If you go all-in on Meatless Monday, you’ll spend about 52 days per year eating a plant-based diet. “Veganuary,” a British campaign that has gained worldwide popularity, encourages plant-based eating for 31 days straight. Does one month of eating exactly zero animals honestly make a difference to your health and the heal of the environment? In short: hell, yeah.
“Many times when we approach these challenges we feel defeated if we don’t get everything 100 percent right. This is your chance to learn and do some good for yourself, the planet, and animals,” says plant-based dietitian Catherine Perez, MS, RD. “We aren’t begging for perfection because it doesn’t exist. But we all can do good by making small changes together. And even if this helps to get you closer to eating one more fruit or one more vegetable, you are doing a good job.” In general, a month of sourcing your food solely from plants only increases the diversity of nutrients in your diet. “If this is your first time experiencing a vegan diet, you will most likely be introduced to foods you don’t typically eat regularly or be introduced to new foods that can have a positive impact on your health.”
Registered dietitian Amy Gorin agrees: “No matter how you end up eating in the long-run—whether that’s vegan, vegetarian, pescatarian, or something else—anyone can benefit from eating more plant-based foods such as vegetables, fruits, and plant proteins,” she says.
The simple act of cutting your red meat consumption in half could slash your risk of developing heart disease, a 2019 study found. Eating 30 or more types of plants a week (nuts, vegetables, legumes, etc.) is tied to better gut health. And science has linked plant-based eating to reduced feelings of depression and anxiety.
Environmentally speaking, there’s also something to be said about spending one month of the year reducing your consumption of livestock. Some estimates say that farming accounts for 70 percent of the water used today. The livestock sector contributes greatly to water pollution and emits 14.5 percent of greenhouse gases internationally, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.
The personal and environmental benefits are just the tip of the iceberg. Since all lessons are best learned from personal experience, Gorin and Perez offer their top tips for eating all plants, all the time for the next month and beyond.
5 tips for crushing Veganuary, courtesy of dietitians
1. Stick with the familiar—but make it all plants
Rather than rushing to Pinterest to save 100 new recipes to try over the next month, Perez says you’ll have the most success with sticking as closely as you can to your typical diet. “Think about what you normally eat. How far is it from being plant-based? If you keep it close to what’s familiar and add some small but significant changes in, it makes the transition much easier,” she says. For example, swap a veggie burger for burger night or turn your chicken salad sandwich into a chickpea salad sandwich.
2. Go all-in on protein-based snacks
“When you’re eating vegan, it’s a bit more challenging to get your daily fill of protein. This is why I recommend incorporating plant-based protein into snack time, too,” says Gorin. “Pistachios, for example, are a great option for plant protein, with a quarter-cup providing 6 grams of the filling nutrient. You also get other nutrients—such as fiber and better-for-you mono- and polyunsaturated fats—and you can pair pistachios with a serving of fruit, such as a cup of berries.”
3. Focus on flavor, not types of food
“Focus on flavors you like,” Perez says. “If you anticipate that all you will be able to eat are plain salads, you are missing out on some great meals that still have a ton of flavor. A good example is chili. Most times it is made with meat, but you can replace the meat with beans, and all the flavors that make chili special are still there and can still make you feel like you aren’t missing out.”
4. Double-check your nutrients
“When you’re eating a vegan diet, you’re likely not getting enough of certain nutrients, such as vitamin B12, vitamin D, and the omega-3s DHA and EPA. Even if you’re not used to taking supplements, you may want to consider adding them to your diet while you’re eating vegan. There are algae-based omega-3s that you can purchase,” says Gorin. Make sure to continue to monitor these nutrients even when February comes around.
5. Ask plenty of questions when you’re dining out
Not every restaurant offers a ton of vegan options, so you’ll have to get a little creative. “It’s a lot easier if you let the restaurant staff help you. If you see beans as an ingredient on one part of the menu, for example, ask if they can be added to a salad. If the salad comes with a dairy-based dressing, request olive oil, vinegar, and lemon wedges to create your own makeshift salad dressing. Or ask if the restaurant offers any off-the-menu vegan dishes,” says Gorin.
While you’re buying extra produce, make sure you know which fruits and veggies to always buy organic:
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