Veganuary began in the UK back in 2014 as a way to encourage and educate people about following a plant-based diet. It involves removing animal products from your diet for the month of January and (the non-for-profit hopes) beyond. The reasons driving this movement is threefold – ethical, environmental and health. The often touted benefits of a vegan diet includes preventing the exploitation of animals, reducing your impact on the environment and improving your health.
As a pescatarian who eats fish once or twice per week I was keen to go the whole hog, for want of a better phrase. Here’s what happened when I tried eating vegan for a month.
1. Breakfast was the hardest
I drink oat milk, inhale chickpeas, and know my way around a block of tofu – given that I was already eating a predominantly plant-based diet, I didn’t think transitioning to a stricter variation would be challenging. Turns out, eggs are a surprisingly cherished component of my diet. As a savoury lover I wasn’t feeling oats and cereal for breakfast every day. However, I eventually found ways to mix up my toast toppings to keep me satisfied, like turmeric hummus and avo, peanut butter and banana, or garlic-y mushrooms and butter bean smash.
2. I had to eat more… and had to quit feeling bad about it
Swapping out calorie-dense salmon for spinach is never going to hit the same spot. I found myself wanting to eat more than usual, which it automatically triggered food guilt feels. But when I added up my calorie consumption out of interest, I realised wasn’t getting enough energy despite hitting three square meals per day. Once I upped my snacks I felt so much more satisfied.
3. Preparation is key
Perusing recipe books, planning meals out and always having vegan snacks on hand made the process so much easier.
4. Dining out options are better, but still slim
Given the explosion in popularity of plant-based eating I was expecting to be inundated with dining options wherever I went, so I was surprised to find this wasn’t always the case. Living in Sydney means I’m surrounded by vegan-friendly pubs, restaurants and bars with a huge range of creative culinary options, but when I wasn’t in charge of choosing the venue I often discovered my only menu choice was a side salad or pasta sans parmesan.
5. Grocery shopping was pretty easy
Australia is now the third-fastest growing vegan market worldwide with a whopping 429 per cent increase in plant-based products in the last four years. These stats are clearly reflected in most local supermarkets with shelves dedicated to meat and dairy alternatives. Aside from now-standard plant-based burgers and sausages, I found some amazing products to satiate my cheese addiction like cashew “cream cheese” and almond “feta”, plus mushroom “pate” and coconut “sour cream” are still in heavy rotation in our household.
6. However, I did develop a Sherlock Holmes-esque scrutiny of ingredient lists
Scoping out the back of every product before putting it in the trolley became a fine art. Some hummus dips had added dairy (sacrilege), seemingly safe pre-made meals snuck in cheese (don’t blame ’em), and don’t even get me started on selecting a bottle of wine (who knew they use egg and fish products to filter?!). But after a couple of shops it was easy to figure out what I could and couldn’t eat.
7. The “health halo” is real
The term “health halo” used to describe how we overestimate the nutritiousness of an item based on how it’s labelled, something that’s easily done with vegan foods. Every time I tucked into a plant-based pint of Ben and Jerry’s I had to remind myself that a lack of dairy wasn’t a free pass to go HAM on sugar.
8. My skin improved
Some plant-based proponents swear the diet is a cure all for injury and illness. While I can’t anecdotally attest to that, I will say my skin improved significantly. As a natural sceptic I considered other explanations for the dramatic disappearance of my back acne and hormonal breakouts but there was one common, obvious denominator.
9. My digestion was on point
I was expecting to full more bloated from all the extra lentils and broccoli, but I found the opposite. I was also way more regular, a no brainer given the significant increase in the amount of fibre I was consuming thanks to the extra veggies, grains and legumes on my plate. Digestive benefits are backed by research – a study has found suggests a vegan diet can boost gut health, particularly to microbiome related to body composition and blood sugar control.
So would I continue a vegan diet?
No, I’m back on the pescatarian band wagon. However, the experience has definitely encouraged me to cut back on dairy and add more vegan meals into my routine. There were certainly challenges through out the month but overall it opened my mind to a new way of eating that can have some major benefits.
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