This month is Veganuary and many across the UK are taking a pledge to go vegan for January. Far from a simple diet of grains and greens, a vegan diet is hugely varied and has numerous health and environmental benefits! Our Kelly switched to a plant-based diet last autumn and here she shares her experience so far.
In autumn last year I did some research into veganism out of curiosity, and became aware of the ways in which our food choices affect our health and our planet. For instance, did you know each of us will eat more than 7,000 animals in our lifetime?! Then I discovered that November would be World Vegan Month… the next step was a no-brainer.
For me, switching to a plant-based diet was motivated by three reasons – health, animals and the environment.
- Health: Plant-based foods are high in nutrients and low in saturated fat, so they’re naturally great at combating health issues such as obesity and heart disease.
- Animals: Around 60 billion land animals and over a trillion marine animals are used and killed for food per year (The Vegan Society). In the UK, 900 million chickens are slaughtered each year, with around 94% reared in factory farms (Veganuary). Enough said.
- Environment: Producing animal products uses a huge amount of natural resources including land, water and energy. Did you know that it takes 4,200 gallons on water per day to produce a meat-eater’s diet, but only 300 gallons for a plant-based diet (One Green Planet)?
Month number one
I wondered whether going vegan would mean a bland and boring diet, but I couldn’t have been more wrong. There are vegan alternatives for everything and the Vegan Society and Veganuary websites are full of ideas. I found I was able to make my meals vegan just by making some simple changes…
- Breakfast: I switched from cow’s milk to plank milk and all my breakfasts became vegan. There are so many types to choose from – soya, almond, cashew, hazelnut, rice, oat… take your pick!
- Lunch: I took out chicken and started using beans, pulses and quinoa, always adding a load of veggies, nuts and seeds. Plus, preparing five lunches on a Sunday means no effort required during the week!
- Dinner: I replaced meat and fish with vegan alternatives – go to the vegan section of any supermarket frozen section and you’ll see just how many options there are! It’s amazing the variety of meals you can create with grains, pulses and vegetables too, with the satisfaction of knowing how good they are for you.
I have found it helpful to focus on adding things into my diet, i.e. more whole foods, rather than depriving myself, to ease the transition.
Initially the diet change led me to feel more tired than usual, but my energy levels went up when I started taking a Vitamin B12 supplement (recommended for vegans to help reduce tiredness and fatigue).
There were a few slip ups along the way food-wise – such as the day I was half way through eating some pasta and realised it was made with egg. Oops. And let’s just say I’m still looking for a decent alternative to cow’s milk in my morning coffee… (Note to self: soya milk curdles!)
But there have been some great moments too… For me, the nut roast totally trumped the turkey on Christmas Day and I was rather happy to find out that Oreos are vegan!
It can be a big change to transition to a vegan lifestyle. It’s taken some getting used to, and even now I’d describe my diet as ‘mostly plant-based’ rather than ‘vegan’, as I don’t manage to avoid all animal products every day.
But that’s okay! Making small changes and finding a middle ground between ‘vegan’ and ‘meat eater’ still has positive effects on your health and the planet. I believe it’s better to try, fail, and learn along the way without beating ourselves up, than to put pressure on ourselves and give up as soon as we eat something that’s not vegan. Don’t try and run before you can walk, as they say!
That said, what has changed is my attitude towards food. Going vegan has given me a better awareness of where our food comes from, my nutrition choices are more conscious and informed, and the foods I eat are more natural and less processed. As a result I have more energy, I feel better physically and mentally, and I understand why a vegan lifestyle is a choice that’s been made by over half a million people in the UK so far.
Find out more
Ultimately, it’s a personal choice and veganism isn’t for everyone. But if it is something that interests you, I’d recommend checking out the Veganuary website to find out what it’s all about. There’s also a great list of recommended books and films here.