Pledged to eat healthy in the new year?
Well, vegan burgers are no longer a dull sermon enticing only the 5% vegetarians on the planet… Over the last few years, the rise and the reputation of veganism has sky-rocketed. It’s no longer a case of a few evangelical legume-lovers ordering a chickpea salad at Pret A Manger, the diet concept of Veganuary – an annual online resolution for meat-lovers to avoid animal flesh for one month, is soaring in popularity. Keep scrolling for all the details on how to kickstart a month of healthy eating…
Move over Dry January and the Whole30 refined-food elimination diet. Veganuary is here to encourage us to eat cleaner and help the planet one plant-based meat substitute at a time. More than half a million people around the world pledged themselves to a month-long plant-based diet last January – double the number who dipped their toes in Veganuary 2019, and excluding countless others who didn’t declare their intentions on the internet.
How did the campaign start?
The campaign was born in the United Kingdom over a bottle of wine shared by Jane Land and Matthew Glover, a couple who had found each other on a vegan dating site, and in just seven years it has attracted celebrity advocates like Billie Eilish, Elliot Page and Alicia Silverstone. Last year Natalie Portman asked her 5.9 million Instagram followers to join the movement and “fight climate chaos with your fork”.
Meat, milk and egg production accounts for almost 15-percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, but those choosing to reduce the amount of animal products in their diet for planetary, ethical or personal health reasons can take heart in the changing landscape. In 2020, vegan meat substitutes claimed a whopping US$1.4 billion market share in the United States. As we digest the prospect of a new, cleaner lifestyle, let’s consider what good a month of plant-based eating could do for our bodies.
Plant Eating Benefits
Within 3-4 days: Digestion and gut health will begin to improve. With increased amounts of fibre and water in your system from all those fruits and green vegetables, bowel movements will become more regular.
Within 7 days: Blood sugars dip almost from the get-go, and as you banish processed foods, energy levels enjoy a noticeable boost. A well-balanced plant-based diet is high in vitamins, minerals and fibre, has zero cholesterol, and is generally much lower in saturated fats (avoid palm and coconut oils if heart health is your priority). Several studies have shown that levels of LDL ¬– low-density lipoproteins, a.k.a. bad cholesterol ¬– improve over one or two weeks of total immersion in clean, plant-based eating.
Over 2-3 weeks: You begin to drop pressure and pounds. According to medical research, a single week of sticking to whole foods – fruit and veg – and a diet low in salt and processed foods can reduce high blood pressure by 10mmHg. Another impressive feat of going vegan is that your taste buds become more receptive to the natural flavours of food.
Over 3-4 weeks: The cleaner you eat, the clearer and brighter your complexion becomes. Research has proven that adult acne miraculously disappears in less than a month of cutting out the hormones and steroids found in dairy products from your diet. Dropping dairy also calms skin inflammation and shrinks cystic pimples.
Moving Over Meat
The benefits of a meat-free existence are compelling, and the realisation, spurred by an increasingly eco-enlightened mainstream media, is accounting for a rapid change in eating habits. In the US in 2020, plant-based food retail sales grew at 27-percent compared with a total retail food market increase of 15-percent. Every month, we witness the mega launch of a meatless meat product or a buzzy new line of dairy alternatives. Shopping, social life and dining out for vegans, even in a city of carnivores like Hong Kong, is now far less challenging.
Eschewing meat and dairy seems sensible after December’s indulgences, but is a January of clean living going to deliver lasting benefits? “While we are definitely seeing a shift in dietary habits over the years, switching to a plant-based diet has to be long-term and sustainable for you to see any health benefits,” says Shirley Kwok, founder of online concept store KIRR (Keeping it Real and Raw). “[Veganism] is more than just a diet du jour; it’s a lifestyle and a mindset change.”
Also Read: Salad Daze: Do’s and Dont’s of veganism
While there is no doubt that the meat (beef in particular) industry negatively impacts greenhouse gas emissions and thus the planet, questions have been raised about the greenness of the vegan diet, and whether our quest for better health has gone too extreme?
“Not everyone benefits from dropping meat and dairy,” says Hong Kong-based holistic health coach Mayuri Punjabi. “Long-term veganism can leave the body severely deficient in proteins and amino acids. I did a three-month plant-based diet challenge with my brother and we both had drastically different results. While I had hair loss, patchy skin and bloating, my brother saw dramatic health benefits. Before blindly following a fad, you should know if the trend suits your bio-individual needs.”
For Health’s Sake
While high rates of obesity, diabetes and heart disease – largely driven by the quantity and quality of food we consume – are of grave concern, doctors have warned that cherry-picking nutritional research to make a case for veganism can result in the depletion of essential vitamins like D and B12 (found in animal products), amino acids responsible for brain and heart health, and vital minerals such as calcium, iron, zinc and iodine.
Your body can store minerals and vitamins for almost a year, so transitioning to a vegan diet might not initially result in deficiencies. If you plan on ditching diary, meat and fish for good, though, you may need to turn to supplements. Count your macros, and arm yourself with the knowledge to plug any nutritional gaps. Bacon doesn’t have to be the only measure of happiness, of course, but remember that turning around your health and the planet’s ills takes a lot more than cutting out cheese and salami.
(Text: Nikita Mishra)