Veganuary is over – now what?
As I write this Veganuary is almost over and so, what for many people is a month of eating radically different to how they usually would, is coming to a close. This tends to result in two different outcomes:
- People maintain a 100% plant-based diet. Veganuary was a toe in the water for what they felt like they wanted to do anyway, and so they take it as a kickstart to make a long-lasting change
- They go back to what they were doing before because a 100% plant-based diet just isn’t for them
In this blog, I’m writing to the 2nd group of people, because while a vegan diet may not be for you, there still may be some things you can take away from it that are useful. We usually look at Veganuary as a month during which people try being vegan, sure, but perhaps it’s more useful to look at it as a month during which you experiment with your diet by radically changing it, meaning that you try out some new ideas, some of which may stick and some of which may not.
Below are 5 lessons I think many can take from Veganuary, even if you have NO intention of ever becoming vegan, which will help you improve your health.
1 – Animal products don’t have to be the focus of your meals
This one is a little obvious so I’ll get it out of the way first – the primary lesson that I think many can take away from Veganuary is that animal products aren’t things to base a meal around, but rather they are ingredients which may or may not be part of a meal. To many, this may be obvious, but to others, it can be a total revelation. This is probably, I think because eating a 100% vegan diet and eating a diet focused on animal products is typically presented as a dichotomy – you’re in one camp or the other – but this isn’t the case. There is no rule against eating some of your meals based entirely around plants, some with vegetarian options, and some with meat. It’s absolutely up to you, and if the growing popularity of Veganuary shows us one thing, it’s that changing up your meals day to day is getting easier to do than it ever has been.
Opting for meat substitutes or grain/pulse-based meals a few times per week opens your diet out to new flavours, a greater variety of food (which is often seen as positive for overall health) and is often associated with a higher fibre and micronutrient intake – all good things!
You don’t have to identify as a vegan to eat a Quorn mince Bolognese sometimes.
2 – Eating more vegetables is good
“Plant-based diet” isn’t synonymous with “Vegan”, even though it’s often used that way, and while this seems like nitpicking it’s actually a pretty important distinction. Nutrition research, confusing and conflicted though it may be, all points in one clear direction: plant-based diets are associated – almost certainly causally – with better health. Plant-based diets are more filling, promoting calorie intake regulation, they are better for your gut health (certain gut conditions like chrons notwithstanding), they increase micronutrient intake, and they’re associated with reduced mortality, reduced metabolic issues, and even a lower risk of cancer.
If you’re going to do ANYTHING nutritionally, adopting a plant-based diet seems to be a good place to start – but critically that does NOT mean that everything above is true only of vegan diets, because while all vegan diets are plant-based, not all plant-based diets are vegan.
A plant-based diet is one that is primarily plants by volume. That means that when you look at all of the food you eat during the day, the bulk of them would grow in the ground. These diets may or may not include meat, fish, dairy, and/or eggs so long as, across a day, most of what you eat is plant matter.
Making this switch can dramatically improve your health, and if we can all take ONE thing from a month of vegan eating, I hope it’s this.
3 – Beans and pulses are extremely cheap and versatile
One of the primary barriers a lot of people perceive themselves to have towards eating well is budget – stereotypically ‘’unhealthy’’ food is generally a lot cheaper than food most would consider being ‘’healthy’’ but when it comes to the staples around which most whole-food vegan meals are made like beans, lentils, grains and chickpeas, the tables turn.
Compared to meat, which is what these things usually replace, the price is reduced by more than half, meaning that you’re not only increasing your fibre intake and trying out new recipes, you’re reducing your weekly shop significantly!
4 – Batch cooking is hugely helpful
Now of course when I wrote point number 3 I’m extremely conscious of the fact that the price of food cannot only be measured in money. You also need to spend time preparing and cooking the things you eat and while it may be the case that a chilli made from dried beans, stock and vegetables is significantly cheaper than one made of beef mince I’m under no illusions that this isn’t countered by the time (and spices!) it takes to make the former taste as good as the latter.
But that’s where many during Veganuary turn to batch cooking, which is a habit we can all benefit from regardless of what we eat!
A major determinant of your dietary habits isn’t so much your intention but instead, it’s dictated by your opportunity. More simply, it doesn’t matter what you plan to eat when you’re sat with a ton of time to think about it on Sunday evening, it matters what you have the opportunity to grab when you’re rushing about on Wednesday morning trying to put your lunch together for the day despite sleeping in. It’s at this time that batch cooking really starts to shine through. There’s a reason it’s probably the first bit of advice most nutritionists give!
Batch cooking is basically a process of making your own frozen ready meals. It’s self-provided convenience, so break out the slow cooker or stew pot and fill the freezer as often as you can. Forget making healthier choices, make healthier opportunities.
5 – There are SO MANY RECIPES!
And finally, tying into the last two points, when you open your eating option window to include plant-based meals you dramatically expand the potential range of meals you can add to your repertoire. Think of it like unlocking a new area on a video game.
Having the option to go for a meal that’s not based in animal products means your mind doesn’t automatically start to think about finding things to do with chicken breast or pork steaks – instead you just look for recipes in general and choose ones that look nice. Maybe you hit the vegan tab on the website, or you pick up a vegan cookbook. The world becomes your oyster (or plant-based alternative) and all of a sudden your horizons are expanded.
In short – by looking at food not as animal-based vs vegan but just as food, you allow yourself to be more creative and make eating exciting again!
I have very mixed feelings about Veganuary overall. On one hand, I do think that opting for a well planned vegan diet would be far healthier than what most people tend to do before they start, and of course, the popularity of it creates a social support network that can help with adherence, but at the same time it’s hard to let go of my dislike for quick fixes or diet ‘challenges’. Whatever side of the fence I end up falling on, however, one thing is for certain – no matter what you do there is always something to learn from it and if you take just one thing away from something that you ultimately decide was a bad idea, and you find that thing useful, then the thing wasn’t really a bad idea in the first place.
Just remember the famous quote from Bruce Lee whenever you learn or try anything new, be that in martial arts, nutrition, or ANYTHING else:
“Adapt what is useful, reject what is useless, and add what is specifically your own.”