Get all the nutrients and enjoy your food while experimenting with a plant-based diet.
Over 582,000 people took part in Veganuary in 2021 – more than ever before and a huge 44% increase from 2020. A huge 85% of participants said that they permanently changed their diet by either staying vegan or at least halving their intake of animal products after the 31-day challenge was up.
Giving up the food you love is a big ask, but the Veganuary challenge is popular for a reason. According to the official campaign, 46% of people signed up to the challenge to stop animals suffering, another 22% for health reasons, and 21% wanted to protect the environment. Other reasons included wanting a challenge or change and to support a friend or family member.
If you’re wanting to join those hundreds of thousands of people for 2021, go you. However, as with the removal of any food group from your diet, going vegan requires some thought so that you stay healthy and dedicated.
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How to go vegan
First of all, go slowly. “It’s a good idea to take the transition to a vegan diet step by step prior to Veganuary,” says Heather Russell, dietitian for The Vegan Society. “This will give your gut time to adjust to the likely increase in beneficial fibre. You could try eating vegan breakfasts for a week, then add vegan lunches in the second week, and so on.”
If you can’t start your transition now, remember that you don’t have to go in hard for your first month, says plant-based nutritionist Amaeze Madukah. Instead, January could be the time you use to just explore vegan options, as “so many people are talking about it and sharing knowledge it makes it easier to find the information you need”.
“If somebody doesn’t want to jump straight into it that’s absolutely fine. They can go slowly and use the month to increase their plant-based meals,” Madukah adds.
Speaking of which, it’s important that you get the prep for your new way of eating done right. “Setting aside a bit of time for nutritional planning will help you to get the most out of Veganuary and all that a vegan diet has to offer,” says Russell. “At The Vegan Society, we say that a smooth transition to a vegan diet is all about making smart swaps, replacing animal products with alternative sources of nutrition. For example, if you switch from milk and yoghurt to fortified alternatives, you won’t be missing out on calcium.”
And stocking up on all of these vegan foods is the first step, because who wants to be hungry with cupboards full of foods they can’t eat? “Beans and pulses are a simple place to start. You can replace your usual protein source in a meal with chickpeas or lentils,” says Madukah.
“Also look at increasing your vegetable intake, because you want to make sure that you’re getting all the nutrients in. That doesn’t mean buying loads and loads of fresh produce. Frozen vegetables are just as good or sometimes even more nutritious than fresh vegetables. Don’t feel afraid to opt for frozen spinach or berries, for example, in your meals.”
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While on your shopping trip, don’t be afraid to explore. Most supermarkets stock vegan meat alternatives, so if you think you’ll struggle without the flavour or texture of your favourite food then add these in to your diet. “They can be a great replacement for specific flavour or taste,” agrees Madukah, but she says we shouldn’t eat them for every meal of the month due to the fact that they tend to be highly processed and often contain a lot of salt and oil. “Instead of specific meat alternatives, try something like tofu or tempeh which you can marinade in the same style as meat,” she suggests.
Supplements for vegans
There are certain nutrients you might want to pay close attention to while you get the hang of your new diet. These include but are not limited to:
B12: Vitamin B is not found in any plant sources naturally, but you can find it in fortified milk and cereals. However, the general consensus is that vegans should supplement with around 3mg a day, says Madukah. If you’re after a cheesy flavour, you can also try sprinkling nutritional yeast flakes with B12 on everything from soups to salads.
Protein: Despite what you may have heard, “vegans generally do not have a protein deficiency,” says Madukah. However, it’s still important to get good protein sources in your diet. Top up on nuts, seeds, grains, beans and legumes with every meal.
Omega-3: While omegas are associated with fish, you can get enough in from a vegan diet with conscious and careful planning. Walnuts and flaxseeds are great sources of omega-3s to get in your diet.
Vitamin D: “This isn’t just a vegan problem – most people in the UK lack vitamin D,” says Madukah. Supplementation is advised for all, particularly in the winter months, by the NHS.
Selenium: Another essential mineral that is usually found in fish and eggs, selenium can still be found in decent amounts on a vegan diet. In fact, “two Brazil nuts a day are enough to meet your daily need for selenium,” says Madukah.
Iron: Iron is found in lentils, chickpeas and green leafy vegetables, but “make sure that you’re eating them with a source of vitamin C, because that helps with the iron absorption,” says Madukah.
If you are worried about any deficiencies, speak with your GP, a registered nutritionist or dietician who can help you.
How to stick with veganism
If you are struggling through your vegan journey, it’s totally OK to step back and reevaluate your diet, particularly if you are feeling any negative health implications such as fatigue, low mood or food obsession. But if it’s just the thought of a juicy burger that’s making you weak at the knees, here’s how to stay on track.
Find your favourite meals: “Before you even start, find your favourite meals that you can come back to,” says Madukah. There are so many amazing recipes out there that range from gourmet to comforting, so if you start to get cravings, you can go back to something delicious.
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Eat more than vegetables: It may be a stereotype that all vegans eat is vegetables, but the truth is that it can be tempting to just eat your usual diet minus the eggs and meat. The problem with that is that you’ll never be satisfied if you just remove things from your plate. Make sure your meals have a mix of all the macronutrients (protein, such as tofu; fat, such as avocado; and carbs, such as quinoa) and you’re hitting your vitamin and mineral intake. Not only will it help your plate taste better, but you’ll feel better for it too.
Remember your why: “Understand why you actually want to go vegan,” says Madukah. “If it’s simply because you want a challenge, that’s fine. But going back to your reason will help you stick with it,” she says.
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