge.

What were the key findings from last year’s Veganuary campaign?

  • For the first time since the campaign began, health became the main driver (46%).
  • 34% of participants stated animal welfare and 12% environmental concerns as drivers for involvement in the campaign.
  • Most participants were women (87%).
  • The majority of participants were aged between 25 and 34 years old (28%).
  • 47% said they plan to remain vegan after Veganuary.
  • 77% said that while not planning to remain vegan after the campaign, they will try vegan again in the future.

How can you make a smooth transition to veganism?

Findings from last years Veganuary campaign showed that 60% found the challenge easier than anticipated.  The rise of vegan food on the high street (including both take-out and restaurant options) as well as the wide range of meat-free alternatives and snacks now available is likely to have helped many people switch to eating plant-based.

Cooking from scratch is always going to be a healthier option and while this may seem daunting it’s not difficult to ‘veganise’ many of your favourite home-cooked meals using these alternatives.

Seek out your preferred dairy alternative

Oat and soya milk have a richness which is similar to cow’s milk while those made from nuts, seeds and rice tend to be waterier.  Each alternative has its own unique flavour and out of all of them, soya has the highest amount of protein which may be an important factor for some people.

What you choose is a matter of personal preference so try all of them to see which one you prefer but always look for fortified varieties to help maintain good intakes of calcium and vitamin B12.

Soya is a good alternative to dairy yoghurt.  Other options include coconut milk and nut varieties including cashew, but they do come with a higher price tag.

Meat alternatives

There are a number of meat alternatives to choose from which include tofu and tempeh (made from soya), seitan (made from wheat gluten) and Quorn.  These foods are all high in protein and also contain a variety of other nutrients including magnesium, iron, zinc and calcium.

These options are available in many forms including mince, pieces and shredded which can be used to replace minced beef, chicken, pork and duck in many common home-cooked dishes.

You can find marinated varieties of tofu which are easier to use for beginners.  Tofu can also be scrambled as a good alternative to egg for breakfast.

Other interesting alternatives include jackfruit, palm hearts and banana blossom which have been used to emulate the look and texture of dishes such as pulled pork, scallops and breaded or battered fish.  While these options make a convincing alternative, they do lack the same protein content.

Fruits and vegetables

It sounds counter-intuitive to talk about fruit and vegetable consumption given the nature of a vegan diet but given only 30% of the population eat five-a-day (1), it’s worth flagging up for those going vegan for January.

This groups of foods are a key source of vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients that help to protect the body from disease.  Including above and beyond five daily servings is important on a vegan diet to glean as many of these nutrients as possible.

Given the availability of vegan processed and ready-made meal options as well as the rise in vegan ‘junk’ food it is easy to exist on this type of diet without eating enough vegetables.

Keep it in mind to always add more vegetables to the dishes you cook.  You can boost your intake with smoothies and dishes such as soups, casseroles, stews and stir-fry’s which can be bulked out with plenty of vegetables.   Varieties such as spinach and peas are really easy to throw into many dishes.

Explore different flavours

The absolute key to great tasting vegan dishes lies in the spices and marinades used to make them. Meat alternatives, beans, pulses and grains can be a little bland so make use of dried spices and spice blends, sauces (e.g. cook-in sauces, soy sauce, sriracha, harissa), fresh herbs, flavoured oils and dried fruit to add flavour.

You can create a strong savoury flavour (umami) by incorporating ingredients such as nutritional yeast, mushrooms (especially dried made into a stock), seaweed, miso paste, tomato puree, sundried tomatoes, soy sauce and nuts into dishes.   Vegetables such as onions, garlic, beetroot, asparagus and tomatoes also help to create umami which is often enhanced when they’re cooked.

Shop-bought dressings are great, but you should explore recipes from cookbooks and on the web for homemade options which are bursting with flavour and include additional ingredients such as tahini, miso, citrus juices, pomegranate molasses and umeboshi paste.

Don’t be put-off by unusual ingredients that seem a bit ‘fancy’ as they are all now widely available  in supermarkets and not too expensive.  Many of these ingredients keep for a while and dressings can be made in bulk and kept in the fridge.

Beans, pulses and lentils

No vegan diet is complete without these highly nutritious ingredients which supply protein, fibre, magnesium, iron, zinc and calcium.

This group of foods are available canned or in ambient packs which is more convenient than soaking overnight and then boiling to cook. They’re really versatile and can be used to make vegan dishes such chilli, curries, soups, stews and salads to bulk them out and increase their nutrient content.  Chickpeas and soya beans make a good snack when roasted with spices.

Grains

All grains are vegan and can be used as a base for many dishes.  These foods are a useful source of protein as well as zinc, magnesium and B vits.  Grains such as rice, barley and spelt as well as pseudo-grains such as quinoa can be used to make salads to which you can add anything to and make in bulk to use across the week. You can also add cooked grains to soups or sprinkle over vegetable salads.

Snacks

Some people may find they need to supplement their diet with snacks across the day if they need to eat more food to meet the demands of their lifestyle.

Easy vegan snacks include dips with pitta or chopped veggies,  dried fruit and nut bars, dairy-free yoghurt (topped with nuts, seeds or dried fruits), rice cakes (topped with nut butter, guacamole or mashed banana), edamame beans, nuts, seeds or roasted chickpeas.  Smoothies and shakes are also good and can be made to be high in protein.

Fortified foods and supplements

There’s no reason why you can’t get everything you need on a vegan diet, but it can be tricky to start with for some people.  Seek out fortified varieties of foods, especially those containing vitamin B12 which is difficult to obtain on a vegan diet.Food should always come first but if you’re worried that your diet may not very well balanced then a basic vegan multivitamin and mineral supplement is a cost-effective way to bridge any gaps.  Young children, particularly fussy eaters and also teenage girls are groups that will probably benefit from a supplement especially when going vegan.

It’s not that difficult to switch to a vegan diet once you know what’s available and how to modify your favourite everyday meals.  Don’t rely solely on ready-prepared vegan dishes and stick to the basic principles of healthy eating (it’s just as easy to eat an unhealthy diet when going vegan).

Try and use Veganuary as an opportunity to explore recipes that use ingredients which may be new to you.  This campaign is also a great opportunity for you to commit to new eating habits that can extend beyond January and help you to improve your overall long-term health.

 

Try this simple one week vegan menu plan to kick start your Veganuary.

 

References

  1. https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/ndns-results-from-years-7-and-8-combined

Is Veganuary really worth the effort?

Is Veganuary really worth the effort?

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. 

 

References 

  1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20622542/
  2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26138004
  3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24636393
  4. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5466938/
  5. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21983060
  6. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26707634
  7. https://www.pnas.org/content/113/15/4146