Campaigns like Veganuary and Meat Free Monday have encouraged people across the world to reduce their meat intake and give vegan cooking a try. Could it be your turn to go plant-based next?
What do vegans eat?
Vegans eat an entirely plant-based diet and avoid any foods that come from an animal, including meat, fish, dairy, eggs and honey.
There are a variety of reasons why people turn to a vegan diet, from animal welfare to climate change, and with planning and research it can be one of the healthiest diets to enjoy.
The health benefits of going vegan
- You’ll cut down your cholesterol
Some meats are high in saturated fat, which can raise cholesterol levels in the blood and increase your risk of heart disease. Whilst we all need a small amount of fat in our diet to help us absorb vitamins, a vegan diet is almost free from saturated fats and cholesterol. These so called ‘bad fats’ can be found in processed foods like vegan burgers and sausages, and convenience foods like cakes and biscuits. A healthy plant-based diet that contains a wide variety of colours, vitamins and minerals should provide you with all the nutrients your body needs and can reduce your cholesterol levels and blood pressure, and reduce your risk of heart disease. Ingredients like lentils, chickpeas, tofu and wild rice are all rich in fibre, vitamins, minerals and protein, and can be used to make delicious meals.
- Eat yourself happy
Studies have shown that being vegan can boost your mood and release those feel good feelings. Eating a healthy, balanced diet filled with fresh fruits, vegetables and wholegrains rather than processed foods that are high in salt, fat and sugar provides energy, helps us think more clearly and improves our mood. It can even prevent cognitive decline later in life. Respondents to a five-year long study on older people fed back that they felt they had improved mental health after eating a vegan diet, with fewer feelings of anxiety and stress than those following an omnivorous diet.
- Support your long-term health
A vegan diet has been shown to lower your risk of developing several cancers – including breast cancer and colon cancer – as well as rheumatoid arthritis, diabetes, asthma and Alzheimer’s. A vegan diet can also boost an underactive thyroid, improve digestion and relieve insomnia.
Tips for going vegan
- Keep up your calcium
Calcium is traditionally found in dairy products, but a better source can be enjoyed in leafy green vegetables like pak choi and kale, fortified dairy alternatives like soya, almond and rice milk, broccoli, oranges and oats.
- Get adventurous in the kitchen
Whilst it’s a good idea to begin with ‘veganising’ your favourite meals, once you’ve found your feet, open a cookbook or search for a recipe online that you’ve never tried before. Going vegan is a great opportunity to try new ingredients, spices and cuisines, and add a few new dishes to your culinary repertoire.
- Reach out to friends and family
You might have a friend or relative who is vegan – or knows someone who is vegan – so why not ask for their tips and tricks in the kitchen. Perhaps they have the best vegan spaghetti bolognaise recipe they could share with you? Otherwise there is a huge online community of vegans who are all happy to share their knowledge and advice – many can be found on social media or online forums.
- Boost your energy levels
Ensuring you eat regularly can help maintain blood sugar levels and stop you feeling tired, hungry and unable to concentrate. Small handfuls of pumpkin seeds, unsalted nuts like pistachios and cashew nuts or a small pot of soya yogurt with berries are all quick and easy snacks that will keep your energy levels high and blood sugar levels stable throughout the day.
- Enjoy a vegan diet rich in protein
Government guidelines recommend an average man over 65 includes 53g of protein in their diet, and a woman 46g of protein every day. A vegan diet can be packed with protein and can easily achieve this target; 100g of tofu will provide you with 23.5g of protein, without any cholesterol or saturated fat, kickstarting your protein for the day in the right way. You can enjoy tofu as a replacement for scrambled egg or as part of a stir-fry.
- Don’t feel disheartened
It can feel overwhelming when you’re making a big lifestyle change, especially if you break your resolution along the way, but the important thing to remember is you’re making a positive change for yourself and your future. It may feel more sustainable for you to make a gradual transition, rather than going vegan overnight.
From salads, soups and stews to curries, risotto and stir-fry, a vegan diet can introduce you to new ingredients and recipes you might not have tried before, and is a healthy way to look after your body and mind.
This year 500,000 people signed-up for Veganuary in the first week, an initiative set up in 2014 to inspire and support people of all ages across the world to try going vegan. Since then, over one million people have taken part, with the support of ambassadors like Paul McCartney. You can find recipes, nutritional advice and tips for getting started on their website.