Vegan diet: Should you try plant-based eating in Veganuary?

As increasing numbers of Aussies are reducing their meat and dairy intake, Veganuary is a month encouraging people to give the vegan diet a go.

Many Australians are avoiding all animal foods and products, and Veganuary is a movement through January encouraging others to give vegan eating a try.

According to Vegan Australia, an estimated 500,000 Australians have already made the switch to a vegan lifestyle.

A further 2.5 million are mostly or completely vegetarian, and many more have reduced the amount of meat and dairy they consume.

Vegans avoid meat, poultry, seafood, eggs, or dairy foods for animal welfare and environmental reasons.

Benefits of a plant-based diet include reduced risks of developing chronic diseases such as obesity, heart disease, colorectal cancer, and type 2 diabetes.

If you’re vegan curious, here are five things you need to know.

1. A vegan diet is not always easy

Avoiding meat, dairy, and related products can be challenging.

Many products contain meat or dairy, including some you may not expect such as potato chips, breakfast cereals and savoury sauces.

Reading labels can help build a list of vegan-friendly goods.

2. Vegan diets can be balanced

The latest Australian dietary guidelines say well planned vegan diets are healthy and nutritionally adequate.

A good vegan diet should include enough protein, B group vitamins, including B12, calcium, zinc and iodine.

Dietitians Australia spokesperson Lisa Donaldson says in simple terms, a balanced vegan diet is colourful and varied.

“Making use of all types of legumes, soy products, wholegrains, nuts/seeds and vegetables is essential,” Lucy says.

“Mixing up what you eat will ensure a broader range of nutrients.”

She also recommends checking food products contain a source of protein and if they’ve been fortified with B12, calcium and iron.

Good protein alternatives include soy products (tofu, soy drinks, tempeh), nuts and seeds, legumes (beans, peas, lentils), whole grains (oats, barley) and pseudo cereals such as quinoa and amaranth.

Vegan Australia recommends all vegans supplement with vitamin B12.

3. There’s a vegan alternative to your favourite dishes

The Veganuary movement says vegan diets don’t have to be bland – it just involves seeking plant-based alternatives to many popular foods such as meat, cheese, and milk.

Spicy curries and stir fries work well with tofu and other meat substitutes.

Baked goods such as cupcakes and biscuits can use egg replacers and non-dairy margarine.

Popular treats you may not realise are vegan include hummus, Vegemite, most peanut butter, Oreos, Arnott’s choc ripple biscuits, sour patch lollies, and some gravy mixes.

4. Vegan is not always healthier

Like their carnivorous counterparts, vegan processed foods may be high in calories and in some cases, such as some meat substitutes, salt.

Lisa recommends reading the nutrition panel and/or check the ingredient list.

“Salt is often used generously to enhance flavour so aim for a product with no more than 120mg of sodium per 100g,” she says.

5. Vegan diets are not just about food

Vegan Australia spokesman Greg McFarlane says being vegan is also about respecting animals and the environment.

Mr McFarlane says the increase in vegan products in supermarkets shows it is becoming more popular and socially accepted.

“There’s good reasons to go vegan – for the animal and environmental reasons,” Greg says.

“And it’s possible to have a healthy vegan diet.

“If you are keen to try vegan, sign up for the free Vegan Easy 30-Day Challenge and receive a 30-day meal plan as well as recipes and tips emailed daily.”

Tips for a successful Veganuary

Veganuary suggest the following ideas to help start your vegan journey:

Plan: Don’t start your vegan adventure without first thinking about what you might eat. Plan your meals in advance.

Ease in: No need to change your eating habits – just look for vegan substitutes to your favourite dishes.

Keep snacks handy: Minimise risk of going off course by keeping a supply of vegan snacks at the ready.

Don’t fret if you slip up: So you ate something non-vegan – whether by accident, or you just wanted it – no biggie. It doesn’t have to end your vegan interest – just learn from the experience.

Written by Cheryl Critchley.