Veganuary: worth the hype or big mis-steak?

Written by Lifestyle

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, there’s no doubt that you will have been at least peripherally aware of the ever-growing movement that is Veganuary.

Starting back in 2014, its popularity has increased year on year, with a record 400,000 people committing to the challenge in 2020. But does the end of January have to mean the end of plant-based eating?

From breakfast TV and online influencers to radio features and big food retailers, veganism has become the hot topic on everyone’s tongue.

As a vegetarian who eats plant-based quite a lot of the time, my main reason for trying Veganuary this year was to cut down on dairy. Over Christmas I found that eating dairy didn’t make me feel great, so I thought Veganuary would be the ideal time for a dairy-free experiment…despite having to put on hold the pile of chocolate I had accumulated over Christmas!

Myth vs reality

The word vegan undeniably has a lot of negative connotations. Extreme activism, restriction and fear of undernourishment understandably make people run a mile before giving it a chance. The assumptions that vegans only eat lettuce, buy mega expensive health foods and lack protein aren’t exactly great for the cause. So here are the things I’ve learnt this month that prove the above assumptions are just not true! (Mostly).

‘Vegans only eat lettuce’

The classic. Despite already knowing the lettuce myth is far from the truth, something that came as a surprise to me was the huge choice of plant-based alternatives at the supermarket. Who knew you could buy vegan fishcakes, blocks of Greek feta and hoisin duck wraps? Plant-based eating is undoubtedly finding its way into the mainstream, with ‘no chicken burgers’, southern fried tofu bites (just like breaded chicken) and ‘chorizo’ sausages all proving that being vegan doesn’t mean having to miss out on delicious food. And its’s not just foods targeted at the vegan market…Oreos, bourbons and ketchup are all accidentally vegan. 

Where do you get your protein?’

The question of protein is such a common one faced by vegans. It may seem that without meaty steaks, roast chicken dinners and protein-packed omelettes that it could be an area where vegans are lacking. Not true!

My diet consists largely of chickpeas, lentils & a variety of other beans and pulses as well as tofu, sausages, burgers, nuts, seeds and a range of veg, all of which are great protein sources.

This month my favourite snack has undoubtedly been apple & dates with peanut butter…I never used to be a fan of dates but their caramel-like texture dipped in smooth peanut butter makes for a deliciously satisfying snack.

‘Being vegan is expensive’

Much like any diet, whether veganism is expensive depends a lot on what you buy. Things like beans and vegetables are super affordable but some of the alternatives can be pricey (£.2.70 for a block of vegan feta??). But, by saving on the cost of meat, there’s opportunity to make a few fancy purchases. I even treated myself to the vegan cookie dough ice cream which I can’t wait to try! 

Image: Instagram @PatrickBiller

Vegan gems to try:

  • Vegan pizza at Avanti in Jesmond
  • Chocolate blood orange tart & raspberry sorbet at ASK Italian
  • If you’re ever in York (only one hour on train) go to Once Across the Garden – from hot dogs and burgers to fish & chips…EVERYTHING on their menu is vegan.

The effects

  • Clearer skin (this month I’ve also tried to drink more water so this one could be a combination of both)
  • Weirdly I’ve felt cold, especially my hands and feet. After some research I discovered this can be an effect of too little iron/B12 so this is something to be aware of (bring on the leafy greens & Marmite!)
  • Snacking more often – more grazing this month makes sense as plant-based foods are naturally lower in calories…but I’m not complaining!  

Overall Veganuary has been a positive experience, but I realise it could be totally different for someone used to eating a lot of meat. 

I think being flexible and not putting any pressure on myself is the key to being happy and healthy.

Over the last 3 or 4 years I’ve gradually gone from pescatarian to veggie to a weird mix of veggie/vegan that’s difficult to label. But that doesn’t mean I’ll never eat fish or dairy again. I think being flexible and not putting any pressure on myself is the key to being happy and healthy. Choosing foods that make us feel good and accepting other people’s choices is the first step in the right direction.

If veganism feels like a step too far for you, here are a few (chicken-free) nuggets of wisdom:

  • Save red meat for special occasions 
  • Consider trying meat-free Mondays or going for veggie alternatives (the Linda McCartney range is a winner)
  • Buy food locally to cut your carbon footprint 
  • Go for free-range options 

Being healthy doesn’t have to mean cutting out meat straight away, simply increasing your veggie intake will help. Humans aren’t carnivores and all of us need plants for a healthy diet. 

As long as you’re well-informed, getting the right nutrients and doing it for the right reasons, making the switch to a plant-based diet is easier now than it ever has been.

Maybe, veganism is something I will keep up…once I’ve eaten my Christmas chocolate. 

Last modified: 9th February 2020

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